Whether or not Cory Booker wins his bid for U.S. Senate in October, the people of Newark will be electing a new mayor next year. Councilman Darrin Sharif has announced he will be running for mayor. He told NJ Today Managing Editor Mike Schneider that Newark needs a mayor who will bring the people together and he would be able to do that for the city.
Over the past few years, Sharif said Newark has experienced tremendous economic development and growth. He said although the city makes up 3 percent of New Jersey’s population, it’s been responsible for 33 percent of its economic activity, 90 percent of which has been in the Central Ward, which Sharif represents.
“But we’ve got to look beyond the central business district and concentrate on other things that will make people come to us. We have to improve our schools and we have to get crime down. But in the post-Booker era, who is in that leadership position will make all the difference in the world,” Sharif said.
Sharif said Booker has attracted a lot of business activity and philanthropy to the city, which is important. “We want that philanthropy to continue and we want the state and the rest of the country to recognize just how important Newark is geographically and strategically in terms of all the assets that we have,” he said.
According to Sharif, he would do a better job of having communication among different entities in the city. “I’ve worked on partnerships with NJIT, Panasonic and Newark public schools to create a special video game for kids with disabilities. I’m going up to Cambridge, Mass. in about two weeks to meet with the head of their media lab to teach all of our kids how to code using Scratch, a programming language,” he said. “So that’s a lot of low hanging fruit that we haven’t taken advantage of and as the chief executive of the city, I want to be the connector, convener and facilitator-in-chief. We have everything we need, Mike, right here in Newark to do a tremendous job.”
Some have said there is a division in Newark between the African-American and Latino communities and wonder if Sharif entering the mayoral race as the third African-American may split the vote and help Anibal Ramos get the victory. Sharif said he sees that talk as an insult. He said African-Americans, like all voters, will vote for the person who has presented the best plan for moving the city forward.
“I think it’s a lot to do about nothing, this rift between the African-American and Latino community. Everything we do, those initiatives that I mentioned, they transcend race or ethnicity. And so I’ll let other political prognosticators and pundits talk about that,” Sharif said. “I want to continue my record of bringing and uniting people in Newark. Our diversity, Mike, is our greatest strength. I look forward to building on that as Newark’s next mayor.”
Sharif said he doesn’t see evidence of a divide between African-Americans and Latinos. “As I work in my Central Ward and throughout the rest of the city, I don’t see that. People, regardless of their race, they want better schools, better jobs and a safe neighborhood. I think it’s the political pundits and the political bosses who want to keep that stuff stirred up,” he said.
Sharif said he recognizes that political bosses exist, but he hopes this year the silent majority will take a stand. “There’s always a small percentage of registered voters who come out to vote. And I’m saying to them that they have to do something different. I get it that they don’t like politics. It’s controlled by special interests and these political bosses,” he said. “And I believe if we can do what we did four years ago when I campaigned for the Central Ward to bring an increasing number of people into the political process and engage them, I think that we can deal with these political bosses from a position of strength.”
Some have attributed the philanthropy Booker has been able to get for Newark in part to his unique relationship with Gov. Chris Christie. Sharif said he would emulate Booker’s relationship with Christie despite disagreeing with the governor on certain issues.
“But I do recognize that he’s the governor of our state. And so I don’t want to start an adversarial relationship. I think there are areas where we’ll be able to work together and then there are areas where we will disagree,” Sharif said. “We need the state. They’ve invested a lot in urban transit hub tax credits to help us fuel some of these economic development projects and I will continue that relationship with him.”