By David Cruz
“We are the mayor!”
It was the rallying cry for a campaign that was adamant about its mission, recapturing a city they believe had been hijacked by careerist politicians, servicing out-of-town interests with help from the political machine. The new mayor fired a shot directly at the establishment.
“Today is the day we say goodbye to the bosses,” said Mayor-Elect Ras Baraka. “Today we told them all over the state of New Jersey that the people of Newark are not for sale, that people outweigh money in a democracy all the time, that in a democracy people should be more important than money and that Broad Street should be more important than Wall Street.”
At an emotional celebration downtown, Baraka stuck to broad strokes, staying away from details about how he might begin to tackle the city’s myriad of problems, including crime and a ballooning budget crisis. Add to that, the schisms created by a tough campaign. But big name — and anti establishment — supporters expressed confidence in Baraka’s ability to stitch it all back together.
“If what all of the pundits and stakeholders describe is true, that they love Newark, then they will roll up to 920 Broad St. and we will do this in partnership with people from all over the state,” said former Assembly Speaker Sheila Oliver.
Former Gov. Richard Codey, an early supporter and fellow anti-establishment figure, said Baraka would lead with open arms. “Oh, I think so,” he said. “I’ve been in meetings with him, with people who endorsed his opponent and he was about as civil as any man I saw and told them right to their face. ‘I’m not gonna come after you if I win.’”
As for the other side, Shavar Jeffries said he stands ready to help.
“The time for division is over; the time for fighting is over; the time for disagreement is over,” he said. “I’m extending my hand fully to Mayor-Elect Baraka and his team. I am available and I am confident that everyone in here is available to do anything we can to do great things for the people of this city that we love so dearly.”
Baraka said he welcomes Jeffries, adding “he is not my enemy,” but Essex County Executive Joe DiVincenzo, a frequent target of the Baraka campaign, might not be as welcome.
“Listen, I hope he turns out to be the best mayor Newark has ever had,” said DiVincenzo. “That’s what we need; we have huge problems in the city of Newark right now that we have to deal with.”
Baraka called his victory an impossible dream. As he left his victory party, he was mobbed by an adoring crowd and led a march to City Hall, where all of the city’s new mayors partied well into the night.
Hope is a four-letter word and Ras Baraka has raised it high here, but this is a city that has been betrayed by hope before and one of the mayor’s first challenges will be to manage expectations.