POLITICS & GOVERNMENT

Newark launches campaign to bolster civic engagement

BY Michael Aron, Chief Political Correspondent |

Harry Pozycki of Perth Amboy was once a politician. In 1998 he founded a good government group, The Citizens Campaign.

Newark Mayor Ras Baraka has been interested in civic engagement. The two came together Wednesday to declare Newark the first so-called Civic City in America.

“A Civic City is a city where all citizens have access to the skills and information that they need to experience the full measure of their political power,” Pozycki said.

The model has four components: civics in the schools; civics in the universities and online for all residents; associations of interested residents called civic trusts; and an embrace by City Hall of the concept of empowerment.

“We begin to create a pipeline from high school to university to get people to understand civically how they should be engaged, what are the processes that exist,” Baraka said. “Like there are other things besides the mayor, there’s the council, there’s the freeholders, theres the state Assembly. There are all kinds of folks involved, and all kinds of nonprofit organizations that they can be engaged in as well.”

The idea is to stoke citizen participation. The mayor said he wants to get people beyond pointing out problems and into solving them. The new schools superintendent was on board.

“Imagine this, every child in every school in Newark learning civics,” said Newark Public Schools Superintendent Roger Leon.

The city already has a civic trust. Its members are enthusiastic.

“Our task, our responsibility, our accountability is to make sure that we teach our youth how to be civilly engaged, how to understand democracy and government,” Michelle Curry, trustee of the Newark Civic Trust.

Rutgers-Newark is on board as well.

“At the heart of Civic Cities is the recognition that we are intrinsic and moral neighbors who must continually and steadily be learning how to move from difficult dialogues, to community mobilizing, to experiencing real victories and then to empowerment,” said Marcia Brown, vice chancellor of Rutgers-Newark.

“It’s this kind of thing, this kind of broad-based engagement of the community and learning their full political power and how to be no blame problem solvers that sets the foundation for a Civic City,” Pozycki said.

One tangible result of all this lofty talk? Newark schools got 600, 18-year-old students to register to vote this fall over a two and half week period.