Newark is New Jersey’s largest city but it’s not among its municipal and national counterparts and 48 states beginning to reopen. But, Mayor Ras Baraka has set up the Newark Reopening and Recovery Strikeforce to begin the process.
“What happens in our community, we always have to be more cautious than everyone else,” Baraka said.
Cautious because the coronavirus has taken a disproportionately heavy toll on communities such as Newark with high rates of deadly pre-existing health conditions.
Strikeforce members include executives from Prudential, Audible and RWJ Barnabas Health. Aisha Glover, president and CEO of the Newark Alliance, is a co-chair.
Glover says said it’s likely the city will see a little bit happening over a long period of time. Adding that reopening cannot pit economic recovery against risking lives.
“That natural tension does exist. I don’t think there’s an exact science for it, but we’re trying to figure it out. And we’re doing it from a brain trust that has cast a pretty broad net,” she said.
Glover says Newark’s demographics alone make it an apples-to-oranges comparison to other New Jersey towns, like Chester Borough where there have been seven COVID cases and no deaths compared to Newark’s 6,500 positive cases and more than 500 deaths. Newark’s population literally is 170 times more than Chester Borough’s.
But, they do have some things in common. For one, an eagerness to reopen and how to recover the ailing local economy.
“If we’re not open, we can’t make money. If we can’t make money, we can’t stay open,” said Chester Borough’s The Maple Shop owner Jon Rybkiewicz. “Helping support small communities is going to help get us through this. If we don’t help each other, we’re not going to make it through this.”
“I do think that we are in a moment calling us and pushing us toward great local production and local procurement,” Glover said.
But Chester Borough and Newark’s mayors have vastly different philosophies on shuttering and restarting.
“For instance, we have a pool supply store. Why would we have to send people to a large box store to get chemicals for their pool when they could go to a small store in town that has fewer people in it. It just made absolutely no sense to us,” said Janet Hoven, Chester Borough’s mayor.
“I know in the beginning a lot of people had concerns about some of the things we were doing in Newark, even referring to them as Draconian,” Baraka said.
Newark and many other cities and states have mounting untold economic losses. Sen. Cory Booker introduced a bipartisan $50 billion small business relief bill. On Friday, it got support from a hundred mayors in a virtual news conference.
“These are the kinds of investments that have a multiplier effect that’s measureable on our economy, and then a spiritual effect because every mayor here knows what it means to have an empty store front,” Booker said.
“Newark would get about $75 million which would be a god send to many of these businesses,” Baraka said.
Businesses eager to stay in business.