Newark Wins Ras Baraka; Significant Challenges Ahead

By Brentin Mock May 14, 2014

Last night, Newark elected city councilman Ras Baraka, son of the recently deceased legendary playwright and poet Amiri Baraka, as its mayor. He edged out challenger Shavar Jeffries, a civil rights lawyer, former assistant state attorney general and Seton Hall professor.

Baraka’s win is viewed as a rejection of the privately funded boutique education reform regime installed by former mayor Cory Booker, who left the mayoral seat to become a U.S. senator. Baraka was a fervent  critic of Booker’s education plans. His campaign was financed by a teachers unions, many of them from outside New Jersey. 

His mayoral opponent Jeffries, also funded plenty by out-of-towners, is cut straight out the Booker mold, with an aversion to city politics and Ivy League college background similar to Newark’s former mayor. Jeffries also had tangential connections to the embattled New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who Booker was more explicitly aligned with, all under the common interest of expanding the charter school and voucher system. 

As mayor, Baraka will have to work with both Christie, who according to The Wall Street Journal said he’s never met Baraka, and Booker to meet the city’s challenges. Among those challenges, from

Left behind are mounting problems for the new mayor that include a $93 million budget deficit that has led to threats of a financial takeover by the state, the city’s highest murder rate since 1990, and protests over the continued state control of Newark’s still-failing school system.

This is the Newark that Booker left Baraka with, meaning many of the economic and school reforms promised by the former mayor were not fulfilled. 

Still, Booker offered words of encouragement for Baraka, saying in a statement, "I look forward to fully supporting him as he steps up to lead Newark, deal with our city’s challenges and continue to move our city into a brighter and better future."