Ras Baraka sworn in as Newark’s new mayor
Ras Baraka stirred memories of his late father Tuesday, sending an impassioned and decidedly populist message as he was sworn in as mayor of New Jersey’s largest city.
The son of renowned poet, author and activist Amiri Baraka brought a crowd of about a thousand to its feet several times in the sweltering sun, most notably when he concluded a long list of requirements for a mayor by saying, “we need a radical” to tackle Newark’s challenges.
Baraka, a former high school principal and city councilman, won election in May over former Deputy State Attorney General Shavar Jeffries. He replaces Luis Quintana, the councilman who served out the last six months of Cory Booker’s term after Booker stepped down last year to run successfully for U.S. Senate.
Though both Jeffries and Baraka are Newark natives, Baraka’s campaign sought to cast Jeffries as an interloper beholden to moneyed outside interests. It was seen as an attack by proxy on Booker, who some criticized for spending more time courting wealthy philanthropists than addressing the city’s day-to-day problems.
“I have been chosen to lead the city of my birth, and I am appreciative,” Baraka said Tuesday, adding, “I can say today that the people of Newark are victorious.” Later, he choked up when he described the moment he looked out and saw his police escort Tuesday morning, driving home the fact that he was about to become mayor and that his father wouldn’t be there to see it.
Amiri Baraka died in January at age 79. A Newark native, he wrote poetry, essays, plays and books, and his mixing of music, spoken word and rhythm has been called a precursor to hip-hop, rap and slam poetry. He was inducted into the American Academy of Arts and Letters in 1995.
Ras Baraka inherits a city in crisis on several fronts. Violent crime and unemployment remain high, a budget gap led the state to threaten to take over the city’s finances and sweeping reforms of the state-run school system have been met with open revolt from some residents.
Baraka said he would make public safety a major priority in the summer months, particularly on the heels of three homicides last weekend. One strategy will be to re-deploy police to move more officers to the streets, he said. Last year, 111 people were slain in Newark, the most in more than 20 years. Baraka issued a challenge to residents to make a difference.
While they should hate that so many people were killed, he said, “we all have to hate poverty, hopelessness and cynicism the same way.”
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