Ras Baraka Rises To Mantle Of Newark's New Mayor

In Newark, the New Jersey city held its first mayoral election since Cory Booker left for the U.S. Senate. Ras Baraka won, and Sarah Gonzalez of WNYC explains how the mayor-elect plans to run Newark.

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MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

Ras Baraka will be the new mayor of Newark, New Jersey. Yesterday's mayoral election was the first since Cory Booker left city hall for the U.S. Senate last fall.

Sarah Gonzalez of member station WNYC has more on how the mayor-elect plans to run New Jersey's largest city.

SARAH GONZALEZ, BYLINE: Ras Baraka's slogan on the campaign trail was: When I become mayor, we become mayor.

And at a ballroom in downtown Newark last night, Baraka, wearing a baseball cap with the word victory on it, told his supporters, welcome to city hall, as he tossed out T-shirts.

RAS BARAKA: The shirt says, I'm the mayor.

(APPLAUSE)

BARAKA: And that's not for me. That's for all of you.

GONZALEZ: The state took over control of Newark's schools years ago and is now threatening to take over the city's finances. The current city councilman said that will be his focus, along with growing jobs and lowering crime in the city with 111 murders and record carjackings last year.

BARAKA: We have to be the mayor that takes our kids to the colleges in this city and not to the jails in the state.

(APPLAUSE)

BARAKA: We have to be the mayor that saves our city - we.

CROWD: We, we, we.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: I'm the mayor. Once he became mayor, we became mayor.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

GONZALEZ: Ras Baraka is the son of Amiri Baraka, the controversial poet and playwright and prominent leader of the Black Power Movement in the 1960s. He first ran for mayor of Newark two decades ago, when he was 24 years old. He's been an elementary school teacher in the city, a high school principal and served as a deputy mayor under a previous administration.

He's been a vocal and regular critic of former Mayor Cory Booker and of the school's superintendent, who was appointed by Governor Chris Christie. And Baraka is known for going against the grain. He's a self-identified activist, not a typical politician, he says.

Clement Price, a Newark historian and professor of history at Rutgers University in Newark, says Baraka will have to change that.

CLEMENT PRICE: I suspect that, as mayor, we will see a different Ras Baraka. The role of the mayor is to pull conflicting interests together.

GONZALEZ: The biggest concern among residents is still crime. On a street corner in the city's busiest neighborhood, resident Sharif Amenhotep says it isn't safe.

SHARIF AMENHOTEP: From carjackings, to murders, to robberies, to burglaries, to drugs, you name it, each category.

(SOUNDBITE OF POLICE SIRENS)

GONZALEZ: He says Baraka is the right fit for Newark because he was born and raised in the city, unlike Cory Booker and because he's been working to combat gang violence for years.

But those who voted for the other candidates, like Sarita Frederique, say Baraka is too radical.

SARITA FREDERIQUE: Radical, rude. Thinks, you know, it's his way or the highway. You, know, you cannot work like that. You have to have compromise.

GONZALEZ: But Baraka did invite those who didn't vote for him to also roll up their sleeves and get ready to be the mayor.

BARAKA: Watch out America, here comes Newark.

(APPLAUSE)

GONZALEZ: For NPR News, I'm Sarah Gonzalez, in New York.

BARAKA: Here comes Newark. Here comes Newark.

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