Reported by April Taylor
The differences between Newark’s newly elected mayor Ras Baraka and previous mayor Corey Booker illustrate just how differently Newark’s residents expect the city’s problems to be handled by the new leader. Dr. Todd Burroughs grew up in Newark and recently wrote an article for the Root in which he discusses these differences. During a trip to a local diner, Burroughs asked a fellow patron what she thought of why Cory Booker was elected as mayor of Newark. He mentions that many assume that Booker will be the second black president.
The woman, who worked for the city during Booker’s tenure, said that she thinks it was money and the promise of investment that made Booker attractive to voters. But many Newarkers, including the woman he interviewed, were more than disappointed with the actions taken once Booker was in office. In fact, the woman even stated that she voted for Booker for Senate because she wanted him out of the mayor’s office.
Financial disappointments included Booker attempting to privatize the city’s water supply and squandering a $100 million gift from Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg with the city’s schools receiving no direct benefit. In terms of contact with his constituents, many felt that he was much more out of touch than what he had campaigned to be. He seemed more available for television appearances than to meet with citizens in City Hall. As Burroughs put it, while the media was busy believing Booker was a “real-life Captain America…to Newarkers, he was as illusory as that Marvel film image.”
Burroughs’ interaction with Baraka left a much different impression than the one painted for him of Booker. Baraka talked about how Newarkers’ self-hatred prevents them from truly believing the city can be changed for the better. Baraka’s defeat of an opponent who spent millions of dollars trying to undermine his credibility and accomplishments was possible because of his grass-roots connection to the city as a school teacher, vice principal, principal, and city councilor. Baraka’s campaign mottos were meant to embody self-empowerment rather than sell the notion that outsiders have the answers Newark needs to become stronger and more vibrant. As Burroughs puts it, Baraka is “an ordinary man who needs his people’s help. But first he needs the energy and actions from their self-confidence. If, as mayor, he can channel that, Newark will indeed enter new arenas first.”