NEWARK – A poll released by President Barack Obama’s pollster shows South Ward Councilman Ras Baraka with a wide lead over his rival in the Newark mayoral race, former state Assistant Attorney General Shavar Jeffries, with less than six weeks to go before the May municipal election.
The Benenson Strategy Group poll, dated April 1, shows Baraka with a 51-28 percent lead over Jeffries, with 21 percent undecided.
The poll was paid for by the Working Families Organization, the same group that used independent expenditure funds to finance pro-Baraka TV spots that began airing on Newark-area cable television last week.
Part of Jeffries’ difficulties, according to the poll, is low name recognition – 40 percent of the electorate are unfamiliar with him. Conversely, 67 percent of voters have a favorable view of Baraka, with 36 percent having a “very favorable” view of him.
“This level of favorability puts Baraka in the same realm as [U.S.] Senator Cory Booker, who is viewed favorably by 65 percent of Newark voters,” the poll states.
The polling data indicates that there are two main issues of concern to Newark voters: job creation and economic development for all parts of the city, and the future of Newark’s schools.
According to the poll, voters see Baraka’s support for Newark’s public schools “in the face of pressure from Trenton and other outsiders” as a positive attribute, along with his record at Central High School. Baraka is currently on leave from his job as principal of the school.
The poll also asserts that Jeffries’ “previous backing” of Cami Anderson, the Gov. Chris Christie-appointed Newark School Superintendent, is seen by voters as not a positive attribute.
The controversial One Newark school reorganization plan, announced by Anderson in December, includes the expansion of charter schools, which already serve approximately 20 percent of the city’s students, as well as the closure or consolidation of certain public schools.
Baraka’s allies have alleged that there is a close relationship between Anderson and Jeffries, who served as president of both the Newark school advisory board and the board of TEAM Academy Charter School in Newark. These allies have pointed to a photo of a February meeting between Anderson and Jeffries, which was published in February by PolitickerNJ.com, as proof of this relationship.
But Carl Sharif, campaign strategist for Jeffries who was also present at the meeting, told PolitickerNJ.com that “Mr. Jeffries was making it very clear to her about how disgusted he was, and how upset he was about the disrespect that she had been showing the community with her actions. He was very direct and the conversation was often intense and contentious. He made it clear that this is something that he could not tolerate.”
Jeffries has subsequently made similar public remarks.
“This poll is not worth the paper it is printed on,” said Jeffries campaign spokeswoman Lupe Todd. “It contradicts why Baraka is running such a negative campaign.”