Newark Mayoral Debate. And the Winner is… Last night’s Newark mayoral debate at the North Ward First Avenue School was not a typical candidate forum.
The room was split, figuratively and literally down the middle between mayoral candidate Ras Baraka’s supporters and those of Anibal Ramos, each brandishing campaign paraphernalia for their respective candidates. Mayoral candidate Shavar Jeffries’ supporters were few and far between.
While anxious campaign managers rocked back and forth in anticipation, each mayoral candidate made their “Why I should be mayor” pitch.
Baraka started the intros by noting his family’s 100-year Newark history and his humble beginnings. While he noted tragedy and struggle he said, “Because I have a narrative like so many other Newarkers is not the reason I should be mayor. You should vote for me because I believe in you, I believe in my ability to get the job done and I believe in Newark.”
At the conclusion of his statement his supporters rose to their feet and applauded.
Ramos followed and also spoke of his “Son of Newark” story and his rise from lonely non-profit worker to North Ward councilman. When he mentioned his strong partnership with Essex Executive Joseph Divincenzo, the Baraka-section erupted into deafening boos, drowning out a healthy faction of Ramos supporters. Ramos mentioned his pride in representing the North Ward to empathic applause.
Jeffries was unable to soliloquize his first sentence before the crowd became disruptive. Hecklers drowned out Jeffries’ attempt to speak louder, though he finally managed to get out, “Everything I have, everything that I am was given to me by the City of
The first question set the tone for the evening.
A Channel 12 news reporter asked all three candidates, “Booker’s attempt to put Speight on the council caused lots of division among council members and the city. How would you as mayor work to mend those issues?” (During a November pre-Thanksgiving council meeting- a move orchestrated by Booker’s Chief of Staff, Mo Butler and supported by Booker, attempted to seat North Ward alley Shanique Speight to city council with votes from Acting Council president Anibal Ramos, Augusto Amador, Louis Quintana and Carolos Gonzalez. A judge later overturned the action.)
While You Tube videos show Councilman Baraka vehemently decrying the actions of Ramos and his allies for the misuse of democracy during the November council meeting, tonight, Baraka displayed a much gentler tone in response to the ‘Speight’ question. Ramos too, responded in a seemingly demure tone. The combined retorts where surprising and interesting, given the near riot the ‘Speight-gate’ caused just a few months ago.
Their mouse like responses caused many to question if there was not a quiet agreement between the two, perhaps a “gentlemen’s agreement.”
Jeffries, however, pulled no punches, saying, ” It was a poor reflection of the mayor’s office and city council.”
Advertised as an open floor style forum, audience members able to ask questions lined up for the opportunity.
Judy Pittman, a Newark Public Schools employee, asked the first question.
“On July 19, Superintendant Cami Anderson negotiated her bonus of $50,000.00. What can you do as mayor to make sure these types of underhanded layoffs don’t happen again?”
Ramos claimed he was far removed from the NPS budget and could do little to change the actions of the superintendent until Newark gained 100% control, adding that the mayor should be much more involved and build a stronger relationship with the superintendent. Audience members yelled out during his answer, including one shout of “That sounds about right! You can’t even manage the Welfare office!”
While heckling ensued, Jeffries reminded the audience of his effort as a former assistant Attorney General and as School Board chair, leading the board in filing a lawsuit against the State in an effort to regain local control. (A judge recently gave full autonomy to the State Commissioner in determining the likelihood of local control).
For his part, Baraka said, “what Superintendent Anderson has done is totally disrespectful. She has a pool of NPS employees sitting a room doing nothing-while she hires more people, creating a budget crunch.” The South Ward council candidate finished by stating that Superintendant Anderson “was out of touch.”
The most poignant question of the night came from an Arts High School student who asked, “Trayvon Martin was shot down in Florida; a young boy down the street was stripped and beat because of his fathers’ debt. I’m going to college in California but with all the unchecked crime going on in Newark-I’m scared I wont make it. What will you do as mayor to make sure my family and I are protected?”
Neither Jeffries nor Ramos answered the question directly.
Baraka’s response seemed to more precisely address the Arts High School students concern.
“There is a devaluing of human life and a serious level of self hate,” said the candidate. “We have to make sure leadership comes for Newark or at the very least understands Newark to address the issues that effecting our city.”
The final audience question of the night went to Baraka.
A young lady of Latina decent asked, “You have a Hispanic population in the South Ward. What programs have you enacted to assist them? How many of your staff is
Baraka’s response brought his supporters to their feet when he said, “I’ll invite you to Central High School where I have Dominican flags, Puerto Rican flags, flags from Sierra Leone-see if you can go to Barringer in the North ward and see that. My school is multicultural. I can put you touch with our Dominican leadership in our school. In fact, if you go outside right now you’ll see ‘Latinos for Ras Baraka’ signs.”
When Debra Terrell, former Acting Superintendent and possible Ramos-ticket candidate, was asked what she thought of the first debate, she said, “I’m glad that Newark has three smart young men running for mayor with different ideas and lots of passion, who are articulate and ready to fight for Newarkers. I’m impressed by tonight’s forum and know that they all want the best for Newark’s future.”
Assemblywoman Cleopatra Tucker (D-28) a supporter of Baraka added that if there was a winner of tonight’s forum it was unquestionably Baraka.
“He was smart, he answered all the questions and he has a great command of the problems and solutions.” She went on to say while his fundraising was not on par with Ramos or Jeffries, “People believe in Ras and his grassroots efforts will beat out political machines and Trenton ties.”
Taniganie Jeffries, wife of Shavar Jeffries, said, “Of course, my husband did a phenomenal job tonight! Hecklers are to be expected when respect and decorum are absent.”
Mrs. Jeffries went on to say, “Shavar stood his ground and gave substantive answers even in the midst of a seemingly anti-Shavar crowd. I am proud of him and know that he will make an amazing leader as he has been for our family!”
Ramos, while he responded to the majority of the questions and was lathered with praise by his court, seemed to be unenthused and disinterested in the evening’s main event.
Baraka brought his base and energized them more and more with every response. He was engaging, articulate and likable. If a winner was to be named for tonight’s
forum Ras Baraka would be the clear choice.