NEWARK – A small but select crowd of Newark’s business community rode up to the 26th floor of the neo-classical National Newark Buildingon Thursday to hear Newark’s main mayoral candidates make their elevator pitch to run the city.
South Ward Councilman Ras Baraka and former state Assistant Attorney General Shavar Jeffries stood before 50 people at an event sponsored by the Newark Regional Business Partnership to outline what they think the relationship between business and government should be in New Jersey’s largest city.
“Newark is in a crisis. That crisis provides us with the opportunity to do incredible things” Baraka said to a group that included representatives from Verizon, PSE&G, McCarter & English and Barnabas Health. “It provides us with the opportunity to begin to develop our city, not just the downtown, but the neighborhoods where we live. I can talk to folks on the corner, and I can talk to people in the boardroom.”
“Your role in the city of Newark is fundamental and critical to our success,” Jeffries said, highlighting both his government experience and private sector experience as a member of Gibbons P.C., a Newark-based law firm. “The kind of administration we have is going to be one of shared values, recognizing that what’s good for our business partners is also good for the people of Newark.”
Baraka and Jeffries went back and forth about what Newark’s priorities should be as the city moves deeper into the post-Cory Booker era.
“We have to regionalize the city to work with Jersey City, Elizabeth, Paterson, East Orange and Irvington to begin to talk about how do we exchange jobs and how to do we share services,” Baraka said.
Baraka drew strong criticism from Jeffries earlier this week because of his endorsement by Jersey City Mayor Steve Fulop last month. In an interview with PolitickerNJ.com, Jeffries suggested that Fulop is backing Baraka in the hope that Newark’s endemic problems, including crime, will worsen, leading to Jersey City’s growth at Newark’s expense. Jeffries demanded that Baraka “repudiate” all forms of Fulop’s support. Representatives of both Fulop and Baraka denied Jeffries’ assertions, with Baraka’s campaign stating that it looks “forward to building an alliance with Jersey City to strengthen the economy of our region.”
“Crime is of historical proportions right now. We saw some good developments early on in the Booker administration, but particularly since the layoff of 170 [Newark] cops, we’ve kind of fallen backward,” Jeffries said, pointing to his law enforcement background. “We have to stabilize this problem or we’re not going to attract the businesses and new residents that we need. The city cannot grow with the levels of violence that we have in this community.”
“The city needs a vision. The city needs a visionary,” Baraka countered. “We don’t need a mayor that’s a police officer – we need a police director that’s qualified. We need a mayor that can hire somebody who is an expert in workforce investment that can bring the city together and create jobs both downtown and in our neighborhoods.”
Members of the business community present noted that when it comes to this year’s mayoral election, Newark voters Will have to make a distinct choice.
“There were very clear differences between both candidates,” said John Brennan, CEO of Newark Beth Israel Medical Center. “I think that they both have a different middle ground.”