NEWARK, NJ—Newark Mayor Ras Baraka, joined by former Newark mayor and current U.S. Senator Cory Booker (D-NJ), filed his petitions to officially get on the ballot for his 2018 reelection, raining paper on City Hall in a show of incumbent-favored force.
"The people of this city liked me four years ago, and you have shown me that you want more," Baraka said to a crowd of more than 200 supporters, some shouting "Four more years!" as the mayor, with Booker at his side, delivered box upon box of certification petitions inside City Hall before emerging for an outside campaign rally.
Friday's petition filing effort by Baraka came in at 13,000 petitions according to campaign supporters, far more than the 1,400 petitions required to officially enter the mayoral race. The start of Baraka's first reelection campaign since his 2014 victory was marked by fiery rhetoric delivered by Baraka on a platform stage set up on Green Street around the corner from City Hall.
Baraka noted the growth of Newark's downtown as a reason why the city's voters should keep him in place.
"There is $3 billion dollars of development projects in this city right now. We are among the final 20 picks on Amazon's list [as the potential site of the world's largest online retailer's soon-to-be-built second headquarters]," Baraka said. "Newark is clearly moving forward."
Booker's public support for Baraka's reelection backs up the adage that politics makes strange bedfellows. Baraka's heretofore enmity for Booker was demonstrated during Booker's 2012 State of the City address, when Baraka, then the South Ward councilman, walked out in protest when the then-mayor derided council members for not cutting their salaries or staffs while the city got rid of 25 percent of its workforce.
Booker, first elected mayor in 2006, was never shown much love by the South Ward, Baraka's base.
In the 2010 election against former Essex County Prosecutor Clifford Minor, Booker lost the vote-rich South Ward by a decisive margin even though he won every other ward in the city. In the South Ward, Booker garnered just 4,025 votes compared to 5,028 by Minor. In contrast, in the North Ward, Booker received 5,925 or nearly 80 percent of the vote, compared to just 1,162 by Minor.
In the same election, Baraka ousted Booker's South Ward running mate Oscar James II, earning a seat on the City Council, where he became a constant thorn in Booker's side.
Most notably, Booker and Baraka stood on opposite sides of the long-simmering debate over education reform in Newark, with Booker advocating for charter schools and drastic changes in the district while Baraka opposed charter expansion and generally sided with the teachers' union.
But Booker told TAPinto Newark that those days of discord are over.
"He's my mayor. I've supported him before, and I voted for him before," said Booker, alluding to the 2014 election, when many of those who were in the Booker camp supported Shavar Jeffries for mayor. "He's clearly the mayor that we need."
Baraka lauded Booker for his prominent role in opposition to President Donald Trump's policies. But Baraka, his voice roughly rising to a near-scream, searingly singled out TAPinto Newark's coverage of the Baraka administration, an admonition resembling Trump's ongoing war of words with many media outlets.
"Don't let what those creating things and imaging things that are swirling around distract you," said Baraka, referring to recent TAPinto Newark reporting on a series of legal controversies that have swarmed around Newark City Hall in recent months.
These controversies include a whistleblower lawsuit by the former corporation counsel against Mayor Baraka, his brother and chief of staff, Amiri Baraka, Jr., and other city officials tied to a proposed city construction project; guilty pleas by two close associates of the mayor to federal tax evasion charges, as well as accusations of alleged sexual harassment against city employees that were allegedly ignored by the administration.
"Facts, TAPinto - the homicide rate is dropping, and we have more police officers in the street. Facts, TAPinto - the city unemployment rate that was in double digits is now single digits. We have earned sick leave. We are a sanctuary city. These are touchdowns. Touchdowns!" Baraka exclaimed from the stage as the crowd looked on at their visibly peeved leader.
"You want the facts? Call me!" said Baraka, concluding his diatribe by yelling the word "facts" seven times in a row.
(TAPinto Newark has repeatedly called the Baraka administration seeking comment on every story involving the mayor, but his spokesman whose salary is paid with city tax dollars has refused to return calls.)
While Baraka made a notable football analogy during his first campaign stump speech, some Newark political observers suspect a possible fumble regarding a longtime force in city politics: former Mayor Sharpe James.
James appeared early and often with Central Ward Councilwoman Gayle Chaneyfield Jenkins, Baraka's mayoral race rival, in support of New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy. Baraka stood behind potential Democratic primary gubernatorial candidate Jersey City Mayor Steve Fulop, who ultimately never jumped in the race. Murphy was present to show support when Baraka announced his reelection bid last June.
James and Amiri Baraka, Jr., both claimed credit for Murphy's overwhelming Democratic primary victory in Newark, the largest concentration of urban Democratic votes in New Jersey.
South Ward Democratic Chairman Patrick Council maintained that his ward remains "totally behind" Baraka.
"We have more organization, and we are more focused," said Council. "We still love Mayor James' contribution to Newark. But our job is to work to continue to move forward."
All the current City Council members are running on Baraka's ticket with the exception of Chaneyfield Jenkins, who was officially certified as a mayoral candidate on Monday. Running on Baraka's slate in the Central Ward is newcomer LaMonica McIver.