The 2014 mayoral election started out as a four-way race with South Ward Councilman Ras Baraka, Central Ward Councilman Darrin Sharif, North Ward Councilman Anibal Ramos Jr. and former School Board President Shavar Jeffries. By February 2014, Ramos and Sharif dropped out of the race.
Both Jeffries and Baraka were black men from the South Ward, but their back stories were vastly different as were the people who supported them.
Jeffries father abandoned him as a child and his mother was murdered by her abusive boyfriend when he was 10 years old. Jeffries found refuge at the Boys and Girls Club of Newark, where he met philanthropist Ray Chambers who saw promise in him. Through a scholarship sponsored by Chambers, Jeffries attended Seton Hall Prep, then went on to Duke University and Columbia Law School.
Jeffries worked as an assistant in the state Attorney General’s Office and taught at Seton Hall Law School. In 2010, he won a seat on the Newark School Advisory Board, running on a ticket backed by Steve Adubato Sr.
Baraka grew up the son of a famous poet, Amiri, in a family home in the South Ward that saw a steady stream of black activists, poets, artists and jazz musicians like Max Roach and Nina Simone.
Baraka graduated from Howard University and received a master’s in education from Saint Peter’s University in Jersey City. He was a teacher in Newark and rose to become principal of Central High School in 2007.
Baraka first ran for mayor in 1994 against incumbent Mayor Sharpe James. While he lost the race, he caught the political bug. He ended up serving as deputy mayor in James administration in 2002 and was appointed in 2005 to fill the at-large council seat of Donald Tucker, who died in office. In 2010, he defeated South Ward Councilman Oscar James II, who was aligned with Mayor Cory Booker.
Baraka became an immediate thorn in Booker’s side. In 2012, he walked off the stage during Booker’s state of the city speech. The following year, he criticized Booker for failing to deliver on a promise to hire 50 police officers.
Baraka also criticized the mayor’s plans to reform Newark education and supported protests against then-Superintendent Cami Anderson’s One Newark plan, which called for shuttering neighborhood schools.
During the 2014 mayoral race, Baraka deftly channeled the community’s anger over the One Newark plan against Jeffries, who he portrayed as an ally of Anderson.
Though he had the support of Essex County Executive Joseph DiVincenzo and the backing of the North Ward, Jeffries could not overcome Baraka’s strong showing in the South Ward, where Baraka garnered 8190 votes compared to Jeffries 3,307. Baraka won the election with 23,416 votes compared to Jeffries, who garnered 20,062.
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