PATERSON, NJ- With new construction dotting its neighborhoods, control of the schools back in local hands, and a spot on the list of finalists to land Amazon’s proposed second headquarters, Newark is a city on the rise.

It is with the state’s largest city’s upward trajectory in mind, and contemplation of their own city’s future, that several prominent Paterson leaders feted Newark Mayor Ras Baraka with a fundraiser on Monday.

For Kenyatta Stewart, a prominent Paterson attorney who also heads up the City of Newark’s Legal Department, the event he helped organize was an opportunity for “fellowship and support” for Baraka, as well as for those who care about the future of both cities. Comparing him to the likes of Gahndi and former President Barack Obama, Stewart spoke glowingly of the mayor’s leadership in bringing brighter days to Newark, something he believes can be accomplished in Paterson with the right leadership.

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A former educator, Baraka, who also spent time on the Newark Board of Education and Newark City Council, and has received widespread praise for his leadership that has led to what a press release from his office recently called Newark’s “multi-billion revitalization,” is seeking re-election to a second term on May 8.

Among the growing list of redevelopment efforts in Newark is the revitalization of Riverfront Square, an 11.8-acre mixed-use development project proposed for the growing Broad Street corridor of downtown Newark. Riverfront Square will include up to 2,000 residential units, large and small-scale retail, cultural and public open space, a hotel, 2 million sq.-ft. of office space, including the largest timber building in the county, and parking spaces.

Paterson’s two members of the New Jersey General Assembly, Benjie Wimberly and Shavonda Sumter, were also among the list of prominent hosts of the affair. “When Newark’s schools were struggling, Mayor Baraka was on the front lines with the students,” Sumter said. He had the “courage needed to fight,” she continued before looking forward to Paterson’s own effort to regain local control, “if Newark can do it we can do it,” Sumter concluded to applause.

Wimberly, jokingly referring to the guest of honor as Mayor Ras “Ribbon Cutting” Baraka, in reference to the amount of new development he has helped shepherd in Newark, called the amount of investment being made “an example we can follow in Newark, and throughout the state.”

Saying that his time growing up in the city meant that he’d always have a “soft spot” in his heart for Newark, Paterson Education Association President John McEntee told TAPinto Paterson that it was “fantastic that two of the largest cities are coming together to see how to move them forward for all students.” His hope, the long time educator said, is that “we can team up for future projects.”

Hopeful of his own electoral success on May 8, Paterson council candidate, and small business owner, Casey Melvin, praised Baraka’s “trailblazing” record of not only talking about important issues like housing, job creation, and recidivism, but to actually do something about them. A vocal critic of what he sees as Paterson’s failure to give Paterson residents opportunities for jobs or home ownership, Melvin praised Baraka for putting residents first. 

This, Melvin offered, included Newark’s 2015 program to sell vacant lots to residents for $1,000. While some critics claim that the effort was a failure Melvin disagreed believing that simply “presenting the opportunity,” to Newark residents was what mattered. “You never know how well someone will do unless they are given opportunities,” Melvin said. 

“Newark is a better,” because of Baraka’s efforts to work together with the city council, and to adopt a unified vision,” Passaic County Freeholder T.J. Best said. “If we can do the same, Paterson will also be a better place.”

Following his brief comments and time meeting the guests individually, a relaxed Baraka wasted no time offering his advice on how Paterson can follow Newark’s lead for future success: “Collaboration, involve as many people as possible.” 

Bringing the private sector, higher education, and community together has also been beneficial in Newark, he suggested, while saying local leaders in Paterson shouldn’t “be afraid to partner with other cities.”