Other NJ News

Newark's 4 Living Elected Mayors Sit Shoulder-to-Shoulder & Find Common Ground

74ffad9bbb633c5bd878_WBGO1200x800.jpg
Newark's four living elected mayors: Ken Gibson, Sharpe James, U.S. Sen. Cory Booker and Ras Baraka, the current mayor. Credits: Mark J. Bonamo
74ffad9bbb633c5bd878_WBGO1200x800.jpg

NEWARK, NJ — For nearly the last half-century, just four men have been elected to run Newark.

On Friday evening, they gathered in WBGO's radio studio in Newark to share stories about their terms in office.

What emerged during their hour-long discussion was that while the progress of the city depended on each mayor building on the achievements of their predecessors, they all faced similar problems that still challenge the city's foundation. 

Sign Up for E-News

"I inherited a lot of problems, and frankly, most of these problems still exist. But the important thing is that we made national and international history," said Ken Gibson, the oldest of the four mayors present for an history-making live broadcast of WBGO's Newark Today show, hosted and moderated by NJTV reporter Michael Hill and streamed live by NJTV. 

The mayors assembled — Gibson, Sharpe James, now-U.S. Senator Cory Booker and present Mayor Ras Baraka — were at times rivals and at times allies over a combined 47 years in Newark politics. 

Gibson took over a Newark riven by the 1967 civil disturbances, which some call a riot and others a rebellion. He faced a hostile council which included colorful antagonists such as the North Ward's Anthony "Tough Tony" Imperiale. 

But he also prevailed on the federal government for special attention and grants, helping to slow down the city's free fall and sowing the seeds for a future comeback. 

"I had to hit the ground running, because it was no novelty being the second African-American mayor. Where are the jobs? Where's the housing?" said James, who was elected as Gibson's successor in 1986.  

"But projects that [Gibson] started [such as the Society Hill housing development], I was able to complete," James said "We created a renaissance and changed the landscape of Newark forever." 

Booker noted that James' strong support for the construction of the New Jersey Performing Arts Center in the late 1990s served as the "ignition point" for Newark's booming downtown development, which includes the refurbishment of Military Park, the new Prudential Financial office tower, and the reopening of the historic Hahne & Co. building, which will include a Whole Foods supermarket. 

"When people could not or would not believe in Newark, [Gibson and James] did," said Booker, elected as James' successor in 2006. "They fueled the phoenix for the rise of this city." 

Baraka, elected in 2014, noted how Booker continued to spur Newark's growth, including presiding over census numbers that demonstrated population growth for the first time in decades. 

"When the Senator was the mayor, we were in one of the worst economic crises that this country has seen since the Great Depression.  He was bringing in a lot of people to the city and a lot of projects in a very difficult period," said Baraka, referencing the soon-to-be completed Triangle Park. "I'm just blessed to be able to take the ball and take it further down the field, and try to convert these things into touchdowns." 

But if Newark is really going to score major redevelopment points in the years ahead, call-in questions from listeners underscored the tests the city still has to pass. 

A man from Bergen County asked Mayor Baraka about crime and homelessness in the city, pointing out that visitors to the city are often greeted by the homeless when they arrive. 

"Well, it didn't stop me from going to Madison Square Garden," said Baraka, pointing out that a recent municipal report showed the level of crime in the city at the lowest point in decades. "All of those things people use to dampen the progress in the city of Newark. We won't allow that."

"You can't put a cop on every corner. Put a house there. Put development there. Bring people in," said James. "Put eyes and ears in the community." 

"It is more expensive for a mentally ill person to be on the streets than it is to put them in supportive housing, yet we don't fund supportive housing or mental health care," added Booker. "So these battles that we put on the shoulders of mayors for what we should be prioritizing and doing as a community, is what we should be talking about as a country."

A woman called in and questioned Booker about what could be the most divisive issue among Newarkers: the future of the city's public schools. She specifically asked if Booker if he made a mistake putting charter schools in Newark. 

"When the charter school movement started happening, my focus was that I wanted to make sure that they were good charter schools, and if they weren't going to be good, we were going to close them," said Booker, noting that he had no direct power to put charter schools in the city. 

"My focus is on our kids in Newark having quality schools and options, just as if you were a millionaire's child," Booker said. "Our kids are just as special. In Newark, the quality choices are improving." 

Baraka, a former public school principal, addressed the issue with a tone that was both concerned and conciliatory. 

"In an atmosphere of scarce resources, how public schools are funded through property taxes inherently is a problem. To rob Peter to pay Paul is going to be an issue," Baraka said. 

"A lot of these decisions are made outside of the purview of the people that they affect," Baraka said. "The closer that we are able to make the decisions locally, the more sound and the more pragmatic they'll be. Cooler heads have to prevail, and we have to figure out how to make it work." 

Baraka's reference to the incipient return of local control over the city's public schools, which have been under state control since 1995, sparked a cutting comment from James.  

"It's an embarrassment. It's not about education. It's not about our children. It's about who gets the contract, who gets the jobs, and who takes away the six-figure salary," James said. "Most of the arguments around education are not about children. They're about money." 

The money now pouring into Newark, especially the hundreds of millions of dollars funding downtown redevelopment, prompted a call from a man in Jersey City, asking if gentrification will also benefit the current population of Newark. 

"I don't think gentrification is happening in Newark first of all right now. I just don't see it. When we talk about gentrification, it's the displacement of one group of people for another. That's just simply not happening," Baraka said. "What's happening now is abandoned properties that weren't being used are now being developed. Buildings that were not thought of or imagined are coming up out of the ground. 

"We have about 300,000 residents. Newark at one point had about half a million people in the city," Baraka said. "We have room for hundreds of thousands of people." 

"When you look at the Studebaker lofts and Richardson lofts, these projects have 30, 40 even more [percent] affordable housing to make sure that Newarkers could have a shot at living there," Booker added. 

Toward the end of the program, Hill referred back to Baraka's fiery words during his 2014 inaugural speech: "We need a mayor that's radical."

After some shared laughter, the other mayors on the panel redefined radical in the context of running Newark. 

"If you fight for your city and for your people, you're a radical," James said. "And if you really fight hard, you become a target. That's the price you have to pay." 

"You can't lead the people if you don't love the people, and love is a radical thing. In the context of [President Donald Trump], demeaning and degrading people, condemning inner cities, that's not radical," Booker said. "You can say whatever you want about the four of us, but we are folk that love the city of Newark." 

Gibson is well-known for a quote made at the dawn of his mayoral reign: "Wherever American cities are going, Newark will get there first.”

Now at the dawn of a civic surge of revival, Gibson set the frame for Newark's place in the sun. 

"[We were told] it was not our time, and we had to fight through that first," Gibson said. "But we were able to succeed, and we surprised a lot of people." 

TAP Into Another Town's News:

You May Also Be Interested In

Sign Up for E-News

Westfield

Video: Union County Celebrates Pride Month with CommUNITY PRIDE Day Picnic

June 18, 2018

RAHWAY, NJ — Parents, children, friends and all family members came out on Saturday afternoon to Rahway River Park for the Union County CommUNITY PRIDE Day Picnic.

The family-friendly celebration hosted by the Union County Board of Chosen Freeholders was a day of arts and crafts, family lawn games, inflatable bounce houses, playground fun and more, along with music by the rock ...

Westfield 20/20 Endorses Tom Malinowski for Congress

June 18, 2018

The upcoming congressional election is not a typical midterm. We, as a country, are in a state of crisis. We need strong leaders to hold the current White House administration accountable on important policy matters such as healthcare, the environment, gun violence, and the rights of women.

Throughout his candidacy, Tom Malinowski has demonstrated intellect, conviction, and strength. As a ...

Upcoming Events

Carousel_image_5dd1a9491eca98aed646_best_79fa8c672d731919f994_tap_building

Tue, June 19, 7:00 PM

Westfield Municipal Building, Westfield

Westfield Town Council Meeting

Community Calendar Government

Carousel_image_0fcaafb85e2e2677157f_img_5705_-_westfield_boe_2

Tue, June 19, 7:30 PM

BOE Administration Building, Westfield

Regular Meeting of Board of Education of Westfield

Education

Carousel_image_047913bad52c65b1222e_westfield_band_photo_summer_2015__2_on_gazebo

Thu, June 21, 7:30 PM

Mindowaskin Park, Westfield

Westfield Summer Concert Series

Arts & Entertainment

Westfield Police Blotter: Tires Slashed on Scotch Plains Ave & More

June 13, 2018

June 6, 2018 3:05 p.m.

A resident of the 200 block of sunset avenue reports being the victim of a fraud. Unknown actor(s) utilized victims credit card to purchase an appliance valued at $1,000.00. Victim did not sustain any monetary loss during this incident. 

June 6, 2018 6:50 a.m.

A resident of the 100 block of Scotch Plains Avenue reports being the victim of a criminal mischief.

Youth Mental Health First Aid

June 19, 2018

Caring Contact, a crisis hotline that serves Northern and Central New Jersey, will be offering Youth Mental Health First Aid Training in Westfield on July 17 and 24. Youth Mental Health First Aid is designed to teach parents, family members, caregivers, teachers, school staff, peers, neighbors, health and human service workers, and other caring citizens how to help an adolescent (age 12-18) ...

Cool Ways to Save Money This Summer

As the summer temperatures rise, home cooling costs rise as well. But there are ways to help save money without sweating the heat:

To increase your cooling system’s efficiency by as much as 20%, get it checked out for summer.  A technician will clean the condenser, make sure you have the optimal amount of refrigerant, and ensure the airflow over the coil is ...

Understand the New Law for Paid Sick Leave

Paid sick leave is now the law in New Jersey.

New Jersey has passed a paid sick leave law which preempts paid sick leave ordinances adopted by several cities and towns so there is now one uniform law in this area for New Jersey employers. Here is what you need to know about the new law.

33 Homes Sold June 10 to June 17 in Westfield, Scotch Plains, Fanwood, Mountainside & Cranford

Thirty-three Homes sold from June 10 to June 17, 2018, in Westfield, Scotch Plains, Fanwood, Cranford and Mountainside.*

 

TOWN         ADDRESS                      STYLE    ...

Westfield 3rd Graders Receive Top Honors at Mock Trial Competition

Westfield third graders recently received top honors for three mock court cases they presented at the New Jersey Bar Foundation Law Fair.

“I am proud that, out of 84 entries submitted, our third grade students (now fourth graders) in the Gifted Program have won 1st Place, 2nd Place and Honorable Mention in the 3rd Grade category [of the Law Fair ...

Maximizing Your Portfolio’s Returns -- Beware the Taxman

The old adage in the investment world is that it is not what you make, but what you keep that counts.  Investors often overlook the ultimate deflator of portfolio returns – the taxman. An astute global asset allocation should be the number one priority for investors.  However, there are preferred ways to distribute this asset allocation over the spectrum of taxable and ...

Greatness

In honor of the Lubavitcher Rebbe's (of righteous memory) 24th  Yahrtzeit (anniversary of his passing) this coming Saturday the 16th.

Excerpts from an address given by Nobel-laureate Elie Wiesel on April 7, 1992, at a congressional dinner held in Washington on the occasion of the Rebbe's 90th birthday.

Some of you are aware of my admiration, not only ...

Healthy U Spring Symposium Marks 10 Years of Community Impact

WESTFIELD, NJ — More than 100 Healthy U champions and partners from YMCAs and schools from all over the state gathered at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford on May 18 to celebrate 10 years of community impact. Healthy U was also formally presented with the 2017 CATCH® Award for Excellence in State Health. 

CATCH (Coordinated Approach to Child Health) is the ...

Is Summer Camp the Right Choice for My Child?

Is your child attending camp this summer? Is it their first experience away?  If yes, it can be an experience causing anxiety for you, for the parent and the child. 

This experience can be frightening to your child if it is their first time and it is so important that they do not see your worry or anxiety about leaving home for the first time… especially if it is sleep ...

AtlantiCast

AtlantiCast: Episode 16

Summer is in the air, and the latest episode of AtlantiCast is ready to help you enjoy some fun outdoors while staying safe! This week’s episode opens with tips for sunscreen usage from Atlantic Health System’s Chief Medical and Academic Officer, Dr. Jan Schwarz-Miller. You’ll also learn about how Atlantic Health System is advancing the future of health care through ...

Bridgewater Mall Shut Down for 2 Hours After Fight Breaks Out

June 14, 2018

BRIDGEWATER, NJ — No injuries have been reported after a fight involving a crowd of people shut down the Bridgewater Commons Mall for two hours Thursday evening.

According to a Nixle alert from the Bridgewater Township Police Department at 9 p.m., the investigation at the mall has been completed, and the mall was resuming normal business operations.

According to Somerset County ...

Obituaries

Eric Lieberman, 47, of Scotch Plains, passed away suddenly and unexpectedly Tuesday, May 22, 2018 ...
Read more