South Ward Councilman Ras Baraka, son of the beat-era poet Amiri Baraka, won today's mayoral election in Newark, N.J. today. Baraka ran against Shavar Jeffries, a former school board president who campaigned as an education reform advocate. Education played a major role in the election, which was seen as a referendum on reform.
Baraka served as principal of Central High School while holding his city council position, bringing his income into six figures, something his opponents have criticized him for. The Newark City Council as a whole has been criticized for the high pay and spending involved.
Baraka's supporters accused Jeffries, who helped found the TEAM Academy charter school in Newark, of being supported by the same kind of outside money that's helped make the charter school experiment a success in Newark. Outside groups spent money on both candidates, a departure from previous election cycles in the city. Baraka is a fierce critic of state-led efforts to reform the city's school system, and has been criticized for not having an alternative to charter schools or education reform for Newark's failing public schools. He was endorsed by the Newark Teachers Union.
Baraka has organized regular anti-violence protests in Newark for years. Here's a video from 2011 shot by my girlfriend at the time where Baraka spoke about the shooting death of a Virginia teacher who had gone back home to Newark in the summer. In it he advocates a kind of vigilantism toward the young men who commit the bulk of murders in Newark. Watch below:
Baraka succeeds Luis Quintana, who has been acting mayor of Newark since the election to the U.S. Senate of Cory Booker. Booker, a Democrat, bucked the party line by supporting school vouchers when running for mayor in 2006, nurturing charter schools while in office, and using his celebrity star power to promote and bring money into Newark's schools. Booker succeeded Sharpe James, who was mayor of Newark for 20 years before serving two years in jail after being convicted on corruption-related charges by then-U.S. Attorney Chris Christie. Baraka ran against James in 1994 when he was 24 years old. James was first re-elected in 1990 with no opponents