365 days of Baraka: 4 challenges he will face during his second year

By Dan Ivers | NJ Advance Media for NJ.com
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on July 01, 2015

NEWARK – One year of Ras Baraka is in the books.

While the first 365 days of his administration have brought a number of notable successes, Newark still faces a number of challenges that he will need to tackle during his second year in office.

Many, such as a budget deficit and high rates of crime and unemployment, are nothing new in the city – the same challenges it has faced for decades. Others, such as the suddenly realistic end of state control over city schools, represent new and unique hurdles.

Here are 4 of the biggest challenges Baraka may face over the next year:

Navigating the path to 'local control'

Baraka scored a victory last week when he and Gov. Chris Christie announced their intention to begin transitioning control of Newark schools back to the city, ending more than 20 years of state oversight.

The two collaborated to form a nine-member board aimed at navigating the change of hands, but many have questioned Christie's motives as he pursues a run for the White House. The state has also recommended former Education Commissioner Chris Cerf take over the district superintendent job from the embattled Cami Anderson, giving the appearance that it has no intention of backing off of the highly controversial "One Newark" plan.

Baraka will need to make sure Christie and others keep their word in order to come through on his promises to residents.

Keeping crime at bay

It's not a new problem for Newark, but Baraka has made public safety a hallmark of his administration, and boasted about reductions in homicides and other violent crimes after a strong first quarter.

Since then, however, statistics have ballooned to roughly 2014 levels, and some measurements, including non-fatal shootings, are outpacing last year's rate by up to 30 percent.

The mayor will be hoping that additions to the police force and other initiatives can continue to signal a sense of progress toward a safer Newark.

Working with a federal monitor

It's been nearly a year since the U.S. Department of Justice revealed the results of a damning investigation into the city's police force, and Baraka has already agreed to allow a federally appointed monitor to oversee a series of reforms to the force.

While we wait, Baraka has already taken a number of actions aimed at addressing problems raised in the report, including creating a civilian complaint review board with the power to investigate and make discipline recommendations in cases of alleged officer misconduct.

The mayor will need to cooperate with the monitor when one finally arrives, while pushing along the reforms to help make their stay a short one.

Balancing the budget

It's an annual issue in the state's largest city – where a March deadline for a budget it treated as more of a guideline.

Earlier this year, officials estimated the expected deficit for 2015 at about $50 million. It's not good news, though it is an improvement from the $93 million shortfall Baraka inherited after taking office last July.

He initially expressed hope that a budget might be introduced by April, though that proved overly optimistic. Residents will wait and see how he will manage the city's finances with one year in office under his belt.

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