Baraka calls for 'Urban Marshall Plan' to help Newark, other struggling cities

By Dan Ivers | NJ Advance Media for NJ.com
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on September 14, 2015

Newark Mayor Ras Baraka, shown here in a file photo, is calling for an "Urban Marshall Plan" that would send money to Newark and other cities around the country to rebuild infrastructure and provide new jobs

 

NEWARK — As cities around the country search for a solution to persistent unemployment, violence and poverty, Newark Mayor Ras Baraka believes he may have found one in the history books.

In an interview with NJ Advance Media on Monday, Baraka expanded on his push for an "Urban Marshall Plan" - an updated version of the federal government's hefty contribution to boost the economies of European countries devastated during World War II.

"We need our cities rebuilt. The same way they rebuilt Europe after World War II, these cities need to be rebuilt — in America," he said.

Baraka cited the various infrastructure issues in Newark, from a centuries-old sewer system and crumbling roads to schools built in the late 19th century, as obvious candidates for federal funding. However, he also said the city could benefit from investments in manufacturing and job training to ensure opportunities for residents long after public projects have been completed.

It is unclear how much money all of that might require, but the mayor noted that the original Marshall Plan allocation of $13 billion would be equal to about $130 billion today.

"When you talk to other urban mayors, you see that we all suffer from the same issues," he said. "I think that all of it ties in - increases in violent crime, issues with the school system - it always goes back to poverty and unemployment at the base of it. I think it's time for America to pay attention to the cities."

"I think a lot of it should be public works project," he said. "To boost the morale, to strengthen families, to inject money into this economy here that's been basically neglected for the last five decades."

The call also comes after nearly a century of massive federal initiatives that Baraka claims have either largely ignored or harmed urban and minority communities, including investments into urban housing projects and interstate highways that sent much of Newark's population to nearby suburbs, never to return.

The latest in that tradition came in 2009, in the form of a $831 billion stimulus plan aimed at jump-starting the nation's then-lagging economy. But Baraka said little of that money ever made its way to the neediest neighborhoods of Newark and other cities, and called for any new funds to be delivered directly to cities, rather than divvied out by state governments.

"It's not just the infusion of cash, what it is, is attention spent on these cities that have been neglected," he said.

Some eyebrows might be raised by such an arrangement, given that Newark is currently operating under state oversight of its finances after years of budget shortfalls and often-questionable spending habits. Baraka, however, said that the city's financial woes have more to do with its lack of tax base and other resources needed to meet its needs.

"I think a lot of the stuff is, we have more to do than we have money coming in," he said.

Baraka said he has received support for his plan from other urban mayors, though the idea has yet to gain much public traction. While any push for such a large share of political dollars would prove difficult, he believes improvements to the country's infrastructure would garner some bipartisan support.

Despite the obvious hurdles, however, the mayor said the push would also need to put an end to a lengthy history of inaction that he believes is far from circumstantial.

"Whenever you have five decades of double-digit unemployment...and nobody acts, it's negligence. And its purposeful negligence, because everybody knows what's going on," he said.

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