Baraka criticizes Newark council over 'distractions', urges them to back initiatives

By Dan Ivers | NJ Advance Media for NJ.com
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on July 21, 2015

Newark Mayor Ras Baraka, shown here in a file photo, criticized members of the Municipal Council Tuesday for what he characterized as failure to adequately support his initiatives.

 

NEWARK – Mayor Ras Baraka took members of the Municipal Council to task Tuesday morning, accusing them of failing to adequately back his initiatives.

Speaking at the conclusion of a special meeting at City Hall, the mayor urged the council to pass resolutions of support or otherwise help him push forward a number of efforts, ranging from his ongoing battle with the Port Authority to the city's thinning ranks of police officers. 

Citing unspecified "distractions", he said he felt the council had missed opportunities to lobby the state for additional one-time funding to help close a school budget deficit, or to keep state police from leaving the city as part of the Attorney General's TIDE-TAG program.

"I think maybe we just have too much free time, or we're allowing politics to get in the way of doing what we need to do for the city," he said.

Baraka did not stop there, saying he believed citizen concerns about a Taco Bell and other fast-food restaurants set to move into a new Shop-Rite plaza along Springfield Avenue could be addressed through a new zoning ordinance.

He also asked the council to pass a resolution of support for a bill that would require police officers and firefighters to live in the towns where the work for 5 years. The bill was passed by the legislature despite little to no support from Republicans, and is currently awaiting action from Gov. Chris Christie.

"There's a myriad of things that the administration needs support on. Every single day we are out here struggling and fighting to make sure that this city is healthy, that it moves forward," Baraka said.

The mayor added that he would not mistake support on any of the long list initiatives for a promise of backing during any upcoming election.

"We don't have to be the best of friends, and if the time comes that you want to do something that's your democratic right, you should do that," he said.

Lastly, the mayor scolded the council for largely failing to attend a Monday night memorial service for Sharonda Coleman Singleton, a Newark native who one of nine people killed in a mass shooting in Charleston, S.C. last month. The member in attendance at the ceremony was Council President Mildred Crump, though South Ward Councilman John Sharpe James did send a letter of condolence that was read aloud. 

"This woman is a part of our city, our family, and we ought to wrap our arms around her...more importantly (we ought to show) that we are opposed to racism," he said.

West Ward Councilman Joe McCallum defended his absence, saying the message was only sent earlier Monday and that he had never received it. He also said he had visited with Coleman Singleton's family in Newark earlier this month, and had helped them raise money to get to South Carolina after the shooting.

"I would have especially appreciated being there....I was disheartened when I found out about that last night," he said.

North Ward Councilman Anibal Ramos Jr. also went on the offensive, said he felt the comments like the mayor's were "trying to create division where they really don't exist."

He pointed out that the council had just passed every item placed on the agenda by the administration during the special meeting, and contended that it had worked well together despite many of them being rivals during last year's election season.

"I almost feel like I was being chastised, and I don't want to feel that way," he said. "I have a job to do. I'm well aware of what my goals are...we are aware of the issues that are important to the city."

Earlier this year, council members were critical of Baraka's communication, saying he regularly failed to fill them in on details about city events and initiatives. At the time, Councilman Luis Quintana called the situation "the worst I've ever seen."

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