Baraka taps activist, Giuliani veteran, lead communications department

By Naomi Nix | NJ Advance Media for NJ.com 

NEWARK — Newark Mayor Ras Baraka has tapped Felipe Luciano, an activist who helped former New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani facilitate a relationship between residents and the police, to lead the city's communications department.

Luciano takes the reins from Sakina Cole, who led Baraka's communications team for seven months before resigning in December.

Luciano takes the reins from Sakina Cole, who led Baraka's communications team for seven months before resigning in December.

Luciano, 67, who was born and raised in East Harlem, has worn many hats from convict and a revolutionary to journalist and politician.

“It’s been a checkered career,” he said in a phone interview today. “It’s a been a ball.”

As a youth Luciano spent two years prison for attempted manslaughter in connection with the fatal stabbing of young male in the early 1960s.

After his nemesis on the streets beat up his brother Luciano said he led a group from his gang — the Canarsie Chaplains — to beat up his brother's attacker. Eventually, another individual not connected to Luciano's gang stabbed the youth, Luciano said.

But the East Harlem native's life would soon go in a different direction.

After leaving prison, he studied politics for two years at Queens College in New York City.

By 1969, Luciano had co-founded and served as the chairman of the Young Lords Party, a Puerto Rican nationalist group that advocated against the social barriers facing Latinos in New York and Chicago.

After leaving his post at The Young Lords party, he jumped into radio working on a latin music program on WRBR.

He then transitioned into television journalism. Luciano worked as a reporter for NBC, Essence T.V., CBS and Fox.

Luciano won an Emmy for a report on NBC on prison life at Riker's Island. He has also conducted a special report on the Creedmoor Psychiatric Center, he said.

In the 1990s former Mayor Rudolph Giuliani tapped Luciano to be on a city task force he created to facilitate conversation between neighborhoods and police officers about law enforcement practices.

“We all put in our suggestions most of which were not implemented,” he said.

Luciano also ran unsuccessfully for the East Harlem seat of the New York City Council in 2001. He lost a subsequent bid for the seat by a sliver of votes in 2005, he said.

He is currently writing a memoir about his life, he said.

Luciano, who said he has known Baraka since he was a youth, said he is excited to take on his role in Newark's city government. Among the initiatives he plans to tackle, is beefing up the programming on channel 78, he said.

"Newark is known for all of the bad things that urban metropolises have," he said "We want to change that. This is a great town."

Naomi Nix may be reached at nnix@njadvancemedia.com. Follow her on Twitter @nsnix87. Find NJ.com on Facebook.

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