Interview with Newark Mayoral Candidate Anibal Ramos

Friday, 13 December 2013 20:35 Local Talk News Editor

 

At a crucial time when Newark is merging with new leadership, it is important for Local Talk's readers to know about the knowledge and capabilities of the candidates. We have already published two interviews with Shavar Jefferies and Darrin Sharif. This is the third interview of our series, this time with Anibal Ramos.

 Dhiren Shah: Welcome to this interview Mr. Ramos. What qualifies you to run for Mayor of Newark, the largest city in New Jersey?

Anibal Ramos: I am the only candidate running for mayor that has executive leadership experience. I ran the largest human services organization in the state of New Jersey, over 1,400 employees. Officially, I have reduced the size of my administrative staff and increasing the staff that was dedicated to provide services for seniors and kids involved in juvenile centers. I ran for council in 2006 and again in 2010 and was reelected. Every public office I sought election-wise I won. I have good executive leadership experience and with organizations that are large. I have legislative experience as councilman and school board side.

DS: Lately, I have heard rumors that you are dropping out of the race, and the democratic machine might not support you. Is it true or not?

AR: The only people that want me to drop out are my opposition. My candidacy is strong. We picked up the endorsement of three ward chairmen out of five wards, North Ward, Central Ward and East Ward. We have strong organization in every ward of the city.

DS: Outside of work in your ward, what have you done to support Newark?

AR: I am very proud of a number of legislative items that I have championed, such as sponsoring prevailing wage that covers lot of employees that are working in our municipal buildings for private companies. Recently, I was the sponsor of a paid sick leave bill, which is going to provide paid sick leave for over 28,000 Newark residents that don't have that right. I have sponsored a bill that requires security in the large apartment buildings and I am proud of the bill for emergency contract reform. That basically requires the administration to bid competitively for the city contracts.

DS: What will you do to ensure that your decision making as mayor will be in the best interest of the citizens of Newark, and not for any political powerbrokers?

AR: I always tell people to judge me based on my background. For five and a half years I managed a nonprofit organization, I was a board of education employee under Marion Bolden, and I ran the largest county human service organization over 10 years. My decision making and my background is in human services and public service. I really believe that one of the biggest challenges we face as officials is to reinstate the confidence between the residents and the government. My number one mission is to have the city government responsive. I will work hard to reorganizing city hall.

DS: How would you address the crime situation in Newark?

AR: Crime to me represents the most pressing issue we have in the city. Currently, the Newark Police Department, in the economic climate we are in, actually has less than 1,000 sworn officers. My number one priority is to reorganize the police department. More cops on the street. Civilianize the finance department within the police department. And, I want to stabilize and strengthen the city's financial position. My top priority is investing in the police department.
We need more police officers out on the street, so they can better serve the residents. One part in my reorganization is to include the Central Ward precinct. Currently, we have five political wards, but four precincts. That limits our ability to be responsive for our residents.

DS: How would you help small businesses?

AR: To me, small businesses are the backbone for the economy in the city of Newark. We are blessed to have our campaign office on Bloomfield Avenue, which is symbolic of the corridor that is very successful in attracting small businesses. I want to create a city government structure that streamlines the permitting and licensing process. That is very frustrating for small businesses. Bureaucracy at City Hall is not conducive to small businesses. We are going to look at some of the challenges small businesses face. We have to increase number of small businesses that is in our city. I created the city's only special improvement district in seven and a half years on Mount Prospect Avenue. It definitely can expand throughout the city and create more small businesses.

DS: In your opinion, what would you consider as a small business?

AR: In my opinion, any business that has less than 20 employees. Those with 20 to 50 employees are moderately sized.

DS: The city council has come under fire for its hefty budget. According to what Darrin Sharif told us, he says his aides are the only ones really working hard behind the scenes. What has your staff done to earn their salaries? Also, what perks do you get as a councilmember?

AR: I am proud to say that I am the only councilperson that doesn't drive a city car. I don't have a city phone. My first act is to reduce a lot of the expenses the council side. I voted and pushed to eliminate the council's public relations contract, which was more than a half a million dollars a year. I consistently voted against other contracts for the clerk's office issues. For me, those dollars are better invested in the neighborhood services and the police department. I am currently carrying less staff than I am entitled to. Each councilperson is allocated five full time aides. I currently have three aides, and they work hard every single day, in the evenings and weekends to address a lot of constituent concerns. I personally give out my cell number to many of the residents. They can reach me via e-mail, Facebook, Twitter, and our job is to address many of the issues that come to our office.

DS: Besides crime, education and businesses, what do you think is the biggest issue in Newark right now?

AR: To me, economic development is a key part to our success. We have many thriving businesses and we can increase more ratables to support our municipal government. The City's development strategy should not just be downtown development. We have to invest in our neighborhood. Strengthening the city's financial position is going to enable us to invest in police, incentivize business development, and incentivize many of our social and human services. That is the biggest challenge we have right now; to build a prosperous and economically sound city.

DS: As mayor, how can you help fix the failing education system?

AR: I believe that every child in Newark deserves a quality education. I am believer of parents having empowerment, having the ability to pick the schools where their children go to school. I am the biggest advocate as it relates to public education in the city. I believe that there should be a strong partnership between the superintendent and the mayor of the city to address failing schools. When it comes to the public education system, we should know what services the city can provide, whether it's investing in afterschool programs, creating summer schools, funding college prep programs, so we can support developing the best education system in the city.

DS: Many people have lobbied for local control of the schools. Do you feel that it is a good idea? Why or why not?

AR: I really believe that the residents of the city should be empowered. When it comes to the public education system, local control comes with local responsibility. Currently, the city subsidizes 12% of the school district's budget. Out of a billion dollar budget, our contribution is about 120 million dollars. And that is what we have to look at when we gain local control. Have parents involved and make everyone stakeholders in state, local and board of education.

DS: What do you think Cory Booker did exceptionally well AND did wrong during his tenure as mayor?

AR: I think Mayor Booker definitely helped the city of Newark in improving its image, attracting investment in the city and raised philanthropic dollars, such as supporting the police department and supporting our public education system. I will do better by focusing and managing city services for our residents and addressing the structural budget gap that the city still has.

DS: Everyone says they are for transparency of the government. How would make it an effective practice?

AR: I championed the open appointment process that basically means that if you want to serve the city's commission, the city has to advertise openings and encourage residents to send their resumes for zoning board, affirmative action board. I sponsored the emergency contract law. What I found after doing some research, this administration was overusing emergency contracts. Emergency contracts is the authority given to the government so you can do such things as fix water main breaks, address snow emergencies, we saw architectural contracts given to attorneys. My legislation will limit the administration for emergency contracts, and most importantly forces them to have open competitive contracts when it comes to goods and services. I also champion some of the pay to play reforms that have created an environment in our city that people know that there is a donation made politically. Then, there are limits. The State of New Jersey has a rule that donations under $300 do not have to be disclosed, but that should be disclosed also.

DS: After the election, if the city council is still divided, how will you unite them?

AR: By having a good dialogue within the municipal council. Despite the political differences, people are elected to serve the residents of the city, and we have to focus on issues that can bind us together. I don't look at a political divide as an obstacle. People are able to sit down and in most cases move the city forward.

DS: When you were acting council president, the council was divided. If you weren't able to unite the council then, how can you do it now?

AR: I think there some political differences in the council, but I am proud to tell you that we were eight persons on the council and moved forward 90% of the agenda items. You will not find any effective legislative body anywhere in the country that was able to. Despite differences on political issues, we were able to agree on development projects, tax abatements, contracts for various city services. We have a track record of moving forward, and now we have nine members on the council. When I was president, we adopted the budget that reduced the tax rate about 18%, and adopted a budget that free transitional aid from the state.

DS: Where do you see Newark in five years?

AR: I see the population continuing to increase. I see a city that is financially sound, not dependent on transitional aid from the state. I see the development going on in 12 major corridors of the city of Newark. I see the city much safer than it is today.

DS: Are you for Municipal Utilities Authority (MUA)?

AR: I am for fixing and addressing the infrastructure we are currently having in our water system. We have one of the oldest, but one of the best water systems in the country. It's a great asset. As mayor, I want to work with the council to figure out to ways to raise the money. We need to address many of the infrastructure problems we have. The fixes are close to 200 million dollars over a ten to fifteen year period. My track record as administrator is not laying people off from work. I am not for or against an MUA. I am for addressing water infrastructure issues.

DS: When there was MUA proposal or resolution, how did you vote?

AR: I supported considering it. I believe that it was the most viable option the administration gave us to address the infrastructure issues. Since then, there is no commitment to address the infrastructure problem. In the last five or six years I have not seen any proposal made by the administration to raise the money to fix the problems.

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