Mayor Baraka sets 100 day plan

Friday, 11 July 2014

LocalTalkNews.com

NEWARK - New appointments, increased community engagement, revamped departments, more community-oriented policing and an integrated economic development/ housing/ employment plan are among the steps Mayor Ras J. Baraka said he will be taking during his first 100 days in office.

That is the word Baraka presented before a Newark Public Library Centennial Hall audience of 100 here 10-11 a.m. July 9. The mayor, who officially took office July 1, said that he based his plans and priorities on a 210-page "Blueprint for Action" that came from the six June 16-23 community forums and thousands of suggestions left on believeinnewark.com through June 24.

"I'm not going through all 210 pages - we'd be here until evening," said Baraka with a dozen transition team subcommittee heads and three council members standing alongside him. "They're good ideas. What we've done is put them in 16 subcommittee categories - who I thank the (subcommittee) chairpersons for leading. Here're a few of them."

Regarding public safety, Baraka said that there will be more immediate cooperation between the Newark Police Department and the other law enforcement agencies. He said that he is aiming for 70 percent of uniform NPD officers on street beats. They will be deployed in high crime areas to stem summer crime upticks.

"We're going to do more community-oriented policing," said Baraka. "Some people think more aggressive policing curbs crime, but there are studies showing just the opposite happens."

Baraka said that there will be more police officer and recruit training along community sensitivity. The mayor wants to revive Newark's own police academy.

"That 70 percent also goes for our fire department," added Baraka. "We want them out with the community, not sitting in a fire house."

Baraka intends to expand Operation Cease-Fire citywide. Operation Cease-Fire currently envelopes parts on Newark's West, Central and South wards and into Irvington.

"Operation Cease-Fire has worked in cities from Los Angeles to Boston," said Baraka. "There are cities where it has failed. We're going to apply those lessons."

Baraka has also called for better tracking of released individuals with a known tendency for criminal activity.

"We want our parole and probation officers to pull them in," said the mayor, "and tell them 'We're watching you. You know where the activity is. You tell us.'"

Concerning Community engagement, Baraka is going to establish neighborhood boards, much like New York City's community boards.

"We want people to have a greater say in what affects them," said the mayor. "There will be improved City Hall-community relations. We had a meeting with ALL our staff members yesterday, explaining them the need for more responsive service."

Baraka re-introduced Essex County College sophomore Lucy E. Lopez as the city's first Youth Mayor. Lopez, who was also introduced July 1, was picked from among 26 applicants who submitted video presentations, wrote essays and faced interviews with the mayor.

"We had 26 people who completed their entries in three weeks," said Baraka. "The Youth Mayor will engage our young people so they will have a stake in what's going on."

One of Youth Mayor Lopez's first tasks will be to get ideas for rebranding Newark.

"We need to show the world what we have in Newark," said Baraka. "We hear about crime and other negative conditions as found in other urban areas. Chicago's had 500 murders but that doesn't keep people from coming to their food fest."

That rebranding includes changing the name of Brick City Development Corporation. ("I don't like 'Brick City,'" said Baraka.) The current BCDC, however, will become more comprehensive in developmental scope.
"What happened is that various organizations would get $10,000 Community Development Block Grants that made people happy but really didn't do anything," said Baraka. "We're no longer going to have 'economic development,' 'housing" and 'job creation' in separate silos. We will have a more holistic approach downtown and in our neighborhood corridors."

Those corridors, as listed in a July 9 press release, include Clinton Avenue, Ferry Street, Mt. Prospect Avenue and South Orange Avenue. Baraka hinted that he may open a Small Business Administration office in City Hall.

Pertaining to employment and workforce development, Baraka is calling for a summit among businesses and job developers to match employers' needs with relevant training.

The mayor praised the transition committee's Executive Recruitment Team for helping to find key candidates and volunteers.

"Our main question to each recruit is, 'Do you love Newark and its people?'" said Baraka. "I've learned this from being principal at Central High School: If you don't have a heart for your students, it won't matter who experienced or talented a teacher you are."

Baraka's CHS observation prompted at least one media representative about how he would handle future relations with Newark State District Superintendent Cami Anderson. Baraka has called for the Gov. Chris Christie-appointee's resignation.

"I want to hit the 'reset' button on that," said Baraka. "Keep in mind that if people have lost confidence in me, then anything I do or say won't matter. Without a good public school system, everything else is affected."

Speaking of Gov. Christie, Baraka sees common purpose with the once-Newark native.

"He has to answer to and care for all of the State of New Jersey, just like I have to answer to and care for all of Newark," said the mayor.

Baraka then gave an example of his comprehensive service approach by giving an example of him and his team visiting a South Ward neighborhood Monday afternoon. He, several of his deputy mayors and NPD top brass met a mother and son who were at their front porch. The residents complained of an abandoned building next door that has become a den for drug addicts and prostitutes.

"I looked in through the front door and there were people inside milling around," said Baraka. "The police officers then went in and arrested them; they then got visits by social workers. We called the Department of Neighborhood Services, who trimmed the front yard, cleared debris and boarded up the house.

"All of that was done right before the neighborhood's eyes."

"Blueprint for Action," is available as a PDF download through beleiveinnewark.com.

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