Mayor Ras Baraka touts a 'Newark forward' in state of the city

By Karen Yi | NJ Advance Media for NJ.com
on March 20, 2017

 

NEWARK -- Taking the stage at the New Jersey Performing Arts Center Monday night, Mayor Ras Baraka spoke of a Newark transformed -- how a city often defined by its violence was emerging as a place for growth and innovation. 

"This is our time to show the world what we can do, how to rise out of fire -- all of us -- every religion and every nationality," Baraka, 46, said before a packed crowd. "This is our Newark, Newark 3.0, Newark forward."

In his third state of the city speech since taking office in 2014, Baraka outlined the contours of his changing city -- a new Whole Foods at the remodeled Hahne & Co. building, a coming 22-acre public park in the downtown and a 13 percent reduction in overall crime.

"This has always been the thing that we have allowed others to define us by ... we have had decades of intractable and stubborn crime and violence in our community," Baraka said. "But I am happy to say that we are moving in the right direction."

In a wide-ranging speech, spanning about an hour, Baraka touched on the city's most pressing issues: public safety, development and jobs. 

"We are cutting ribbons and doing groundbreakings almost every week," he said before a screen that read "Newark Forward." "We have over $2 billion of construction happening or in the pipeline right now." 

With millions of square feet of commercial, residential and industrial development Baraka said change would not come at the expense of current residents. 

"We know that there is a cry for affordable housing in this city which is why we are working on Newark's first inclusionary zoning ordinance to ensure that new housing development includes affordable homes and apartments," he said. 

'Our city is a sanctuary city'

Baraka took a stab at President Donald J. Trump's immigration policies and reiterated the city's status as a sanctuary city. 

Sanctuary cities generally limit their cooperation with immigration officials and Trump has vowed to cut federal funding from such jurisdictions. 

"Our commitment to democracy will make us safer and more prosperous, not fear and division," he said. "We are a sanctuary city because it is who we are, our essence, a maker city, full of immigrants and ex-slaves escaping terror in the south."

Among one of the night's highlights, Baraka touted the city's diversity in Spanish and promised to protect undocumented immigrants as the crowd stood in applause and residents representing different cultures joined him on stage.

'This is Newark moving forward'

Photos of cranes, renderings and ongoing construction flashed behind Baraka as he rattled off coming retail and housing developments: A new poetry cafe, apartments for those with special needs and veterans transitional housing for women.

"I can go on and on and on," he said, listing more coming projects in once-abandoned buildings. But he said that the city would also ensure residents could afford to live in a changing Newark. 

"We are focused on affordable housing," he said. "So when somebody tells you this is the next Brooklyn you say no, this is the next Newark."

Baraka said the city had provided 404 new affordable apartments and an additional 800 were in the pipeline. 

He planned to convene a panel of developers and community representatives to make sure the city's development is inclusive and "that this renaissance that all of us have been waiting for, leaves the station with Newarkers on the train."

'Hire. Buy. Live'

With less than 20 percent of jobs in Newark going to city residents, Baraka underscored training programs and partnerships with companies to boost this number and raise living wages. 

He said 1,000 construction and permanent jobs were coming to the city and announced a new partnership with businesses, medical institutions, higher education, clergy and workforce development programs called "Hire. Buy. Live. Newark" that would find full-time jobs for 2,020 unemployed residents by 2020. The plan would also push companies to procure locally and spur population growth. 

Baraka said the plan was "an unprecedented collaboration for an American city."

'Forward ever, backward never'

Speaking before a crowd of nearly 3,000, that included former governors, state senators and assembly members, Baraka said the city was making strides to reduce crime and be a model for other major cities in the U.S.

He announced a new initiative to put street-level cameras in at least 125 "hot spots" in the city that will allow neighbors to monitor their own blocks -- on their phones and computers -- and make anonymous tips to police. 

Baraka said police removed 500 guns off the street last year, as officers rolled out some of those weapons on the stage. 

"This is why we need national gun reform policy now in this country," Baraka said pointing to the dozens of guns. He also mentioned the fatal shooting of a 10-year-old boy Saturday when an 11-year-old child was holding a gun that accidentally fired. 

As he wrapped up, the crowd was electrified as Baraka talked about moving forward, not backward. One woman chanted, "best mayor in the United States!" Others, led by Baraka chanted, "forward ever, backward, never."

"We have the ability today to chart a path for ourselves that has been the least traveled," Baraka said."We are not letting up, we have just begun and we have so much more to do."

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