Newark Mayor Now Needs to Make Nice With Christie, Booker

Monday, July 21, 2014

The self-proclaimed “radical” new mayor of New Jersey’s largest city has for years been critical of Gov. Chris Christie and U.S. Sen. Cory Booker.

Ras Baraka accused Christie of turning his back on the working poor by vetoing a minimum wage increase in the state and eliminating the Earned Income Tax Credit. He said Booker’s actions as mayor of Newark silenced the voices of blacks and Latinos.

But Baraka’s tone will likely start to change now that he’s mayor, said John Weingart with the Eagleton Institute of Politics at Rutgers University.

Newark has a $93 million budget deficit. Weingart says the mayor will need financial assistance from the state to help implement some of the programs laid out in his transition report.  “The governor, regardless of who it is, but certainly this governor is a key player in determining how much state assistance is going to come into the city,” Weingart said.

Last year, the state sent more than $100 million to the city, according to state reports. (That does not include the more than $800 million the state spends to run the Newark school system, which the state controls).

And if there are any federal resources Newark can qualify for, Baraka will need support from his old rival Booker, Weingart said. He added that it's not beneficial for either of them to have an antagonistic relationship. “Whether or not there’s a personal affection or respect or whatever else, but they both have an interest in the city doing well,” he said.   

Booker has met face-to-face with Baraka at least once. (Baraka posted a picture of them on Facebook). Booker also attended the mayor’s inauguration, where he was booed twice by the crowd of Baraka supporters.

Christie did not attend Baraka’s inauguration, though he has met with the mayor at least three times since Baraka was elected. “He talked during the campaign to restore and revitalize Newark and I look forward to seeing that plan,” Christie said.  

But if it's money that the mayor wants from the state, Christie said the cupboards are bare. “I am not making any commitment, in any way, to any particular set of actions, including sending money there,” Christie said.

Later, Baraka said he would wear the governor down “with love.”

One thing standing in the way of Baraka’s relationship with Christie is the mayor’s relationship with the Newark schools superintendent Cami Anderson, a Christie appointee.

Baraka has been calling for her resignation since before his mayoral campaign, when he was a city councilman. Once he started running for mayor, he became more aggressive. Four principals spoke at one of his campaign rallies to oppose Anderson's school reform plan.

Days later, they were suspended. The district said the suspensions were unrelated to their speeches.

Baraka responded by calling Anderson a bully and a dictator at a school board meeting. “We demand the immediate removal of the state superintendent Cami Anderson,” Baraka said, as if she wasn't there sitting on the stage in front of him

Days before he was elected, Baraka said he was willing to work with leaders he has butted heads with in the past in order to get Newarkers what they need. “There’s politicians I deal with now who I disagree with and don’t like, quite frankly,” Baraka said. “But I work with them because the situation necessitates it.”

Two months later, sources say he and the schools superintendent have not yet met.

Anderson said Newark students need her and the mayor to have a healthy relationship. “I have reached out repeatedly to him and my door is always open to him,” she said. “We need to work together. It is my expectation we’ll work together.”  

The mayor's office did not return our request for a comment.

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