Police layoffs dog Booker at mayoral candidates' forum

By Max Pizarro | October 2nd, 2013

 

NEWARK – Heedless of those rigid political cycles designating their contest as a 2014 event, the candidates for Newark mayor trampled into the 2013 gubernatorial arena with a competitive vengeance this afternoon.

The emcee told a packed room at the student center that the Rutgers University School of Public Affairs-sponsored forum was not a debate. But as Gov. Chris Christie leads Democratic opponent Barbara Buono by 19 points in the Nov. 5 general election, a new, post-Cory Booker era in Newark puts the city in a pick ‘em frame of mind early.

That translated into an animated gave and take, with more than a few slaps at the departing mayor, who’s running for the U.S. Senate in an Oct. 16 special election.

The four men who would be mayor sat onstage: North Ward Councilman Anibal Ramos, Central Ward Councilman Darrin Sharif, former assistant Attorney General Shavar Jeffries, and South Ward Councilman Ras Baraka.

Speaking third after Ramos and Sharif, Jeffries got the first big warm response of the day.  “The people of Newark put me on their back,” he said, sprinkling his opening remarks with laugh-inducing details about growing up in the South Ward.

His remarks turned tough when he talked about his mother - a murder victim - and crime. “It’s gotten worse since the city laid off 170 cops,” said Jeffries. “It’s open season. I worry about my wife and children. …It’s so dangerous in our neighborhoods that people are leaving.”

Baraka then put hands together with his declaration that “Indivisibility of justice has always (informed) my public service.” Moments later, he also dinged Booker. “Crime is a symptom of poverty and unemployment,” said the South Ward councilman. “He didn’t develop the economic plan we needed in our city.”

The South Ward councilman continued to muscle points on the issue of crime.

“Mussolini made the trains run on time,” he said, batting a question about corporate partnerships with government. “Shavar mentioned how we lost 167 cops. That was because of austerity and efficiency but the result of that is death and high crime.”

Jeffries then uncoiled on Baraka.

“The mayor and the city council (approved the police department cuts),” he said, slapping the South and North Ward reps in one sentence.  “The council did give themselves a pay raise.”

Groans ensued from the Baraka camp.

“When you are in that space you have to be more creative,” said Jeffries. “Part of the reason we’re not as innovative is we should have term limits. When you rotate leadership you make sure the same folks aren’t in the same in place for 25 years.”

Baraka dug at Jeffries moments later.

To date, the latter has tried to muddy the perceived frontrunner and Baraka today showed a willingness to keep Jeffries stalled.

"Newark’s population is increasing," he said in an objection to Jeffries' earlier characterization of the city. "Nobody’s leaving, they’re coming. Businesses are flooding into the city. While our eyes are closed, other people are moving into your city."

As his crowd cheered, Baraka doubled up on his opponent. "I didn’t raise my salary," he said. "Just because you say a thing over and over again does not make it true."

Jeffries insisted he did, then stayed on offense, trying to get points by turning Baraka into the apologist for development to the neglect of neighborhood angst.

Sharif set himself up as the appalled bystander dutifully holding to the rules of the non-debate forum.

“They’re trying to press all the emotional buttons to get us all riled up,” the central ward councilman said to applause.

Ramos said he resented candidates painting the place as Gotham in search of Batman. 

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