Your turn: Newark Mayor Ras Baraka answers your questions

By Star-Ledger Editorial Board
on August 12, 2014

Newark Mayor Ras Baraka met with members of The Star-Ledger editorial board on Tuesday.


Newark’s new mayor, Ras Baraka, met with The Star-Ledger’s editorial board this morning. We asked readers to send us their questions for the mayor, who was sworn in last month and inherited an underwater city budget and a police force under federal investigation.

Thanks to the many readers who submitted questions. Many were excellent and, unfortunately, there’s no way we could ever ask them all. Below are the questions we did ask, along with Baraka’s answers.

The questions were edited slightly for length and clarity.

Here’s how Baraka responded:

Q. If you had the good will, trust, and unlimited assistance of Trenton, what would your needs be? Where would Newark be going? Asked by: Justin Escher Alpert.

A: The new mayor inherited a city that is millions of dollars in the red and looking to Trenton to help balance the books. Baraka blames part of that on the economy, but Newark is fiscally handcuffed in other ways, too: In New Jersey, local government is completely reliant on property taxes to pay the bills – yet 75 percent of Newark’s real estate is occupied by tax-exempt government buildings, schools, colleges, non-profits and churches.

Baraka would like the state to grant Newark some leeway when it comes to raising tax revenues – whether through special sales or income taxes, but particularly on the city’s ability to take advantage of assets such as Newark Liberty International Airport and the Port of Newark. For example: a storage tax on containers moving through the city’s seaport could raise significant revenues for the city, the mayor said.

“There’s a lot of economic activity in those places,” Baraka said.

Baraka also believes the state could offer more help finding delinquent taxpayers, who cost the city millions each year.

Q. I read that a community working group was being formed to evaluate the effectiveness of Newark Public Schools’ leadership and to determine the impact of One Newark. What is the current status on the process of forming that working group? How does an interested Newark resident join the working group? Asked by AtticaLogatto.

A. First, some background: In June, at the same time state Education Commissioner David Hespe announced the renewed contract of Newark Superintendent Cami Anderson, he also announced the formation of the community group that would be tasked to examine Anderson’s school reorganization plan, called One Newark.

Many parent and school advocates in Newark see the group as an olive branch to folks who are unhappy with Anderson’s administration, and have refused to take part in its activities.

Baraka, meanwhile, says he’s got questions about the group, too.

“That’s a great question,” Baraka said. The mayor said he has reached out to Hespe’s office for updates on the group’s membership and agenda, but hasn’t received a response. He’s also heard from some who are interested in joining the group, but can’t seem to figure out how to sign up.

These two questions were combined:

Q. Shootings, robberies, car jacking's, drug dealers. How about more foot patrol or cops on motorcycles to protect the people of Newark and visitors instead of ticket revenue? Asked by Last Hour.


Q. The NJPAC every Thursday has the Sounds of Music event. Why does the meter ticket guys attempt to ticket every car in the area after 6 p.m.? Asked by Money30.

A. Baraka said readers are mixing the roles of Newark police officers and the city’s parking authority, which enforces parking regulations and writes parking tickets.

For parking enforcement officers, writing tickets is their responsibility. If you’re parked illegally, “they’ll get you,” he said.

As for police officers, the city’s last budget called for 100 new officers. Approximately 30 Newark-bound cadets graduated with the most recent class at the state police academy, and Baraka hopes another class of 50 will enter the academy in 2015. His goal is to rebuild the city police department – which once boasted 1,600 officers, and dropped as low as 1,000 today after years of layoffs and attrition – to about 1,200 officers.

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