Newark mayor's race: Jeffries, Baraka trade barbs in debate

By Naomi Nix/The Star-Ledger
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on April 10, 2014


NEWARK — The moderator of tonight’s NAACP Newark mayoral debate instructed the candidates not to exchange “personal attacks” or “sound bites.”

But with a rambunctious audience egging them on, former Assistant Attorney General Shavar Jeffries and South Ward Councilman Ras Baraka lobbed accusations and traded heated barbs as they tried to convince voters they are the right man for the job when go to the polls on May 13.

Jeffries and Baraka debated government accountability, campaign transparency, economic development and crime in front of an audience of about 350 people at Essex County College.

When asked about the biggest misconception about his candidacy Baraka said that he has been portrayed as a thug and a gang member. “They say I’m a thug, why did they burn my bus?,” referring to two Jeffries campaign workers who have been charged with setting a fire on Baraka’s campaign bus.

Jeffries said thousands of dollars have been spent on advertisements that intimate he is a puppet of “scary white people.” Jefferies was referring to TV commercials recently launched by the Working Families Organization, which accuse Jeffries of being aligned with Gov. Chris Christie and Newark schools Superintendent Cami Anderson.

“There are multiple commercials that are making false accusations that are lying about my background,” he said.

Then, the candidates were asked to say something nice about one another.

“He’s fought for communities that others might not fight for,” Jeffries said, before instructing the audience to drive through the Baraka’s South Ward and evaluate his record.

Baraka applauded Jeffries for “moving back to the South Ward” before describing him as an “intelligent individual.”

Baraka and Jeffries did discuss policies for improving Newark.

Both said they were supportive of a locally controlled school system, using local universities to expand economic development and job opportunities and making sure Newark residents earn a “living wage.” They also want to increase the influence of neighborhood associations.

Jeffries and Baraka diverged slightly when answering a question about education. Baraka, a high school principal, said the fight over charter and public schools was function of real estate, saying that charter schools should pay rent when occupying public school buildings.

Jeffries, a former school advisory board member, said there was more than enough space for charter and public schools to co-exist, but they need to be improved.

When asked about holding politicians accountable, Jeffries said, “I really emphasize results,” adding later that “the elders used to say the empty wagon makes the loudest noise.”

Baraka disagreed, saying, “noise got us the civil rights act, the voting rights act. We are getting results but we making a whole lot of noise too.”

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