Newark mayoral candidates spar in last live forums

Friday, 02 May 2014 18:08 Local Talk News Editor


NEWARK - Both major Newark mayoral candidates traded contrasting citywide views while answering host questions here in their last live scheduled forums April 25 and 29.

Both Ras Baraka and Shavar Jeffries answered some questions pertaining to the respective North and West wards Friday and Tuesday night. Their messages were mostly familiar, however, to those who have consistently followed the forum or debate circuit since November.

The Friday forum, hosted by the Forest Hill Community Association at the Third Presbyterian Church, and the Tuesday forum, held by the Ivy Hill Neighborhood Association and the United Vailsburg Service Organization in the latter's teen center, are the last scheduled ones known by "Local Talk" prior to the May 13 mayor-council elections.

Cablevision-Newark confirmed Jeffries spokeswoman Lupe Todd's April 29 statement that the mayoral candidates will be in a forum in the former's studio May 7. While the "Meet the Leaders Election Forum" is to air 11 times on Channel 18 May 7-9, the live forum will not be open to a live studio audience.

"Local Talk" has meanwhile not received a reply as of deadline from St. Benedict's Prep High School regarding a purported "At-Large Council Candidates Forum" that was to be held in their auditorium 6-9 p.m. May 1. Baraka spokeswoman Tia Cooper told "Local Talk" April 26 that the at-large forum had been cancelled.

It is not known whether the St. Benedict's forum cancellation was for the same reason that the Newark Public Schools had effectively prompted UVSO and IHNA to move their venue from the Ivy Hill Elementary School auditorium to UVSO's teen center.

"We had all eight West Ward Council candidates appear before 200 people in the Ivy Hill School auditorium (April 8)," said IHNA President Houston Stevens before a similarly-sized audience in the former Vailsburg Methodist Church sanctuary April 29. "Then we were asked for conditions that came not from the school but downtown."

Stevens was alluding to an unidentified person or persons in the Newark Public Schools Central Office at 2 Cedar St. for adding presumably an insurance bond and other conditions for the INHA-UVSO mayoral forum. "Local Talk" was unable to verify the allegation from NPS by press time.
"We thank UVSO for making their teen center available free of charge," finished Stevens before turning the forum podium to organization official Pamela Daniels and forum moderator Lori Scot-Perkins.

The FHCA, by contrast, had no problem with siting its Friday forum at the 100-year-old Third Presbyterian Church. Association treasurer said that they use the church for past forums and its annual meeting. The pastor said he estimated a sanctuary audience of 400 among the 500-seat sanctuary.

Both galleries had media reporters from as distant as the "Philadelphia Inquirer," plus assorted council candidates and elected officials. Both groups included partisans for either Baraka or Jeffries, who applauded for their candidate or hooted at their opponent.

The partisan outbursts kept Scot-Perkins and April 26 monitor, Dawn Clarke from the League of Women Voters, on alert for firm but fair audience control.

Both forums had some questions particular to their wards. Baraka, for example, fielded a question on economic development for the West Ward.

"South Orange Avenue is Vailsburg's major corridor, where thousands of people travel daily," said Baraka. "We need to develop small businesses so that people can stop and shop along the avenue - and the same for Clinton Avenue and other neighborhoods throughout the city. We also need to put foreclosed and abandoned homes in a city land bank so we can develop whole neighborhoods instead of one building or store at a time."

"The reason people don't stop along the avenue is the fear of being carjacked, robbed or shot," responded Jeffries. "Residents, small business owners and developers are getting scared off from making economic development. I would establish seed capital and technical assistance for business owners who want to start in Newark."

Both candidates were asked Friday night about the proposed new rent control ordinance that is on the City Council's May 7 and 21 agenda. The new ordinance, according to an April 25 FHCA release, would "reduce the annual four percent rent increase, weigh in on capital improvement and tax surcharges with the Rent Control Board."
Jeffries and Baraka's responses more centered on residential tax abatements that the city gives to developers.

"When we give tax abatements to developers, we need to demand three things from developers," said Jeffries. "First, they have to hire Newarkers under First Source laws; second, they have to do business with Newark businesses and vendors; third, they have to develop summer internships for our students. I'd be asking this as well from our universities and large businesses."

"We need to make sure that the developers are living up to their part of the abatements," responded Baraka. "I know of developers who haven't made the capital improvements they have promised. We need to bring landlords and tenants together and establish a rent cap to keep existing small businesses in developing neighborhoods."

Jeffries and Baraka traded views and verbal jabs on economic development, among other topics, at both forums. Baraka, for example, displayed several poster boards of South Ward building projects that are starting or about to start.

"You go to Chancellor Avenue and Chadwick Street and you see a vacant lot," said Jeffries, "Same at several other lots that the councilman have shown."

"If you go down to the South Ward, you'll see cranes and bulldozers at those places," replied Baraka. "The building at 504 Clinton Ave., closed as long as I can remember, has been demolished and a new building's going up. We're about to break ground on a new community center by the Dayton Street School."

"The councilman has missed three of four city budget meeting votes," said Jeffries. "That's a sign of distracted leadership. You can't be a full-time high school principal and a part-time councilman or mayor."
"First, I'm on leave as Central High School Principal," rejoined Baraka. "Second, I'll be taking a pay-cut as mayor when I leave as principal."
"We first need to eliminate waste, fraud and abuse in our municipal budget," said Jeffries. "We can't afford a $4 million council budget with $85,000 council member salaries and five member staff at a time when we have cut 167 police officers and other municipal workers."

"The $4 million is symbolic in a $500 million budget with a $30 million structural deficit," said Baraka. "We can't cut more workers unless we don't want police officers or garbage picked up. In the end, we need to grow our way out with more revenue, like a container tax for all those containers dropped at the (sea) port. That way, we can get more police officers and code enforcers."

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