On Baraka's transition team, the campaign continues

By Naomi Nix/The Star-Ledger
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on June 15, 2014

(L-R) Nichelle Velazquez poses for a photo with Newark's Mayor-Elect Ras Baraka who stopped for lunch at the King Family restaurant. Newark, NJ 5/14/14


NEWARK— The night Ras Baraka was elected Newark's next mayor, hundreds of supporters surrounded him on the steps of City Hall to celebrate his victory.

Now, Baraka is directing his campaign's enthusiasts toward tackling the city's most pressing concerns.

The South Ward councilman is kicking off his transition into the mayor's office with a series of initiatives aimed at getting community input before he takes office on July 1. Among those plans are meetings scheduled this week throughout the city.

Baraka's team has sent out press releases and email blasts reiterating his desire to hear more voices in Newark government.

"I have repeatedly told the people of Newark that when I become mayor, we become mayor," he said in a statement. "And that’s exactly what is happening.”

Notably, the Baraka transition team has distinguished itself by being larger than most municipal teams, experts said. Former Mayor Ken Gibson and former PSE&G CEO Alfred Koeppe are leading the 263-person team.

Under Gibson and Koeppe are 32 business and community leaders who chair 16 committees addressing issues such as the city budget, safety, public health and the environment.

Those chairs include everyone from former police director Robert Rankin to newly-appointed Rutgers-Newark chancellor Nancy Cantor.

“It’s probably the most diverse and deep transition team when you look at all the people involved here than I have seen on any level,” said Koeppe, who has served on the transition teams for the last four governors in New Jersey. "I'm very impressed."

Those committees have spent the weeks since the May 13 election vetting candidates for key positions, researching answers to critical questions, and making policy recommendations. Transition members are not paid.

Like most transition teams, their work will be compiled into a report for Baraka's administration to consider after he takes office.

"There is no magic to the 30 days," Koeppe said of the transition period. "You certainly want to get as much detail as you can so you come out of the box at the time of the inauguration with a little more due diligence on the issues that are more critical.”

But unlike other transition teams, Baraka's places a particular emphasis on taking stock of residents' desires.

Most recently, the mayor-elect announced six public forums his team will host these next two weeks, during which Newarkers can share their ideas. The first forum is Monday.

For those who can't make a meeting, the team launched www.believeinnewark.com to collect input electronically. Baraka also recently asked for applications for an unpaid year-long youth mayor position, to advise him on issues facing students.

"Mayor-elect Baraka, I think, wants to send out a message that his administration will be singled out with his inclusiveness," said Rutgers-Newark professor and Newark historian Clement Price.

"Will such a committee become unwieldy? Probably," Price said. "But I think he is banking on making people feel valued."

Public Forum Schedule:

Monday: Central Ward - Abyssinian Baptist Church, 224 W. Kinney St., 6-8 p.m.

Tuesday: South Ward - Greater Abyssinian Baptist Church, 88 Lyons Ave., 6-8 p.m.

Thursday: East Ward - Grace Community Lutheran Church, 7 Wilson Ave., 6-8 p.m.

Friday: West Ward - Unified Vailsburg Service Organization, 40 Richelieu Terrace, 6-8 p.m.

Saturday: All General meeting - St. Benedict's Prep School, 520 Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd., 1-3 p.m.

June 23: North Ward - Barringer High School, 90 Park St., 6-8 p.m.

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