The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Ras Baraka, son of Amiri Baraka, elected mayor of Newark

Ras Baraka on election night in Newark. (REUTERS/Eduardo Munoz)

Ras Baraka, son of the late poet Amiri Baraka, won Newark’s mayoral election Tuesday night.

Baraka, 45, is the first elected mayor since Cory Booker, who left after winning a special election to become a U.S. Senator last year. Since then, Luis Quintana, a city councilman, has been acting as mayor. Baraka was one of Booker’s most vocal critics.

Said the Star-Ledger:

Left behind are mounting problems for the new mayor that include a $93 million budget deficit that has led to threats of a financial takeover by the state, the city’s highest murder rate since 1990, and protests over the continued state control of Newark’s still-failing school system.
A major focal point of the election was the debate over the schools and state-appointed Superintendent Cami Anderson’s controversial “One Newark” school reorganization plan — which calls for the relocation and consolidation of one-quarter of the city’s schools and turning over some neighborhood schools to charter operators.

Baraka, a former principal at Central High School, inherits a public school system that’s still broken, by some accounts, despite a heavily-publicized infusion of $100 million by Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg. A new report by the New Yorker shows that tens of millions of dollars went to buy out teacher contracts. Millions more were spent on consultants, some of whom were paid $1,000 per day. Vivian Cox Fraser, the president of the Urban League of Essex County, told the magazine, “Everybody’s getting paid, but Raheem still can’t read.”

Baraka is the son of the late poet, playwright, and intellectual firebrand Amiri Baraka, who died in January at age 79. Baraka was one of the founders of the Black Arts movement, which, among other things, laid the foundation for conscious hip-hop. The Black Arts movement of the 1960’s and 70’s was spearheaded by politically driven artists such as Sonia Sanchez, Nikki Giovanni, and Lucille Clifton, who documented and advanced narratives that were specific to black culture and experiences. It’s credited with driving the creation of African American and Africana studies departments and sparking other modern multicultural movements. Ras, a respected figure within hip-hop and a graduate of Howard University and St. Peter’s University, adopted his father’s radical tone. Said the New Yorker:

Ras Baraka delivered speeches in the style of a street preacher, rousing Newark’s dispossessed as forcefully as Booker inspired philanthropists. The Booker-Christie-Zuckerberg strategy was doomed, he said, since it included no systemic assault on poverty. He told his students that Christie needed them to fail so that he could close Central High and turn it over to charters. “Co-location is more like colonization,” he said of placing charters in unused space inside district schools. Powerful interests wanted the district’s billion dollars.

Still, Dale Russakoff reported, Baraka found a lot of common ground with reformers, even if he didn’t always share those sentiments publicly. Now, he’ll have the opportunity to pick and choose what to implement as he tries to spearhead new efforts to dig Newark out of its educational ditch. Again, Russakoff:

In private, Baraka supported many of the reformers’ critiques of the status quo, including revoking tenure for teachers with the lowest evaluations. Although he publicly embraced the unions’ positions, he told me he opposed paying teachers based on seniority and degrees, as Newark did under its union contract. “We should make a base pay, and the only way to go up is based on student performance,” he said. He told me that many in Newark quietly agreed. But, he insisted, “this dictatorial bullying is a surefire way to get people to say, ‘No, get out of here.'”  He laughed. “They talk about ‘Waiting for Superman.’ Well, Superman is not real. Did you know that? And neither is his enemy.”