New Jersey Council member Ras Baraka has been elected mayor of the states largest city Newark. Baraka is the son of the Amiri Baraka, the legendary African-American poet who died earlier this year.
Ras Baraka addressed a victory rally of supporters Tuesday night:
“We need to bring the city back together again. We choose hope, not fear. We choose transformation, not cynicism. Today is the day that we bring every ward together, that we create neighborhoods into one city.”
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.”
Amiri 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 conscious tone.