Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Exclusive Interview with Mayoral Candidate, Ras J Baraka- Taking Issue with the State & more!

Today we start our series of interviews with the 2014 Newark Mayoral Candidates. Our first interview is with South Ward Councilman, Ras J. Baraka & also Principal at Central High School.
The Father of three daughters and his own very own Father Poet Laureate, Amiri Baraka & Mother Poet Amina Baraka both long-time activists in the city of Newark. His family has lived in Newark for over 70 years. So take a read and learn more about Ras J. Baraka.

My first question is looking directly into the future and as the Principal at Central High School you certainly know how a change in state to local take over of the Newark Public Schools would effect our school system and it looks like the state is really making a concerted effort to give control back to the city. If this should happen, you as Mayor would have more of say in how our school system moves forward.
What would be your priority and why?
A:First a correction the state has not been cooperative whatsoever in abiding by its own QSAC law which provides opportunity for state controlled districts to return to local control. In Fact the Gov. and the State Commissioner has refused to return our schools to local control despite the city performing well on most of the measures that are required to return our school to our control. There is a court case pending now waiting to be heard regarding this matter. However we will continue to push until that day arrives where the people of Newark are restored their democratic rights. When that day does occur the focus should undoubtedly be on each individual school and its community.  We need to convene opportunities for our parents and education experts to discuss quality school improvement efforts and how to provide a series of wrap around services that will take care of the whole child. We need a financial audit of the Schools. We need to focus on how we bring resources in to the district for extended day programs and academic opportunities. Developing a stronger and more salient relationship with the College community in terms of teacher and student development. We would focus on trying to help provide teachers with strong job embedded staff development and give greater voice to student concerns and organizations.

2. Recently it has been reported that the homicide rate has fallen slightly, but 1 murder is still 1 to many and every life is precious, what would you do differently to combat the homicide rate and crime in general?
A:First we need to bring our officers back. The police department has been depleted of human resource through layoffs and attrition. We have the monies now to bring officers back but have not done so because the academy has been decommissioned by the previous Police Director. We have to work to get our academy back now and bring more officers on. We have to reduce the number of officers that are in executive protection and communications now and put more of them on the street. We have to find a way to make the officers that are in community affairs have more presence in the neighborhoods. In short we need more community policing and what we call walk and rides putting officers on the streets. We also have to begin to identify the high crime areas in our city not by ward but by neighborhoods. We then focus on what are called impact zones and put our resources in to those areas. They are essentially the most violent or crime ridden areas. We put community patrols in those areas and we also identify the prevalent social issues in those areas and we begin to target them with mentorship programming, job development and training, family planning, code enforcement and community clean ups. This is called coordinated intervention. Where we bring all of the city's resources to bear in that neighborhood to drive crime down. Finally we have to begin to look at our approach to crime and violence as public health and treat it as such with prevention, intervention and treatment like we would any epidemic.

3. Our property taxes under the current administration has gone up considerably and yet our services such as sanitation, street cleaning, walking police officers have been on the decline. What would you do to help the citizens of Newark?
campaign promotional video:
A:Our taxes continue to rise as we have not been able to find any real sources of continued revenue for our city. While its important to attract big business to our city it is even more important to support, develop, and incubate the small businesses in our community. We have to get more commercial businesses on our tax roles. We also have to get more people to invest in our neighborhoods by buying homes or deciding to live in our city.  This will help bring more folks on to our residential tax roles. Right now about 1/3 of the city pays taxes and we need to increase that number. There are ways to do that by exploring the feasibility of federal tax credits for Corporations that encourage its workers to live in the city.  As well as working with the university and medical community to develop housing for doctors, teachers, students etc. The city also has to enforce its residency laws requiring its highest paid employees to live in our city. Finally there are many ways to raise revenue that we have not explored thoroughly. We have to have a strategy to engage the seaport and develop jobs there but also raise revenue from the containers that enter our port. We have to revisit our entire relationship with Port Authority and make sure we are being justly compensated. We have to really sit down with our state and federal delegation and experts to begin to really vet all the revenue generating ideas we can come up with. Newark has too many anchors not to be have sufficient revenue that will support providing quality services to its residents.

4.Speaking of our municipal services our Newark Water Department has been at the center of attention for years now and the Newark watershed Conservation Development Corporation is going to be dissolved. What is your opinion on that and what would you do with Newark Water Department?
A: I believe its a good thing that the Watershed Corporation is being dissolved. The state has declared that it should be dissolved as well. It began to operate in its own interest and not in the interest of the city and its residents. This was made evident when they voted to separate themselves from the city at its meeting. We need a full time  qualified Director to run the water department. We need to find ways to become more effective in water collections as well to bring increased revenue in to the department. We need to put meters on our PSVC line to ensure that we are being billed properly and we need to find ways to find money through matching funds and municipal tax options to repair and upgrade our many miles of water lines throughout the city. We have to make sure we have a fair relationship with neighboring cities that use our water and even resell it. Our water is one of our most precious and lucrative resources. We have to leverage it to our benefit.

5.It has recently been reported that Barringer (3 oldest High School in The United States) High School will break up into 3 separate schools, but many are also worried about keeping the name Barringer. What is your opinion on the name?

A:I don't agree that any school should be closed, and that our resources and talents should be used to improve existing schools. High Schools represent so much to neighborhoods in every community around the state. They hold the history and culture of given neighborhoods. They should be preserved. After all the problem is not in the name of the school but what's going on inside of it. We need to be focused on improving instruction and not be distracted by schemes to take over our schools.

6. Name 3 people you admire and why?

A:My parents have been very influential in my life. They have taught me the importance of community and given me a love of ideas and transformation of society. The passion that I possess is a direct result of growing up in their household. I admire Paul Robeson as we share the same birthdate and he was truly a renaissance man. He was an activist, an actor, scholar, singer, lawyer, and athlete.

7. If you're elected, your number 1 priority is?
A:the first 100 days will be dedicated to job development and public safety

Ras J. Baraka:

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