When Ras Baraka ran for mayor of Newark in 2014, top business and community leaders only had one question: Can they work with him?
Most feared they wouldn’t be able to.
Four years later, they have their answer.
Last Tuesday, on the night of his State of the City address, ROI-NJ asked some of the top businesspeople, academic leaders and government officials to explain what Baraka’s first four years have meant for the city — and what they mean for the city moving forward.
The following are their responses, in alphabetical order:
Joel Bloom, president, New Jersey Institute of Technology
Today, everything in Newark is extremely exciting. You see the development going on in the city and it’s all very, very positive.
But the news about Newark today is not just about development, it’s about opportunity, it’s about how this mayor is leading the city with a whole lot of successes.
He has been outstanding. Cory (Booker, Baraka’s predecessor as mayor) is a superb senator, but Cory had to do a little bit more of creating the pathway. He got more credibility for the city and created a number of niches for the city.
This mayor has had opportunities to build on that, and I think he’s doing a suburb job in doing so.
Dick Codey, state senator (D-Livingston) and former governor
People were unsure if he could work with businesses, and now all the businesses are calling me, saying, ‘He’s great, he’s working 24/7, we love working with him and he’s doing great things for Newark.’
Newark is definitely on the rise, and not just through my eyes, but through every other metric or algorithm you look at. He’s doing spectacularly.
Baraka has got them to all understand: If it helps somebody else, it helps them. That’s a big thing. You put some development over here, it’s going to help you over there. And the whole city is seeing something, whether it’s central, south, east, west, north — they’re all part of it.
Joe DiVincenzo Jr., Essex County executive
He works 24/7 at his job. And it’s all high-energy. If everybody worked as hard as he did, we’d all be in better shape.
Bringing people together is where he has done his best work. People were very concerned when he took over. He made it very easy. Especially with the business community. Everybody thought that this was going to be his biggest problem, but all the businesspeople enjoy working with him. And he hasn’t forgotten the communities, too. So, he’s doing both. He’s working with the corporations and for the community. He’s a great team player; that’s what you need.
He’s done an outstanding job the past four years. There’s no question he’s going to be re-elected overwhelmingly.
Chip Hallock, CEO, Newark Regional Business Partnership
The mayor has done a great job of bringing everybody together and rallying us around a city that’s in the process of being revitalized. The energy that he brings to this job and the passion he has for the people of Newark can’t help but make the business community excited about making a greater contribution to the city’s continued progress.
I’d say bringing people together is his top attribute. And he does it in a very enthusiastic way. He lets you know what he expects. That’s a great attribute to have — and to have it and still have people be enthusiastic and want to do the right thing is great.
Every mayor is different. And each mayor has been able to build on successes of the previous one. If you look at things Mayor Sharpe James started, whether it’s New Jersey Performing Arts Center or the building of the Prudential Center, and look at the way Mayor Booker was able to recruit corporations and get people to pay attention to the city in a way people hadn’t before. And now, Mayor Baraka is picking up on that and adding his priorities to the mix and making sure our next step is not only for downtown to progress before the rest of the wards of the city to do so as well.
Jim Leonard, senior vice president, community investment, Prudential Center/New Jersey Devils
The leadership that the mayor has provided the city has been fantastic. He’s not only out there talking about the city and talking about the benefits of the city, but he’s doing the little things behind the scenes. He’s talking to people every chance he gets. He’s adding infrastructure, he’s working on the economics, he’s working on the schools. All of the areas that people might have been concerned about with Newark, he’s addressing. Both the highlights and the things people don’t talk about.
We’ve been a great partner with him and he’s been a great partner of ours since the new ownership came on. The beauty is, this is trickling down to the fans and the promoters. We hear more and more from the promoters, ‘We’re going to give Newark a second look,’ in terms of bringing an artist into Prudential Center. We hear it from people who are coming off the train, saying: ‘I never took the train into Newark before. I was concerned about the train. Now, we know how easy it is and we’ll do it more and more.’
I think it provides validation to some of the conversations we’ve had with other businesses partners. It used to be, ‘You’re moving into Newark, question mark,’ and now it’s, ‘You’re moving into Newark, exclamation point.’
John Schreiber, CEO, NJPAC
Most cities don’t have the sense and reality of collaboration that this city has right now. If we were New York or Philadelphia or this sort of entrenched places where there is a longer history of business constancy, special interests and selfishness is present. Everybody is sort of looking out for themselves. Here, everyone seems to get (that), if one of us succeeds, we all succeed.
So, we’re all trying to root for each other and help each other succeed. And I think it’s very legitimate. It’s an interesting jigsaw but everyone is putting the puzzle together, (placing) pieces, but doing it in thoughtful ways — that are additive and not redundant, that are enhancing the larger idea. The mayor is leading all of this. He’s helping to orchestrate it all, and it’s clearly working.
Darrell Terry, CEO and president, Newark Beth Israel Medical Center and chairman, Newark Regional Business Partnership
There’s a lot of exciting things going on in Newark right now, and I’m very pleased with the progress we’re making and his leadership.
There are lots of constituencies, and he is doing a really good job satisfying each of them. He’s certainly impressed the business community, and the residents understand that he cares about them and they are not going to be left out of this renaissance.
Downtown is great, but his impetus to move into the wards is really going to make a difference.