Why Baraka feels Newark has been perfect training ground to solve statewide issues

Education, housing, affordability, child care, access to capital: Mayor feels challenges are same everywhere

The stipulation was easy: Newark, by essentially every metric, is a far better place to live, work and play now than it has been at any time since 1968. In fact, you have to go back to John F. Kennedy’s presidential administration to find a time when violent crime was lower in the city, Mayor Ras Baraka said.

The guess: It’s been that long since housing starts — and business openings — have been as prevalent, too.

So, here’s the incredible thing: As Baraka makes his case for why he should be the next governor of New Jersey, the first thing he has to do is not simply point to his successes; he has to convince people outside of Newark (who never go to Newark) that those successes matter — and translate throughout the state.

And here you thought overcoming “the line” was tough.

Baraka’s not afraid of the challenge. He welcomes it. In fact, he told those gathered Tuesday afternoon at the Florham campus of Fairleigh Dickinson University that his success in Newark makes him the best candidate for residents throughout the state, not just those in urban areas.

“The issues that we deal with in Newark are statewide issues — they’re just exacerbated in Newark,” he said. “Exacerbated because some of the guardrails that exist in other communities don’t exist in Newark.

“Housing is a statewide problem. Affordability is a statewide problem. The cost of living in the state of New Jersey is a problem.”

And not just for people of color.

Baraka pointed out that 30% of the state’s white population can’t afford to live in the state. It’s a great equalizer, he said.

“If you can’t pay your rent in Newark, it’s the same as if you can’t pay your mortgage in South Orange: Homelessness is inevitable for you,” he said. “We have to figure that out.”

Baraka feels his lifetime in Newark — as a resident and a former teacher — gives him an edge on the subject that matters most in every community: education.

He pointed out that the state does rank No. 1 in the nation for K-12 education. Overall. Buoyed by white and Asian students in high-wealth areas, he said.

But, if you just take Black or Hispanic students, the state drops to No. 9 or No. 17 overall, Baraka said. Count only students on free and reduced lunch? New Jersey drops to No. 25, he said.

There is work to do on the education front, he said. Baraka said efforts to fully fund schools are a start, but that it needs to go deeper than that to truly battle the segregation of today.

“People talk about segregation in terms of race and class, which exists — and we have to deal with it,” he said. “But there’s also segregation of curriculum. There are some schools that don’t even have AP courses. There are schools that are not preparing children to be college-ready.”

Baraka said the state needs to stand up all schools and determine the differences between those that are successful and those that are not.

Will this resonate with suburban voters? Perhaps, ask this question: Are those voters concerned about their school rating higher than urban schools — or their suburban rivals?

Then, ask yourself which candidate is better prepared to address a statewide issue such as education than Baraka, the former principal.

Baraka went down the list.

  • Affordable child care and pre-K: Are those just issues in Newark, or do they resonate in the state?
  • Access to capital for small business entrepreneurs: Is it a need in Newark, or throughout the state?
  • New Jersey Transit: A problem for Newark residents, or for those throughout the state?

All of this was quite a “state-ment” about his candidacy. It resonated with the audience, which was a bit more diverse than for previous candidates in this forum — but still nowhere close to representing the makeup of the state.

To be clear, Baraka didn’t gloss over the challenges that Newark faces. And there are plenty.

Baraka just made it clear that dealing with them on a daily basis is all the experience he needs to lead the state.

“People look at (Newark) as some separate kind of thing, some anomaly from the state,” he said. “We’re not an anomaly. We are a product of this state.

“Newark is the way it is because of the state. And, when Newark fixes itself, the state begins to benefit from that, as well. All the problems that the state has are just more pronounced in the city of Newark, which makes me a better person to deal with them — because I deal with them at a more extreme rate than everybody else.”