Baraka Claims Newark Victory With Wall Street as Divide

Ras Baraka declared victory as the elected successor to Cory Booker as mayor of Newark, New Jersey, in a race that pitted homegrown politics against Wall Street support for charter schools and economic development.

Baraka led Shavar Jeffries, 54 percent to 46 percent, with 96 percent of precincts reporting late yesterday, according to the Essex County clerk’s website. Baraka, on his Twitter Inc. account, wrote to followers: “We are the Mayor!!!”

The winner’s term will start June 1 in New Jersey’s largest city, where 1967 race riots left 26 people dead and hastened the decline of a onetime manufacturing hub. Today, the poverty rate of 28 percent compares with 9.9 percent statewide, and the city in 2013 had 111 homicides, the most since 1990.

Even as tax credits have led to downtown construction by Prudential Financial Inc. and Panasonic Corp., the city lacks a 2014 budget and faces a $34 million gap in its current $640 million plan. Moody’s Investors Service in March put Newark on review for a possible downgrade from its A3 rating, four levels above junk, citing the possibility of state financial oversight.

Jeffries, 39, a law professor, had the endorsement of the Star-Ledger of Newark, the state’s largest newspaper, which on May 9 called him “the real reformer” of the two candidates.

The editorial board criticized Baraka, 44, a high school principal and city councilman and onetime deputy mayor, as representative of machine-style politics who would hinder recovery. Baraka’s supporters included two former mayors: Sharpe James, elected to five terms before he was tried and convicted in 2008 on federal fraud and conspiracy charges that led to an 18-month prison sentence, and Kenneth Gibson, who in 2002 pleaded guilty to income-tax evasion.

Senate Move

Booker, 45, resigned during his second term after winning a special election in October to fill the U.S. Senate seat left vacant when Democrat Frank R. Lautenberg died in June. Booker’s temporary replacement, City Council President Luis Quintana, didn’t run for the four-year mayoral term; Anibal Ramos, a councilman and Booker ally, dropped out.

The nonpartisan race revived an “outsider versus insider” theme that defined the mayoral campaign of 2002, when the suburban-raised Booker lost to incumbent James, a struggle chronicled in the documentary film “Street Fight.” James chose not to run again in 2006, and Booker defeated Ronald L. Rice for mayor.

Neither Jeffries nor Baraka was a protege of Booker, according to Andra Gillespie, a politics professor at Emory University in Atlanta and author of “The New Black Politician: Cory Booker, Newark and Post-Racial America,” a textbook published in 2012 by New York University Press.

Booker Legacy

“The policy that either of them institutes will indirectly reflect on Booker because the next mayor has to build on his legacy,” Gillespie said in a telephone interview. “Most people would assume that Baraka would end up changing course. Most people think Jeffries would build on the Booker record.”

Baraka, son of the late poet and Marxist activist Amiri Baraka, was educated at Howard and Saint Peter’s universities. A onetime deputy mayor under James, he ran with a slate of seven council candidates. He opposed charter schools, and his supporters ran television ads criticizing Wall Street’s involvement in Newark. In addition to the ex-mayors, his supporters included state Senator Richard Codey, a Democrat from Roseland and former acting governor, and Steven Fulop, the Democratic mayor of Jersey City, as well as organized labor.

Campaign Fire

In February, a small fire aboard Baraka’s campaign bus led to the arrests of two Jeffries campaign staff members. Jeffries denied any prior knowledge of the incident and cut ties to the pair.

Jeffries is a professor at Seton Hall University Law School in Newark and a former assistant state attorney general and civil-rights lawyer. A former Newark school board president, he ran for mayor with a slate of eight council candidates.

Booker built his Democratic career on his academic credentials -- a graduate of Stanford University and Yale Law School, and an Oxford scholar -- as well as his willingness to embrace social media and to appeal to Wall Street investors and philanthropists. He cast Newark, 13 miles (21 kilometers) from Manhattan’s Pennsylvania Station, as a hometown for bargain-hunting commuters and an opportunity for developers seeking blocks of vacant real estate.

Millions Donated

Booker drew a $100 million donation for schools from Facebook Inc. co-founder Mark Zuckerberg. He also had support from Whitney Tilson, managing director of the New York-based investment firm T2 Partners Management LP. Foundations set up by Pershing Square Group LLC founder Bill Ackman and Omega Advisors Inc. chairman Leon Cooperman donated millions of dollars for parks and public safety.

Jeffries, who graduated from Duke University and Columbia University Law School, cultivated support similar to Booker’s. Ackman gave the maximum campaign contribution of $26,000, according to campaign-finance records. Tilson, in an April 17 posting on his school-reform blog, endorsed Jeffries for his “character, smarts and leadership ability” and encouraged readers to make campaign donations.

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