NJ Governor candidate Ras Baraka discusses how to build a better state for all at RIPPAC conference

Ras Baraka speaks about his ideas for improving different policies in the state at RIPPAC Speaker Series. - Productions Editor / Sarah Shockey

On Tuesday, Feb. 20, the Mayor of the city of Newark, New Jersey, Ras Baraka (D) spoke to a crowd in Room 104 of the Business Hall about key policy issues facing the state and his overall future vision for New Jersey, including bettering the state for all people, more specifically minorities and the working class in urban areas.

On Feb. 19, Baraka announced a bid for New Jersey Governor in 2025, the third Democrat who will seek their party’s nomination and look to succeed current governor Phil Murphy. If elected, he would become the state’s first Black governor.

A native of Newark, Baraka, a former school principal and city council member, has served as the city’s 40th mayor since 2014. Under his administration, crime in the city has been lowered to its lowest rate in 50 years. A leader in urban revitalization, Baraka’s goals to tackle Newark’s housing crisis, bettering public transportation and public safety, and find community-based solutions to income inequality have garnered him national acclaim and have given him the moniker of one of the country’s most progressive elected officials.

To begin his speech, Baraka discussed his experiences growing up in Newark and living during the time of the 1967 Newark Riots, a long period of armed conflicts that was sparked over anger for racial inequality which resulted in 26 deaths, hundreds of injuries, and thousands of arrests.

“I experienced the unrest in my city through the images of death and destruction in Life magazine, the stories my mother and my father shared with us and in many rallies and forums since it, and remembering what happened to us in New York in the summer of ‘67. My oldest brother was born that year and I was just a baby when the police rushed into our home and I had to hide upstairs with him in my arms,” said Baraka. 

Reflecting on the riots, he says that it was a dark time for his city and the other places in which similar events occurred. Baraka also highlights that there wasn’t any support from the federal government in the form of a Marshall Plan, a reference to the result of the Economic Recovery Act of 1948 which sent over $13 billion in aid to Western Europe after World War II ended. However, Baraka also reflects on what that hardship taught the people of his community and how that mindset still resonates today.

It was terrible times for people in Newark, something we have not really reconciled or experienced closure on. We’re still recovering from the physical devastation that was caused obviously, and emotional and psychological remnants remain,” said Baraka. “There was no Marshall Plan for us, or any other city in America where this happened, just us left to repair and make sense out of all that took place, no Marshall Plan for us, and over 50 years later, we’re still on that journey. And what we have learned along the way is instructed for all of us the belief that good will prevail. The hope that tomorrow will be better than today. The faith as [Martin Luther] King said that when we take a step forward, the stairs are beating even if we don’t see them.” 

One of the major issues Baraka discussed was the need for more affordable housing. Deemed his “number one”, he said that the government needs to look at new mandates and reorganize tax credits to fix this problem and that developers in New Jersey have to begin prioritizing building smaller and more affordable units, not just giant mansions.

“There are folks that are developing moderate and affordable housing across the state of New Jersey and those are the programs that should be incentivized and prioritized. What if you have someone building a 400-unit tower that, you know, maybe we can get 20 people in that’s affordable. I’m not saying go away from that completely, but I’m saying that we have to prioritize midsize and small developers love to get the work done in these communities,” said Baraka.

Another area of improvement Baraka sees for the state is providing more jobs in order to help immigrants and impoverished people get on their feet. One way to do that, he said, is by letting large corporations build warehouses in the area, even if it means giving them some tax incentives.

“I think it does make sense[tax incentives] to some extent and that you have to continue to provide opportunities and incentives for people to come and do development, large scale, and major development to create thousands of jobs at one time,” said Baraka. “I think that the outcome should drive how many jobs are created, how much money is being put into the economy. What can you expect as a return on that investment? Because that’s what that is.”

Baraka also said that working to build more clean energy sources like offshore wind, building more electricity grids to help with the growing call for electric vehicles, and expanding public transportation routes to more rural areas so more people can work, will not only improve New Jersey as a whole, but will benefit the economy and create more work for people who need it.

“I think the way we think about transportation needs to be changed and it really should be about how to get people’s jobs, how to get people to the economy, to commercial areas and districts, how to get people to schools. Bring money in and dollars into the project and increase thousands of jobs and get people closer to employment at the same time,” said Baraka. “That’s exactly what we should be thinking about. I have communities that have no businesses in their city at all. You have to go outside of the city to work because there’s no development, and there’s also no transportation that takes them. So they’re struggling with that, so we have to figure that out.”

Baraka also discussed the need for better education and allocate more resources and funding to public schools, working to make college more accessible by making community colleges free and needing help from the federal government to deal with the influx of immigrants that have come to New Jersey due to it being a sanctuary state.

For senior Kavin Haldo, Baraka really stands out as a passionate candidate who is looking to create some real positive changes for New Jersey and would be someone they would consider supporting in the next gubernatorial election.

“I think Mayor Baraka has some really great policy ideas, especially with affordable housing and increasing public transit. I agree with a lot of his ideas because I feel like he’s one of the more progressive candidates out there and I would totally support him for Governor,” said Haldo.

Senior Rosy Bala agrees, saying he proves to have thought out the steps he would take if he were elected the next governor of the state.

“I think Ras Baraka is a very strong candidate. I feel like he would do good and like the election and I think he has good ideas about affordable housing and Immigration. He seems very knowledgeable about every subject and he does have a good plan moving forward,” said Bala.

To conclude his conference, Baraka talked about the need to build a strong, true, democracy, a place where everyone regardless of their race, gender, or sexuality can have a fair shot. He says this is something that is still a struggle today, as it’s easier for many people to be exclusionary than welcoming.

“It’s hard to want to be fair, to want to be just to include other people, this is difficult work. It’s easy to be exclusionary, hateful, and racist, that’s easy. It’s hard to welcome people into your house to help them get on their feet, which is what has been the history of this country, good or bad,” said Baraka.

However, overall, Baraka looks to make a New Jersey that works for everyone and looks to not just keep wealthy people from leaving the state but to help those working-class people who are stuck here prosper. 

Reflecting on the previous Murphy administration, Baraka says that while he did a good job, it was only the beginning, stating that as New Jersey’s governor, he would work to finish what Murphy started.

“I think that he [Murphy] has marched us down the right path but I just think that we’re still on his moderate walk. We are still in a moderate kind of slow-paced walk, and we have not gone far as far as we can go, which goes to my analogy, getting us to the door of democracy but not getting in,” said Baraka. “I think that we need to go further though on many of these things. “I think they [Murphy administration] mean well and are going in the right direction, but I just think we need to go further.”

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