Can Mayors Lead the Way on Progressive Reform?
Newark Mayor Ras Baraka talks about the Newark 2020 initiative, a jobs program which aims to put 2,020 people back to work by 2020, and how cities are finding innovative ways to push for social change
EDDIE CONWAY: I’m Eddie Conway coming to you from Baltimore. Welcome to the Real News. I’m here now with the mayor of Newark New Jersey, Ras Baraka, and I’d like to know what’s happening up in Newark New Jersey that might have an impact on Baltimore. Thanks for joining me.
RAS BARAKA: Thanks for having me, man. My pleasure.
EDDIE CONWAY: You were a principal in the school system in Newark, New Jersey and now you’re the mayor. How does that work? What are you doing with the school system? I understand the school system now has become a part of Newark, New Jersey’s district government?
RAS BARAKA: Yes. It was at one point more than 20 years ago, the city controlled the schools, then the state took it over. We just took it back from the state so we are going to have more local say-so in what happens in our school district. It’s an elected school board, obviously, so people will still get to vote for elected representatives, but we get an opportunity to have a greater say-so in how that functions for our children in the city, it’s a great thing.
EDDIE CONWAY: I was listening to you while you talking up on the panel and one of things that you said was that you’re going to insist that the stakeholders in Newark invest in the population of Newark in terms of hiring of thousands of people. How you intend to ensure that happens or enforce that?
RAS BARAKA: We already started. It’s something called Newark 2020, we already have commitment from dozens of corporations to hire. They put a number up, some 150, some 200, some 300 by the year 2020 and we created a systemic kind of a pipeline through an organization called the New Jersey Association for Social Justice, where we are partnering with the corporations and institutions to identify jobs that are coming online and beginning to train and get Newarkers to go get those jobs. So there’s a direct relationship between people that need jobs and the jobs that are becoming available in the institutions in the city and making sure they look for Newark residents first. And invest their procurement dollars in local small businesses in Newark, hopefully those businesses will expand and in turn hire more residents.
EDDIE CONWAY: Okay, I noticed one of the things that happened also on the panel was people were talking about the benefits of poor people relocating to suburbia, you responded to that. What I’d like to know that there’s a lot of money coming in and out of Newark and there’s a lot of traffic, in the morning you see a ton of traffic coming in from suburbia and then in the evening you see them leaving. Obviously this is taking jobs as well as money out of Newark. How do you intend to address that or do you intend to address that?
RAS BARAKA: The Newark 2020 is part of trying to get people to get Newark residents, people who live here, those jobs. It will decrease the amount of wealth that’s leaving the city. You have to build in community where people need so they don’t take the wealth out of the city to go to do the things that they, to purchase things, to hang out. They need to do it inside of the city where they are so the money can begin to circulate in our community. Money does not circulate in the community, hundreds of millions of dollars leave our communities every year because people either who live there spend their money outside of the city or people who don’t live there come in there and take money and go outside of the city. There’s a way you have to deal with both of those things in a city simultaneously. You begin to do that.
I think that was erroneous about the statement that was made is that when people go to the suburbs now, when poor people are going to those communities, they’re not going there with the same wealth and the same supports that other communities had prior to us saying we wanted to go to the suburbs. And now that the trend is people moving back to the city, there’s no jobs, there’s no public transportation, there’s nothing there to support residents so a voucher in those communities is useless. You’re not going to go out there and have access to the same things you had access to in the city. That’s the point I was making to the gentleman who was saying, “We should be happy that we’ve been moved to the suburbs,” which I think is a privileged, elitist statement to make. And it’s uninformed.
EDDIE CONWAY: And without understanding the fact that if you don’t have anything to begin with, you can’t come back in the city and take a job and then go back to suburbia. You don’t have those resources.
RAS BARAKA: If you don’t have a car, you definitely can’t do it.
EDDIE CONWAY: I’m curious, near you, in New York, I believe, they’re advocating some sort of a wealth tax to deal with and address some of the social ills in the city including homelessness and poverty and hunger. What’s your position on a wealth tax?
RAS BARAKA: I agree with it. In New Jersey, they reduce the taxes for those who made over $400,000 or more. I think they need to reinstate that. I think the new governor’s going to do that. There needs to be a wealth tax to pay for some of the social issues that … Not only do I think it needs to be a wealth tax, there needs to be a guaranteed income for all Americans. I believe that people by virtue of the fact that they are alive and they’re human, that they need to have access to the things that are going to keep them alive and healthy and prosperous. There needs to be a guaranteed income. At least a minimal guaranteed income. King talked about it. I think it’s important that we begin to have that discussion, particularly when we’re having a discussion about automation and artificial intelligence, robotics, taking away jobs of individuals who can’t do this so this whole entry level stuff, there’s no more entry level jobs.
Entry level jobs are becoming more and more reduced. They’re going to be out of, if you’re not management level, supervisor, more specialist oriented, technical in your education, there are not going to be any jobs available for you. There needs to be guaranteed income. People may say it’s welfare but we need guaranteed income for most Americans, that’s for sure. I agree with that.
EDDIE CONWAY: Is Newark a sanctuary city in terms of immigration and people that need to be protected?
RAS BARAKA: We call it fair and welcoming. Yes, we are a fair and welcoming city. We’ve always been and we always will be.
EDDIE CONWAY: One of the things that I noticed is that mayors around the country and around the world are starting to network together to create — because obviously most of the wealth in most countries are generated in urban areas, and mayors have a lot of power. Are you familiar with this new movement with mayors that are trying to address climate control and other things?
RAS BARAKA: Yes. Mayors are signed on to the Paris initiative. Everybody’s signing on saying that we’re going to do what we can, to live towards to whatever the tenets of that are. We’re going to try enact those locally, despite what the federal government is doing. We’re doing things around climate control. We’re trying to do things around housing and affordability. Doing things around income inequality. Because at the end of the day, we live in these cities where these things are very, very, very eminent and difficult for us to deal with, and we have to come up with innovative ways to handle it. So we’re depending on each other to come up with these kind of ideas of how we sustain ourselves, particularly in environment that is not conducive to the growth of black and brown and poor people in this country.
EDDIE CONWAY: One last question then, a green environment, one of the things is that automation, cybernation technology, that’s coming — but also a green environment is coming. What’s your position on creating green space and safe energy and so on?
RAS BARAKA: Newark we have a sustainability office where we make sure that there’s sustainability in everything that we do. That we’re trying to push for a green economy, more parks, we signed on like other mayors to make sure that within a mile or so of everybody’s walking distance, there’s a green space or a park. So we’ve signed onto that, and many, many mayors across the country have done the same. There’s a movement to make sure that we are as progressive or more progressive than the national trend. I think mayors are catching on locally and are going to lead the way.