Newark, NJ – Mayor Ras J. Baraka presented his fourth State of the City Address last night, at 7 p.m., in the Victoria Theater of New Jersey Performing Arts Center, located at 1 Center Street.
Mayor Baraka’s speech, delivered before a crowd of more than 1,0000 Newark residents and dignitaries, highlighted the accomplishments of his Administration, particularly in four critical areas – public safety; jobs; education, and affordable housing. This is his last State of the City Address before the municipal elections in May.
“Four years ago, if you watched television, listened to the radio, read the newspaper or social media, you would have seen a bleak and negative narrative that was forced upon us and shaped the way people around the country viewed our great city. It was so pervasive that some of us believed it too, and it ripened into cynicism and recklessness. Not all of it was true of course, but it began to take hold,” the Mayor said. “However, just four years later there has been so much progress going on that the media could no longer ignore it. Ironically, it came from outside of our city first. The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times. ABC and CBS national news. Then NJTV and News 12. I am cutting ribbons almost every other week or breaking ground for new retail, restaurants, affordable housing, hotels, warehouses, market rate units, university centers and more.”
The Mayor’s address compared the city’s 2014 condition of a huge structural deficit, hundreds of police officers laid off, failing schools in state control, and high unemployment, with today’s conditions:
· Crime at its lowest level in 50 years
“We increased the number of officers walking the beat. We created Community Comstat, and graduated hundreds of civilians from our public safety academy. We created clergy patrols and put two community service officers in every precinct. We created with the help of Rutgers University, the Safer Newark Council that helped us target real crime and not put the entire city under siege.”
· Newark expanding its profile as a tech hub
“We have a conscious strategy of making Newark a center of the new high tech economy, the Silicon Valley of the East Coast, and that strategy is already proving successful. We prepare for Amazon, whether we agree with them, or not and if they do not come we prepare anyway for a new tech economy. We put a Nan Tech center in every ward like the one on Hawthorne Avenue. We build a smart city by leveraging our 27 miles of fiber. We use it to reduce crime, create jobs, solve problems and make our city more accessible.”
· Local control of public schools regained
“I promised that before this first term was up that our schools would return to the people of this community. On February 1, we celebrated the day when the elected school board finally assumed control of our schools again, and we began the process of looking for our own Superintendent, not one appointed by bureaucrats or Trenton politicians. This path was created because we transformed the environment from destruction and division to problem solving and collaboration.”
· City unemployment rate down by 30 percent
“Unemployment is down from almost 12 percent from when I started to single digits of 8 percent, and at one point as low as 7 percent, still not acceptable – which is why we are continuing to push forward.”
· National leadership in creating community/police cooperation
“The real story is that Newark police are making less unnecessary arrests while reducing crimes, and getting fewer complaints while reducing homicides and robberies. While the rest of the country is talking about the Ferguson effect, Newark passed a Civilian Complaint Review Board. We have increased community engagement, opened a women’s support center with community involvement, implemented alternative policing strategies, and have managed to achieve record highs in crime reduction.”
· Newark placed on Amazon’s short list for its new HQ2
“We could not argue about gentrification or whether we like Amazon or not because there was not any hope for real growth and development and we would never have made Amazon’s top 20 picks 5 or 10 years ago. And we were ecstatic to hear that our new Governor stands with our quest for Amazon because he understands that this is not just about one company but about 50,000 direct jobs and some estimated 60 to 100,000 additional jobs.”
The Mayor also highlighted other achievements: increased affordable housing; the City’s Affordable Housing Ordinance; the first City-run homeless shelter; hiring new Police Officers, Firefighters, and Crossing Guards; adding Police Precincts; ending years of budgetary structural deficits; and sharp crime reductions.
The Mayor also singled out individual Newarkers for their achievements: Newark School Board Student Representative Jordan Thomas, who is graduating from Princeton University this year and will attend Oxford University in England as a Rhodes Scholar in September; Firefighter Paul Leber, a 10-year fire veteran who suffered and is recovering from severe injuries suffered while battling a two-alarm blaze; and Police Detective Joe Soares, who refrained from returning fire while executing a warrant, despite being hit in his Kevlar Vest. Detective Soares’ restraint and calmness enabled him to apprehend the suspect and prevent a deadly gun battle that would have endangered the life of a woman and young child present at the scene.
Mayor Baraka also honored 41-year-old Newark native Alfred Eliot, who had spent his life in temporary jobs. After taking the five-week Hire Newark Program, he is now a distribution clerk at Newark Beth Israel and an inventory specialist at RWJBarnabas Health. The Mayor also saluted Kalyah Taylor, a Newark 33-year-old who lost her hair salon, attended the Hire Newark Program, and is now a concierge at Clara Maass Medical Center; Tyreeek Rolon, who is pursuing a Bachelor’s Degree in Social Work at Rutgers University-Newark while juggling his roles as a municipal Sanitation worker and father; and Yemy Gamez Castillo, a Honduran-born Newarker who is starring as a young singer and poet.
Newark Community Economic Development Corporation President and CEO Aisha glover served as the Mistress of Ceremonies, and Newark youth were represented: Master Hilton Rawls III offered the invocation, Yazid Sharif delivered a Quran recitation, Jaleel Ritchwood Jordan sang the National Anthem, and eighth-grader Alylssa Collazo introduced the Mayor.
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