“I need all the energy you can give! I need people in the street!” called out Amiri Baraka, Jr., Mayor Baraka’s brother and chief of staff, in front of the Clinton Avenue campaign office to a group of some of the 700 campaign workers that were reportedly deployed throughout Newark during the day, exhorting them to drive out more voters to the polls an hour before they closed. “You all listening? We’ve got to get it done!”
Sitting next to Baraka as he made these remarks was Jason Solowsky, a political operative tied to Jersey City Mayor Steve Fulop. Fulop played an important supporting role in Ras Baraka’s 2014 Newark mayoral race victory. In this year’s Newark school board election, Solowsky and Amiri Baraka confirmed that about 70 Fulop campaign workers parachuted in from Jersey City to help out the Baraka-backed slate.
Amiri Baraka further confirmed the fact that his brother and Fulop, a potential 2017 Democratic gubernatorial candidate, continue to work together for both present and future reasons.
“It’s very important to show unity, especially to the South Jersey folks,” said Amiri Baraka, laughing, yet deadly serious with his reference to the South Jersey-based state Senate President Steve Sweeney (D-3), another potential 2017 Democratic gubernatorial candidate, and Sweeney’s ally, power broker George Norcross III. “This is a changing of the guard. We’re sharpening our sword for the next big day. We can’t predict the future, but we know where we’re going to be – out in the street with thousands of people. We follow the drill, Ras is the leader, and I’m the number one soldier in the army.”
This year, however, is different. Ras Baraka didn't run his own slate and the election wasn't about who would be N.J.'s next governor. Instead, Baraka settled for choosing one candidate, Leah Owens, for the three-member "Unity Slate" and no one "parachuted in from Jersey City." Voter turnout surged, from last year's 17,000 to a whopping 26,578, largely due to increased parent empowerment facilitated by the new group Parent Coalition for Excellent Education. (See earlier coverage here.)
And the top two vote-getters were Kim Gaddy (5,804) and Tave Padilla (5,800), the other two members of the Unity Slate who unabashedly support school options for Newark families.
Sometimes hope and change really happens.