While New York enjoys the services of its new Mayor Bill de Blasio, just across the river in New Jersey, the largest city, Newark, elected a mayor yesterday. It appears that Ras Baraka has prevailed over his opponent Shavar Jeffries.
I put Newark firmly in the category of the "basket case" cities. Sitting right near the middle of one of the largest and most prosperous metropolitan areas in the world, Newark still has managed to find itself in a state of decline and financial crisis for decades. The population, which peaked at 442,337 in 1930, was down to 277,140 in the most recent (2010) census. Needless to say, if you are a basket case city, then somehow you are required to double down on the policies that have brought you decades of failure. Newark is not an exception.
Some suggest there has been a modest recent renaissance in Newark under just-departed Mayor (now Senator) Cory Booker. Steve Malanga of the Manhattan Institute analyzes that claim in a May 9 WSJ op-ed here. He points out that the seeming progress of Booker's early years as mayor has largely been lost back in the more recent few years. Murders declined from over 100 down to 67 by 2008; but then they were back to 111 in 2013. Unemployment fell from 9.4% when Booker became mayor to 7.4%, but now is back to 11.9%. Newark's regression has occurred while New York has continued to prosper -- notably including areas heavily populated by African Americans that had previously suffered economically. In Newark there are a few new office buildings downtown -- but even Detroit has that, and in the case of Newark it is hard to attribute new business arrivals to anything other than massive state giveaways to buy a few corporate relocations. For example, according to nj.com here, Panasonic moved its North American headquarters to Newark in 2013 after New Jersey agreed to a $102 million "Urban Transit Hub" tax credit for the company. For the $102 million, Panasonic pledged to create some 200 jobs over the next ten years -- that's almost $500,000 per job!
This race was nominally non-partisan, but no Republican would waste time trying to compete. Jeffries was the moderate. Baraka is most commonly described as a radical progressive. Charles Upton Sahm in the Daily Beast on May 5 called him "a firebrand whose politics of racial resentment seem out of date many places in 21st-century America, but still resonates in Newark." Sahm quotes an unnamed "prominent business owner" as saying "This guy is as radical as they come . . . . He makes de Blasio look like Ronald Reagan." Baraka's web site is rather short on specific policy proposals, but an idea of where he's coming from can be obtained from his past actions on the City Council. For example, on his attitude toward charter schools, Sahm reports:
Thousands of children are on wait lists to get in charters and Baraka insists that he supports them as part of the overall system. But he introduced legislation in the city council in 2013 to place a moratorium on the opening of any new charters and voted against nine of 10 charter school lease agreements.
Needless to say, support of city unions, and particularly the Newark Teachers Union, was an important factor in the Baraka victory.
Well, I still wish Newark luck with this new guy. But here's my advice to him. If you view the role of government as to spend as little as possible to accomplish its core functions, then Newark can resume a path to growth and success. But if you regard the government's role as to spend as much as it can get away with to please and pay off the people who put you in power, then Newark's decline will continue and accelerate.