Newark South Ward Councilman Ras Baraka said he’s tired of staring down the image of himself as a political bandido more capable of wielding a bullhorn than executive power.
“The governor can be brash and loud and that’s strong leadership,” Baraka said, “and yet when I’m passionate and assertive, I’m a thug. People need to be careful of dressing me up in that.
“I’m a thug because I run around with working people,” added the 2014 mayoral candidate.
PolitickerNJ.com this past week reported on the councilman making an unannounced house call to fellow mayoral candidate Shavar Jeffries.
“The notion that we tried to bully him out of the race is absolutely incorrect,” said Baraka, who says the latest session was the sixth sit-down he’s had with his rival, and denied he either raised his voice or attempted to budge the other South Ward brand from the field.
“It’s the Twilight Zone,” he said.
“We went there to break bread,” Baraka explained. “He has the right to run. Everybody always told me I can’t run. Why would I tell him he doesn’t have the right to run?”
The councilman said he and Jeffries worked together to craft a school board ticket, one that includes a Jeffries ally, and rejected the characterization of himself as a sullen, desperate figure on the Jeffries family front door steps.
“Shavar Jeffries is not my enemy,” the mayoral candidate said of the former assistant attorney general, who described his political targets as Essex County Executive Joe DiVincenzo and North Ward Councilman Anibal Ramos, a fellow candidate for mayor.
Baraka admitted he’s interested in joining forces where he can.
“The city needs real leadership and we need it right now,” said the longtime critic of sitting Mayor Cory Booker. “We’ve sat around and watched a television show for the last eight years. I’ve been on the front lines and have a lot of bruises to show for it. I have the ability to reach all segments of this community, and I don’t have any ties to political bosses or power brokers. What I stand for is Newarkers governing themselves.”
As for the image of himself as a bullhorn-wielding ruffian unfit to administer executive orders, Baraka said it evolves out of the broad stroke reactions of people who have no respect for Newarkers.
“It’s ridiculous,” said the councilman. “The South Ward Improvement District, the improvements in Central High School – these things didn’t happen because of a wild man. They happened because of strategic ability. Yes, I have the ability to speak in a bullhorn, but I also have the ability to run a school. I think it’s my opponents who want to draw a picture of me as limited and confined, but the fact is they cannot be seen organizing in different places like I can. God gave me the ability to perform Shakespeare and organize from the back of a truck. Not everybody has that.”
As for the enormous money advantage Jeffries exhibited in his state Election Law Enforcement Commission (ELEC) report this month – $196K to 4K for Baraka – the councilman said he never cut deals with bosses or in corporate boardrooms that would give him access to big money. He ran a guerrilla style campaign in 2010 to become the South Ward councilman, and would take that grassroots model citywide in a mayoral election, he said.