MAX BLUMENTHAL, AUTHOR, JOURNALIST, AND BLOGGER: It’s election day in Newark, New Jersey, and a financially troubled city plagued with violent crime is set to decide its next mayor.
The election has become a referendum on the Wall Street- and Silicon Valley- funded education reform movement that has turned the mostly African-American city into a virtual laboratory for its agenda.
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CHRIS CHRISTIE, GOVERNOR OF NEW JERSEY: I’m in charge of the public schools. In the city of Newark, as governor, I’m going to empower Mayor Booker to develop that plan and to implement it with a superintendent of schools that we’re going to pick together.
OPRAH WINFREY, TV HOST: I think that is so fantastic.
BLUMENTHAL: Local residents’ anger is focused on Newark schools superintendent Cami Anderson.
CAMI ANDERSON, SUPERINTENDENT, NEWARK PUBLIC SCHOOLS: Nobody is excited about school closures. I get that, because it’s very emotional. At the same time—.
BLUMENTHAL: An education reform cadre who works under Chris Christie with no accountability to the local community. That anger boiled over when she introduced her One Newark school reorganization plan, a recipe for school closures and mass teacher firings.
Ras Baraka, a local school principal and council member, has channeled the indignation into his campaign for Newark mayor.
RAS BARAKA, MAYORAL CANDIDATE, NEWARK, N.J.: They don’t have the right to come in our city and tell us what to do. They don’t have a right to come in our city and tell us they’re going to close our neighborhood schools and then tell you it’s reform.
BLUMENTHAL: Established political bosses who control New Jersey politics rallied around Baraka’s opponent, a civil rights lawyer and former assistant state attorney general named Shavar Jeffries.
SHAVAR JEFFRIES, MAYORAL CANDIDATE, NEWARK, N.J.: Too many of our schools continue to struggle to provide our young people with the high-quality education they deserve.
BLUMENTHAL: As a cofounder of the TEAM Academy charter school network, Jeffries has also won fervent support from the powerful education reform movement.
At Jeffries’ Central Ward headquarters, we met his wife, Tenagne Jeffries, a local businesswoman who has taken an active role in campaign strategy.
TENAGNE JEFFRIES, WIFE OF SHAVAR JEFFRIES: [Shavar] is totally—I mean, he served the district as school board president because he believes in public schools. He happened to start and he founded TEAM Charter Schools because he believed in choice.
Ras is trying to create this story about Shavar that’s one that’s so fictitious, you know, that he’s—you know, him and Christie are in bed with each other. Bottom line is that Shavar is going to work with whoever the leadership is that he needs to work with, but he’s very bold and independent. He was the underdog. If you look at it, Shavar was always counted out. He’s the one. He is the grassroots movement of Newark.
BLUMENTHAL: Jeffries has received over $2 million in funding from Wall Street education reform supporters through a super PAC called Newark First.
On election day, rumors circulated around the city about a last-minute $300,000 cash injection by Newark First to pay students to canvass for Jeffries.
BLUMENTHAL: Is it true that they’re being paid $150 a day from Newark First?
LUPE TODD, JEFFRIES CAMPAIGN SPOKESPERSON: I wouldn’t know that. It’s an [FIE?]. We wouldn’t know.
BLUMENTHAL: On a street corner in the city’s Central Ward, we confirmed the payments.
BLUMENTHAL: Are you, like, campaign volunteers? Or they hooked you guys up?
SHAVAR JEFFRIES SUPPORTER: Yeah.
BLUMENTHAL: They paid you? What did they pay you?
SHAVAR JEFFRIES SUPPORTER: One-fifty.
BLUMENTHAL: One-fifty? So they paid you each $150? Are you in school or—.
SHAVAR JEFFRIES SUPPORTER: No, they didn’t pay us yet.
BLUMENTHAL: What’s that? They didn’t pay you yet? Did they tell you, like, “We’ll pay you when you’re done”?
SHAVAR JEFFRIES SUPPORTER: They teach us about him. They tell us—they ask us if we want to do it.
BLUMENTHAL: They taught you about Jeffries and then said, you know, you thought he was cool and said, we’ll do it?
SHAVAR JEFFRIES SUPPORTER: You guys want to, yeah, hold the poles.
BLUMENTHAL: Oh. Okay.
SHAVAR JEFFRIES SUPPORTER: Then we said—.
BLUMENTHAL: That’s good money, man. A hundred fifty bucks—that’s more than I make.
BLUMENTHAL: But not all student canvassers were so forthcoming.
JAISAL NOOR, TRNN PRODUCER: Hey, how much are you guys getting paid?
JOSHUA, SHAVAR JEFFRIES SUPPORTER: Put the camera down. What is that for?
NOOR: How much are you guys getting paid?
JOSHUA, SHAVAR JEFFRIES SUPPORTER: What is that for?
NOOR: We’re with The Real News.
JOSHUA, SHAVAR JEFFRIES SUPPORTER: The Real News? So if I snatch your shit and I break it—.
SHAVAR JEFFRIES SUPPORTER: Josh. Joshua.
JOSHUA: Why are you filming me, my nigga?
SHAVAR JEFFRIES SUPPORTER: Come on.
NOOR: I’m just asking how much you’re getting paid today.
JOSHUA, SHAVAR JEFFRIES SUPPORTER: That’s not for you to ask me, my brother.
UNIDENTIFIED: We can’t answer that. We can’t. Can you just, like, drive off? Thank you.
JOSHUA, SHAVAR JEFFRIES SUPPORTER: Get the fuck out of my face.
AKILI BUCHANAN, VP, NEWARK TEACHERS UNION: They are hiring high school kids to cut school in various high schools around this town, cut school and to—.
BLUMENTHAL: Hold up the Jeffries sign and—.
BUCHANAN: Yes, hold up Jeffries sings and—.
BLUMENTHAL: We saw them around.
BUCHANAN: Yeah. I mean, I think that’s outrageous. They’re going after major cities like Newark and Philadelphia and Detroit because most of the people there are poor, powerless people of color and they want to make examples of these major cities. And then their intention is to go across the nation with this. It is one of the most dangerous retrograde moves in history I’ve ever seen.
BRIAN HOHMANN, FMR. NEWARK PUBLIC SCHOOL TEACHER: I mean, who knows? I mean, Newark has a history dating back to 1967 where there was a revolt. You know. And I wouldn’t claim that there or predict there is one on the way, but, you know, the conditions seem to be moving in a direction where they’re—you know, a certain ordinary action could lead to a combustible result.
BLUMENTHAL: We’re here at Ras Baraka campaign headquarters. The election is about to be decided between him and Shavar Jeffries. Right now we know that about half of precincts have reported and Baraka’s up. The mood is very confident. And what people are telling us here over and over again is that this election is a campaign on the future of public employee unions and public schools in this city.
BOB BRAUN, BOBBRAUNSLEDGER.COM: Well, if Baraka wins, I think it’s obviously going to be a much needed boost to the Teacher’s Union that has had some rough times in the last couple of years. If it loses, I’ve got to tell you, I think public employee unionism will have taken a serious, serious blow, I mean, you know, right up there with Scott Walker in Wisconsin.
BLUMENTHAL: With exit polls showing Ras Baraka in the lead, the excitement began to build.
RAS BARAKA SUPPORTER: He’s up by—.
BLUMENTHAL: By about six points, with about 120 out of 162.
RAS BARAKA SUPPORTER: Yeah.
BLUMENTHAL: That’s pretty good.
RAS BARAKA SUPPORTER: That’s excellent.
BLUMENTHAL: What does it mean if Ras wins for you?
RAS BARAKA SUPPORTER: That means he’s going to straighten up the town, get rid of the people that don’t supposed to be here. We need a new school system. We need a new superintendent. We need to straighten up. But he can’t do it by himself. It’s going to take a yard to build a house, honey.
RAS BARAKA SUPPORTER: Because just like Wisconsin, in New Jersey civil rights, labor rights are under attack, and today, labor and the community fought back and we won.
BLUMENTHAL: At shortly after 10 p.m., Baraka was announced as the victor.
BLUMENTHAL: So what does this mean? What does this victory mean to you?
CHARLES BARRON, FMR. NYC COUNCIL MEMBER: Well, this means a whole lot to us. It says that money doesn’t vote; people vote. It says that the people will decide their leaders, not Wall Street, not hedge funds. And it says that the Jeffries can try to spread themselves all over, but the people are not going to go for it.
BLUMENTHAL: Baraka made his way to the stage with his most established supporter, former governor Richard Codey closely behind him
RAS BARAKA, MAYOR ELECT, NEWARK, NJ: Today we told them all over the state of New Jersey that the people of Newark are not for sale, that people outweigh money in a democracy all the time, that in a democracy the people should be more important than money, and that Broad Street should be more important than Wall Street.
BLUMENTHAL: As soon as his victory speech was over, Baraka led his supporters on a dramatic march down Newark’s Broad Street to City Hall.
RAS BARAKA SUPPORTER: [incompr.] we become mayor. We are the people. We become mayor.
RAS BARAKA SUPPORTER: [incompr.] excited with our new mayor.
RAS BARAKA SUPPORTER: Number one, I was behind Ras Baraka since 2010.
BLUMENTHAL: The victory parade has reached City Hall in downtown Newark, pouring out of the election victory party of Ras Baraka, the newly elected mayor of New Jersey’s largest city, Newark. It is now day one of the Baraka administration.
For The Real News, I’m Max Blumenthal.