MAYOR RAS J. BARAKA DETAILS TRANSFORMATION OF NEWARK OVER THE PAST FOUR YEARS
Mayor delivers fourth annual State of the City Address at NJPAC
Newark, NJ – March 21, 2018 – 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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Newark Mayor Ras J. Baraka’s State of the City Address.
Tuesday, March 20, 2018. New Jersey Performing Arts Center, Newark, N.J.
Madam Council President, Members of the Council, reverend clergy, elected officials, esteemed guests, my fellow Newarkers. Tonight is my fourth time delivering the State of the City address. And it is not lost on me that this is probably the most anticipated one because we are in an election season. So while I like to use these speeches to go over what we anticipate doing in the coming years. I’d like to first briefly lay out what we have already done. Not what we promise to do but what we have actually accomplished in a very difficult period in a short four years. We cut unemployment while putting the city on a firm financial footing. We have changed the narrative about our city and all over the country; the headlines about Newark are changing. And anyone that tries to tell you other than that is trying to peddle you lies. I am here to tell you that the old negative narrative is not our story. It is not Newark’s story. Ours is an indefatigable journey forward. Not a perfect one, just a persistent one. It is a story of our collective push forward, our successes even when others counted us out. How our economy is beginning to thrive, how people finally believe again, how our old problems have given way to the problems that come with success.
We could not talk about who is moving to our city years ago because no one was coming. We could not argue about whether we should have tall buildings or not because no one was building. We could not argue about who our superintendent should be because we did not have control over our schools. We could not argue about how we deliver health care because we were content with inefficiency. 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. With billions more in investment in more retail, commercial, and residential spaces. Not just for Newark but the entire state and the region. He understands that our city has been underdeveloped for decades and this is a real chance to begin steps to fix decades of neglect and invest in infrastructure, training, jobs, and economic development. To not consider this or take this seriously, or grapple with this on its face seems irresponsible. We must go forward here and we must go forward with Newark leading the way! We thank Governor Murphy, for his support of our great city.
We can no longer dwell in the past, romanticize years long gone, or make our millennials believe that their best years will never come because they are all behind them. We have to get them to think about the real issues and real problems that they have to solve. We have to recruit them not lull them to sleep, or inundate them with confusion and anger. We have to give them life and hope, that forward is the best way, that their lives in this city continue to get better with them in it, and we have to provide them space to work, to live, to play, and to transform this city, this state and this country. That is why we say forward ever, backward never!
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. Every street filled with crime and violence. A police force that intimidated and brutalized residents daily worse than many cities around the country, unemployment off the charts, and a city where the majority of its residents lived in poverty, economic stagnation, and no growth at all. Schools so bad that they had to be under state control, a downtown where there was nothing to do at all. This is what they sold to us. Most of it was never true but it fit the narrative. 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.
This is happening all over our city: cranes everywhere. 4 billion dollars’ worth of development. Buildings going up on every major corridor, and plans to redevelop entire blocks of abandoned and empty lots. 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. Crime is still too high, but we have managed to get it lower than ever reported in the last 50 years with fewer resources. Murders down 36 percent since I took office. Robberies down 55 percent, auto theft down 32 percent, and most importantly there have been 3,288 fewer victims of crime since 2013. 40 fewer murder victims from 2016 to 2017. We put more police on the street, and put them in areas where crime is the highest. We took 540 guns off the street last year alone and almost 2,000, since I have taken office.
And we are deeply focused on rebuilding the trust between our police department and the community.
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. They helped us develop new strategies to attack crime that involved community partners and alternative strategies. We developed our Community Street Teams that help us resolve conflicts in high crime areas. They redirect many to education, life skills, and employment, and make sure our children get to and from school safely. We developed discussions with cops and kids, and cops and community members around trauma, trust, and resolution. We created a Street Academy that has engaged dozens of our young people aged 16 to 24 without a high school diploma or a job to self- love, education, and employment.
Four years ago, we were demonstrating in the streets. Our children were walking out of schools frequently, and even barricaded themselves inside of the Board of Education’s Central offices. We traveled to Trenton to demand the return of our schools. I promised that before this first term was up that our schools would return to the people of this community, and on Feb 1st, 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. It didn’t mean we always agreed, but we understood that our greatest asset was our children and that our struggles were ultimately centered around their progress. This path was created because we made room for our young people to express themselves, to organize themselves, and to lead us.
Now, more of our students are graduating from high school (78%) More are going to college. More of our students are in beating-the-odds schools than in many cities across the nation, and many more of our students are defying expectations and are competing even surpassing state benchmarks.
One young man personifies this progress: Jordan Thomas. Jordan served as a student representative to the Newark School Board and fought to return our schoos to local control. Education is deeply personal to Jordan. It’s a value his parents, Neil and Mari Thomas, have always emphasized and one that his dad, a science teacher at American History High School, would talk about to start each school year.
Jordan, now a 21-year-old senior at Princeton University, is a Rhodes Scholar, the first Newark public schools graduate to study at the University of Oxford in England in a generation. He’s one of 32 American college students elected from a pool of 866 candidates. After Oxford and law school, he plans to return to Newark and work for a nonprofit organization or a public interest law firm. Then, run for public office on the local, then state and, ultimately, federal level. Jordan Thomas, who grew up on Barber Street, in the Ironbound has not forgotten his roots.
Jordan Thomas, please stand up. We are proud of you.
We have so much more to do, and greater work to accomplish as we are still too far behind. This is why we have put together a Children’s Cabinet and a Youth Policy Board. To begin to oversee and deliberately provide spaces where our community partners can help guide our district and our schools forward. We cannot stop now! We cannot change course. This work is too serious. We cannot veer off the road now because of individual anger and ambition. We do not have the luxury of repeating our past mistakes. We are not returning the schools back to the state not now, not ever! We must go forward!
The real story is that we came in to City Hall with a serious structural deficit and years of unpaid bills, and we were not only able to rescue the city from a downward spiral but also stay true to our social justice aspirations as well. I came into office with an unbalanced budget and 167 police officers laid off, another 300 retirements, and no replacements. We stopped that negative trend and since then have hired close to 500 new officers with another class of over 100 anticipated in the summer. In addition, we have opened three additional precincts: the first in the Central Ward and the new sixth and seventh. The sixth will be in Ivy Hill in the Vailsburg section of our city, a long, long overdue project. The seventh will be in the city’s North Ward in School Stadium with the help of the Newark Public Schools.
Our stories are about Detective Joe Soares, a 16-year veteran assigned to our ERT. He was shot in his chest with the bullet striking his ballistic shield, while executing a warrant and arrest. He did not return fire after being shot and made the arrest. Moreover, there was also a woman and a young child present at the scene. If this incident had gone wrong in any way we could still be discussing this today, but in a negative manner. This detective showed extreme restraint and discipline, made the arrest, saved innocent lives, and lifted the honor and reputation or our officers for years to come.
There was also Firefighter Paul Leber, a 10-year veteran in Engine 7, who became trapped in a two-alarm fire. He almost lost his life that day. If it weren’t for his fellow firemen that went back in to the building and rescued him, he may not have been here with us this evening.
Detective Soares and Firefighter Leber, please stand. These men risked their lives for the safety of our city and its residents. Today we need to honor them, honor their service, and honor our city.
18 code enforcement officers were laid off in 2010. Since I took office, we have hired 27 more. Crossing guards were laid off, and not only did we stop the layoffs we hired an additional 40 and put them on a road to increase their salaries to 15 dollars an hour. We purchased new equipment for Public Works, Police and Fire, and we did all of this while rising out of a financial crisis.
It is easy for people who stood on the sidelines to make videos now about how they would pass out money after we fixed the holes in the floor, repaired the roof and stopped the hemorrhaging. But recently, Moody’s Report said the following, “The revision of the outlook to positive from negative reflects our expectations that the recent positive financial operations will continue.” Therefore, we were fiscally responsible, raised revenues, increased development and invested back in to our employees and city services. This is not something we are promising to do because times have gotten better. This is something we did in critical times.
In fact, when we first took office the headline was Newark Police under a federal consent decree, and just a year or two later President Obama invited me to the White House to be on a panel about criminal justice reform and later visited Newark to announce his plans around these reforms on a national level. 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.
We eliminated contracts that were given illegally and untruthfully on an emergency basis for years at a cost to taxpayers of millions and millions of dollars and fought to give the work to local and minority contractors, so they can benefit from their own city. We were taken to court by a company that was given emergency contracts for 10 years of nearly 10 million dollars a year. We won the court battle and now we can and will give a piece of that contract to local women- and minority-owned businesses.
This administration saved the city millions in health care costs and forced a discussion about rising health care expenses and a broken system designed to rip our residents off, bloat their tax bill, force employees to pay a greater percentage in health care and move the city backward. The City’s street cleaning contract was held by a vendor that wielded undue influence on our city too long and streets that were never really cleaned anyway. We took the initiative, the risk, and brought it in house, leased our own trucks and put our destiny in our own hands.
What you never read in the newspapers or saw on TV is that the person who influenced the cleaning contract and profited from it, is the same person who influenced the health insurance contract, and is the same person who influenced the street sweeping contract. I am trying to redistribute some wealth in this city and not put it all in the hands of a few power brokers.
Moreover, while this president has been on a mission to build walls, alienate our residents and create division, we have created Municipal IDs and made Newark a fair and welcoming city. We stood against hatred in all of its forms. We have uplifted all of our communities and involved them in every step forward no matter the language they speak, the food they eat, how they decide to pray or if they are gay or straight. We gave our LGBTQ community access to a wide array of health and wellness services and a police liaison to address their unique needs.
I’d also like to take a moment to pay homage to a member of our city’s arts community and advocate for the LGBTQ community that we lost last year, Mr. Rodney Gilbert. Rodney played an important role in the development of our citywide mural program and also served on our LGBTQ Commission. We will miss him dearly.
We are making Newark work for all. We passed a cumulative impact ordinance while the president pulled out of Paris Climate Accord. We passed an inclusionary zoning ordinance that creates 20 percent affordable units in every residential building that receives a variance or subsidy from the city, and soon every developer will have to comply with this law. While the federal government cuts money for low-income housing, in Newark we are encouraging affordable home ownership. We have provided land and buildings at very low cost as well as financial grants to residents to help people develop homes for themselves. We have collaborated with groups like the Urban League to build affordable homes for residents that were renters to turn them into owners. And we help homeowners facing foreclosure. We supported efforts to call for a statewide moratorium on foreclosures, and have collaborated with NJ Community Capital to acquire both unoccupied and occupied properties under the Newark Mortgage Stabilization program to modify people’s loans, write down mortgages to the current value of the property, and forgive back payments. In addition, a number of unoccupied homes are in the process of rehabilitation and will be put back on the market as affordable homes.
We have taken slumlords to court, forced them to upgrade their buildings for residents, and moved people out of substandard and dilapidated housing at the owners’ expense. We managed to get the Fox landlord group to sell all of their properties, more than 200 units across the city, and work with a new owner to build upgrades in security, doors, HVAC, kitchens, bathrooms, walls, etc. and keep it all affordable. In fact, since 2014 we have constructed some 3,415 housing units outside of the downtown area and 58% of them are affordable. We organized and collaborated with midsize to small local black and brown developers to target development in the most difficult areas of the city, and we managed, with the help of the Council, to push to strengthen the rent control ordinance that I sponsored while I was on Council.
Moreover, Council Member Ramos and I pushed for earned sick leave. We stood at the airport and across the city to fight for an increase in the minimum wage. And while those who did nothing to help the homeless now attack our new homeless shelter, the real story is that the City managed to find a way to set up its first City-run homeless shelter, a refuge from the streets and the bitter cold that has seen on average 125 persons per night and provided over 14,000 bed nights since we opened. We have seen close to three quarters of our homeless population. This has never been done.
We created systems around Newark 2020 where our corporate partners have agreed to and are hiring more Newark residents, investing in Newark businesses, and encouraging more employees to live here. For example, 83 Newark residents have completed the Hire Newark Employment Ready Boot camp at the RWJ Barnabas Health Beth Israel Hospital since its inception in 2016. The program has a 92 percent employment rate and 82 percent of participants are currently employed.
Alfred Elliot, 41 years old, was born and raised in Newark and currently lives in the West Ward. A husband and a father of three, he spent years going from one temporary job to the next, unable to secure full-time employment. Today, thanks to the Hire Newark Program, Alfred has secured two positions. He graduated from the five-week intensive job readiness course in the fall of 2017 and is now a distribution clerk at Newark Beth Israel and an inventory specialist at RWJBarnabas Health. Please stand to be acknowledged.
Kaiyah Taylor, 33 years old, from the North Ward of Newark, was in great emotional pain when she found the program. Kaiyah had been forced to close her hair salon, after just one year in business. She also lost the matriarch of her family, her great-grandmother. She felt discouraged and defeated but then she found the Hire Newark program and began to transform her life. With the help and support of the coaches in the program Kaiyah improved her public speaking skills, she learned how to build an effective resume, how to cultivate a network of contacts, and most of all how to be patient with herself and others. Today Kaiyah is gainfully employed as a concierge at Clara Maas Medical Center, an RWJBarnabas Health facility. Please stand to be acknowledged.
There is amazing collaborative work going on at Rutgers-Newark under the leadership of Nancy Cantor. The Newark City of Learning Collaborative, the Honors Living and Learning Community and the Run to the Top Program are three of them. Under Nancy’s direction, Rutgers-Newark has increased its enrollment of Newark students by 60 percent in the last few years. They have focused in on families that have a household income of 60,000 dollars or less and are giving them full tuition.
Tyreek Rolon grew up in the South Ward of the city. In 2003, he was ranked one of the top 100 players in New Jersey receiving several athletic awards throughout his high school basketball career.
Tyreek was admitted as a transfer student into the Honors Living- Learning Community in 2017 after he earned an Associate’s degree in Arts & Science at Essex County College.
Tyreek is pursuing a Social Work degree at Rutgers University-Newark. His experience from growing up in Newark gave him a desire to care, assist, and encourage others to be resilient and cultivate opportunities from themselves and influenced his goal to become a Social Worker and work with youth from inner cities to empower, motivate and have a positive impact on their lives. As a working student and proud father, Tyreek not only studies in Newark but is also an employee in Newark’s Sanitation Department. Having overcome the pipeline from school to prison, he demonstrates a great work ethic and responsibility as a student and a father, and is involved with the Truth and Racial Healing and Transformation Center as well as the Intergroup Dialogue, reflecting his passion for building bridges between communities and mentoring younger students.
Yeimy Gamez Castillo – Class of 2020, Rutgers School of Public Affairs and Administration –and a recipient of Run To The Top was born in Honduras, but emigrated here in 2003, in hopes of greater opportunities. Yeimy’s family settled in Newark and have lived in the same two block radius of South Ironbound since their arrival. Her heart resides in Newark and its people. It is because of the people here that she is where and who she is today.
She grew up seeing people, her parents, her fellow artists make the best of the very little they had and that was the most valuable lesson she could learn- to be resourceful, to take every opportunity and run with it. When she attended Arts High School, she immediately fell in love with it because of this. Since she arrived at Newark airport at age 6, she didn’t know if she could even go to college, she felt invisible for a long time she was resentful at the way life had turned out. She missed her family. it has been 14 years.
But she took all of this pain, and began writing about it-through song, poetry, journal entries, and anything else. She began singing at open mic in Newark, La rouge, Open Arts Festival, Feedthesouls, and SoFarSounds. Yeimy’s story is a story that needs to be told not just in Newark, but across this country.
Tyreek and Yeimy, please stand.
There is real work going on in this city, intense, deliberate, and collaborative work. We are tackling real problems that have burdened our city for decades. I am here to tell you tonight – that our city’s path forward relies on our ingenuity, our courage, and our ability to cooperate with each other, to debate sincerely and openly without demonizing or looking for easy answers. Forward is done through collaboration and unyielding commitment to all of us, not self. Forward is not about self-interests and small ambitions. Forward accounts for all of us. Forward is not about acquiring position for ourselves, but about seizing power for us all. Forward encompasses our dreamers looking for the promise of America, our undocumented feeling safe to invest in our economy and take part in our progress. Forward includes formerly incarcerated trying to make amends through work and civic engagement. Forward is about all our residents benefiting from the city’s renaissance. Forward is our students going to college and finding careers in the city of their birth. Forward is about safe communities for our families and seniors that enjoy their golden years. Forward is about hope and progress about embracing our future, about new challenges and new solutions. Forward does not mean we do not struggle with each other.
Forward means that we do it with all of us in mind and not a few of us. Forward is not just about knocking down walls, it is about building systems that will sustain us, elevate us, transform us, and stand in the way of us ever going backward. To move forward we need brilliant, imaginative, thoughtful, collaborative and positive thinking people in this space. We need people to be strong enough to point out our shortcomings but more importantly, we need people that are courageous enough to build out solutions- sometimes with those they may not normally agree with.
I have deep respect for those that have come before me, and ripe understanding of the complexities and hardships they had to endure to move us to where we found ourselves in 2014. I praise them for the work they did both their accomplishments and their missteps. I know the obstacles that were placed before them and the difficulty of winning in a place that was designed that we lose. I understand the importance of Moses to Joshua and the passing of the torch from generation to generation. There would be no Joshua without Moses but how could Moses’ work be done if Joshua didn’t fulfill it.
We would not be on the field if they didn’t get us in the game. I am forever grateful for the work of Ken Gibson. In a tumultuous time, he transitioned us to power and held our city up at a time when our resources were purposefully deteriorating. I am grateful for the Sharpe Change that came with Mayor James who ushered our city into strength that built the NJPAC, the Prudential Arena, and began to rebuild affordable housing in a way that upheld our dignity in an era that began scapegoating cities for America’s problems. I am sincerely grateful for Senator and then-Mayor Booker for forcing the world to see us differently and for setting the stage for where we are presently. And I love and respect my brother Councilman/Mayor Luis Quintana for holding the fort down.
These people got us in the game. They marched the ball down the field against overwhelming opposition and unbelievable odds. In some instances, they got us to the red zone. If you’re a football fan then you know that, the red zone is a crucial area on the field. It is right before you score. However, it is not guaranteed in fact, there are some teams that have a good percentage of getting to the red zone but a poor one in getting in to the end zone. But this administration has been getting the ball down the field to the red zone and across the line in the end zone. We understand that the game is not based on how many times you get to the red zone, but on how many times you get in the end zone. And we are scoring touchdowns!
In my first State of the City address, held in the Council Chambers, there were massive challenges in front of us. We had an opportunity to talk about what we wanted to do. Today by the grace of God I get to tell you what we have done! I talked about being emotionally overwhelmed on inauguration day thinking of my dad, with Nina Simone playing in my ear. We talked about a city that would attract tech companies and preparing our workforce for these jobs. Now we are on a short list to host one of the world’s largest tech companies- Amazon. Touchdown! We talked about the promise of higher education, opening our universities for Newark Students and NCLC was born, and now dormitories are being built with our students in mind. Touchdown! At that time, we were beginning to get in involved in President Obama’s My Brother’s Keeper initiative that targeted young men of color to disrupt the prison pipeline and create more opportunities and pathways for millions of young men of color that are often left out. A few weeks ago, we partnered with Obama’s National My Brother’s Keeper Foundation and brought over 1,000 young men of color to the Prudential center for workshops, resume writing, career preparation. They received haircuts, suit jackets, ties, and some even left with a job! In fact, there was a homeless young man that I met who had just came home from jail and left that day with more contacts, greater opportunity and employment. Touchdown!
We talked about turning our downtown into a neighborhood and getting students off University Avenue and now we see them at Barcade, Mercato Tomato Pie or Blaze Pizza, at the bookstore on Halsey, or the Nike shop on Broad Street. Touchdown! We talked about starting 1 billion dollars’ worth of construction. Now we are at 4 billion. Touchdown! We talked about in 2015, three years ago about moving to a self-insured plan for our City’s workers to save taxpayers millions of dollars and provide better service. Today despite all the drama, we are on our way there. Touchdown! We talked about our City’s recreation centers and improving them. Today we have renovated almost every rec center and park under the City’s care even built a boxing gym, and have plans to break ground on Ironbound field and the ice skating rink this year. Touchdown!
We argued in 2015 that Newark 3.0 meant work, play and live in Newark. Today we are doing just that with Newark 2020. Touchdown! We talked about the work John Schrieber was doing to get One Theater Square off the ground and in the same sentence anticipated the opening of Whole Foods in our city. Now One Theater Square will be finished this year. Whole Foods is open and the Shaquille O’Neal project on Rector is just months away from being done. Touchdown. Touchdown! Touchdown! We derided our then-Governor about his policies and his stubbornness around our schools. Today not only do we have our schools back but also we are together at the table with every major partner in this city to redevelop, reimagine, and reinvent our school system to become community schools! And according to Governor Murphy’s Budget address we will be getting more dollars for our schools. Touchdown! We spoke of a new French company coming to Newark, called Biotrail, and the world’s largest indoor vertical farm opening up, Aerofarms. Today they are both making headlines all over the country. Touchdown!
We had a dream of a Triangle Park with retail and commercial development all around it with a bridge that connected the center of the city to Penn Station and the Ironbound neighborhood. Today take a walk down Mulberry Street and see the dream of Triangle Park under construction as Mulberry Commons, right across from the new Grammy Museum at the Prudential Center and on the other side from the Ironside office building and retail that will host the new M&M Mars headquarters. Touchdown! We talked about raising money to expand a park at the Passaic River. Now we have raised over 60 million dollars and broken ground on Phase 4 of what will be a three-mile-long riverfront park. You can even drive up South Orange Avenue and see cranes, on Central Avenue, Clinton Avenue, 17th Avenue, and more, and see our Newark coming to life. Touchdown after touchdown after touchdown!
Why in our right mind would we want to turn back now?! Even with all of that, we are repaving our streets – more than 200 of them last year and 30 miles or more this year when in the past the City was only able to afford four miles a year, and have arrested almost 60 illegal dumpers. In addition, we have brought in record revenues, and are getting better each day.
So what do we do now? We build community schools in every ward. We expand on ideas, what works, not school logos or brands, and we graduate more of our kids from schools and put more of them in college through NCLC. We push NJIT, Montclair, Essex County College, and Berkeley to meet the goals Rutgers has. We perfect Newark 2020 and ensure Newarkers are working in well-paying jobs.
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.
And I am pleased to announce today yet another milestone in Newark’s growing importance as a technology hub. We learned over the weekend that Newark has been chosen to host VOICE, a three-day summit at the forefront of natural language processing, sponsored by Amazon Alexa. This is big. Voice technology will soon be the way the entire world communicates with computers, machines, cars, home appliances and more, and it will be the way these devices communicate with us. More than 1500 developers, designers, leading brands and agencies who are reimagining how we interact are coming together to discuss and plan for how natural language processing and Artificial Intelligence will transform our world. And they are coming together in Newark, New Jersey.
We continue to build out our camera infrastructure all over the city to allow residents to monitor their neighborhoods along with the police, and we spread Ring technology throughout the city to allow all homeowners and even renters to view people that are coming on their doorsteps. We expand social workers in police stations, spread NCST to every ward, expand the Newark Street Academy, and build a system of trauma-informed care in every institution in this city because violence is a public health issue.
We continue to retrain our officers to drive crime down without violating our constitutional rights. We can build a city that grows economically and provides for its residents. We can welcome market-rate housing while preserving affordability, build more affordable and low income housing, and work to turn renters into homeowners. We can and will build worker cooperatives and create a fund to buy midsize businesses and turn them over to workers. We collaborate with the state and our Governor around building a public bank and work to support that in our city.
We create more opportunities for reentry that has already brought at least 100 to the workforce, and continue to strengthen our economy to ensure all workers are making at least 15 dollars and that everyone has earned sick leave in our city. We advance our homeless shelter, perfect it, build more transitional housing using container homes, and put our homeless to work in our ready-to-work program that will get them to help clean our city and earn a stipend at the same time. We work with New York Mayor Bill DiBlasio to finish our right to counsel initiative that will guarantee representation to prevent evictions of the disabled, elderly and all those 200 percent below the poverty line. We will invest in our neighborhoods, especially in areas that have lived with blight for over 50 years. We will use Senator Cory Booker’s Opportunity Zone legislation, and we have 13 zones designated for our city alone- to channel unprecedented amounts of resources into communities that were purposefully neglected, redlined, and willfully underdeveloped for decades. We will build more housing in every ward; with emphasis on marginalized communities like LGBTQ, single mothers, and the differently abled.
We work with the state to invest in our health care to rebuild Rutgers Medical School and hospital and provide clinics for residents in every ward. We focus on early childhood education, and expand pre-k 3 classes to more families. We will build our infrastructure starting with Penn Station and continue to redo and build parks. We can work on the Port Authority to get them to zero emissions in the port area and preserve the health of our families. We can get them to pay the city what they owe and at the same time, work with them to use the land on and off the port in the most efficient and economically beneficial way for all of us. And we support and thank Councilwoman Gayle Chaneyfiled Jenkins for sponsoring an ordinance the will codify state law and affirmative action practices in the city. That will give everyone -women and men – an opportunity to seek additional redress for their grievances. We support a workplace free from intimidation, exploitation, unwanted advances, and bullying. We know Newark can be a better a place and that it will take all of us to get there- even our opponents.
We can accomplish many things in better times with better partners today, because we accomplished so much in difficult times. I believe in this city and more importantly, I believe in the people in it. We can now choose the direction we want to go in. Do we want an economy for some of us, or all of us? Do we want to approach our future fearful; scapegoating each other for long systemic problems or do we hold hands and pull each other over the finish line. We can continue to have politics that are divisive and dangerous that seek to get ahead on each other’s backs or community service that forces us ahead because we have each other’s backs. We can choose to be inclusive, open minded, and offer opportunity to disagree and debate without demoralizing those that disagree with us. We can build bridges not walls. We do not have to be known for nasty and vindictive politics to be the state’s reality TV show. We can choose to stand up together or fall down individually. And I humbly submit to you today that we have no other choice. Our city can only go forward with all of us. We do not have to watch it take the fate of other cities grappling with the same issues. We can challenge those assumptions and not have to fall victim to cynicism. We can win! But we need people that are willing to not be held back by inflexible dogma and make room for ideas whose time has come.
We have to be willing to depart from who we are to make room for our blessings. We have to challenge our own thinking, be brilliant enough to create new ideas but courageous enough to actually try and implement them. We have to know that in our attempts we will fall down, we will make mistakes, we will get it wrong but we have to create an environment where that is OK. Where we don’t bully and ridicule each other for making attempts for taking risks, for moving out of the realm of theory and becoming practitioners. We are in the process of transforming our city and either you are going to be on the sidelines talking about those that dare to struggle and dare to win, or you are going to be in the arena with mud on your face and callouses on your hands. You choose.
Me – I was born for a time such as this. I came in to the world two years after the Newark Rebellion and a year before the election of Ken Gibson signaled an end to apartheid in our city. I was fed daily on a meal of freedom justice and equality, on unyielding love for our city and the families in it. I was raised in periods of discord, danger and constant attack on my family. I know what it feels like to be in trouble. I understand who and what Newark is. Why? Because I know its people. My mother comes from a working class family of garment workers and truck drivers. My father’s family members were postal workers and social workers. They both came to this city like thousands of others looking for opportunity, a fresh start, and running from terror in the south. They are no different from those who came here from the Caribbean – Spanish speaking, French, and English speaking – looking for a dream they heard about. Imagining a place where their hard work would pay off and their families would be free to express their humanity. They are no different than immigrants that left Europe looking for a chance to grow to experience a democracy that they read about that was admired all over the world fleeing destitution looking for dignity and decent wages. All of us landed here in this city. And it is our efforts, our collective will, that we have been missing.
We have been held apart by language, religious rituals, by individuals that do not understand that our national struggle is tied to our struggle for humanity. By those that make money for themselves to keep us segregated and confused. We all want the same things. Wages we can live off, excellent education for our children, neighborhoods where our families are safe, to be free from sickness, disease and poison in our air and water, to have our constitutional rights be upheld, to have the same chances as everyone, and to be treated as human beings whether we are documented or not! We can achieve this. We can make this happen.
In Newark we can create something that has never been done. And I know there are pundits out their whose job it will be after this to explain to you how this is fictitious or naysayers to deny our possibilities and say we are serving false hope but as President Obama said we have the audacity to hope. To hope the hope of dreamers who have tied their future to this country and push forward every day in a sea of opposition. We hope the hope of former slaves and sharecroppers that took a risk and cobbled everything together they owned and made their way up north looking for the Promised Land. We hope the hope of single mothers that try every day to make a space for their family, to prepare a road for their children that is filled with the best that Newark has to offer. We hope the hope of us all when we see the recent positive optimistic headlines of our city, when we drive around and see things look like they may be changing. That change includes us, that there is a space for their family even if their English isn’t perfect, or they have just recently come home from jail, or they don’t have all the skills they think they need, or they are fresh out of college. And every day I see our potential, our progress forward.
Judge Victoria Pratt told an audience of young women at Central High School that a setback is only a set-up for our comeback! Newark, we are coming back. And there is nothing anyone can do about it. No matter how much they try to drag us down, we are going to stay on that wall! No matter how much they try to defame us we are going to stay on that wall! We are not looking east. We are not looking west. Our focus is forward. Forward ever, backward never! We are not afraid of what’s ahead because I have news for you. He hides me in plain sight, in the secret of his tabernacle. And I have to tell you this has never been about me. It has been about all of us, Dr. Martin Luther King said all of us are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one affects us all indirectly. I can never be what I ought to be unless you are what you ought to be.
This means we are in this together, and your success is inextricably bound to my own. So we are going forward together even if we have to pull you with us. And We won’t go back. There is too much work to be done too much ground to cover. I won’t go back because I know what happened because Nehemiah stayed on that wall. I know what happened after Job went through calamity. I won’t go back because I know what happened after Daniel fasted and after Meshak, Shadrach, and Abendego were put in the fiery furnace. I know what happened after the people wandered for 40 years and reached the River Jordan. I can still see the stones mounted up on dry land! I won’t go back because I know what the future holds! I have seen it!
And I have no doubt in my mind whatsoever tonight, Newark! If we stay on this course this pathway forward that if we hold on to each other from the streets of Summer Avenue to Mt. Prospect and Verona, from North 6th to South 10th from Irvine Turner to 14th Avenue. If we just hold on to each other from Mt Vernon to 18th Avenue from Clinton and Chadwick to Ferry and Monroe. If we hold on to each other from Pennington Court to Bradley Court. from the Weequahic section to Lower Broadway. If we do this and continue our march forward and not look back, our city will always be strong and each day it will get stronger. God Bless you and God Bless the great City of Newark!