Confronted by Protesters, Baraka Takes Charge of Town Hall on City Water Crisis

The water crisis in Newark Town Hall, helmed by Mayor Ras Baraka.

A town hall on the city’s lead contamination crisis anchored by Newark Mayor Ras Baraka and state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) Commissioner Catherine McCabe threatened to devolve into chaos when Baraka, a former street protester himself, exerted control of the forum.

It was a moment.

The crowd in a city forced to use water filters teetered at an angry edge as a man railed against “mumbo jumbo” he said emanated from one of the presenters sitting in the vicinity of the mayor.

“Power to the people!” the man shouted in the darkened cavern of the New Jersey Performing Arts Center.

“Power to the People!”

Baraka sat onstage as a small wave of resistance ensued.

Repeatedly calmly but forcefully trying to make contact, the mayor maintained order as security ushered a few of the louder protesters to the exits.

“To those people yelling ‘power to the people’ – information is power,” said Baraka. “They don’t live in the

Tonight's Town Hall on Newark's water crisis in NJPAC.
Tonight’s Town Hall on Newark’s water crisis in NJPAC.

City of Newark, and he’s trying to cause disruption.”

The mayor said he identified a vocal resident from West Orange.

Moments later, the protesters gone, former bullhorn brandisher turned lead pipe pacifier Baraka revisited at least one of the arguments he had heard coming out of the darkness.

“You cannot get lead poisoning from taking a bath or shower or washing your dishes,” the mayor said, as calm again prevailed in the room. “You should not listen to mythology. You should listen to science. We already have a president who listens to mythology.”

A few claps followed amid laughs.

Earlier this week, the mayor announced that the City of Newark is receiving $155 million in a new lease agreement from the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey to aid in the replacement of every lead service line in Newark.

The city has begun the replacement of more than 18,000 lead service lines in Newark. Baraka said when this task is completed in an estimated 24 to 30 months, every single such line in the city will be replaced at no expense to the taxpayer or property owner. This is the first time any city in the northeast United States has done so to address lead issues in its water.

Baraka closed the show with an entreaty to audience members.

He conceded a trust gap, but pleaded with residents to trust that the city and the Department of Health and DEP are working to solve the crisis. He wants them to trust that when they turn their water on they won’t get sick.

“When you say you’re lying, that’s another piece,” the mayor said. “People harp on the things that serve their narrative but the reality is we are going to do the things to fix this problem.”

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