Newark: Play Nice Boys and Girl

This is Bill Orr’s first post as a new Blue Jersey frontpager. Welcome to Blue Jersey, Bill. – Rosi

The biggest problem in Newark now is the dysfunctional relationship between Mayor Booker and the eight men and one woman on the City Council. It’s time to play nice boys and girl. Newark, in the midst of its worst financial crisis in memory (and its had plenty of them) needs you to work together.

Booker did not help matters by his long delay in detailing the city’s budget crisis. His comments about withdrawing toilet paper from City Hall only trivialized the problem. His more recent hiring of a staffer with a salary of $103,000 in the midst of city employee furloughs and budget cuts was poor judgment. His support of Christie’s original tax cap proposal also proved to be a boomerang.  Although he has reduced gun violence and fundraised large sums for the city, the perception of his competency and ongoing status as an “outsider” are hurting him. He’s got to do more than kick his game up a notch. He has to both lead and collaborate.

His colleagues on the council, most of whom were elected on his ticket, proved all-too willing to bend to public opinion over Booker’s Municipal Utilities Authority (MUA) proposal. In fact, they delivered a “smack-down” 8-0 vote against creating the authority. The MUA which could issue bonds to replenish the city’s budget and improve the city’s water system infrastructure still makes sense, but people are concerned over the city’s loss of control, rising water rates, and potential for fraud, abuse and waste.

Many of the players are bright and competent.  Booker combines guts, smarts, charisma. Council President Donald Payne is a respected, long-time South Ward politician and son of NJ’s most progressive Representative.  Ron Rice, Jr. holds a Seton Hall law degree and is an articulate progressive. Augusto Amador, more cautious and moderate, represents well his Ironbound ward. Anibal Ramos, a Phi Beta Kappa Rutgers graduate, brings management experience from the non-profit sector.

Nonetheless, as detailed in a Star Ledger article, they are not behaving well together.  Booker can not just complain as he did after the vote that the council “has offered no viable plan at all for how to move our city forward.” Likewise, Payne can not hide behind his comment, “It is the mayor’s responsibility to come up with a balanced budget.”

So boys and girl play nice, work together, and balance your budget lest the state take over and Christie determines your fate. It’s all going to be difficult and painful but necessary.

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