Sporting a hard hat and a golden shovel, Newark Mayor Ras Baraka broke ground on a water infrastructure modernization plan.
“Bittersweet for the city of Newark. Bittersweet in the sense that we still have to deal with lead service lines in our city, but we have been working hard to get to this point,” he said.
A result of the joint efforts of the state and city, Baraka says the $78 million raised will go toward replacing 15,000 city lead service lines. All of them are in residential neighborhoods with a long lead history.
“You don’t really know what you’re going to find once you get the hole open,” said Amanda Gentle of Roman E&G.
“I signed up and I hope to be one of the next houses to get this done. I think this is an important issue. We don’t want to be Flint, Michigan.”
While there’s some relief on Ridge Street, the program is first come, first served, and it isn’t free. It will cost $1,000 homeowners to change out the lead lines. Kristin Burks-Millings says that’s a steal.
“We found out what it would cost me and my husband – $7,000-$8,000 to change the lead service line ourselves, and that was very expensive,” she said.
The lines that run from a house to the street are the owner’s responsibility. The process at each home takes about four hours.
So when Amazon comes calling, officials jump at the opportunity. When celebrities want to build here, Newark opens the door. And when poverty continues to plague generation of residents, Baraka makes a bold pitch: a guaranteed income for all.
During his fifth State of the City address Tuesday night at the New Jersey Performing Arts Center, Baraka for the first time publicly said the city was exploring a pilot program for universal basic income.
Though he released no details, the program generally provides all residents, regardless of employment, a guaranteed income. Baraka said the city was launching an exploratory taskforce to see if such a program was feasible.
The problems we have belong to all of us, not just a few of us so the solutions must be collective and not individual, Baraka said, after touting the citys progress and urging stakeholders to help continue building toward a better Newark.
We believe in universal basic income, especially in a time where studies have shown that families that have a crisis of just $400 in a month may experience a setback that may be difficult, even impossible, to recover from, he said, adding that one-third of the citys 280,000 residents still live in poverty.
Baraka, who wore a black simple tunic and black pants, walked onto a lightless, darkened stage Tuesday night during an address that resembled more of a TED Talk than a traditional annual state of the city.
I was an activist in 1989 when I led students at Howard University … I was an activist when I organized marches to City Hall, Baraka said. The difference is, now I am the mayor of one of the oldest and most important cities in this country.”
He continued, “I cannot afford to be just an activist, I have to have a mind to build. And I have to do all that I can to get all of you to agree to be builders with me as well.
Baraka, who was re-elected last year to his second term leading the states largest city, urged residents, businesses and community leaders to work with him to build a better Newark. He said it was no longer enough to fight on the sidelines or yell at board meetings.
We do not have the privilege to do nothing, to rail against development in our city, Baraka said, making a pointed critique at those who doubted Newarks chances of securing Amazons second headquarters or criticized the citys eagerness to land the 50,000-job deal.
Its a privileged position to say we reject jobs … when our people are unemployed, we have no right to walk away from a deal like that.
We made it to the game and we still playing, he said. We are courting the world through the vehicle of Amazon.
And were off. Mayor @rasjbarakas state of the city address starting shortly @NJPAC but first: this tiny tot with a very big talent @CityofNewarkNJ pic.twitter.com/5yMl3OrxMw
Passionate and at times fiery, Baraka underscored the idea of building together — building new pipelines to educate young people, building new programs to hire locals and building opportunities for homeownership.
We dont build the city for position. We dont build the city for an opportunity to advance to another political career. We dont build this city simply because we want to put ourselves on our pedestal. We build this city because we have a mind to, Baraka said.
Baraka said hell also be soon welcome Freedom Paper, a new paper producing company, owned and employed by people released from prison.
New job creation and training programs have helped more than 3,000 youth (ages 14-24) work in the city and 45 residents have been hired through the citys initiative to get anchor institutions to hire 2,020 residents by the year 2020. The City Council also recently passed an ordinance to facilitate employee who collectively want to buy their business.
Baraka also spoke about an array of Newarks initiatives around development, housing, education, public safety and youth initiatives. A large screen behind him displayed a series of videos highlighting the citys new programs throughout his address.
If you have not hired Newark employees then you are missing the boat. If you are not spending money with local businesses then your use in our town is waning, he said. We need you to be a part of Newarks growth.
Lt. Governor Sheila Oliver, Jersey City Mayor Steven Fulop and members of the city council were all in attendance Tuesday.
Karen Yi may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter at @karen_yi or on Facebook.