Editor’s Note: This Op-Ed was written in response to reports from the New Jersey Globe analyzing turnout results in Newark and comparing turnout in Maplewood, Millburn, and South Orange.
The Road to 2025 in New Jersey is already heating up. New Jersey insiders are notorious for picking their favorites and trying to eliminate formidable competitors. But this strategy is predictable, tired and stale. A clear example is the recent attempt to target Mayor Ras Baraka for his city’s low participation in arguably safe races. This is a misfire at best. If anything, criticism this early only boosts Baraka’s strong chances for a possible national run.
The city of Newark, the state’s largest municipality and a Democratic stronghold for all statewide elections. However, critics are now trying to draw attention to less than usual numbers during the mayoral campaign, ignoring the well-known fact that this is a typical scenario for incumbents – particularly the few who easily win for a third term. They also point to low numbers for subsequent races but conveniently cover up the fact that there was little to no competition among them. It’s fair to assume that the Newarkers simply didn’t feel the fear of a possible leadership change looming over them like so many others in the state and around the country. Either way, these insiders are coming out of the gate with attacks a little earlier than usual, which just indicates they fear potential rivals like Baraka – and feared very early on.
Consistent voter engagement is incredibly important — especially in a state like New Jersey, where we’re one of only two states in the country that hosts major elections every year. For example, in 2021, Gov. Murphy faced a surprisingly close race despite being the incumbent, the state’s chief speaker during the pandemic, and the owner of a sizeable war chest. Looking ahead to 2025, none of the supposed Democratic hopefuls have any of those assets. Additionally, Black and Brown voters — particularly those who came from the Newark area — allowed Murphy to remain the state’s top leader.
Against this backdrop, Democrats and like-minded progressives must focus their efforts on agreeing on issues dear to our country’s hearts: women’s reproductive rights, the high cost of living, jobs and more. The midterms of 2022 have just shown us that we can prevent a red wave with these values. And thanks to recent Supreme Court decisions, the states have been given more power over our individual liberties – making New Jersey’s race for Drumthwacket critical.
Not to mention that the party needs to make room for an entirely new and growing generation of young voters who care less about party allegiance and more about issues like climate change, student debt, voting rights, social justice and so on. Engaging this audience and bringing them into the herd will require an “all hands on deck” approach, and an approach that will undoubtedly require a voice like that of Baraka and the Newark voters to get on board.
Which brings us back to the needless sham attack on the all-important Newark electorate. This “insider strategy” of finding fault with the core group of voters that EVERY statewide candidate will demand would be ridiculous if it weren’t so damn disrespectful. True political activists from across the state know only too well that attempting to count Ras Baraka and the community behind him so early is unwise and very ill-timed. Nobody should have to deal with friendly fire while the real opposition is laughing up to West State Street. So let’s be clear you will need Ras Baraka’s support to get there – never mind.
Larry Hamm is an advisor to Newark Mayor Ras Baraka.