Editor’s note: this Op-Ed was written in response to New Jersey Globe stories analyzing results of voter turnout 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 cherry-picking their favorites and trying to bully formidable contenders out of their way. But that strategy is predictable, tired and stale. One clear example is the recent attempt to take aim at Mayor Ras Baraka, for his city’s low turnout in arguably safe races. This is a misfire at best. If anything, a criticism this early only reinforces Baraka’s strong chances at a potential statewide run.
The City of Newark, the state’s largest municipality and a Democratic stronghold for any statewide election. However, critics are now trying to draw attention to smaller than usual numbers during the mayoral race but ignored the widely-known fact that this is a typical scenario for incumbents–especially the few that win handily for a third term. They also point out low numbers for subsequent races, but conveniently glossed over the fact that there was little to no competition among them. It’s fair to assume that Newarkers simply didn’t feel the anxiety of a potential shift in leadership looming over their heads like so many others within the state and across the country. Either way, these insiders are coming out the gate with attacks a bit earlier than usual, which only indicates that they fear potential contenders like Baraka–and scared very early.
Consistent voter engagement is incredibly important–especially in a state like New Jersey where we are one of only two states in the country that has a major election each year. For instance, in 2021 Governor Murphy faced a surprisingly close race despite being the incumbent, the state’s top spokesperson during the pandemic and the owner of a sizable war chest. Looking ahead to 2025, none of the rumored democratic hopefuls have any of these assets at their disposal. Furthermore, Murphy was able to remain as the state’s top executive because of black and brown voters–notably those that came out of the Newark area.
With all of this in mind, Democrats, and like-minded progressives, will need to focus their efforts on unifying around issues our country cares about: women’s reproductive rights, the high cost of living, jobs and more. The 2022 midterms just showed us that if we run on these values, we can prevent a red wave. And thanks to recent decisions from The Supreme Court, the states have been given increased power over our individual freedoms–making New Jersey’s race for Drumthwacket critical.
Not to mention, the Party will need to make room for an entirely new and growing generation of young voters who care less about party allegiance and care more about issues like climate change, student debt, voting rights, social justice and so on. Galvanizing this audience and bringing them into the fold will require an “all hands on deck” approach, and an approach that will undoubtedly need a voice like Baraka’s and the Newark voters to go with it.
Which brings us back to the unnecessary bogus attack on the ever-so-important Newark electorate. This “insider strategy” to find fault with the core group of voters that EVERY statewide candidate will clamor for, would be laughable if it wasn’t so damn disrespectful. True political operatives from around the state know all-too-well that trying to count out Ras Baraka and the community behind him this early is ill-advised and very poorly timed. No one should have to deal with friendly fire, while the real opposition laughs all the way to West State street. So let’s be clear, you will need Ras Baraka’s support to get there–regardless.
Larry Hamm is an advisor to Newark Mayor Ras Baraka.