What are insiders saying about Phil Murphy’s win?
Decision 2017: New Jersey edition.
Don’t be deterred by an illusion of political safety, says Rachel Wagner to Newark and New Jersey voters.
“If Newark wins, the state wins.” Forest Hill residents discuss what’s at stake in the New Jersey governor’s race.
In just over two months, a high school commencement speaker will be able to look a group of 18-year-old Newarkers in the eyes and tell them to do well in college, to consider bringing their talents back home and contributing to critical initiatives and, heck, perhaps run for local office while they’re young.
The words won’t come from judge, a seasoned corporate executive, or another figure who is quite a bit of distance from them in age and experience, but from a young Newarker who sat where they did a mere five years ago, and will be able to speak with the credibility of experience when he asks them to build their talents and skills, and not “wait until they’re older” to invest them back into their communities.
In June, Rashawn Davis, the activist, organizer, and former candidate for local political office, will deliver the commencement speech to graduating University High School students.
In 2014, Davis made history when he became the youngest person ever certified on a Newark municipal ballot ahead of his run for Newark’s West Ward city council seat. He was just 21 years old. Davis didn’t ultimately win, but the seriousness of his candidacy raised his profile, and the experience gave him firsthand insight into the pugilistic electoral process in Newark.
After the election, he doubled down on his organizing by selecting and working on needle-moving initiatives. Perhaps most prominently, he joined the ACLU, where he was a key figure in advocating and organizing for the creation of a Civilian Complaint Review Board (CCRB) and other police reforms, even before police reform flared up as headline-making national issue.
Newark’s CCRB has been hailed as one of the strongest in the country. When the board was created, Mayor Ras Baraka named Davis one of its nine appointees.
Davis also breathed new life into the Essex County Young Democrats, a county-wide organization where he now serves as president and can work across municipalities on youth-oriented issues, and directly influence youth participation in the civic and political processes.
Davis has noted in the past that while youth bear the brunt of a number of critical problems in Newark, including unemployment and crime victimization, they’re almost completely shut out of the governing process in Newark. It’s a chasm he’s said he is committed to closing, by participating himself and by inspiring his peers to do the same.
The commencement speech will give him a captive audience whose decisions over the next few years will shape the extent and tenor of their participation in Newark if and when they return to the city after college. According to a statement about the speech, University High School Principal Regina Sharpe is excited for Davis to deliver his message to her graduates.
“There is nothing better than our very own successful Georgetown graduate paying it forward as a political figure and role model for current University High School students,” she said.
The City of Newark recently launched a new Tumblr blog entitled WeAreNewark, meant to showcase what Mayor Ras Baraka calls “Newark 3.0,” embodied in this case by a diverse legion of city employees.
The inaugural post is a profile of Carrie Velez, the city’s principal personnel technician. Angela Daniels, the city’s press officer and social media manager, said these snapshots of city employees are meant to put a face behind the people who ultimately make the city run. “Everyone’s job is important, and we are using this blog as a method to showcase who we are, what makes us different, and also use this as an outlet to share our love for our City,” she wrote in an email, before adding that the blog would highlight other developments in town.
True to its name, the blog is meant to further press home Baraka’s “we are the mayor” message from the campaign, underscoring just how many people who were heretofore unknown to the general public work behind the scenes in city government. City employees interested in being featured on the blog are asked to contact Daniels at firstname.lastname@example.org.
It’s an early spring Saturday afternoon in Newark, and I’m bumping along Springfield Avenue in the backseat of a red Buick. Rashawn Davis, 22, is seated in front of me in the passenger seat discussing the details of his next event with his campaign manager, Chad Montague. He’ll be visiting St. Ann’s Soup Kitchen in Newark’s West Ward to read at a literacy program and serve food to the kitchen’s Saturday morning clientele.
For Davis, this Saturday afternoon is the coda to a week spent working at the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) on community policing issues by day, and talking to the likes of me at night (I interviewed Davis for this story four days prior to our soup kitchen excursion).
Image credit: Andaiye Taylor
At St. Ann’s, Davis is greeted warmly by the soup kitchen’s staff. He heads into a long, thin reading room where children have gathered around a table, and reads Babar Comes to America to a young girl. When he’s finished there, he crosses the facility and heads into the kitchen, where he dons a baseball cap and matching apron, and receives a rundown of the day’s menu from kitchen staff. Asked to make some remarks to the people he’ll soon serve, he assents readily and walks out to the middle of the floor to say a few words.
His basic message to the soup kitchen attendees: that he’ll be working on their behalf in the political off-season, far away from the klieg lights and media hype that contribute to the circus-like feel of campaign season here in Newark. This, in a nutshell, is the blueprint for Davis’ life after his first political run.
Unto the breach
Newark might be one of the oldest cities in the country, but look at its current demographics, and at the people who are most affected by the city’s most pressing problems, and the watchword is undoubtedly “youth.”
Newark indexes slightly higher for pre-adult youth than the state of New Jersey, and the city boasts a senior population of only 8.6 percent, versus the state’s 13.5 percent. Young people are the subject of the city’s raging debate about education, and the hardest hit by unemployment. They’re both the most frequent victims and perpetrators of violent crime.
Yet Newark’s political leadership is characterized by legacy, incumbency and, well, age. It’s a particular concern for Davis, who worries that the experiences, worldview, and talents of the millennial generation are essential for moving the city forward, but missing from the city’s local government leadership. The needs of that generation, and of the city on the whole, can’t be sufficiently addressed because of youth underrepresentation, Davis says.
So in 2013, while the Newark native was still a college undergraduate at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., and buoyed in part by his core group of friends – all enterprising young black men from cities around the country – Davis decided to “be the change” and run for office in his hometown.
Davis entered the campaign with the intent to do as well as he could, but on the merits, it was highly unlikely that he’d pull out a win. In the beginning in particular, attention to his campaign was slow-going, and money was scarce. He was also up against Newark voters’ tendency to vote for incumbents and other known entities in local elections (a tendency they share with the average American voter). Davis was decidedly neither.
Davis made it clear to me that losing wasn’t fun (“for a week or so after the election I didn’t talk to many people, and I was a little disenchanted with the system,” he said, mostly due to vandalism and other assorted ugliness his campaign weathered as voting day drew closer). But Davis also knew that losing the race was merely the end of the beginning of his plan to be a change agent in Newark. “We still had a ton of opportunity ahead of us, even if we didn’t win,” he observed.
In the technology startup world, this is called “failing forward.” The concept: statistically, an entrepreneur’s first venture is unlikely to succeed. But launching a new venture, and all the activities that go along with it – defining a vision, creating an execution plan, hiring the right (or the wrong) team members, getting investors to contribute funds – these make for such dynamic learning experiences that founders often find themselves in high demand for new opportunities, even if the business they founded didn’t succeed. They fail forward.
Davis’ first run conferred similar benefits. Hearing from Newarkers helped him understand what he would need to accomplish to make his pitch to Newarkers resonate better. Trying to get an audience for his message with a lean team and even leaner funds made the importance of serious fundraising and smart staffing apparent. And the attacks Davis said his campaign experienced after his first big press mentions – on PolicyMic and MTV – awakened him to the ugly realities of Newark politicking during campaign season.
Back to the day-to-day
Image credit: Brian Rock
In this way, Davis’ first run helped bring shape and clarity to the work he does now. Working backwards from the types of arguments he would like to have made to Newarkers about his record during his first council race, Davis has been able to marry issues he sincerely cares about with a plan to accomplish milestones that the community can easily understand and appreciate.
In the most concrete way, that work has involved the creation of a Civilian Police Review Board under the aegis of the ACLU. While systemic – and often deadly – abuse of communities of color by police has recently become a marquee issue in national conversations, Davis’ work precedes this attention, instead coming on the heels of the Justice Department’s announcement last July of a federal monitor to keep watch over the Newark Police Department.
Davis is being intentional about how he spends his post-campaign time in other ways. One of his initiatives is to bring young professionals and creatives together to collaborate on projects in Newark, and to simply be aware that they’re a resource for one another here in town. To that end, he recently hosted an “Innovator’s Happy Hour” at Newark’s new Skylab rooftop bar. “I knew what it was like to wonder if you had a community here,” he said of his motivation for organizing the event.
Davis is also continuing to hone his ideas for how to elevate civic life in the West Ward, and in the city at large. One of his favorite ideas? “‘City Hall to Go’,” he said. “You take a van of City Hall employees to a different corner in a neighborhood each week, park it there, and let people come and get their questions answered there. It’s like a City Hall substation,” Davis explained of the idea he first learned of at the “innovation lab” at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government.
And in general, Davis is in favor of a muscular approach to the city council office. “The demand on council people is so much more” than what they are required to do by statute, Davis said. “Council members need to have visionary insight,” in order to do their part to improve the city, he added. From figuring out how to reform the blighted Pabst Blue Ribbon brewery site on South Orange Avenue, to maximizing commercial opportunities along the Orange Street corridor, Davis says an “expansive mindset” is required for council members to help unlock Newark’s potential.
In the next few months, Davis says he expects to continue dedicating considerable time to the Civilian Police Review Board, an initiative given new dimension by the current national climate. More tactically, Davis plans to start interviewing for communications, funding, and intern staff.
And perhaps he’ll accomplish a thing or two he can’t anticipate at the moment. “This in-between time is new,” he said.
Featured image credit: Brian Rock
#AfterTheRun is our yearlong series examining the life and work of Rashawn Davis after his city council run.
Read the next article in this series, Settling into the campaign post-season, Rashawn Davis doubles down on issues and builds bridges.
If you’re concerned about the types of government services and policies that most effect you day to day, you should consider voting for your county, district, and state representatives and executives in the mid-term elections this Tuesday, November 4th.
Newarkers will vote on two U.S. Representatives (Newark is split between the 8th and 10th New Jersey congressional districts), one of New Jersey’s two U.S. Senate members, a pair of ballot measures, and county government officials. Want to know who and what is on the ballot, and where to vote? See the list below.
Where to vote
Look up your polling location here. The polls will be open from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m.
U. S. Senate – New Jersey
Term: Six years
- Jeff Bell (Republican)
- Cory Booker (Democrat – Incumbent)
- Joseph Baratelli (Libertarian)
- Jeff Boss (Independent)
- Eugene Martin Lavergne (Democratic-Republican)
- Antonio Sabas (Independent)
- Hank Schroeder (Economic Growth)
New Jersey 8th Congressional District
Term: Two years
- Albio Sires (Democrat – Incumbent)
- Jude Anthony Tiscornia (Republican)
- Pablo Olivera (Wake Up USA)
- Herbert Shaw (Politicians Are Crooks)
- Robert Thorne (911 Truth Needed)
New Jersey 10th Congressional District
Term: Two years
- Donald Payne, Jr. (Democrat – Incumbent)
- Yolanda Dentley (Republican)
- Dark Angel (“Future. Vision.”)
- Gwendolyn Franklin (“Bullying Breaks Hearts”)
Statewide ballot questions
- Public Question No. 1: Provides for pretrial detention of certain criminal defendants
- Public Question No. 2: Dedicates six percent of corporate business tax revenues to open space preservation
Term: Four years
- Joseph N. DiVincenzo, Jr. (Democrat – Incumbent)
- Peter H. Tanella (Republican)
Term: Five years
- James Boydston (Republican)
- Dana Rone (Democrat)
Term: Three years; Total seats: Four
- Ricardo Alonso (Republican)
- John Anello (Republican)
- Ryan Funsch (Republican)
- Brendan Gill (Democrat – Current District 5 Freeholder)
- Rufus Johnson (Democrat – Incumbent)
- Lebby Jones (Democrat)
- Adam Kraemer (Republican)
- Patricia Sebold (Democrat – Incumbent)
District Freeholder – District 1
- Rolando Bobadilla (Democrat – Incumbant)
- Aracelis Sanabria Tejada (Republican)
District Freeholder – District 2
- Wayne Richardson (Democrat)
- ** No Republican candidate **
District Freeholder – District 3
- Britnee N. Timberlake (Democrat)
- ** No Republican candidate **
Mos Def introduced him to the Def Poetry crowd as “hip hop’s political future.”
In the run-up to the Geraldine R. Dodge Poetry Festival, and with a nod to our feature story about Newark’s homegrown poetry scene and it deep origins here, we look back at verses recited by Newark’s current chief executive — and poet-in-chief.
Are there any American poets in here? he asks. A true American poem might be real, but it ain’t pretty. WATCH:
Here is the entire video of the Baraka administration-produced video detailing the mayor’s first 100 days in office. It features a lengthy clip from his inaugural address, archival news footage, press conferences, and interviews with the mayor, city government officials, parents, and the CEO of Newark newcomer Panasonic discussing the public safety, education, and business agenda from the administration’s point of view.