On November 29, 2013, I Interviewed Newark Mayoral Candidate Councilman Darrin Sharif. There is a huge gap, and the mayoral race is open for everyone. Right now, there are only four candidates in the race. Ras Baraka, Anibal Ramos, Shavar Jeffries and Darrin Sharif. I did not hear of anyone else running for the mayoral election, but no one truly knows until the deadline on April 1, 2014.
Dhiren Shah: Welcome to this interview councilman. You are a first-time councilman, and are now running for the highest office in Newark, the largest city of New Jersey, Why?
Darrin Sharif: Because I am the most qualified, at the most pivotal point in the city’s history to move the city forward. You look at Newark, where it was and where it is now, we are at a historical crossroads. Look at my resume, I am the most qualified on the council. I was Deputy Chief of Staff for Essex County Executive Nicholas R. Amato, Chief of Staff of then-Councilman Cory Booker, Director of Operations for the Urban League of Essex County. Not a single candidate in this race has the depth of experience for the challenges faced in Newark. In addition, within the last three and a half years, all of the major stakeholders in the city, from big developers to a corporate people, not a single person in the race dealt with them more intimately that I have. All of the developments in the city, 99% happened in my ward. So these people trust me; they know me and they do not have to guess what kind of mayor I am going to be.
D. Shah: You father has officially supported Shavar Jeffries. Why do you think he did not support you? Does this can bring turmoil in your family’s relationship?
D. Sharif: I love, respect, and adore my father. What I learned about politics, I learned from him. His support to Shavar came long before I announced my candidacy. The reason I respect my father is that he is a person of inclusion. The group my father is with chose Shavar before my candidacy. You could ask my father about me, and he would say that he is proud of my accomplishments and all I’ve committed to during my adult life in public service.
D. Shah: How would you address the crime situation in Newark?
D. Sharif: Crime is senseless crime, violent crime. It is really the chickens coming to roost. It is two generations of our underinvestment in the neighborhood. We should hire more police, but we should do it carefully and cautiously, so we will not be in a budget predicament and do not put any extra strain on taxpayers. We need to double down our investment on people and the neighborhood where people lived. I started this investment the day I came to this office, like Oscar Miles, New Hope Village, Pilgrim Baptist, Betty Shabazz. All those places people forgot about, and people don’t vote. We can transform the vacant lots into beautiful gardens, putting computer labs in buildings, so kids and adults can have excess to those facilities, providing free classes. You invest in the people and you strengthen those neighborhoods. With the support of police and others, we will bring stable neighborhoods.
I am the only candidate in this race who has community neighborhood building expertise. I helped with the Fairmont neighborhood plan. We assessed the assets in the area of the Lower West Ward. We found out that we have to bring a number of stakeholders together, and we have to craft a neighborhood redevelopment plan that makes that important investment over a period of time. In a similar way, as mayor I have to look at the areas of the city that are underdeveloped and don’t have the investment. We need to have and go through the same approach, and that plan has to be guided by a neighborhood plan committee. In my job as a mayor, I have to be chief connector.
D. Shah: How would you help small businesses, like mom and pop stores?
D. Sharif: We did a little of it through the Brick City Development Corporation. There are a lot of small businesses, some of them operate off the books. If they need assistance and financial assistance, they have to get on the books. Really, the behavioral change is that they have to be willing. Mom and Pop stores do not have a business plan. There are small business loans, potential partnership with larger businesses, but it starts with the small businesses, there has to be a commitment to adjust their system. They will not grow the business overnight. I will make more business available for small businesses. Big businesses understood the more they partner with small businesses, the more business they will get, but small business should be ready to take the opportunity.
D. Shah: Mayor Quintana told me yesterday that he wants to evenly help all the wards, not only Downtown Newark. How would you help the entire city, rather than the business district only?
D Sharif: I always supported this approach and philosophy for parallel economic development. We need to have a thriving downtown for the business district. Springfield development is the perfect example that is not downtown. It’s on 11 acres from New Community, Oscar Miles, Willie T-Right, those are at-risk areas. We stabilize that area, provide employment opportunities for the people in the surrounding area, but hopefully catalyze economic development. Adjust the length of tax abatement for people who want to take a risk in the inner city. We should support the choice to make a risk, putting up their capital in the neighborhood, and we should give tax credits and financial subsidies.
We should work creatively with the EDA (economic development authority). I can give constructive criticism as mayor. As a developer, I look at the crime statistics. We have murders every other day. I am not going to rush to invest in those areas. So that’s why other investment, cleaning up the lots, and computer labs is necessary. I would make creative partnerships in the areas in different neighborhoods.
D. Shah: How can you help, as a mayor, the failing education system in Newark?
D. Sharif: That should be the biggest challenge for all of us. Newark is the higher education Mecca. We have five universities for higher learning. I will have a meeting with all our college presidents. We are going to commit ourselves to make our public schools excellent. The immediate thing I will do is form a program, with 50,000 students across Newark and those five universities. They become mentors and they become tutors. We did this at Science Park High School. We established a homework club. Every Saturday, Rutgers and NJIT students tutored the kids. They got the right help with their homework. Our university kids are an untapped resource; they are dying for opportunities. We will be working with charter schools, private schools and district schools. The whole Facebook money that came is a bit of a distraction from the core issues, and our focus should have been developing serious relationships with universities and colleges. Newark is blessed with an embarrassment of resources, we do a horrible job of coordinating and leveraging those resources to identify the problems. Newark will never be the city that could be, unless we have world class public education. We ignored those resources that are here.
D. Shah: Are you for local control of Newark education?
D. Sharif: Absolutely. That is part of self-determination. We should always have local control when we make decisions. If local control delivers us tomorrow, what will be our plan? I have seen horrible situations, where for political reasons we want control of the system, but we tolerated sub-par leadership. We owe the community a plan. What will be our plan for reform? I see too much ideological fighting, charter schools, district schools, private schools, and not enough discussion about how do we create a world class education system. I will be part of all schools as mayor. In real time, when they (students) walk into that building, they deserve a world class education, to be able to compete on the world stage.
D. Shah: What do you think Cory Booker did exceptionally well and did wrong during his tenure as mayor?
D. Sharif: Rich Tucker or Ron wouldn’t have invested in Newark if Cory Booker wouldn’t have been there. He can sell ice cubes to an Eskimo. I commend him for that. We need those investments. There should be equal or greater focus on the neighborhood. Engaging the community is something he could have done better. You can do it, and bring the philanthropic people along.
D. Shah: Everyone in their campaign says they are for transparency, and forget about it after the election. How would you make it an effective practice?
D. Sharif: I sponsored a resolution that pre-council meetings be televised. Pre-council meetings have never been televised before. What happened between the council members, and with administration people would have never been seen. Some of my council colleagues do not want to televise the pre-council meetings, but they understood and came along. Every single meeting we have now, special meeting, budget meetings, and pre-council meetings are now being televised. That allows the people to understand and ask us tough questions. Before they were totally kept in the dark.
D. Shah: In a new council after the election, if the council has been divided, how would you unite them?
D. Sharif: I was an independent. I will hope that my actions, not my words, will say to my council colleagues that Councilman Sharif has always been fair, always been serious, and did not miss a single council meeting, and attended 98 percent of the pre-council meetings. Every single council colleague knows that I am an honest broker. I have always been straight up with them. I have not been remotely political; that’s the biggest knock against me, being that I am not political. I am hoping that my leadership will help set a signal that first and foremost, we have the city’s business, and I have a track record about really taking care of business.
D. Shah: The council budget is a huge budget. More than many cities combined. What your opinion about the budget?
D. Sharif: My staff people are the hardest working staff people of all the council colleagues. By the number of initiatives, all of those things happened, with much beyond the line of duty. They work six days a week, sometimes seven days a week to do these important initiatives. If you abuse the resource, their presence cannot justify that investment, people get upset. I pushed my staff people so hard.
D. Shah: Where do you see Newark five years from now?
D. Sharif: Under my leadership, once we leverage all these resources, we will be the engine of the state of New Jersey in culture and education. People will flock to Newark to do business and to live. The investments that have happened amount to a billion dollar in the last two years, and one and a half to two billion dollars is in the pipeline, Newark will be a destination place around the state and the region.