Those who can remember Newark both in its industrial heyday and its years of decline have to admit one thing: The high-profile tenure of former Mayor Cory Booker put the city back on the map. Where it goes from here will be decided in May, when it will pick between Shavar Jeffries and Ras Baraka. NJBIZ got a chance recently to sit down with both candidates to talk about some of the past, current and future economic development issues in the city. So let's get down to business with Shavar Jeffries.
Newark mayoral candidate
Shavar Jeffries, 39, is a former assistant state attorney general. He's currently an associate professor at Seton Hall Law School.
Q: What is the current state of business and economic development in Newark?
On the positive side under Mayor Booker, we saw some important investments in the downtown over the last several years, from the new Prudential towers to Panasonic coming downtown. NJPAC obviously has a new development. We're going to see some development in the Four Corners. We've seen some new commercial businesses come in, from Dinosaur Bar-B-Que, Loft 47 and some others near the arena. So that's all very positive, (but) at the same, though, in our neighborhoods, we haven't seen much in the way of development at all. And I believe much of that development is also forestalled by the levels of crime in our neighborhoods.
We have a nice foundation. We have amazing assets in the city of Newark. We're one of the most strategically important cities in our region and on the eastern seaboard.
Q: What is its future?
I want us to have a much more livable city, a much more livable downtown. We need many thousands more residents living downtown. We need to have a 24-hour downtown. Right now we have a relatively thriving commercial district, but we still have a lot work to do there.
But in addition to a very livable downtown, we want this economic development to happen in a way that creates job opportunities for Newarkers … We want development that also begins to root itself and anchors in our neighborhoods.
Q: What's the No. 1 thing you'll do to bring new businesses to Newark?
Can I give you three? When I think about our economic development, I kind of divide it into three buckets: One is the quality of the business environment. Two is leveraging the assets, and then three is workforce development.
Q: What should business owners already in Newark expect from your administration?
They're going to expect a hands-on mayor who personally is going to foster a relationship with our partners in the business community. They're going to have a mayor who understands shared value and that when businesses invest in the people of Newark and invest in the economy of Newark, that's not only good for Newarkers, it's good for businesses because they're creating the consumers that are going to purchase their products.
I am personally going to work directly (with businesses) so that I understand their needs, understand their concerns. They can expect an efficient, fast, transparent government that wants to move in a very quick and efficient way so that we can develop our city.
Q:What are your thoughts on Newark's paid sick-leave ordinance?
I think it's very important to make sure that our workers have the ability to take care of their families and take care of their children when they're sick … Obviously we have to do this in a way that's also respectful of our businesses, particularly our small and mid-sized businesses that are often times struggling to make ends meet as it is. So as I approach that area, I'd want to find an approach that makes sure that our families have the ability to take care of themselves if they're sick, and also take care of family members and loved ones, but that we do it in a way that's not counterproductive — where we're driving business away — because we obviously don't want to engage in practices that hurt our economy. I do believe we can marry those two objectives.
Q: From an economic development standpoint, what was your assessment of the Booker administration?
I think economically, the mayor did great work in the downtown, and I think he deserves tremendous credit for that … I still think we have a lot of work to do in the neighborhoods, and we have to marry the investments that happen in the downtown and the ratables and the additional tax revenues we generate from the downtown, (and) we have to reinvest those dollars in our neighborhoods.
Q: Again from an economic development standpoint, what makes you uniquely qualified to lead Newark?
I think the diversity of the experience I have uniquely positions me.
Q: Correct one misperception of you that's currently out there.
Some people try to create false perceptions around the fact that I believe we've got to partner with the business community, partner with the philanthropic community. Some people think that's problematic, and I think that's a false perception.
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