Newark Mayor Ras Baraka wore a bright pink tie and even brighter smile as he mixed and mingled with New Jersey's movers and shakers on Tuesday at the 2016 Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia.
But don't let the smile, backed by his large bodyguard, fool you. The mayor of New Jersey's largest city came to the convention to put in work on a national level for a city not just looking to survive, but thrive.
"We've got a unique kind of a threat with Donald Trump. That convention was the scariest thing I've seen in the long time," said Baraka, referring to last week's Republican National Convention on the eve of Hillary Clinton's coronation as the Democratic standard-bearer for President. "We're here to make sure that Clinton wins in November. All other politics are left in New Jersey."
As Newark's mayor, Baraka can't escape Garden State politics even if he crosses the Delaware River. But more importantly, he must maintain his mission to back the state's largest city when New Jersey struggles to pay its bills and its cities are steadily weaned off state aid.
Further complicating Baraka's efforts is a house divided in his home, Essex County, where various factions support potential candidates Jersey City Mayor Fulop, State Senate President Steve Sweeney and former U.S. Ambassador to Germany Phil Murphy respectively for the 2017 Democratic gubernatorial nomination.
But Baraka, a consistent Fulop supporter, leaned back on the stair banister leading to his preferred candidate's morning breakfast and observed the posse of politicos from a measured perspective. Baraka is here just as much for other reasons.
The foundation of his focus: funds.
"We have a great relationship with the Obama Administration, and we want to continue to have a relationship with the next Democrat in the White House," Baraka said. "We have to bring home real resources for Newark, and not just from our struggle with the Port Authority.
"It's about jobs, and we need the private sector and the public sector working together," Baraka added as both legislators and lobbyists swirled around him in the hotel lobby as he pivoted to go to a U.S. Conference of Mayors strategy session.
"The private sector needs to be held accountable to make sure that they are hiring the people of Newark, and they have been at best lethargic in this regard," he said. "Our workforce has to be democratized. The private sector has to invest in our communities as they should, and the federal government has to appropriate dollars where we need it the most."