NEWARK — Mayor Ras J. Baraka came into office last summer practically taunting his doubters. “Yeah,” he said in his inaugural address, “we need a mayor that’s radical.”
They had predicted that he would be anti-business and anti-police, that Mr. Baraka, the son of Newark’s most famous black radical, would return a city dogged by a history of riots and white flight to division and disarray.
A year later, Mr. Baraka is showering attention on black and Latino neighborhoods, as he promised he would. But he is also winning praise from largely white leaders of the city’s businesses and institutions downtown. He struggles with crime — all mayors here do — but he has also championed both the Black Lives Matter movement and the police, winning praise for trying to ease their shared suspicion.
The radical now looks more like a radical pragmatist.
Newark is still stubbornly two cities: gleaming new glass towers downtown, block after block of abandoned plots and relentless poverty in its outer wards, with five killings within 36 hours this month. But for all the expectations that Mr. Baraka would divide the city, those on both sides of the spectrum say that he has so far managed to do what his predecessors could not: make both Newarks feel as if he is their mayor.
Development plans are reaching into long-ignored neighborhoods. Projects stalled for years are moving forward, and new industries are taking root: a vertical farm, an incubator space and an investment fund for technology start-ups.
Mr. Baraka closed a $93 million hole in the city budget without layoffs. In June, Gov. Chris Christie agreed to start returning the schools to local control — something the governor had denied Cory A. Booker, Mr. Baraka’s more polished predecessor. The governor had rejected Mr. Baraka’s bid for control a year ago, deeming him “kind of hostile.”
“He’s like the local boy who grew up and said, ‘I need to fix my city.’ How do you not get inspired by that? How do you not root for a guy like that?” said Joseph M. Taylor, the chief executive of Panasonic Corporation of North America, which was lured to Newark by Mr. Booker. “I didn’t think anybody could top Cory Booker, but if anybody can, it’s Mayor Baraka.”
Not everyone is on board. Some local politicians, even those who support Mr. Baraka, say the positive reception partly reflects the low expectations set during a nasty election last spring, in which outside groups spent at least $5 million trying to defeat him. They say the talent pool at City Hall is shallow, and that Mr. Baraka has surrounded himself with friends and family members — in particular, his brother, Amiri Baraka Jr., who serves as his chief of staff — who engage in a kind of street politics that have dragged Mr. Baraka into distracting feuds.
The candidate Mr. Baraka defeated, Shavar Jeffries, continues to criticize the mayor’s inability to stanch crime, dismissing Mr. Baraka’s anti-violence rallies as empty gimmicks. And presuming Mr. Baraka can complete the return of schools to local control, they remain some of the nation’s most troubled and low-performing.
“The birthday is just another day,” Agnes Fenton whispered, pooh-poohing the milestone she reaches Saturday. Fenton, who has a lovely face, celebrated No. 110.
And just like that, the beloved Englewood resident — who has extolled the wonders of Miller High Life and Johnnie Walker — punched her ticket into the ultra-exclusive “supercentenarian” club.
Of the 7 billion people on the planet, a microscopic number are 110 or older. Robert Young, director of the Gerontology Research Group, which keeps track of supercentenarians, estimates 600. Dr. Thomas Perls, founding director of the New England Centenarian Study at Boston University School of Medicine, of which Fenton is a participant, puts the number at 360.
That means roughly 1 in every 10 million people in the world is a supercentenarian. Which makes Agnes Fenton special. Just don’t tell her that.
When a reporter visited her in the run-up to the big birthday, Fenton answered “lousy” when asked how she felt. But she warmed to the conversation and emphasized that God is the reason she’s lived this long.
“When I was 100 years old, I went to the mirror to thank God that I was still here. And I thank him every morning,” she said in a voice one must strain to hear. She sat in a wheelchair at the kitchen table in her green-shingled, Cape Cod-style home near Route 4.
“He gave me a long life and a good life, and I have nothing to complain about. … You’ve got to have God in your life. Without God, you’ve got nothing.”
Agnes Fenton was born Agnes Jones on Aug. 1, 1905, in Holly Springs, Miss. She spent her early years in Memphis and ran a restaurant there called Pal’s Duck Inn. Fenton, who has no children, came north to Englewood in the 1950s with her second husband, Vincent Fenton. She worked as a cafeteria manager for a magazine publisher, then as a nanny. Her husband, whom she called “Fenton,” died in 1970.