Many Georgetown students past and present have political aspirations. But Rashawn Davis (COL ’14) stands out from the pack, for he has already begun his campaign. Davis has his sights set on May 2014, when the people of Newark’s West Ward will vote for their city councilman.
Davis spent the first 12 years of his life in Georgia King Village, a Newark housing project, where he witnessed drug deals and violence on a daily basis. He saw fights, muggings and often heard gunfire at night.
“All of these things were saturated into the neighborhood, and you almost just become numb to it,” Davis said.
Davis’ mother, who dropped out of college and took on multiple jobs to support him, was determined to keep her son out of trouble. She kept Davis busy, signing him up for sports teams and Boy Scouts and sending him to academic camps in the summer.
In addition to shielding him from drugs and violence, Davis’ mother instilled a sense of strength and resiliency in her son.
“A huge part of who I am today is because of her,” Davis said.
By the time Davis turned 12, he and his mother moved out of the projects and into a residential neighborhood, where drugs and violence were less pervasive. In addition to the safer environment, Davis came to appreciate the sense of community.
“I got to see how [members of] a real community values each other, how they work for each other.”
Davis’ mother and aunt encouraged him to serve the community by volunteering at hospitals and psychiatric wards, pursuits that spurred, at least in part, Davis’ political aspirations.
“I just started thinking to myself that there had to be another way to have this kind of effect, but in a more structural way,” Davis said. “That’s when I really started to look toward politics.”
With Davis officially beginning his campaign for Newark West Ward council earlier this month, he hopes to follow in Mayor Cory Booker’s footsteps. “I’ve always known I wanted to run for city council and I’ve always known I wanted to do it young.”
Davishopes to bring change to his Newark ward and engage the community to improve the quality of life for all residents of the city, particularly its youth.
“If we’re ever going to fix the problems that face our city we have to start at a micro level,” explained Davis. “A lot of people see this whole big-picture aspect — that if we bring in all these ideas, all this big money, that will solve all of our issues. But I think all the issues that Newarkers face are very micro issues that we can solve on a grassroots level.”
Davis’ campaign platform focuses on three areas of improvement — civility, economic development, and public safety — which he would address mainly through increased government programming. For example, to address public safety, Davis advocates expanding after-school programs for youth instead of beefing up the police force or imposing harsher prison sentences.
As part of his grassroots approach to politics, Davis hopes to establish more neighborhood associations in his ward, believing they would foster local pride and offer a forum for residents to voice their concerns and suggestions. While proposals such as these are likely to be met with little resistance by current councilmen, Davis’ plans to reform the council itself, on the other hand, are likely to spark controversy among councilmen.
Davisfinds the many benefits afforded to city councilmen, such as vouchers for dinner, rental cars and gasoline, to be irresponsible given the city’s $10 million deficit, and argues that they should be cut. Although he recognizes that some councilmen might resist such concessions, Davis believes that if he is elected and rejects the benefits then constituents will notice and pressure the other councilmen to follow suit.
“Our plan is to lead by example,” Davis said.
It is because of ambitious plans such as this that Davis has begun calling himself a maverick.
The label seems particularly fitting given Davis’ large ambitions despite his young age. No one on Newark’s council is under the age of 40; the incumbent to his seat, Ronald Rice, is 67 and previously served as deputy mayor of Newark. Davis, however, does not consider his youth a hindrance, believing that it allows him to better represent the young people of Newark.
Although the election is more than a year away, Davis has already assembled a campaign staff, comprised both of peers at Georgetown and other members based permanently in Newark, in addition to launching fundraising efforts.
While continuing to study at Georgetown, Davis plans to visit residents in Newark with his campaign team on one or two weekends every month until the election.
Although other campaigns will have more money to spend, Davis is not worried.
“The great thing about Newark is that money doesn’t win elections. Voters want to see passion, they want to see that you are invested in Newark,” Davis said. “A lot of these guys are going to be doing commercials and photo-ops, they aren’t really going to be in the streets talking to people, and I think that’s where we win and other people lose.”