Modia Butler, City of Newark

Modia Butler

Building Faith
in the City

Editors’ Note

Prior to becoming Chief of Staff in 2008, Modia “Mo” Butler served as Co-Chair of Cory Booker’s 2006 mayoral transition team. Since 2006, Butler has served as the Chairman of the Board of Commissioners for the Newark Housing Authority (NHA). From 2003 to 2008, he served as the President and CEO of Newark Now. Prior to that, Butler led the Do Something after-school program as its first Executive Director. Butler has received the Bank of America Neighborhood Excellence Award, the Gustav Heningburg Civic Fellowship, the Newark Little League Committee Larry Doby Award, the Freedom Foundation’s Best Men’s Award, and the Leadership Newark 2008 Distinguished Fellow Award, among others. Butler holds a Bachelor’s Degree from Franklin and Marshall College and a Master’s Degree in Public Policy from the Eagleton Institute of Politics at Rutgers-New Brunswick.

In looking at the transformative changes that Mayor Booker has envisioned, how challenging has it been to implement them?

First and foremost, there had to be a civic and spiritual renewal within the city – in order to achieve real change, we had to get people to believe in Newark again and what we were trying to accomplish.

When Cory Booker became Mayor in 2006, I was President of Newark Now, a nonprofit that he founded in 2003. The organization works with the city to provide better services to Newark’s residents. We created key partnerships with nonprofits throughout the city and initiatives designed to empower individuals and restore their faith in what can happen here.

In 2008, I made the transition from Newark Now to Chief of Staff to the Mayor. The work is more focused on the physical renewal of the city, with an emphasis on the safety and well-being of its residents. We have revitalized numerous parks across the city, offering Newarkers a place to engage in healthy outdoor exercise and activity. Working closely with our Deputy Mayor for Economic Development, we have unveiled exciting development projects that are positively transforming the fabric of this city; we have a new hotel under construction and an independent hotel being retrofitted, not to mention more businesses choosing Newark as their home – so it’s an exciting, albeit challenging, time.

How challenging was it to get the community to believe change was possible and to bring them onboard?

We spend a lot of time trying to engage as many residents as possible. Initially, the Mayor hosted open office hours once a month to engage residents on a personal level. In the past few years, the Mayor has taken this citizen-centered approach to a new level by leveraging the power of social media.

We also designated a Deputy Mayor for Community Engagement whose primary responsibility is to act as an interface with different communities throughout the city.

Today, operating within the constraints of an austere budget, tough choices have to be made, with greater focus on the Mayor’s core mission.

Is it tough to be patient when change doesn’t come about as quickly as you would like?

Yes it is, but you combat that by working with a sense of urgency and purpose to enact the Mayor’s agenda. Obstacles are overcome through clarity of vision and diligence.•