Booker’s City of Broken Promises

Sen. Cory Booker (D., N.J.) / AP
December 14, 2012

Democratic Newark, N.J. Mayor Cory Booker assumed office in 2006 promising to make the city "a model of urban transformation" but the city has yet to see any lasting changes, according to the New York Times.

Cory Booker’s promise — captured in two books, two documentaries and frequent television appearances — was to save a city that had been hemorrhaging residents, industry and hope since the riots that ripped it apart 45 years ago. But a growing number of Newarkers complain that he has proved to be a better marketer than mayor, who shines in the spotlight but shows little interest in the less-glamorous work of what it takes to run a city.

Newark residents are disappointed by Booker’s constant travels out of the city and believe his media popularity is distracting him from rebuilding the city.

They say Mr. Booker’s frequent Twitter posts to his 1.3 million followers, his appearances on television and at gatherings of moguls and celebrities — he was out of town nearly a quarter of the time between January 2011 and June 2012, according to The Star-Ledger — have distracted him from the local trench work needed to push his agenda. Business leaders say he dazzles at news conferences, but flags on the follow-through. Residents have wearied of the outside fascination for the mayor whom Oprah Winfrey called "a rock star" and Jon Stewart on Wednesday referred to as "the superhero mayor of Newark."

Booker defends his distance as networking tools to bring funds to the city. He claims he brought $400 million in philanthropic contributions. But Newark has been taking a turn for the worse as taxes have increased by more than 20 percent, even as the city let go of almost 1,100 workers, including more than 160 police officers. Crime and unemployment are up as a result.

The city’s finances remain so troubled that it cannot borrow to fix its antiquated water system. While new restaurants have risen near the Prudential Center downtown, those in the outer wards were placed under a curfew this year because of shootings and drug dealing.

Booker is now flirting with the idea of challenging Gov. Chris Christie for the Nov. 5, 2013 gubernatorial election and has said he will make his decision this month. Christie’s popularity following Hurricane Sandy has a few New Jersey Democrats saying Booker should instead set his sights on Sen. Frank R. Lautenberg’s seat in 2014. They argue "that Mr. Booker is better suited to speechmaking in Washington than to governing a state."

This troubled city, with its deep, systemic problems, was always an unlikely political springboard. And few people deny Mr. Booker’s accomplishments, particularly compared with those of his predecessor, Sharpe James, who went to federal prison for corruption. Mr. Booker has reduced the city’s structural deficit. Downtown has had a building boom, including the city’s first two hotels and first new supermarket in decades. […]

Mr. Christie’s advisers are well aware of the charge that the mayor has not lived up to very high expectations, and so doubt that Mr. Booker will run. Though the state has far more Democrats than Republicans, recent polls show Mr. Christie, who has had a surge in popularity since Hurricane Sandy, would receive 53 percent of the votes, and Mr. Booker roughly 35 percent.