Judge Dennis Carey III probably knows all about how Newarkers live and breathe their politics. But if he didn’t, he got a learning moment today.
After an hour of reading over musty statutes and debating which clauses superseded which subsections, Carey issued the words that mattered most to the packed chamber inside Newark’s opulent historic courthouse: “I am going to rule in favor of the Baraka plaintiffs.”…
Carey reversed Booker’s vote today, saying the mayor did not have the authority to vote on the issue.
Snakes rolling snake eyes. While the gamble may not have paid off, Booker did win an “I owe you one” from one of New Jersey’s most powerful bosses. A nice chip to have in your pocket.
But a reversal in court could never stop Booker from being self-righteous as he dialed the egomania knob to 10 at, of all things, a political fundraiser – leading some to wonder if Booker was auditioning for an even higher office:
“I know we’re here for a political occasion,” Booker said, “but, dear God, we have a spiritual purpose.”
“This is not a local speech,” a Democrat said later, speaking on condition of anonymity. “He’s running for something, I just don’t know what.”
“Pope?” someone suggested.
Pope might take some more backroom dealing though Cory surely knows all about kissing the rings of the powerful.
It was a great plan. Mayor Cory Booker was going to stick to a strategy that had made him one of America’s most admired mayors – using the visibility of his public office to launch profile raising publicity stunts for himself. And not just any headline grab, but one that would help define Mayor Booker as a true man of the people in these trying times. He would become a man, nay, a symbol of the dispossessed and suffering.
Obviously it would only be for about a week but the optics were perfect. And without fail the merry band of morons who had just helped ensure an Obama re-election by trivializing rape and recommending immigrants “deport themselves” took the bait and committed another Fox Pas.
Analogizing cosmetic dieting with brutal poverty? Yes! Winning. Booker was not only going to get great press for his heroic act of not eating the more expensive foods he likes for a week, he would also get an honorable mention from every liberal establishment stroke artist as epitomizing the sensible alternative to a right-wing gone mad.
Meanwhile, back in Newark …
Cory had another great plan. Using the opportunity presented by a deadlocked council vote, he launched a surprise attack making an unprecedented appearance inside the city council building to vote in a crony of one of New Jersey’s most notorious political bosses Steve Adubato. A dirty move even by Newark standards and not in keeping with Mayor Booker’s hyper-managed public profile as an advocate for transparency and good government.
“The mayor, who goes all around the country to talk about democracy… literally in the back of the room, hiding in the shadows,” Sharif said.
The riot caused by Mayor Booker’s political ambush was put down by the police with pepper spray and a prominent SEIU union leader was arrested. But, nonetheless, it seems the power play will stand.
So how does shadowy Back Room Booker, the man that actually governs Newark, square with America’s Mayor? Will the Real Cory Booker please stand up?
O Cory Where Art Thou?
As the mythology around Mayor Booker amplifies perhaps it is time to gain some perspective.
Chris Hedges, Pulitzer-prize winning journalist turned activist, is fond of noting in reference to Karl Popper’s influential book The Open Society and Its Enemies that those attracted to power are, at best, mediocre but typically venal. Popper believed that minimizing misrule is more important than trying to find great rulers. The wise know that if you cling to politicians for solutions to all your problems you are asking to be both disappointed and lied to.
So is Cory Booker mediocre or venal?
Despite the venality of recent events he surely weighs in on the mediocre side. Which is all the more deflating when considering the grandiosity of Mayor Booker’s public persona. The mythical image Cory puts forward – as a hero struggling against and triumphing over the epic and craven forces of American politics – would surely be hilarious if not for the tragedy that some actually believe it.
What those believers may be surprised to learn is that the Newark Cory will be leaving behind as his second term ends is strikingly similar to the Newark he inherited from sworn enemy Mayor Sharpe James. The results have been, well, mediocre.
Meet The New New Newark Same As The Old New Newark
In 2002 Cory Booker made his first attempt at becoming the Mayor of Newark. The struggle between Booker and then Mayor Sharpe James was the basis for the documentary film Street Fight. The film lionizes Booker and casts a harsh light on James clearly stemming from repeated mistreatment of the filmmaker by the James Team which is caught on camera. Side note: a great way to become the villain in a film’s narrative is to repeatedly interfere with and harass a filmmaker.
So Booker, true to his word, made homicide reduction the center of his administration’s agenda. Echoing the policies other cities faced with high crime perform, which is essentially a holding pattern strategy, Booker used expanded manpower and new policing techniques to swarm crime hot spots. This lead, not surprisingly, to an initial drop off in violent crime and later to a reversion to the mean with violent crime being roughly where it was when the whole thing started.
This is not due to some incredible incompetence within Booker’s administration, the plan was performed as designed, it was due to pursuing mediocrity. It was a failure of vision by a so-called (near self-proclaimed) visionary. Beyond the pageantry of more police on the street and the mayor jogging through the city flanked by TV cameras – what was this program actually supposed to do? If the answer was “not much” then mission accomplished.
The program’s failure was the inevitable result of underlying factors that exist in many high crime cities. Not that it’s news but crimes of passion occur in every community, the body counts in Newark, Camden, and other cities around the country are directly a result of dispassionate violence. Newark like other cities is a major hub for the sale and distribution of illegal drugs which means most business disputes are resolved through violence not civil litigation.
Booker, being a mediocre politician, has never attacked or even substantively spoken to the root cause of the homicides in Newark – the war on drugs. Nor is he likely to, for being a mediocre politician he would hate to alienate the wealthy whiter suburbs (aka the buyers of those illegal drugs whose buying creates the markets that leads to the violent business disputes in Newark). He needs their money and possibly soon, votes. More on that later. Yes, he said the drug war was a failure – well, you are mayor Cory, what are you going to do about it? Answer: Nothing.
OK, put aside crime. What about revitalizing Newark and getting people back to work?
The official unemployment rate in Newark hangs around 15%
Obviously we can all think of a thousand excuses for why Newark has awful unemployment numbers. And that’s fine. And no typical mediocre run of the mill politician should be expected to achieve much given the myriad of excuses anyone can come up with.
And that’s the point.
Speaking of Newark’s economy, Mayor Booker has also been surprisingly similar to his predecessor Sharpe James on redevelopment issues. Despite trying to draw clear lines during the campaign in 2002 between a more open and fair use of city resources Booker pursued a parallel path to James. In one instance Cory continued to press an eminent domain seizure – initiated by James – for downtown redevelopment that he campaigned against and was only stopped due to a judge’s ruling.
A New Jersey judge effectively killed an ambitious downtown redevelopment project in Newark yesterday, ruling that the city’s decision to condemn 14 acres of property on behalf of a private developer was ill-conceived and wrong…
Although they blame Mr. James for condemning their neighborhood in the first place, residents and merchants said they were disappointed that Mayor Cory A. Booker upheld the city’s use of eminent domain, despite having promised during his campaign that he would not.
So maybe Cory was exaggerating how bad Mayor James’ redevelopment policies were. And hey, politicians break promises all the time.
Should Mayor Booker be held responsible for what goes on in his administration? Or should we lower expectations?
Climbing Mount Olympus
As the mythological Cory Booker of twitter and cable fame soars above the petty clouds of politics – the mayor who actually serves in Newark continues his positioning for higher office. It remains unclear what Cory is going to get for the underhanded display at the council meeting from Adubato but surely he has earned whatever is coming.
But aye, there’s the rub. How long can Cory maintain his public persona with all these dirty deeds piling up? And if he is so interested in higher office shouldn’t he be avoiding irritating the people he would need?
There has already been talk of Booker taking on Governor Christie in 2013. Two words: Ha. Ha.
Oh and the Democratic political bosses have done fine under the Christie regime – a regime that is now running with 60%+ approval ratings thanks to the Sandy response which included the Obama-Christie responsible leaders tour The bosses have no reason to abandon a ship that’s sailing smooth, especially given the rewards they received for the hand-sitting in 2009 that brought Christie to power in the first place.
That would leave gay marriage as the only discernible difference (watch for a centrist shift on women’s healthcare by Christie) in which case the argument against a referendum makes even less sense. If it’s popular enough to take Booker over the top then it’s popular enough to win on its own.
Many were surprised to watch Meet The Press and see Obama campaign “surrogate” Newark Mayor Cory Booker attack the message of the Obama Campaign, from Politico:
Newark Mayor Cory Booker, a rising Democratic star, criticized on Sunday the Obama campaign’s attack ad against Mitt Romney for his work at Bain Capital.
“It’s nauseating to the American public,” Booker said on NBC’s “Meet the Press.” “Enough is enough. Stop attacking private equity. Stop attacking Jeremiah Wright.”
“As far as that stuff, I have to just say from a very personal level I’m not about to sit here and indict private equity,” he added. “To me, it’s just we’re getting to a ridiculous point in America. Especially that I know I live in a state where pension funds, unions and other people invest in companies like Bain Capital. If you look at the totality of Bain Capital’s record, they’ve done a lot to support businesses [and] to grow businesses. And this, to me, I’m very uncomfortable with.”
It is nauseating to talk about a candidate’s business record? A record the candidate himself has have made fundamental to his candidacy? Stop attacking private equity?
Who is this Cory Booker fellow and why is he speaking for the Obama campaign let alone the Democratic Party?
Well, the people that know Mayor Booker were not surprised he was defending private equity and Big Business generally (admittedly we were surprised he would do it in the context of attacking the campaign he is speaking for). They were not surprised because Cory Booker would actually be much more at home in the Republican Party – an option unavailable to politicians who want public office in Newark, a city which is overwhelmingly Democratic. In fact, registered Democrats are so dominant within the city that the substantial election for power is in reality the Democratic Primary not the general election. If Booker had registered his more appropriate party affiliation he would have had zero chance of becoming a city councilman let alone Mayor.
Cory Booker’s position on private equity is both ideological and practical and not some aberration. But before going into that it should be noted Mayor Booker tried to walk back his comments and was, not surprisingly, very unconvincing. From Steve Kornacki:
It didn’t take long for Cory Booker to get the message. Just hours after undermining the Obama campaign’s main line of attack against Mitt Romney, the Newark mayor released a video late Sunday afternoon in an effort to repair some of the damage.
Booker had seemed to pronounce the Obama effort to highlight unflattering aspects of Romney’s private equity background “nauseating,” but in the video, he suggested he was making a broader statement about negative campaigning…
Booker’s new line is a bit hard to swallow, though, because his “Meet the Press” comments clearly went beyond simply decrying the tone of the campaign. At one point, he offered a pointed defense of Romney’s Bain past, saying: “I’m not about to sit here and indict private equity. If you look at the totality of Bain Capital’s record, it — they’ve done a lot to support businesses, to grow businesses. And this to me — I’m very uncomfortable.”…
Booker has throughout his political career cultivated and maintained close ties to Wall Street and affluent, investor class donors – people who, in many cases, believe the administration has declared war on their world and see the Bain attacks as an extension of that effort. Booker’s statewide political aspirations are no secret in New Jersey, and the presumption is that he’s eyeing a Senate run in 2014 (others have mentioned him for governor next year, but that’s less likely for a number of reasons).
Props to Mr. Kornacki for digging a little beneath the surface, but allow me to toss aside your shovel and bring in the drill bit.
It’s easy to forget, but before the world met Barack Obama in 2004, many believed that the first black president would be Booker. Armed with Stanford, Yale and Oxford degrees and all of the invaluable personal connections he forged at those institutions, he set out in the mid-1990s to craft a uniquely appealing political biography, swearing off lucrative job offers to move to Newark’s Central Ward and take up residence in public housing. Within a few years, he won a seat on the City Council, where he showed an early and consistent knack for self-generated publicity, most notably with a ten-day hunger strike in the summer of 1999.
But there were more connections than “college buddies.” Cory Booker’s political rise is intertwined with the constellation of Right-Wing foundations, some you have probably even heard of like the Bradley Foundation and the Manhattan Institute. For example, where did Booker get much of his public policy agenda? Let’s take a look at some of the investigative reporting done during Booker’s first, unsuccessful, run for Mayor of Newark, from Glen Ford:
Cory Booker, Black mayoral candidate from the city’s Central Ward, a cynical pretender who attempts to position himself as the common people’s defender while locked in the deep embrace of institutes and foundations that bankroll virtually every assault on social and economic justice in America. His benefactors sponsor anti-affirmative action referendums, press for near-total disinvestment in the public sector, savage what’s left of the social safety net, and are attempting to turn public education over to private suppliers. Along the way, Booker’s soul mates are busy ravaging the environment and trampling civil liberties everywhere they find them.
But Booker only took their money and media support not their policies right? Wrong.
Booker’s anointment as a prince in the Hard Right pantheon is based on his support of public vouchers for private schools. This “movement,” the creation of right-wing paymasters like the Bradley Foundation, of Milwaukee, and the Walton Family Foundation, Bentonville, Arkansas, hopes to drive a wedge between urban Blacks and the teachers unions. Without amicable relations between these two Democratic pillars, the Party, as we know it, is finished.
Oh hi, Wisconsin. Booker then teamed up with Republican Mayor and future Chris Christie education secretary Bret Schundler.
Booker’s pal Schundler knows his way around that kind of money. He used a big chunk of a $500,000 Walton Foundation gift to his Scholarships for Jersey City Children non-profit to pay for advertisements featuring himself, during an election campaign. Walton’s executives didn’t object. Apparently, what’s good for their candidate is good for the kids.
After establishing their non-profit, the two Republicans and Booker went on a pilgrimage to Milwaukee, Mecca for school “choice” money, where the Bradley Foundation was concocting its newest invention: the Black Alliance for Educational Options (BAEO).
Naturally, Schundler couldn’t join. But Booker became a member of the board.
Now it was time for Booker to audition for those “elite donors” Kornacki references, and how!
The Manhattan Institute, home of a repulsive roster of right-wing writers and speakers, and recipient of $250,000 in Bradley money in 2000, invited Booker to one of its power lunches, where he effortlessly dropped Right-speak code words.
“The old paradigm,” he told the troglodytes, “was an entitlement program, in which large big city mayors controlled race-based machines.
“What that was really about was capturing big entitlements from the state and federal government and divvying them up among their cronies or among the people within their organizations to protect and preserve their organizations. It was about distributing wealth.”
In just two sentences, Booker managed to stimulate the Right’s erogenous zones by mentioning three of the phrases they most love to hate: “race-based,” “entitlements,” and “distributing wealth.” This guy is good, very good. He speaks two distinct languages – one to the people he wants to elect him mayor of Newark, the other to the financially endowed, whose mission in life is to resist redistribution of wealth to race-based groups that think the poor could use some entitlements
What many may be surprised to learn is that George F. Will endorsed Booker’s candidacy – along with most Corporate Media.
The latest benediction of the Booker campaign comes from columnist George F. Will, the high priest of privatization. Will has been busy for over three decades planting land mines along every step of Black people’s march toward equality. His endorsement should represent the kiss of death to Booker’s candidacy. Indeed, Will, whose prescription for urban unemployment is that the jobless move somewhere else, came close to giving away the entire Booker game.
“Booker’s plans for Newark’s renaissance,” Will’s March 17 column informs us, “are drawn from thinkers at the Democratic Leadership Council and the Manhattan Institute think tank, and from the experiences of others such as Stephen Goldsmith, former Republican mayor of Indianapolis, a pioneer of privatization and faith-based delivery of some government services, and John Norquist, current Democratic mayor of Milwaukee, which has one of the nation’s most successful school-choice programs.”
George F. Will gloats that the Booker campaign “has raised $1.5 million, partly through reform-minded supporters in New York financial circles.” The venerable word “reform” is among the many progressive terms that have been stolen by the Hard Right. The people Will is really referring to are the same ultra-conservatives who fund the Manhattan, Heritage, Hoover and American Enterprise Institutes, as has been vastly documented. Cory Booker is just another of their projects, albeit an important one.
Booker is backed by Wall Street (private equity) and his policies are crafted by reactionary Right-Wing think tanks all masked by progressive rhetoric like “reform.” The real surprise is not that Booker attacked Obama for shining a light on private equity – it’s that a man like Booker would even be asked to surrogate for the campaign.
Yesterday, Newark, New Jersey Mayor Cory Booker (D) attacked the Obama campaign for making an issue of Mitt Romney’s tenure at Bain Capital during an appearance on Meet the Press. While the progressive leader later backed off the criticisms, Republicans have been quick to highlight his comments as an attack against the idea that scrutiny of Mitt Romney’s record as a businessman is fair game.
A ThinkProgress examination of New Jersey campaign finance records for Booker’s first run for Mayor — back in 2002 — suggests a possible reason for his unease with attacks on Bain Capital and venture capital. They were among his earliest and most generous backers.
Contributions to his 2002 campaign from venture capitalists, investors, and big Wall Street bankers brought him more than $115,000 for his 2002 campaign. Among those contributing to his campaign were John Connaughton ($2,000), Steve Pagliuca ($2,200), Jonathan Lavine ($1,000) — all of Bain Capital. While the forms are not totally clear, it appears the campaign raised less than $800,000 total, making this a significant percentage.
He and his slate also jointly raised funds for the “Booker Team for Newark” joint committee. They received more than $450,000 for the 2002 campaign from the sector — including a pair of $15,400 contributions from Bain Capital Managing Directors Joshua Bekenstein and Mark Nunnelly. It appears that for the initial campaign and runoff, the slate raised less than $4 million — again making this a sizable chunk.
In all — just in his first Mayoral run — Booker’s committees received more than $565,000 from the people he was defending. At least $36,000 of that came from folks at Romney’s old firm.
Mayor Booker has claimed he will not seek another term as Mayor of Newark leaving Senate and Governor as possible ventures. I think he is qualified for neither and should go where he belongs, private equity.
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