May 12, 2006


Hope for Newark: Cory Booker faces a big task in trying to turn around a completely dysfunctional city (Steven Malanga, 11 May 2006, City Journal)

Cory Booker rode to victory in Newark’s mayoral race by pledging to end the corruption, cronyism, and incompetence that have plagued the government of New Jersey’s biggest city for decades. Not just Newark, but the entire state, has a big stake in seeing him succeed. [...]

Booker arrives promising reform, and the people of Newark seem ready to welcome it. They not only elected him with 70 percent of the vote but also transformed the city council by backing a host of Booker-supported candidates. But now comes the real work. Having lived in a mobile home on some of Newark’s most dangerous street corners, Booker has pledged to shake up the city’s police department and has pledged zero tolerance of crime. He’s also advocating for the state to return the city’s education system to local control and has pledged to push for education reforms, including school choice, to help spur competition and better performance in the public schools. He’s promised to bring professional management into city hall, which one federal prosecutor likened to a “supermarket,” because “you can buy anything” there.

Of course, Newark has heard this all before. Sharpe James won his first election 20 years ago as a reformer, proclaiming that under his predecessor, Kenneth Gibson, Newark had become “fear city and dope city.” Gibson in turn had won election 16 years earlier on a reform platform, promising to rebuild Newark in the wake of the riots and the scandal-plagued administration of Mayor Hugh Addonizio. Newark has listened to promises of a better tomorrow for nearly 40 years now with little payoff, except for those in power.

But today the stakes are even higher, not just for Newark but for all of New Jersey. Someone has to break the cycle of bad government that has plagued urban Jersey for decades. Someone has to show the state’s cities how to join the urban revolution that has revived municipalities across the country. At the moment, smooth, charismatic, Yale-educated Cory Booker, the Rhodes Scholar, is Jersey’s best shot.

Vouching for Newark: One of America's most-maligned cities gets set to elect pro-school choice leadership (David Weigel, 5/09/06, Reason)
Only one powerful interest group has shunned Booker and endorsed Rice. That's the city's teachers union, and that's because Booker is a vocal supporter of school choice. Four years ago that fact was used against him in ugly ways. He was called a Republican-in-disguise, a tool of white and Jewish schemers. Candidate Rice pulled that cudgel out of mothballs last month, saying Booker supported vouchers because he was the "New Jersey point-person of the far-right Christian wing of the Republican Party."

The attacks aren't working this year, and not because Booker has papered over his policy stances or personal beliefs. He's running with a slate of candidates—three for the at-large city council seats, four for each of the ward seats—who also support vouchers.

Some of Booker's candidates are established Newark politicos who have come into his fold. Oscar James II is a different story—a 24-year-old Villanova graduate who originally came to Booker to ask for a law school recommendation letter.

"He said, 'You can go to law school whenever you want,'" James says. "'But right now you can be part of a real change that will affect Newark for years to come.'"

James is running for the council seat in the city's south ward, and his campaign is shepherded by Oscar, Sr., who got out the ward's vote for Mayor James (no relation) in 2002. The James family had enough money to send Oscar II to a series of private schools that "challenged" him and turned him from an easily distracted student to a hard-charging non-profit volunteer and candidate.

"Most kids in Newark don't get one tenth of the education that I had," James says. "And not every kid will get all of what I had, but they deserve a chance."

The slate's central ward candidate, Dana Rone, is probably its most vocal advocate of school choice. She won a seat on the city's school board in 2000 as an unapologetic member of Excellent Education for Everyone (E3), a pro-voucher group co-founded by Bret Schundler, the former mayor of Jersey City. Schundler was a conservative Republican who got creamed in two runs for governor, becoming persona non grata with Garden State liberals. That didn't stop Rone from winning a second term, in 2003, by a landslide.

"Vouchers have been pegged as something negative in the African-American community," Rone says. "When I explain them to people who are skeptical, I say: Look, you get vouchers. Medicare is a voucher. Social Security is a voucher. Welfare is a voucher. This is the same principle; it's the equalizer that can get your kids into good schools. And when you explain it like that, they understand and they support it."

No one on Booker's slate represents the school choice/anti-school choice divide like its candidate in the west ward. That's Ron Rice, Jr., the son of Booker's opponent, and a graduate of private schools. (Booker manages to needle Ron, Sr. for taking "his kids" out of the public school system in a way that doesn't seem to bother Ron, Jr.) Rice fell into Booker's orbit when he ran his first city council race, and he's stayed in the circle since then, even as his father took higher and more powerful roles in the James administration. "He and his father are like night and day," says Rev. Reginald Jackson, the executive director of Black Ministers of New Jersey and a school choice supporter.

Rice is a less vocal supporter of choice than Rone or James—he thinks vouchers are "one option" to consider. But they should have been considered long ago, he says, and weren't because of "the status quo politicians."

The conflict between blacks and the teachers unions is a target rich environment for the GOP.

-The guy in the thick of it (Susan Headden, 4/24/06, US News)
Cory Anthony Booker: On a Path That Could Have No Limits (DAMIEN CAVE, 5/10/06, NY Times)

Democrats compare him to Barack Obama, the charismatic United States senator from Illinois, or Harold Ford Jr., the Tennessee congressman.

Young, black, Ivy League-educated and pragmatic, Cory Anthony Booker is part of an emerging generation of politicians who came up after the major battles of the civil rights movement and say they have outgrown its approach.

But while Mr. Booker, 37, clearly sees himself as a next-generation leader who will fight for ideas and people, not ideology or party, he has chosen a position that has long been the first stop of his elders: big-city mayor.

Unlike Mr. Ford, who was sworn into Congress at the age of 26, Mr. Booker will become a manager — "chief executive of a major city," said Ellis Cose, an author and columnist who often writes about race.

That decision could make or break a career that his friends and supporters said could have no limits.

"These other guys, at the end of the day, don't really have to run anything," Mr. Cose said. "He's going to have to run something, and he's never really run anything of any substance or size before. He can fail."

Cory Booker was born to run Newark (Paul Mulshine, May 09, 2006, Newark Star-Ledger)
When I spoke to him after the service, Booker told me Newark's future hinges not on huge public investments but on small private investments. One urban think tank termed Newark "the most underachieved city in America," he said, because of its great location. Newark offers a quicker commute to the Manhattan financial district than many places in uptown Manhattan, he pointed out. Meanwhile, rents in Newark are a tiny fraction of New York rents.

"My friends come in from New York City and look at these apart ments and say, 'Wow, imagine what these would go for in Manhattan,'" he said.

The problem, he said, is that his building is managed by "the proven worst manager in the city, the housing authority." Getting public projects into private hands would lead to successful neighborhoods, he said. And encouraging middle- class people to move to Newark would create "a 24-hour downtown" and a service economy that would create jobs for the city's poorer residents.

This doesn't have to cost a lot of money. Better police protection, quicker approvals for business permits and revitalized neighborhoods don't have big price tags.

Posted by Orrin Judd at May 12, 2006 2:26 PM

Anyone know anything about the current polling on the NJ Senate seat?

Posted by: b at May 12, 2006 2:57 PM

This post, in contradistinction to the Fletcher post, makes one wish for the ability to purge everybody just short of the the janitors, from a previous administration.

The question is how to restaff without resorting to cronies.

That's a tough one. Why not hire Schundler.

Posted by: Bruno at May 12, 2006 4:19 PM

The NJ gubernatorial candidate I worked for was Essex County Executive, with offices in downtown Newark. He used to tell this story about his first day in office:

I arrived eager to put my campaign prom ises into effect and streamline the county government.

Hopped out of the car..raced up the steps..through the front door and to the elevator...where a pleasant older gentleman awaited me and pressed the button for my floor.

I asked him why there was an elevator operator for an automatic lift. He said there'd always been an elevator operator. I asked him what sort of employee he was, meaning which union and what pay level, but answered: "I'm a B employee." "What's a B employee?" "I be here before you got elected. I be here while you're here. And I be here long after you gone."

Posted by: oj at May 12, 2006 4:28 PM

When Booker is finished with Newark, he can always try East St. Louis.

Posted by: jdkelly at May 12, 2006 8:36 PM


Last poll I saw (via polipundit) had Kean over Menendez, about 41-38.

Posted by: jim hamlen at May 13, 2006 12:35 AM