April 23, 2007


Cory Booker’s Battle for Newark: A bold reformer takes on entrenched crime and corruption. (Steven Malanga, Spring 2007, City Journal)

Some politicians shape their election strategies on the campaign trail. Others develop them while poring over poll numbers or plotting with advisors. Cory Booker found his on the streets of Newark. One day in 2004, as Booker strolled near his apartment building with his father, the pair heard shots ring out, and then watched chaos erupt as a pack of teens ran past. Booker rushed toward the source of the gunshots and saw a young man staggering toward him. “I caught him in my hands and saw that his chest, his white T-shirt, was filling with deep rich red blood,” Booker remembers. Though Booker urged the boy to “hold tight” and “stay with me,” 19-year-old Wazn Miller died in his arms, gunned down in broad daylight by a hooded assassin.

Miller might have been another in a depressingly long line of Newark teens murdered and then forgotten, except for Booker’s presence. Booker describes that day as one of his darkest, when he feared most for the city’s future. It was also the day when he resolved to double his efforts to lead Newark, one of America’s poorest and most violent cities, out of the turmoil that has afflicted it for more than 40 years. Booker invoked Miller’s murder during a successful 2006 campaign to become Newark’s mayor, and today rarely shrinks from describing the harsh reality of crime in New Jersey’s biggest city. “People are dying on a chillingly regular basis in Newark, and there is no moral outrage,” says Booker.

Booker believes that he can revive Newark by bringing to it many of the urban reforms that turned New York City around in the nineties. Since taking office last July, the former Rhodes scholar, who grew up in a largely white, affluent suburb, has made reducing crime his Number One priority and installed a zero-tolerance policing strategy engineered by a veteran of New York’s drug wars. He’s also pushing school choice to shake up Newark’s appalling public schools, and has imported top managers from around the country to combat the legacy of political bossism and patronage that has left Newark with an often woefully incompetent government.

As thorny as the challenge might seem in a city whose residents have seen one broken promise after another since race riots erupted there 40 years ago, Booker and his team are hopeful. Unlike some other faded industrial cities, Newark has potential advantages for the twenty-first-century economy, with a location in the middle of the Washington–New York corridor, impressive transportation options, and far lower costs than nearby Gotham. “The unrealized potential of Newark is tragic,” says Stefan Pryor, Booker’s new economic development chief.

He is who Obama pretends to be.

Posted by Orrin Judd at April 23, 2007 3:15 PM


Posted by: erp at April 23, 2007 6:53 PM