As Newark Mayor Cory Booker contemplates a move to a higher office either next year or in 2014, The New York Times’ Kate Zernike is out with a definitive look at Booker that paints him as more style than substance:[H]is constituents do not need to be reminded that six years after the mayor came into office vowing to make Newark a “model of urban transformation,” their city remains an emblem of poverty.
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.
The piece comes as Booker is weighing a bid to challenge New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie next year. He is the best option for Democrats looking to take down Christie, and his decision to run could set up a marquee matchup.
But as Booker’s reputation has grown nationally — most recently with a two-week challenge in which he stuck to a “food-stamp” diet — it has waned locally.
He is criticised for not spending enough time in his city, which is still stricken with rising unemployment, rising crime and rising taxes (up 20 per cent in the past three years). One person anonymously lamented to the Times that they had to “go on Twitter to find out what [Booker is] talking about.”
Zernike closes with three paragraphs that sum up Newark residents’ opinions on his out-of-town habits:
Asked about complaints from residents and business owners that garbage is not picked up, abandoned buildings are not boarded up and public spaces are in disrepair, the mayor talked about a new system that allows him to track which streets need snowplows and which departments are paying for too much overtime — even when he is out of town.
He invited a reporter to see the system in action. He then called to apologise that he could not be there: “I’m in and out of New York all day.”
Instead, his staff demonstrated the system. Mr. Booker was on his way to host a reading at a bookstore on the Upper West Side, filmed by CNN. He then spoke at a benefit at Cipriani and attended a movie premiere at Google’s New York headquarters. Afterward, he announced on Twitter, “I sat on a panel with Richard Branson.”
It’s not the first time Booker has been criticised, even from people that are usually sympathetic to him. After he criticised the Obama campaign in June for its attacks on Mitt Romney’s private equity background, The New Republic’s John Bohrer wrote that Booker was “overrated” and ineffective as a politician because of his cozy relationship with Christie.