Kate Zernike’s Unflattering Portrait of Newark Mayor Cory Booker

Given that Cory Booker, the well-regarded mayor of Newark, is reportedly contemplating a challenge against a popular incumbent in New Jersey’s 2013 gubernatorial race, he can’t be pleased about Kate Zernike’s latest article in the New York Times. Zernike highlights the striking contrast between Booker’s sterling national profile and a perception among many Newark residents that, in her words, “he has proved to be a better marketer than a mayor, who shines in the spotlight but shows little interest in the less-glamorous work of what it takes to run a city.”

I know many people, including many conservatives, who like and admire Booker, who has accomplished a great deal in what has long been a troubled and impoverished city, as Zernike’s sources acknowledge. But passages like the following are like a punch to the gut:

Taxes have risen more than 20 percent over the past three years, even after the city laid off about 1,100 workers, including more than 160 police officers. Crime has risen, and unemployment is up. Schools remain under state control, and 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.

“There’s a lot of frustration and disappointment,” said Assemblyman Albert Coutinho, a Democrat representing Newark. “People feel that the mayor basically is out of the city too much and doesn’t focus much on the day-to-day.

And then comes the conclusion:

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 apologize 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.”

Because New Jersey is so monolithically Democratic, I doubt that any of this would prevent Booker from, say, winning a seat in the U.S. Senate come 2014. But this is a lot to overcome. 

Reihan Salam — Reihan Salam is executive editor of National Review and a National Review Institute policy fellow.

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