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New York Post

 

Newark Voters Turn On Cory Booker

May 15, 2014

By Steven Malanga

Former Newark Mayor Cory Booker attracted national attention for his efforts to turn around the long-troubled New Jersey city. But the man Newark elected on Tuesday as its new mayor, City Councilman Ras Baraka, has been a persistent political opponent of Booker's.

Baraka won with 54 percent of the vote after appealing to city residents to “take back Newark” from outsiders, a not-so-veiled reference to Booker's suburban upbringing.

His victory running an anti-Booker campaign is an indication of how quickly the complicated legacy of the ex-mayor, elected in October to fill the US Senate seat of the late Frank Lautenberg, is fading in Newark.

The larger question is whether any of the achievements Booker made in his seven years will remain, especially now that Newark will be governed by a political adversary who questioned much of Booker's agenda.

A Rhodes Scholar, Booker rose rapidly in the tough political culture of Newark. Just a year after moving there, he won an improbable victory for a city council seat in the heavily black Central Ward, defeating a 16-year incumbent.

After narrowly losing the 2002 mayoral election against four-term incumbent Sharpe James, Booker was elected mayor in 2006 after James declined to run again.

Booker took office saying he was determined to employ the best talent available to turn Newark around. That included appointing a host of outsiders, such as former Internet company executive Bo Kemp, a Westchester resident, as business administrator, and New York City Police Department veteran Garry McCarthy as police director.

That strategy didn't sit well in Newark, where poverty and unemployment are high. Just four months after Booker was sworn in, Newark residents, led by Amiri Baraka, the confrontational poet and father of Ras Baraka, led a protest that heavily criticized Booker's appointment of outsiders.

Booker scored early victories nonetheless, driving down crime and attracting new investors to Newark, such as the rapidly growing company Audible.com, which relocated from the Jersey suburbs.

But then the momentum faded, as crime rose in Booker's second term and unemployment spiked after the nation's housing bubble burst.

Those reversals came at a time when press accounts claimed Booker was spending more and more time out of Newark giving paid speeches and cultivating a national image.

Newark's woes provided leverage to Booker's political opponents. Baraka earned his way onto the city council in 2010 by defeating Booker ally Oscar James II, portraying him as a tool of the mayor. “I think that [James'] vision is whatever the mayor says,” Baraka told voters.

Perhaps more noteworthy has been the political rehabilitation of Sharpe James. Although James' influence dimmed after a federal jury found him guilty in 2008 of fraud and he spent 18 months in prison, Baraka, who was a deputy mayor in James' administration, prominently featured an endorsement from the ex-mayor on his Web site in this year's election.

And last year, James, while campaigning for his son John's city council election, told the press, “I'm more popular than I was when I went into jail.”

Baraka has promised to depart from Booker's agenda. Booker was a proponent of educational choice and a critic of the city's teachers union, for instance, and today about a quarter of Newark students attend charter schools.

By contrast Baraka, backed by the teachers' union, voted while on the city council against expanding charters.

Baraka has also advocated raising numerous taxes to boost revenues in Newark, including tolling one of the main arteries into the city.

After seven years under Booker, Newark is heading in a new direction. Whether it's forward or backward remains to be seen.

Original Source: http://nypost.com/2014/05/14/newark-voters-turn-on-cory-booker/

 

 
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