Mayor Cory Booker, by polishing to a shine his national and growing international brand, elevated politicking in the city of Newark to a prominence and into a spotlight it might never have known.
Booker, emerging out of the political fray in 2006 as the resoundingly triumphant mayor, set out to prove that one of America’s toughest and proudest cities could purge the afflictions of urban decay, reverse its fortunes and thrive again.
For his efforts and antics, the media dubbed Booker the “Super Mayor.” There was talk of him taking on the state’s governor and his sparring partner, Chris Christie. Circumstances and fate intervened and the path forward for Booker appears to be poised to join the United States Senate.
Newark, after 10 years in the media as the home and launching pad for the meteoric rise of Cory Booker, finds it has a certain celebratory status of its own.
The city’s entrenched and dramatic posture for political altercations make headlines. So does its persistent violence and social ills even as the city attracts developers and investments. Newark will be watched with interest throughout the mayoral campaign and election, the outcome of which will determine the city’s destiny post-Booker.
The current discussion inside Newark’s distinctive, deep-rooted and often divisive wards is who should follow Booker and why. The question both in and outside the city is who could follow Booker and how?
“Looking at all the candidates, none have the same stature nationally or even within Newark as Cory,” Dr. Andra Gillespie, associate professor of political science at Emory University and author of The New Black Politician: Cory Booker, Newark and Post-Racial America, told theGrio.
“Every one of those candidates will take elements of the Booker legacy and sustain parts of that element,” Dr. Clement Price, distinguished professor of history at Rutgers University, said in his discussions with the Grio. “None of them, whomever succeeds Cory, will be able to bring the kind of media attention Cory managed to bring to himself. None of them has that kind of appetite for notoriety, oratory and celebrity status that Cory displayed over a decade.”
“They all occupy different spaces,” Gillespie further observed. “There are a lot of different personalities. Even the caretakers of the Booker legacy would have to come into their own.” All four candidates have their work cut out for them, in Gillespie’s opinion.
Anibal Ramos, the North Ward Councilman, is said to have a substantial war chest and strong political support and has remained close to the mayor. Ramos would be the first Latino mayor, thus validating the demographic shift with a victory in a majority-black city.
“Anibal is very smart. He is more than Hispanic,” said Price. “I see him all over town. He wants the black community to know he acknowledges their existence.” That message is being heard. African-Americans were present in significant numbers when the two-term councilman announced his run.
Also present and taking a bow was Steve Adubato Sr, who despite shying away from the title “party boss,” is labeled as such. On stage with Ramos was another power broker, Essex County Executive Joseph DiVincenzo.
Backroom allegiances and deals with big business is exactly what the second mayoral candidate Ras Baraka, South Ward Councilman and long-time activist, says he is against. Like Booker, Baraka has a brand, albeit a local one, of being diametrically opposed to the Booker style of leadership.
“This election will be won by the people not political bosses, county machines, and not even by big money special interest groups,” Baraka said in an email to David Giambusso of the Star-Ledger.
Focusing on the people’s woes, crime, and economic disparity depressing the South Ward has been the mission and platform of Baraka the activist councilman. Baraka the mayoral contender is tasked with broadening his appeal to stand an equal chance with Ramos and to realize a goal he’s had for years.
“Ras has always had an ambition to be mayor. Long before Booker arrived. But does Ras have the cachet beyond the South Ward? Can Ras expand his base and change his brand? Can he cultivate a crossover?” Gillespie lists Baraka’s challenges if he wants a shot at being Newark’s next leader.