The Booker context

The writer says that there has been for months a trend on Blue Jersey to paint Cory Booker as less progressive, to injure him with the left. Is that correct, Blue Jersey? What do you think? – promoted by Rosi

The race for the democratic nomination for Governor may not dominate headlines yet, but it has been playing out quietly, and sometimes less quietly, for almost a year now.

The players are well-known, the battle lines are being drawn, and the debate is being framed. For my part I wrote a blog post last week (perhaps prematurely) calling on Mayor Cory Booker to live up to his rhetoric and challenge Governor Christie in 2013.

Of the couple comments it received, one from Bill W tried to paint the Mayor as anti-teacher due to his support of school reform and seemed to indirectly insinuate that he is a “regressive voice.” Another comment from sayitaintso asked, and I promised to respond, “what is Cory’s brand of politics and why is it progressive?”

While I aim to address both comments here, the comments cannot be divorced from the context of an ongoing attempt by one or more potential candidates for Governor, notably Senator Buono, to paint themselves as the most staunchly progressive and to deride any working relationship with Governor Christie as treacherous.

I do not want this post to devolve into the beginnings of a side-by-side comparison of different candidates. If you go back to my original post, I was very careful not to say that Booker would be a better candidate than anyone else, I merely posited that if he is truly on a mission to do good, then a run for Governor is the natural next step.

In all honesty I would prefer not to mention Senator Buono directly, but shortly after posting my diary “Why Cory Booker must run for Governor” a new community member posted a similarly titled diary, “Why Democrats Must Support Barbara Buono for Governor.”

The tit-for-tat games have begun. But let us drop the facade finally and admit that for months now there has been a trend on Blue Jersey to paint Booker as less progressive, to injure him with the left by painting his pragmatism as a departure from progressivism. And let us be honest, much of it derives from Buono supporters who are eager to frame the debate among Democrats in her favor.

Having been unceremoniously dropped as Majority Leader due to “boss politics,” there is a certain amount of political necessity to Buono’s approach. Her only path to the nomination is to poison the standing of potential primary opponents with the primary base.

But the argument against Cory Booker ignores the larger reality that he is the Mayor of a city which relies heavily on State resources for its survival: State aid covers about 20 percent of the city budget and more than 70 percent of the school budget. Also, Newark desperately needs an extra $24 million to get through this fiscal year.

I am not using these numbers to respond to accusations that distort his progressive record, but it is important to note that being a Mayor necessitates a working relationship with a Governor in the way that being a member of the majority in the legislative body does not. This is an important  difference, because while Booker has a successful working relationship with the Governor, there is still a rigid and wide difference between their principles and politics that has endured for the past three years. To jeopardize the well-being of your city by playing partisan political games solely for political posturing would be unacceptable.

The rest of this rather long post will be dedicated to addressing some of these accusations and to answering sayitaintso’s question about Booker’s brand of politics and how it is progressive. (Note: I write as an outside observer, I do not have any intimate insight into the Booker camp.)

The politics of questioning Booker’s loyalty to Party and fealty to ideology is not new. Back in 2002, in his “street fight” against incumbent Mayor Sharpe James, Booker was accused of being a “white Republican.” While James’ accusation were excessive, his statements acquired credibility from the same questionable Booker characteristic: his ability to work with and attract support from individuals across the political spectrum.

Indeed, in a hyper-partisan political environment, the ability to attract support from all sides can be worrisome. How can a Democrat have a working relationship with a bombastic Republican Governor? How does he get Republican donors and legislators to buy into his mission for Newark?

There is no simple answer to these questions, but his success to date derives less from political stances, and more from the Booker “brand.” You see, since his entry into politics as a Newark councilman Booker has based his politics on what he likes to call a “politics of self-fulfillment,” where it is not about the next office, but rather about the next challenge.

Now I am not going to insult Booker’s or his advisors’ intelligence by claiming they are not constantly aware of the political ramifications of their actions, but Newark has, until now, provided a political shield for the Booker team.

With one-quarter of Newarkers (nearly twice the national average) living below the poverty line, an unemployment rate that is also twice the national average, and the ongoing malignancy of violence, the city has its fair share of struggles.

By wrapping his political struggles within the struggle of improving the city, Booker has managed to insulate himself from accusations of partisanship or political posturing – in essence he has used the plight of Newark to stay above the fray.

After all, with so many crises to manage, Booker would argue that he doesn’t have time to focus energy elsewhere. Thus his brand of politics has become one of pragmatism in the name of doing good, not for him, but for his city. This has allowed him to work across partisan lines, without ramifications, and has served as a justification for the breaking with his Party or with wings of his Party on a couple issues.

But as Booker begins to look beyond Newark, he will have to expand his political brand. His political ambitions will no longer fall in synch with his personal crusade to save Newark. He will have to take more cynical evaluations of the issues and he will, like Buono and others, have to posture and decide which direction to go in.

The good news is that Booker is an exceedingly progressive voice on the majority of issues important to Democrats. I use the word progressive purposefully, because although his critics like to endlessly reference his support of the school reform policies or his “misspeak” on Meet the Press (which he has made countless mea culpas) Booker has actually been a leading voice on a series of progressive issues, and his political values are progressive to the core.

While some would like to frame progressivism as an orthodoxy, a laundry list of issues on which you are either on the right or the wrong side, this is the wrong track if we want to beat Christie in 2013. Progressivism has always been the idea that government could better society and achieve social and economic justice if it became more democratic, efficient, and more concerned with the plight of ordinary individuals.

Disowning Cory Booker or condemning him for having the courage to be honest, taking centrist stances on specific issues, or for rising above partisan politics is a really poor political strategy. It is also counter to the progressive tenet of middle ground. Democrats aren’t going to accomplish our goals and win the next election by looking for orthodoxy, but rather by finding a progressive voice with the experience and appeal to grow our party.

Whether on gay marriage, calling the GOP out on their hypocrisy over the earned income tax credit, supporting planned parenthood, addressing urban poverty, introducing meritocracy into a city establishment where hires were usual based on political cronyism, and also having the courage to call out the false drug war, Booker is the leading voice in New Jersey’s Democratic Party.

Above all this, a rigid focus on orthodoxy also misses the simple point that Booker has been a very effective Mayor of Newark. I will not go through the numbers or the investment he has brought to the City, but as someone who had opportunities to move up the political ladder many times before now, he was true to his word. Through thick and thin, and a lot of struggle, he stuck in Newark and he made important contributions to the life of New Jersey’s largest city. He also proved, once again, that forward looking Democrats make the best executives.

None of this is new information to Blue Jersey, but whenever Cory Booker’s name is mentioned on Blue Jersey there seem to be a group of people who pounce, calling heretic! And if you want to condemn him due to the fact that he is not an orthodox then that is your democratic right. As I have tried to touch on (although I fear I have only scratched the surface) Cory Booker’s career and his progressive character cannot be summed up in one or two issues.

We need to have a broader discussion, maybe after November, about what we are really looking for in the candidate to take on Governor Christie. Also, what we want our Party to become. As numerous sources reported from the convention last week, there are fissures within our Party. There are legitimate debates that need to be had about what the future should be and how we better communicate a unified message. We can’t close our minds to any candidate or vision without first understanding the complexities of leadership and challenges we will all face moving forward.

For my part, I welcome a broader debate not a more narrow one. I also hope Booker runs for Governor, the debate about our State’s future needs him in it.

The Booker context

The race for the democratic nomination for Governor may not dominate headlines yet, but it has been playing out quietly, and sometimes less quietly, for almost a year now.

The players are well-known, the battle lines are being drawn, and the debate is being framed. For my part I wrote a blog post last week (perhaps prematurely) calling on Mayor Booker to live up to his rhetoric and challenge Governor Christie in 2013.

Of the couple comments it received, one from Bill W tried to paint the Mayor as anti-teacher due to his support of pension reform and seemed to indirectly insinuate that he is a “regressive voice.” Another comment from sayitaintso asked, and I promised to respond, “what is Cory’s brand of politics and why is it progressive?”

While I aim to address both comments here, the comments cannot be divorced from the context of an ongoing attempt by one or more potential candidates for Governor, notably Senator Buono, to paint themselves as the most staunchly progressive and to deride any working relationship with Governor Christie as treacherous.

I do not want this post to devolve in to the beginning of a side-by-side comparison of different candidates. If you go back to my original post, I was very careful not to say that Booker would be a better candidate than anyone else, I merely posited that if he is truly on a mission to do good, then a run for Governor is the natural next step.

In all honesty I would prefer not to mention Senator Buono directly, but shortly after posting my diary “Why Cory Booker must run for Governor” a new community member posted a similarly titled diary, “Why Democrats Must Support Barbara Buono for Governor.”

The tit-for-tat games have begun. But let us drop the facade finally and admit that for months now there has been a campaign to paint Booker as less progressive, to injure him with the left by painting his pragmatism as a departure from progressivism. And let us be honest, much of it derives from Buono supporters who are eager to frame the debate among Democrats in her favor.

Having been unceremoniously dropped as Majority Leader due to “boss politics,” there is a certain amount of political necessity to Buono’s approach. Her only path to the nomination is to poison the standing of potential primary opponents with the primary base.

But the argument against Cory Booker ignores the larger reality that he is the Mayor of a city which relies heavily on State resources for its survival: State aid covers about 20 percent of the city budget and more than 70 percent of the school budget. Also, Newark desperately needs an extra $24 million to get through this fiscal year.

I am not using these numbers to respond to accusations that distort his progressive record, but it is important to note that being a Mayor necessitates a working relationship with a Governor in the way that being a member of the majority in the legislative body does not. This is an important  difference, because while Booker has a successful working relationship with the Governor, there is still a rigid and wide difference between their principles and politics that has endured for the past three years. To jeopardize the well-being of your city by playing partisan political games solely for political posturing would be unacceptable.

The rest of this rather long post will be dedicated to addressing some of these accusations and to answering sayitaintso’s question about Booker’s brand of politics and how it is progressive. (Note: I speak as an outside observer, I do not have any intimate insight into the Booker camp.)

Comments (20)

  1. Thurman Hart

    The tit-for-tat games have begun. But let us drop the facade finally and admit that for months now there has been a campaign on Blue Jersey to paint Booker as less progressive, to injure him with the left by painting his pragmatism as a departure from progressivism. And let us be honest, much of it derives from Buono supporters who are eager to frame the debate among Democrats in her favor.

    So, is this blog a tit or a tat?

    Where is ANY evidence that there is a “campaign” of any kind? I’ve been on the receiving end of those charges more than once, and I can tell you that the only thing it does is make the accuser look like an ass.

    Here’s what’s happening: Some people support Booker and some support other people. They are able to post here in support of their favorite candidate and they do so. If more people seem to favor one candidate over the other, let’s not be childish and make charges of collusion.

    How about simply making a straight-forward case for your candidate without the back-stabbing? Honestly, I quit reading after I got to the paragraph I quoted because your attitude really turned me off. Guess what? You missed a chance to persuade at least one potential supporter. You know what else?  You are never going to get the chance to approach me for the first time again.

    What a total failure.

    This is the kind of stupid conspiracy politics that destroys the chances of anyone who upsets the power grid. Instead of telling me how Booker is better than Buono – which you are implying simply by making the conspiracy charges that you’ve made – simply tell me about Booker. Tell me what he supports and why he’s had to be realistic with his political dealing. Tell me about his values.

    Please, someone tell me that SOMEONE in the Democratic Party cares more about ending political corruption and back room dealing than stroking their own egos.

    But don’t start shooting at the good people who happen to support someone else.  

    Reply
  2. KendalJames

    Has a number of things to explain.

    http://blackagendareport.com/c

    Public education advocates across NJ cringe at the prospect of @GovBooker.  

    Reply
  3. carolh

    who have issues with Booker.  Steve Kornaki has eloquently explained the problems Booker has with some of the Democratic base on Lawrence O’Donnell’s show, I believe.  There is no “conspiracy” just a difference of opinion. I have heard from folks intimately familiar with the politics inside Newark on the ground and in the school system – where most NJ politicians fear to tread. Some folks in Newark see him as an outsider, and you can’t get more on another planet from Newark than growing up in the lily white section of Bergen County where Booker grew up.  It is another planet.  I have met Booker and spoken with him. He is clearly an idealist and a nice guy.  However, some folks in Newark don’t like the way he courts Wall street to get dollars to pay for a better Newark. That seems to be the crux of the debate according to Kornaki.  Booker often appears  too cozy with Wall Street, hence the comment that got him in hot water with the Obama campaign, but he is doing it  to finance a lot of work to improve the city. He is improving Newark’s skyline, but at the risk of alienating voters in Newark who look at him the way we look at Mitt Romney who could not possibly understand our struggles.  

    Reply
  4. princetonblue

    Writers have been saying that Booker is less progressive because he is.  He has undermined public education and  made bedfellows with Wall Street.  Many politicians have done so, but they aren’t progressive either.  

    It’s pretty funny to castigate progressives for not supporting a candidate who is not progressive.

    Personally, the comment about Obama showed how non-progressive Booker is.  Regardless of what one thinks about Wall Street, there was no comparison between Obama’s rhetoric and the Republican rhetoric.  Drawing a false analogy that damages the Democratic candidate is a good way to show that you’re not very progressive.  Shame on any Democrats who support Booker.

    -pb

    Reply
  5. brendanod

    the argument could be made that Booker’s less than idealistic positions could always be explained away by saying he was in a bad spot and took a bite of the old shit sandwich for the greater good of Newark.

    I think he played one too many games of footsie with Christie for that scenario to be realistic.  

    I have three serious issues with Booker:

    1.) His support & endorsement of Christie’s original 2% hard cap.  This cap was really bad policy.  It would make governing municipalities near impossible. It was designed to destroy public sector unions & drive down wages.

    2.) Booker’s treatment of Newark FOP.  In 2010 GOP mayors were having a field day extracting concessions using threats of layoffs as bargaining.  Booker used this tactic and even worse used completely unrealistic numbers to extract his concession demands.  All the concessions in the world couldn’t close Newark’s budget gap.  Booker still laid off many officers in the end.

    3.) His embracement of Adubato and charter schools.  Charter schools are another method of union busting while simultaneously cherry picking a few students and leaving the great majority behind.

    It is my opinion that Booker talks a good game but at the end of the day his words do not match his actions.  

    Reply
  6. Bertin Lefkovic

    …in the eye of the beholder.  Progressives have a wide array of issues of concern and we prioritize these issues differently.  Marriage equality advocates love what Booker has said about this issue while public education advocates have reasons to be concerned.

    When push comes to shove, how progressive a candidate for elected office is has more to do to who they are running against than anything else.  Compared to Chris Christie, there can be no doubt that Booker is a progressive.  However, compared to Barbara Buono or Dick Codey, who have also been very good on marriage equality and far better on issues concerning public education, he leaves a lot to be desired.

    Most of the Booker critics on this site are people who have been quite vocal about education issues, so I think that the trends that you are referring to have more to do with the critics’ issue priorities than how they might feel about Buono or any other gubernatorial candidate.

    But to a greater or lesser degree, this discussion is nonsensical at worst and premature at best.  It is highly unlikely that Booker is going to run for Governor next year against Chris Christie.  Despite being courageous when his life is on the line and there are elderly constituents in burning buildings to be saved and tweeted about, when it comes to his political ambitions, he is as cowardly and risk-averse as they come.

    If Booker ran against Christie and lost, his only option is to run for re-election in Newark, where he is unpopular and vulnerable.  If he loses there, then his political career is over and his star power would be diminished to such a point that he might not even have a future as a TV talking head anymore.

    However, if he runs for the Senate in 2014, he will face far weaker competition and even if he loses, which is unlikely, his potential for a post-politics TV career would still be in pretty good shape.  If he wins, which is more likely, then he can run for Governor if he wants to in 2017 or 2021 and/or President in 2020 or 2024.

    Reply
  7. mmgth

    This is a pretty interesting back and forth on a provocative diary. I’m reminded of the N. J. Democrats throwing their vote away on Chris Daggett to vote against Corzine, a flawed candidate but a DEMOCRAT supporting and enacting democratic policies. Got us Christie. Mayor Booker may be the best shot at putting Christie back where he belongs… a Fox News celeb. possibly. “The perfect is the enemy of the good”.  

    Reply
  8. sayitaintso

      I’ve read your diary a couple of times and focused on the parts which respond to my question.  

    First,  Booker’s  brand of politics.  No disagreement about his bi-partisanship.  He’s got that in buckets.  He gets along fine with Republicans, and the Democrats who love them.  That’s not a progressive credential unless he moves those alliances toward progressive goals.

    Any Mayor of Newark will be torn between the needs of the voters… overwhelmingly working class and poor… and the interests that own the city.  Ken Gibson … Sharpe James…  even Meyer Ellenstein . the  “charismatic and many-sided man, who became mayor in the depths of the great Depression…during a time in Newark’s history when his greatest problems were relief for Newark’s vast army of unemployed, and the city’s rapidly declining sources of revenue.  as the scholar Paul Stellhorn described him– he  faced the same problem,

    A Mayor in this city will end up as a broker, a wheeler-dealer and not a visionary.  In that case we will have to look at that Mayor’s effectiveness in wringing concessions from the power elite for the voters.  Will we say that made Gibson or Sharpe or Adubato  progressive?  Dunno.  So you mention “bringing investment into the city”… well that’s problematic.  The Prudential headquarters is going to empty the Gateway with millions of tax payer dollars.  Investment or corporate welfare?  The Prudential Center debacle was not Cory’s doing,  but he has not solved anything there.  The Nets are gone,  the Devils are about to lose their franchise… and the circus is in town  only so often.  Luxury housing on Raymond Boulevard went no where.  The Collonades have more NYC professionals than the downtown core of Newark.

    But I’m  most reluctant to call Cory Booker progressive  i.e : been the idea that government could better society and achieve social and economic justice if it became more democratic, efficient, and more concerned with the plight of ordinary individuals.” because of his  tight embrace of privatizing public services.  While Cory tweeted about shoveling snow,  the streets went unplowed because he had laid off Sanitation workers and contracted out snow removal.

    While he tries to privatize the city water supply,  it’s Newark homeowners and small businesses that are fighting back.  Privatizing water supply has been a costly disaster all over the world.  I assure you, it’s not a progressive move.

    The privatization of education in Newark has been covered in depth by Blue Jerseyans who know more than I so.  Again, let’s be clear… Cory has taken the side of big corporations who are increasingly controlling the charter school sector… and of political bosses.  Parents are divided, but their voice does not count.  A progressive position has to include a demand for an elected school board in Newark.

    Same sex marriage, earned income tax credit and ending the drug war are good positions, but the Mayor of Newark does not get to carry them out.  (If I’m wrong about the drug war, please tell me more.)  His policies in the areas where he has real power are not especially progressive.  I’m not so sure they are even astute.

    Lastly,   I have to agree with you that his biggest success so far is “the Booker brand”.  That’s not especially  progressive…  but it’s darned slick.

    Reply
  9. Babs NJSD

    That is criterion #1.

    You want a Democrat who can raise Tons of money to combat all the IOU’s Christie has collected for campaigning for Republicans and Tea Baggers across the Country!

    How many Democrats fit that profile?

    How many Democrats were down in Charlotte working NJ and other states to build political capital?

    It’s not politics as usual anymore in NJ, Christie has changed the paradigm!

    Is he a progressive? I think most people would say, Yes! Is he a realist? I think most people would say Yes to that as well. When you put the two terms together …. not everything may be a perfect fit, by nature …. but does it work? Can it work?

    Reply

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *