By David Cruz
Put a camera in Newark Mayor Cory Booker’s face and he will almost always stop to talk. But lately, Booker’s been balky about answering questions, especially any that have to do with issues like his decision to not run against Chris Christie and to instead run for Senate, even while the incumbent — and fellow Democrat — Frank Lautenberg was still in the seat. Even a couple of weeks ago, Booker ignored unwanted questions.
Even as polls say he is the frontrunner for whatever office he decides to seek, America’s most tweeted mayor is facing something of a communications crisis at home. Last week, he hired a new press secretary, Dreena Whitfield, a self-described former young fashionista and PR person for Booker’s non-profit, Newark Now. She is Booker’s fifth PR person in less than a year but her arrival last week is still something of a secret.
“I’m not aware of the latest change in the communications office. I’ve had the pleasure of working closely with a number of those directors and I think the mayor’s profile these days is as strong as it ever has been,” said Newark City Council President Anibal Ramos.
That may be the case across the country but there’s evidence to suggest that Booker’s message at home is getting lost, perhaps best exemplified by the near riot caused last year when he tried to appoint a secure fifth vote on the city council. Community activist and Booker critic Cassandra Dock says Booker’s great at communicating — to himself.
“You can’t tell him anything. He doesn’t want you to tell him anything. He knows it all. So, he’ll continue going through press secretaries because he’s his own press person,” Dock said.
Booker hasn’t said whether he’s actually running for Senate next year, but he has been a regular on national chat shows, promoting his record of success in Newark, but not everyone thinks Booker’s work deserves an A. Potential mayoral candidate Shavar Jeffries thinks it’s probably closer to an Incomplete.
“When we have 92 murders, when we have foreclosure rates through the roof, we have an unemployment rate through the roof; we have a city council that can’t even pass a budget on time; the fiscal year’s almost finished by the time this council can pass a budget. We have a lot of work to do,” Jeffries said.
Booker will deliver his annual state of the city address from the New Jersey Performing Arts Center tomorrow. He is said to be preparing so diligently that he was unavailable to speak to us today. He will, however, be on TV tonight, in Philadelphia, which not may mean much to you if you’re in Newark, but if you were a candidate for United State Senate and were looking for votes in, say, South Jersey, it’s probably as good a place to be as any.