By David Cruz
Newark Mayor Cory Booker has become a national figure, but he’s under fire at home — for not being home enough. In light of a weekend report in The Star-Ledger highlighting his frequent road trips we found the usually loquacious mayor reluctant to talk.
He’s been the subject of more documentaries than many presidents. He’s a friend of Oprah and his Twitter feed has become almost legendary, but Booker’s main job is still mayor of Newark, the state’s largest city. Today, while Brick City sweltered in the wake of three weekend murders and 14 percent unemployment, Booker was at the Liberty National Golf Course, in Jersey City, glad-handing and posing for pictures with celebrity sports figures.
We had come to talk to the mayor — who’s usually happy to see the media — about reports that his frequent cross-country trips were raising questions about his commitment to the city. But after finding out what we wanted to talk about, Booker evidently changed his mind, avoiding our camera and beating a hasty retreat to the air-conditioned clubhouse, sending the golf course PR person to run interference.
Mayor Booker spent most of the day on the golf course. Granted, he was hosting a celebrity fundraiser for a mentoring program in the city, but many Newarkers we talked to today said that was a lot of time he could’ve been spending right here in Newark.
“At first I really believed he wanted to make an impact in the city and he’s been here a number of years but I do think that soon he will leave us,” said Newark native Madeline Boughton. “I don’t know, at this point I do believe he’s about done with Newark and is ready to move on to what’s next.”
Booker’s office says his trips around the country help raise funds for Newark and bring positive attention to a city that can use all the good publicity it can get. They say things like the $100 million Facebook donation to city schools wouldn’t have happened with Booker behind a desk at City Hall. West Ward Councilman Ron Rice still considers himself a Booker backer, but he admits that the mayor’s frequent flier miles are adding up — and not always in a good way.
“When you see him on Jay Leno, when you see the amount of time he spends on speeches, getting paid for those speeches and starting a company up as a start-up while you’re still a sitting mayor, it makes people angry,” he said.
Evelyn Williams has been working to defeat Booker at the polls for years. She’s a former district leader in the South Ward. She says she’s convinced that Booker has his sights set elsewhere.
“This is merely a stepping stone, and that’s why he spends so much time outside the city, because of the publicity,” says Williams. “Every time you see a camera or a photo shoot, that’s where you’ll find Cory Booker … He’s brought media here, but just for his attention.”
Booker is now facing another blow. His Acting Communications Director Esmeralda Cameron reportedly just gave her notice. It’s the second communications director Booker’s lost in six weeks, highlighting just how difficult it’s become for the mayor to keep raising his national profile, while trying to stay on message at home.