By Chief Political Correspondent Michael Aron
While Cory Booker runs for U.S. Senate, a spasm of violence has convulsed his city.
Last night, a few miles from downtown, a 14-year-old boy with a record of drug arrests was shot and killed.
It was the 10th fatal shooting or stabbing in Newark in 10 days, and it brought several hundred people to a City Hall rally organized by Councilman and mayoral candidate Ras Baraka.
“We need the mayor to convene a meeting. A meeting of the state police, the county police, Newark police,” Baraka said.
Baraka said the rally was not intended as criticism of Mayor Booker, but that didn’t prevent other speakers from taking a few swipes at him.
“Unfortunately in New Jersey, in the city of Newark, we have not had a leader that really cared and was in charge of the city for a long time. I’m saying that because that’s real,” said Sen. Ron Rice.
“We witnessed eight years of nothingness in this city. Eight years of nothingness,” said Kevin Mohammed, of the Nation of Islam.
“It is grievous, painful and unacceptable,” Booker said.
Mayor Booker says despite the rash of violence, shootings are down this summer and urban crime is a complex matter.
“We’ve gotta start figuring out ways to stop our kids, our teenagers from getting into these dangerous worlds in the first place,” Booker said.
He said he and his police director were on patrol last night when the 10th murder happened.
“In the past when we’ve had a spate of violence like this, it’s usually two specific groups that are having some sort of turf war. So it makes it pretty easy for us to narrow down who the individuals are involved in the groups, where the areas and where we need to concentrate our efforts. In this incident here, where we have 10 different incidents of violence, there’s not one of them that are connected to each other,” Police Director Samuel DeMaio said.
Booker’s Senate opponent Steve Lonegan was at City Hall as well today.
“When there’s trouble in your town or your city, you stay there and fix it,” Lonegan said. When asked if Booker should step aside from the campaign trail for a little while, Lonegan said, “I think you should ask the people of Newark that, Mike.”
Booker says he has cancelled campaign events this week.
“Right now this is my focus. This is where I’m gonna be working. And thankfully the police director and I have put together a really good strategy to expand our summer operation. Because during the summer we were actually down on shootings. And we’re gonna expand that into September, which wasn’t the original plan,” Booker said.
Some of his critics suggest the crime problem and Booker’s management style have a connection.
“There’s a relationship. You can’t fix a problem if you’re not here,” said Newark Councilwoman Mildred Crump.
“The invisible man runs for Senate. Just what we need. Another invisible man in Washington,” said Joe Del Grasso of the American Federation of Teachers.
“Well first of all, that’s not true. And I think I’ve built a reputation of being a very hands-on mayor,” Booker said.
Whether or not one agrees with his critics in Newark, 10 murders in 10 days runs counter to Booker’s campaign narrative that he’s a man who made this city a better place.
“Shootings are down, crime is down. We’ve brought down categories of crime that were stubborn like stolen cars, even rapes,” Booker said.
Booker wasn’t yielding an inch to the critics.