By David Cruz
The opening of a new grocery store is not necessarily big news in most cities, but Newark is not most cities. Depending on who you talk to, these are the city’s greatest days or its darkest. The new Key Foods on Springfield Avenue is the second large grocery store to open in the city over the past year and its aisles, stocked with fresh produce and seafood, are positive signs in a neighborhood where residents have had to go out of town to get a decent selection of food.
“It’s everything from there, here,” said Newarker Tempestt Newsome as she filled her cart with produce and fresh meats. “It’s just way more convenient. Fruit. Vegetables. My family, we’re really big fruit people. The meats are really fresh, so yeah, I’m happy.”
But even small victories like a new grocery store are hard to come by in Newark, where often leaders go for big ticket items like sports arenas and performing arts centers. Mayor Cory Booker used to do a lot more of these ribbon cuttings back in the early days of his administration but plans a big push over the next two years –- his final years as mayor.
“For the first time in 60 years people want to come to Newark again, so I’m very excited,” said Booker after he cut the ribbon today. “This is going from the early days when I first became mayor when it was challenges, problems, outflow of population, outflow of tax base, to now an inflow of population, inflow of tax base, inflow of investment, and a lot of our projects are really taking hold.”
For some long-time Newarkers, though, the post-Booker era can’t come soon enough.
“When it comes to an investment in the human capital in this city, he has not kept his word,” said Councilwoman Mildred Crump. “One of the reasons I supported him strongly from the very beginning was that he promised that he would empower Newarkers, and he has done just the opposite.”
As his political profile has risen nationally, Booker’s support in the city he’s led for the past seven years has continuously shrunk, prompting challenges from the city council, which is producing at least two potential successors, so far.
“Cory’s star power brought a lot of attention to this city. Unfortunately the flip side of that is that he didn’t spend a lot of time here, and some of the systemic interviews I spoke about were not dealt with as much as they should be,” said Councilman and potential mayoral candidate Ras Baraka, in whose district the opening took place, “so we have a great opportunity to bring the entire city together to begin to work on problems that have been affecting us for decades. I think it’s that time.”
As he prepares a run for the United States Senate, Cory Booker will point with pride to new hotels and office towers downtown, but it’s smaller projects like this Key Foods store that have the most impact on the day-to-day lives of ordinary Newarkers, and represent, some critics say, what Cory Booker should have been concentrating on all along.