By David Cruz
When we caught up with Cory Booker yesterday, he seemed unmoved by the criticism swirling around his decision to skip the NAACP forum. The Booker campaign says he’d already scheduled the Oprah fundraiser before he got the NAACP invite, but state-wide NAACP president James Harris says two congressmen and a speaker of the Assembly were able to find some time.
“I mean all politicians are busy,” he said. “Everyone had someplace they could be. Three out of the four showed up. Cory Booker did not.”
Harris has been spreading the word today that Booker’s no-show was a slap in the face to his organization and the people it represents.
“As a politician, I believe that he believes that he doesn’t have to respond to the people who don’t have money,” Harris added. “He shows disrespect and disregard for poor people, except for running into burning buildings and the opportunities for photo ops and media attention. He clearly spends more time on the national scene than he spends reducing crime and reducing unemployment in Newark.”
In addition to the headline guest, Booker’s bash at the swanky Liberty House in Jersey City brought out some political luminaries like State Sen. Sandra Cunningham and new Jersey City Mayor Steve Fulop. Closed to the public and press, the goal was said to be $250,000. Over in Newark, Booker’s name mostly never came up.
When asked about Booker’s absence, all three candidates said they would like to have heard what Booker had to say on the issues. In a field of liberals, the Newark mayor is seen as the most centrist. He’s supported some form of school vouchers, defended Wall Street and befriended Gov. Chris Christie, but, for the most part, he and fellow Democrats — Representatives Rush Holt and Frank Pallone and Assembly Speaker Sheila Oliver — are in agreement on most issues. In Booker’s absence, the three tried to define themselves more clearly.
“I hope you know me as a teacher, a scientist and a progressive to the bone,” said Holt. “That is the motto of my campaign.”
Oliver defined herself as a consensus builder. “I am a By Any Means Necessary pragmatic politician and I am willing to embrace and gain consensus and work with other lawmakers to, at the end of the day, effectuate an objective that yields a desired result.”
Pallone said he has been a progressive voice for poor and working people.
“In my opinion, the only reason that I decided to run for office, whether it be the House of Representative or the U.S. Senate, is because I think I can make a difference for people, creating jobs and jobs with good benefits and help people solve the real problems that they have,” he said.
Booker has skipped other debates, including televised forums from Philadelphia to Somerset. He says he’s debating twice, just Like Frank Lautenberg did, and that’s it.
With debates scheduled for next week, Booker will be seated alongside his rivals soon enough. For now, he’ll have to determine for himself whether debating in front of a few dozen people was worth more than raising a quarter of a million dollars.