Let the Booker Backlash begin. Newark Mayor Cory Booker has enjoyed an endless stream of slavishly positive publicity—in the national press, at least—since he first became mayor in 2006. There was the time he rushed into a burning building to save a neighbor. And the time he personally shoveled out constituents' sidewalks after complaints about the city's response to a snowstorm on Twitter. And now, in response to a Twitter challenge, he's pledged to live on food stamps for a week to get a better sense of how the other half lives. The New York Times today takes a look at how he's actually performing as mayor: And it's not so great.
The rap against Booker, who is now considering whether to run for a Senate seat in 2014 or challenge Gov. Chris Christie, is that he spends all his time tending to that carefully managed public profile and hobnobbing with celebrity friends instead of governing. The Times' Kate Zernike carefully rips apart that profile, noting (per the Newark Star-Ledger) that Booker was out of town every fourth day from January 2011 through June 2012. And when it comes to the normal indicia on which mayors are judged—i.e., on metrics other than hilarious Ellen appearances—Newark is foundering.
Taxes have risen more than 20 percent over the past three years, even after the city laid off about 1,100 workers, including more than 160 police officers. Crime has risen, and unemployment is up. Schools remain under state control, and the city's finances remain so troubled that it cannot borrow to fix its antiquated water system. While new restaurants have risen near the Prudential Center downtown, those in the outer wards were placed under a curfew this year because of shootings and drug dealing.
There are some upsides, of course. Booker's compulsive networking has netted Newark significant business investments, not to mention a $100 million gift from Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg. So he gets a little snippy when presented with complaints from local pols that he's not really around enough to get all the mayor stuff done. "Few mayors are more on the ground and responsive to individual constituent complaints than I am," he told the Times.
In fact, he told the paper, I can even show you an awesome new initiative I created that will help me track constituent complaints no matter where I am! (Cue the most brutal kicker in the recent history of political reporting):
He invited a reporter to see the system in action. He then called to apologize that he could not be there: "I'm in and out of New York all day."
Instead, his staff demonstrated the system. Mr. Booker was on his way to host a reading at a bookstore on the Upper West Side, filmed by CNN. He then spoke at a benefit at Cipriani and attended a movie premiere at Google's New York headquarters. Afterward, he announced on Twitter, "I sat on a panel with Richard Branson."
Update: This post initially featured an exclamation point, rather than a period, at the end of its first sentence. Gawker regrets the error.
[Image of Booker at the 22nd annual Glamour Women of the Year Awards at Carnegie Hall via Getty]