Tuesday, May 22, 2012

What do we need to know about Cory Booker?

I've been pleased to hear that as some people deal with their frustrations about what Mayor Cory Booker said on MTP over the weekend, they're following up by looking into his past to learn more about him.

Several years ago - and under much more positive circumstances - I did the same thing. I thought it might be helpful for me to share some of what I learned.

As far as I can remember, the first time I really paid much attention to Booker is after watching this interview with him in 2008.



What struck me was how similar he sounded to the young black professionals I work with every day. I noted a desire to honor the civil rights leaders of the past, but to recognize that todays leaders need to be prepared to develop their own responses to the challenges we face. This "roll up your sleeves and get to work" attitude is something I hear very often from the younger generation.

What I found when looking more closely at Booker was that understanding who he is needs to be grounded in the fact that - in becoming Mayor of Newark - he made some enemies. He defeated 5-term Mayor Sharpe James, who was incredibly corrupt. Eventually James was indicted by the FBI on 25 counts of corruption and convicted of 5, serving 27 months in prison. Much of the criticism of Booker in Newark comes from those who lost their hold on power when Booker came to office. I don't automatically discount what they have to say about him, but its important to see it in context.

If you've never watched the documentary Brick City, I highly recommend doing so. It is often compared to a real life version of the HBO series "The Wire." I agree. It will give you not only an idea of Booker and his work in Newark, but you'll learn a lot about the challenges that city faces and the tensions between the Booker/James camps.

Perhaps my favorite scene in that documentary is the story they tell about when Mayor Booker was the victim of a crime committed by a couple of young black men. He went to court and asked the judge to sentence them to a mentorship with himself. This - to me - is a person walking his talk.

I know that some people are hearing about Mayor Booker's support for school vouchers and find that troubling. I do too. But once again, I put it in the context of what I hear from the young black professionals I work with. We have this conversation often. They, like Booker, are tired of seeing their kids fail and have grown inpatient with the lack of progress in our public schools when it comes to issues like the achievement gap. While most of them work every day to do what they can to improve things, the idea of losing yet another generation of young people to a system that is failing leads them to look for whatever alternative is out there.

I believe this is a pretty common sentiment in urban black America and something Democrats need to wrestle with more directly than they have to date. I'll just note that President Obama has also faced a lot of push-back from education advocates for the same reason. He and Education Secretary Arne Duncan have embraced supported the whole charter school movement as an alternative.

Finally, Mayor Booker is simultaneously doing everything he can to improve public education as well. His work on getting and directing the $100 million gift to Newark public schools from Mark Zuckerberg is an example of that.

Lately I've seen several people link to a diary at Daily Kos taking on these and other issues about Booker. I would simply warn people that the source for much of the material in that diary comes from this article at The Black Agenda Report. I don't know if people are aware of that publication's point of view. But if not, you might want to take a look at what they say about President Obama. Its not that I would dismiss every thing they say. But videos like this (highlighted on their web site) provide the context for their agenda.

Perhaps the most common thing I'm hearing about Mayor Booker is people citing this article about contributions from the financial sector. I would caution folks that this is the very same argument we've been hearing from the poutragers for almost 4 years about President Obama's contributions from Wall Street firms in 2008. I didn't buy it then as a way to demonize the President and I don't buy it now as a way to do the same to Booker. I'd suggest we look at the man's record in both instances and make up our minds based on that.

I hope people will see this kind of information as a contribution to the discussion. I know feelings have been running pretty hot lately about Mayor Booker. I've tried to make it clear that, while I recognize the damage he did in his statements on MTP last Sunday, I'm committed to dialogue that embraces our differences without condemning the person. I hope people will be willing to place Booker's recent mistakes into the context of who/what he's been in the past.

16 comments:

  1. Thank you for this. I can always count on you for sound reasoning and really good research. I like how you don't succumb to the knee-jerk emotional reactions and keep things in perspective. You are a treasure.

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    1. Thanks Tien Le.

      I also appreciated what you wrote at TOD. And I was especially proud of chipsticks for posting it - even when she didn't totally agree.

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  2. Part of the problem is that until there is a serious attempt to get some real taxation on the very rich, government, particularly at the local level, is going to have to suck up to capital in the most egregious of ways like this. The money is not in the budget.

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    1. You really get that sense from watching Booker in "Brick City" as he tries to tackle these problems in the wake of not only the great recession, but cuts coming from governor Christie and the state legislature.

      You have to wonder how a guy running one of the poorest cities in the country has a chance of taking on a completely corrupted system without some financing to help him get things done.

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  3. I've been easy on Booker because I have also been wrong politically. I was an Obama hater until last year after the debt ceiling debacle.

    Booker is already regretting what he said because the conservatives wasted no time in using it in their campaign ads. It was one thing for others on the left to be upset but I don't think he expected that his words would be used against him and the Democratic party so quickly.

    If anything, his comments should bring more attention to Bain Capital and keep the national discourse on economics (where it belongs).

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    1. I was an Obama hater until last year after the debt ceiling debacle.

      That's fascinating. Welcome to the party!

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  4. Black Agenda Report is a reactionary Marxist/Anarchist publication owned by Jane Hamsher of the Fire, Dog, and Lake.

    They are ideological, and need no proof of their assertions. I never link to anything they publish, any more than I would link to World Net Daily, except to point and laugh, from time to time.

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    1. I tend to agree.

      That's why I've been so shocked to see people use their reporting to explain Booker. It would be like relying on Cornel West or Tavis Smiley to explain PBO.

      Perhaps people don't know that much about them. It was seeing that article linked to over and over again that is partially responsible for me deciding I needed to write something about this.

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    2. I am so glad you did write this. I was pretty hot over Cory's MTP appearance. But your point is very well taken about the source of the criticism. I'm willing to see where his career goes from here. (I'll just be watching it side-eye style is all.)

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  5. Smartypants:

    I hope you don't get too overzealous in your continuing defense of Cory Booker.

    The President has NOT "supported the whole charter school movement as an alternative."

    He has supported increased funding for K-12 public education, merit pay for teachers, increased charter schools, increased supply of math and science teachers, among a host of other education policy initiatives.

    I did not come her to voice an opinion on Booker. But I will not allow you to misrepresent the president.

    Alexander2

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    1. I wasn't clear. The President has supported charter schools but not to the exclusion of public schools...exactly the same position as Mayor Booker on vouchers. Its also true that both men have angered many education activists with their positions.

      I suspect I'll continue writing about Booker as long as I see misinformation being spread about him. It looks like that's dying down now as more accurate information gets out there.

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    2. Fair enough.

      But please be very careful not to spread misinformation about the president when comparing policy positions.

      Respectfully,

      Alexander2

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    3. I'm sorry for the misunderstanding.

      But I hope you'll also see that if you look around this site, I've been one of the strongest supporters of President Obama you'll find anywhere.

      The statement you referred to was poorly worded. But anyone who reads here regularly knows that I'm not in the business of spreading misinformation about the President. Actually, quite the opposite.

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  6. I, for one, really appreciate the needed background your article provides. I'm not all that familiar with Booker and didn't know what to think when people started clamoring for his head after his remarks. You offer up a sane and balanced perspective that is definitely needed. As for anything Jane Hamsher and her echo chamber has to say about this, or anything else for that matter, I could care less. They have zero credibility.

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  7. "They, like Booker, are tired of seeing their kids fail and have grown inpatient with the lack of progress in our public schools"

    Understandable frustration, however research shows that charters rarely do better when compared to the neighborhood school they replace. A fully funded public education system is what is needed. Well-qualified, highly-paid and respected teachers are necessary and in today's climate the last two of those adjectives do not apply. A public school system does more than education - it gives a common basis for our democratic society and that can't be replaced by charter schools or home schooling.

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  8. I get so tired of Dems with their 'hair on fire'. Why do we keep doing this to ourselves? Cory Booker made a mistake. He didn't kill anyone. In fact, it gave President Obama an excellent opportunity to use his bully pulpit, to speak directly and elegantly about Romney's 'Bain claim to fame.' Lemonade? The same is true for the so called Biden gaff. The President voiced his support for Marriage Equality, and the rest is History. On both occasions, he commanded the attention of the wayward media, to maximum effect. As far as i'm concerned, it's a win-win. Republicans break out the 'mission accomplished' banner, prematurely, and say one stupid thing after another. One Dem gaff for every 10 repug gaffs. I'll take those odds.

    The Obama strategy is to tell a story. It will unfold slowly, in bite-size pieces, and build to a climax right before the election. Dems get so afraid he's not moving 'fast enough'. Can we please calm the F***down. He's got this.

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