By Alex Bhattacharji
The clock is ticking on Cory Booker. At the moment, the mayor of Newark, N.J., is caught between the desk and the door of his office in City Hall, a gold-domed beaux-arts anomaly bracketed by bail-bond offices and a Subway sandwich shop. As he reaches back to grab a sheaf of folders and a Diet Pepsi from his desk, a digital readout across the room counts down the time remaining in his second term: 706 days, 14 hours, 25 minutes, 52 seconds . . . 51 . . . 50 . . .
On this late July morning, Booker is facing more pressing deadlines. The first matter of business is what might be best described as penance.
“We have to schedule the L.A. trip,” he tells aide-decamp Sharon Macklin. “Have to.”
“Okay, but there are conflicts,” she says. “We have to move things around.”
“Work with it, Sharon, okay? Let’s get it done. It’s for the Obamas.”
The mayor’s raised brows and wide-eyed stare underscore the imperative. Booker is still making amends with the White House after his late May appearance on NBC’s Meet the Press, where he said the president’s campaign ads attacking Mitt Romney’s record at Bain Capital were “nauseating to me . . . nauseating to the American public.” But while cross-country fundraising trips are one way to earn back the trust of Obama and his campaign staff, they can be a tricky proposition for Booker, who has just been excoriated in the local newspaper for his out-of-town trips (headline: THE ABSENTEE MAYOR? CORY BOOKER’S ENDLESS TRAVEL SCHEDULE PULLS HIM AWAY FROM NEWARK).
Right now his in-town calendar runneth over. It’s barely 10:30 in the morning, but the mayor is already well behind in a battery of back-to-back appointments. It seems to be a trend for Booker, this trouble sticking to schedules others have set for him. Looming over all that he does is the palpable sense that he has to make a move, that the hourglass is running low on his status as a rising star. “There are plenty of options for him,” says political analyst Dee Dee Myers, who served as White House press secretary under President Bill Clinton. “He could run for the Senate. He could run for governor of New Jersey. If he repairs the damage, he could end up in the second Obama administration.”