On 2nd Try, Booker Glides In as Newark Mayor
The New York Times, By Damien Cave —
NEWARK, May 9, Cory Booker, the Ivy League-educated lawyer who fought an unsuccessful battle four years ago against the powerful incumbent Sharpe James, was elected mayor on Tuesday, marking the start of a new political era in New Jersey's largest city.
With 166 of 168 districts reporting, Mr. Booker was leading his closest challenger, State Senator Ronald L. Rice, a former deputy mayor in the administration of Mayor James, by three to one, 32,134 to 10,337. It was the widest margin of victory ever recorded in Newark, the city clerk said.
Voters who had shunned Mr. Booker in 2002 indicated that they were ready for change after living under the leadership of just two mayors in the past 36 years. He has made safety his top priority, promising to overhaul the Police Department and fight gangs in schools. He has also promised to bring professionalism, accountability and fresh ideas to the city, which has long had a reputation for mismanagement.
Just after 10:30 p.m., Mr. Booker, 37, appeared on a stage at Essex County College, throwing miniature footballs into the crowd of several hundred supporters and pumping his fists.
“Newark, New Jersey, has spoken with clarity, spoken with faith, spoken with honor, spoken with love and spoken with courage,” he said, during a rousing 25-minute speech. “Today, Newark, New Jersey, has embraced change.”
He added, ” This is the beginning of a new chapter in the life of our city.”
Mr. Rice, meanwhile conceded defeat from a bingo hall downtown.
“Newark is our home, it is our promised land, and I will always be your leader,” Mr. Rice, 60, said. He added: “I don't want you to feel I've disappointed you.”
Mr. Booker's victory was amplified by his seeming success in the Municipal Council races, where his candidates swept to a probable majority. The council's support will be integral as he takes charge of this mostly minority city of 280,000, which is enjoying a revival downtown even as it fights to overcome the poverty that grips a third of its families, and the relentless street crime that early Tuesday morning left two teenagers shot dead in a parking lot.
Some of Mr. Booker's supporters had been backing him since he first moved to Newark in 1995 and ran successfully for a seat on the Municipal Council in 1998. He also drew an array of celebrities as supporters, including Oprah Winfrey and Spike Lee, and millions of dollars in campaign contributions from people living outside Newark.
Mr. Booker, a chatty former Rhodes scholar who developed his oratorical talents at Yale Law School, has been tagged by fellow Democrats as a rising star in the party, even as he struggled to win citywide approval.
Newark residents expected change no matter who would have emerged victorious: Mr. James dropped out of the contest in March, leaving an open seat for the first time in decades.
The city has had only two mayors since 1970, when Kenneth Gibson was elected, becoming the first African-American big city mayor in the Northeast. He was defeated for re-election in 1986 by Mr. James, who rode into office as a reformer.
Both men were shaped by the scorching Newark riot of 1967, which set the tone for their policies and politics and fed into a culture of hostility between the city's leaders and middle-class whites, who fled the city in droves.
Mr. Booker is also African-American, though he was accused of being not black enough during both campaigns by his opponents and their supporters.
Walter Fields, a former director of the N.A.A.C.P. in New Jersey, said that Mr. Booker's background and wide canvas of interests set him alongside other young minority leaders who are laying out a broader vision than their predecessors.
“This is important,” Mr. Fields said, “because now you've got a Cory Booker in Newark, a Barack Obama in Illinois – the children of the civil rights generation are growing up and they're taking control. It's what our parent and grandparents were hoping for.”
At times in recent days, Mr. Rice has seemed resigned to defeat, comparing his campaign to the Alamo. Though Mr. James pledged his support, it was only in recent days that he attended public campaign events on Mr. Rice's behalf, and at those he fed into the notion that Mr. Rice was still very much subordinate to his former City Hall boss. Mr. James had toyed with the public – and with Mr. Rice – by waiting until late March to announce his decision not to run. That left Mr. Rice only weeks to put together a campaign that struggled to raise money and compete.
Until Mr. James dropped out, it had appeared very likely that Newark would see a repeat of the campaign of 2002, when he and Mr. Booker fought a bitter and volatile campaign that was captured in the Academy Award-nominated documentary, “Street Fight.” Mr. James has never provided a full explanation of why he decided not to seek a sixth term, though Mr. Booker has said that Mr. James was aware that he was lagging in the polls.
Though he will pass power to Mr. Booker July 1 – leaving a job where he earns about $190,000 year to chair an urban affairs institute at Essex County College that will pay him $40,000 less – Mr. James will not completely recede from the scene.
As a state senator representing Newark through 2007, “he will be gone but not forgotten, and is going to remain a powerful force as a potential advocate for the city,” said David Rebovich, a political science professor at Rider University.
The success of Mr. Booker's administration, including his promises to put more police officers on the streets, regain mayoral control of schools and impose order on the chaos of the city's housing and development boom, will rest on the results of the Municipal Council races, most analysts have said. In the final days of the campaign, he fought aggressively to see his slate of council candidates elected.
Last night, three of his hand-picked Council candidates won outright while four others were in strong positions for a runoff election on June 13. None of the candidates allied with Mayor James won, including his son, John James, a candidate in the South Ward.
Voters dribbled into the polls, with overall turnout slightly below what it was in 2002, when the fierce campaign attracted national attention.
Even with his council victories, Mr. Booker may still face opposition.
“He's going to encounter a bureaucracy that has not had change in 20 years,” said Reginald T. Jackson, executive director of the Black Ministers' Council of New Jersey. “It's going to be resistant.”
On Tuesday, as both candidates crisscrossed the city by S.U.V., the canyon between the wealth and organization of their campaigns was hard to miss. Mr. Rice, who was outspent by more than 25 to 1, arrived at his local polling site more than three hours after he had been scheduled, at 11 a.m., apologetically noting to a pack of waiting reporters that he had stayed up all night going over election plans.
He spent what remained of the morning speeding in a gray Ford Explorer through the residential back streets of Newark, waving at supporters through the passenger window as the vehicle's tires screeched. A loudspeaker lashed to the roof blasted a campaign song with the lyrics, “Ron Rice, he's our next mayor!” laid over a melody from the Bee Gee's “Night Fever.”
At one point, after stopping by a church to hand out fliers, Mr. Rice stood alone on Orange Street, smoked a cigarette, drank a cup of Dunkin' Donuts coffee and shouted at voters, “Come to my fight, I need you in my corner! Take care of my cuts!”
At another point, Mr. Rice stopped by Newark's main post office, where he waited in line to mail several letters.
Mr. Booker, by contrast, who raised more than $6 million, roughly twice what he spent four years ago, was traveling with an entourage that reflected a muscular political organization that included most of the city's unions and elected officials.
He rolled through the streets at the head of a convoy of campaign vehicles, blowing through red lights as bystanders on the sidewalks in do-rags and sideways baseball caps pumped their fists in the air and yelled out: “Yes ! Yes !”
At one point, he made a point of seeking out supporters of Mr. Rice for doses of his charm, telling one group, “I hope we can work together when this is over.”
Outside one polling place in a school on Webster Street near downtown, Eli Perez, a Democratic district leader, said he had just voted for Mr. Booker because he was sick and tired of all the crime in Newark.
“There are prostitutes on my street corner and I call the police and nothing ever gets done,” Mr. Perez said
Four years ago, he didn't vote for Mr. Booker. “But I've talked with him now,” Mr. Perez said, “and realize he's a great man.”
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