NY Daily News: Newark mayor Cory Booker stars in gritty New Jersey documentary 'Brick City,' talks personal, public

January 30th, 2011

NY Daily News

By Richard Huff
Sunday, January 30th 2011, 4:00 AM

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Newark Mayor Cory Booker is a media-savvy guy, but that doesn’t mean he wants to spend too much time looking at himself on TV.

He says he made a choice to watch the first season of Sundance’s “Brick City” only once, as any more viewings would make him uncomfortable. He’s doing the same with season two, launching tonight at 8, as well.

The series follows various threads of life in Newark, including Booker and his administration as they attempt to deal with a financial crisis.

“There were definitely times I did not know the cameras were in the room, he says. It was a pressure cooker. We let them into a real pressure cooker. In one scene, we’re in one of the most grueling budget meetings I’ve had. I was making very tough choices. My reaction to stress is to eat. So I’m there ordering pizza and eating egg salad sandwiches.”

The first season of “Brick City” earned a Peabody Award and critical raves for presenting a gritty portrait of a city struggling against years of bad news.

The first season ended with the 2008 presidential election. The new season starts in October 2009 as Booker is starting his run for a second term, Newark faces more bad news and he’s trying to settle down in his personal life.

Besides Booker, the show focuses on, among others, Garry McCarthy, Newark’s police director, and Dashaun (Jiwe) Morris, a young city resident who has written a book about his time in the Bloods, turned his life around — and has now been charged with attempted murder. Viewers follow along as his lawyer, Brooke Barnett, lays out his options and then works within the legal system to find a solution.

Booker says participating in the program has its pluses and minuses.

“There are definitely things [in ‘Brick City’] that are unfortunate,” he says of the first season. “It’s a narrow vision into our city that doesn’t include the joy, the arts in our city, the diversity. It doesn’t capture the strong neighborhoods. It doesn’t capture the development.”

He does think it depicted the “incredibly difficult challenges” that Newark has faced in terms of crime, education and gang problems — although it also captured the feeling of “hope and promise” when people try to change things.

Booker says some of the shortcomings were addressed with the producers before the start of the second season, though he’s quick to add that “Brick City” is far from a love letter. “A lot of people felt left out” of the first season, he says. “They tried to address it in season two, but it’s still a narrow view.”