Newark Mayor's Race Seen As A Referendum On Cory Booker

Residents in Newark, N.J., voted on Tuesday, closing a raucous mayoral campaign to replace Corey Booker, who is now a U.S. senator. Renee Montagne talks to Mark Bonamo of the website Politicker NJ.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

Newark, New Jersey elected a new mayor yesterday. Ras Baraka is the son of the late poet Amiri Baraka and like his father he's a fiery advocate of Newark's inner city. The election was widely seen as a referendum on now Senator Cory Booker's seven years as Newark's mayor. And for more we reached Mark Bonamo. He covers Newark politics for the website PolitickerNJ.com. Good morning.

MARK BONAMO: Good morning. How are you?

MONTAGNE: Fine, thank you. And I guess you had a big night. But let's start with this vote. And refresh us on what Cory Booker did as mayor of Newark. He's well known. People think he was a popular mayor out here outside New Jersey.

BONAMO: When Cory Booker was elected to be Newark's mayor in 2006, many said that city politics in Newark had changed. Cory Booker came in, great background, Rhodes Scholar, Yale Law School, had originally been a councilman in the city's central ward. And there was a lot of hope for change. During Cory Booker's time as mayor there was a lot of development, but the development was focused primarily downtown.

A development out into Newark's neighborhoods has been stalled and many people now look at Cory Booker's years in office while he's gone on to be a United States senator that many of the endemic problems Newark has faced - poverty, high unemployment rate, a very high crime rate, including, you know, considerably high murder rate, higher than the last 25 years - people are looking around and saying, you know, what really did change? They're not essentially sure.

MONTAGNE: So a vote for Ras Baraka at this point in time, is that a referendum on Cory Booker?

BONAMO: I think in many ways it's just a referendum on the idea that whoever Newark voters were going to choose to be the next mayor, they wanted a mayor who they knew in many ways didn't have higher ambitions and was going to focus exclusively on the city of Newark. Mr. Baraka has pretty much made it clear that Newark's his home. He likes it here. He wants to stay here. He wants to work here and hopefully make the city of Newark a better place.

And I think that was very appealing to a lot of voters. They wanted somebody who was going to be around for the long haul to deal with some very serious problems.

MONTAGNE: This is quite a lively campaign, this race between Ras Baraka and his opponent, Shavar Jeffries.

BONAMO: Yeah, it was pretty lively. In fact, in February Ras Baraka's campaign bus was attempted to be torched. Allegedly, two members of Mr. Jeffries' campaign attempted to set the bus on fire and in April two men who were campaign workers were charged and arrested for this alleged arson incident.

MONTAGNE: Well, that's, I guess you could say, lively. Could it be said that Ras Baraka stood for the old guard of the inner city, partly due to his father, versus the Cory Booker sort of new Newark idea?

BONAMO: Exactly. And that's what I think is fascinating about the election, is, you know, are people satisfied with the new Newark? Newark is facing potentially a $93 million budget deficit. The city's finances have been apparently mismanaged so badly that the State Controller's office may take over the city's finances. So the new Newark going ahead, it's a difficult place.

MONTAGNE: Well, Mark, thank you very much.

BONAMO: Thank you. It's a pleasure to be on your show.

MONTAGNE: New Jersey political reporter Mark Bonamo writes for the website Poli-tickerNJ.com. This is NPR News.

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