ARUN RATH, HOST:
And let's stay in New Jersey a moment longer, specifically Newark, which for the past seven years has had a mayor with a celebrity-like following. Cory Booker, known in part for attracting philanthropic aid to the city, has stepped down to fill the late Frank Lautenberg's old seat in the U.S. Senate.
New Jersey Public Radio Sarah Gonzalez looks back at what Booker did for the city and the challenges he leaves behind.
SARAH GONZALEZ, BYLINE: For years, Newark has had the reputation of being a crime-ridden, low-income city. But even Cory Booker's harshest critics will say he helped change that perception of Newark. The city saw its first population increase in six decades. He convinced companies that the city was a good place to do business, bringing in a billion dollars in economic development projects this year and another 350 million in philanthropic aid. Booker called himself an entrepreneurial mayor. He thinks that's his legacy.
SENATOR CORY BOOKER: Taking a city from decline to now a city of hope and promise, a city that's turned the corner, a lot more work to do, but clearly Newark now is on the road to success.
GONZALEZ: Walking the city's downtown, you can hear the distant sounds of bulldozers and electric saws as workers several feet below the ground build the first office and residential towers in decades. Three grocery stores opened up in neighborhoods that didn't have one for 20 years. He expanded farmers markets and urban gardens in an effort to address food deserts.
But unemployment in the city is still above 14 percent. About a third of the population still lives below the poverty line. And crime is still at the forefront of everyone's mind, like resident Jerry Minter.
JERRY MINTER: Killing in the South War, there's killing in the Central Ward, killing in the North Ward, West Ward. It's all over the city of Newark.
GONZALEZ: When Booker first took office in 2006, violence dropped sharply in the city. But the number of shootings and victims of gun violence have been creeping back up in the past few years. There have been 78 murders so far this year, about half of them occurred in one of the city's wards. Those hoping to become the next mayor of Newark are already campaigning around the issue.
The election to replace Booker isn't for another nine months, but hundreds of Newarkers are already cramming into auditoriums to hear how the candidates would combat violence. The city was forced to cut its police force by almost half because of the economic downturn. And still, crime overall is lower. But mayoral candidate Shavar Jeffries says the smaller police force is part of the problem.
SHAVAR JEFFRIES: You don't lay off 170 cops and then don't expect these consequences.
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GONZALEZ: Another candidate, Ras Baraka, a current City Council member, takes a stance that Cory Booker has long taken.
RAS BARAKA: Police is not the answer to reducing this kind of violent culture that we have, right? Ninety percent of the violent crime in the city occurs in the South and the West Ward, where the most poverty and unemployment exists, not because we have less cops, but because we have the most poverty and the most unemployment.
GONZALEZ: Baraka says you have to invest in people. But residents and people outside of the city worry that Newark will get less money and less attention now that Booker's gone. Dan O'Flaherty, an economics professor at Columbia University, says that perception isn't good for the city.
DAN O'FLAHERTY: It's not good for people who own businesses in the city. It's not good for people who own houses in the city to have the rest of the world expecting a cataclysm to fall on them.
GONZALEZ: He says it prevents investors from seeing Newark as a good investment.
O'FLAHERTY: Newark is the transportation hub of the East Coast. Newark has great universities. Newark has great people. Newark will survive after Cory Booker.
GONZALEZ: Booker is leaving Newark with another $2 billion in economic development projects set to be completed next year with promises from all the new companies to interview Newark residents first to fill the new jobs. For NPR News, I'm Sarah Gonzalez.