Talented Booker

The New Yorker recently ran a profile of Cory Booker, the mayor of Newark. It was flattering -- Booker gets nothing but good press -- ...
by | February 14, 2008

Cory_booker_3 The New Yorker recently ran a profile of Cory Booker, the mayor of Newark. It was flattering -- Booker gets nothing but good press -- but it showed how a magazine writer can become overly reliant on a few sources and a few days in town and ultimately leave the reader less impressed than he is with his subject.

"Newark was well acquainted with politicians who were in the business for themselves," writes Peter J. Boyer,

but Booker's politics of self-fulfillment, naïve as it sometimes appeared, was something new. Booker had grown up in the prosperous suburbs of New Jersey, the object of such high expectations that, when he decided in law school that his calling was to save Newark, the only question from his family and friends was "How can we help?" Booker considers this awakening "the greatest blessing of my life," as it freed him from agonizing over how and where he should invest his talents.

Well, that's a relief.

Throughout the piece, Boyer takes it as a given that Booker is doing Newark, which has a political culture that is "perhaps the most corrupt in urban America," a favor by serving as mayor. "Newark's most marketable commodity is Booker," Boyer tells us, describing the mayor's role as chief salesman and cheerleader for his beleaguered city. And yet, he never shows us whether such Booker-boosterism is having any actual effect.

Boyer instead shows us Booker's skills as a chameleon, fitting in well with different ethnic and demographic groups. He examines the doubts among some of Newark's African Americans that Booker is really "black enough" -- or local enough. "HIs abiding vulnerability is his image as an interloper," Boyer writes.

The article depicts Booker's problems in getting the bureaucracy on board or even getting a 311 system set up. Boyer closes with an account of yet another senseless murder and describes it as a turning point that should get the Newark police on board with Booker's Bratton-style changes. But this doesn't convince.

The whole portrayal is a little airy, especially given its length. It would have been good if Boyer had followed Booker during a typical day of dealing with agency heads, rather than riding with him out to a rally for Barack Obama. The whole piece, in fact, seems to me an inadvertent portrayal of Booker as resembling the caricatured statement about Obama in another piece in the same issue: "an overeducated bleeding heart and a greenhorn."


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