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Jewish World Review May 9, 2002 / 27 Iyar, 5762

John H. Fund

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Newark, Zimbabwe!? | NEWARK, N.J Politics in New Jersey's largest city is such a brawling contact sport that one wonders if the May 14 mayoral election here will be "free and fair" or something out of Robert Mugabe's Zimbabwe. The election has national significance because it pits Mayor Sharpe James, a four-term patronage pol, against Cory Booker, an upstart Democratic city councilman who counts figures as diverse as Bill Bradley and Jack Kemp among his contributors. Should Mr. Booker win, he'll become a potent national symbol for a new generation of black leaders who reject Al Sharpton-style racial polarization.

But the machine is striking back. The city's police union, flush with a generous new contract, has endorsed Mayor James. Cops have plastered the cars of Booker supporters with tickets, while Mr. Booker has been denied access to public meeting places. Last month, a federal judge issued an injunction against the city for using "selective enforcement" to tear down Booker signs. Public-housing tenants have been told they could be evicted if they put Booker signs in their windows.

For his part, the 66-year-old mayor is demonizing the mild-mannered Mr. Booker. It would be fair game to accuse the 32-year-old Mr. Booker, a Rhodes scholar with degrees from Stanford and Yale Law, of using Newark as a launching pad for higher office. But in March, Mr. James issued a wild claim that Mr. Booker was "a Republican who took money from the KKK," and the light-skinned Mr. Booker says the mayor has called him "a faggot white boy." The Newark Star-Ledger reports that Mr. James said of Mr. Booker: "You have to learn to be an African-American! And we don't have time to train you all night." Mr. James, for the record, denies making such statements.

"It's outrageous there hasn't been more criticism of such ugly race-baiting by a black leader," says Omar Wasow, executive director of He and other Booker supporters find more amusing than ugly the attempt to link Mr. Booker to--as an article at the top of Mayor James's Web site puts it--an "American Hard Right" that is "salivating over the prospect of seizing control of City Hall in Newark." The article goes on to accuse Mr. Booker of being "comfortable in the company of people whose political ancestors hosed down and blew up black children in Birmingham."

Mr. Booker calls such tactics "a smear campaign to make black people fear blacks who criticize the status quo." He notes he was a proud supporter of Al Gore and hailed as "a political rising star" by the Democratic Leadership Council. He has muted his support for school choice and says he would only push for charter schools as mayor. But efforts to link him to the "vast right-wing conspiracy" still dog him.

A new WABC-TV poll shows Mr. Booker with a slim 46% to 44% lead, but also found that Mayor James is polarizing the race. Mr. Booker wins 57% support from Hispanics and non-Hispanic whites, but Mr. James has expanded his lead among blacks (half of all voters) to 11 points, up from five.

Every prominent Democratic office-holder has sided with Mr. James despite a history of corruption that has sent his former chief of staff and former police director to jail. Mr. James delivered Newark for both Gov. Jim McGreevey and Sen. Jon Corzine in Democratic primaries. Jesse Jackson came to Newark to warn that Mr. Booker was "a wolf in sheep's clothing" even though Mr. Booker worked on Mr. Jackson's 1988 presidential campaign.

In the 1960s the white Democratic machine here used thuggery and intimidation to keep blacks from taking power. Voter fraud and the use of off-duty policemen to challenge black voters kept blacks from city hall until 1970.

Today, the machine is under new management by blacks, and voter intimidation is back. So too may be voter fraud. Last month, the Booker campaign found several hundred dead voters on city election rolls. One out of six voter records is incomplete. The Booker campaign will deploy 150 volunteer lawyers on Election Day, but that may not stop absentee ballot manipulation or voter intimidation. The U.S. attorney's office is monitoring the situation but says the Justice Department won't send election monitors because it lacks a court order alleging racial discrimination in a city that's 86% minority--talk about a Catch-22.

Of course the real loser in all of this is the black community. The problems that plague inner cities such as Newark--crime, failing schools, high taxes and corruption--require the kind of innovative approaches that Democratic mayors from Milwaukee to Baltimore have tried. But the old guard demonizes anyone who breaks from a race-based model. "They will fight to the end to hold on to [power]," former congressman Floyd Flake has said. "Here is a generation of kids that are not locked up in the struggles of the civil-rights era. And the older generation is saying, 'They're not ready because they're not black enough'? It's a sad indictment on us as a race."

If fraud is rampant next Tuesday it will be due to the Justice Department's failure to send election monitors and because Democrats abandoned a racial conciliator like Cory Booker and forced him to fight a thuggish machine on his own.

Comment on JWR contributor John H. Fund's column by clicking here.


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04/16/02: 'I, Uh, I Have No Comment': A union plays dirty in opposing an antitax initiative
03/31/02: Don't Just Do Something, Stand There!: Filibusters can help the Senate GOP get things done
03/14/02: Red-Light District: It's time to draw the line on gerrymandering
02/21/02: Slippery Slope: Can Dick Riordan beat California's Democratic governor?
02/14/02: Reform School: The Shays-Meehan incumbency protection act
02/07/02: Arizona Highway Robbery: Politicians make a grab for campaign cash
01/31/02: Disfranchise Lassie: Even dogs can register to vote. We need election reform with teeth
01/17/02: Dr. King's Greedy Relations: Cashing in on a national hero's legacy
01/10/02: Oil of Vitriol
01/04/02: The little engine that couldn't--and the senators who don't want it to
12/24/01: E-mail and low-cost computers could be conduits for a learning revolution
12/13/01: How Gore could have really won
12/07/01: Let our students keep their cell phones
12/04/01: Why the White House gave the RNC chairman the boot
11/12/01: A Winsome Politician: She won an election in a majority-black district--and she's a Republican
11/01/01: Bush Avoids Politics at His Peril
10/30/01: Cocked Pit: Armed pilots would mean polite skies
10/24/01: Chicken Pox: Hardly anyone has anthrax, but almost everyone has anthrax anxiety
10/11/01: Will Rush Hear Again? New technology may make it possible
10/04/01: Three Kinds of pols
08/24/01: Lauch Out: Who'll replace Jesse Helms?
08/08/01: Tome Alone: Clinton's book will probably end up on the remainder table
08/03/01: Of grubbing and grabbing: Corporation$ and local government$ perfect "public use"
07/31/01: Affairs of State: The Condit case isn't just about adultery. It's about public trust and national security
07/14/01: The First Amendment survives, and everyone has someone to blame for the failure of campaign reform
07/12/01: He's Still Bread: Despite what you've heard, Gary Condit isn't toast --- yet
07/12/01: Passing Lane: Left-wing attacks help boost John Stossel's and Brit Hume's audiences
06/25/01: Man vs. Machine: New Jersey's GOP establishment is doing everything it can to stop Bret Schundler
06/15/01: A Schundler Surprise? Don't count out "the Jack Kemp of New Jersey"
06/06/01: Memo to conservatives: Ignore McCain and maybe he'll go away
05/29/01: Integrity in Politics? Hardly. Jim Jeffords is no Wayne Morse
05/22/01: Davis' answer to California's energy crisis? Hire a couple of Clinton-Gore hatchet men
05/07/01: Prematurely declaring a winner wasn't the networks' worst sin in Florida
04/23/01: How to fix the electoral process --- REALLY!
04/11/01: A conservative hero may mount a California comeback
03/30/01: Can the GOP capture the nation's most closely balanced district?
03/09/01: Terminated
03/06/01: Leave well enough alone
02/22/01: Forgetting our heroes
02/15/01: In 1978 Clinton got a close look at the dangers of selling forgiveness
02/12/01: Clinton owes the country an explanation --- and an appology
02/06/01: How Ronald Reagan changed America
01/16/01: Why block Ashcroft? To demoralize the GOP's most loyal voters
01/15/01: Remembering John Schmitz, a cheerful extremist
12/29/00: Why are all Dems libs pickin' on me?
Dubya's 48% mandate is different than Ford's
12/13/00: Gore would have lost any recount that passed constitutional muster
11/13/00: The People Have Spoken: Will Gore listen?
10/25/00: She's really a Dodger
09/28/00: Locking up domestic oil?
09/25/00: Hillary gives new meaning to a "woman with a past"
09/21/00: Ignore the Polls. The Campaign Isn't Over Yet

©2001, John H. Fund