spacer spacer spacer
yalealumnimagazine.com   about the Yale Alumni Magazine   classified & display advertising   back issues 1992-present   our blogs   The Yale Classifieds   yam@yale.edu   support us


The Yale Alumni Magazine is owned and operated by Yale Alumni Publications, Inc., a nonprofit corporation independent of Yale University.

The content of the magazine and its website is the responsibility of the editors and does not necessarily reflect the views of Yale or its officers.


After the Fight

The first time Cory Booker ’97JD drew national attention, it was for losing an election: his 2002 run for mayor of Newark, New Jersey, against longtime incumbent Sharpe James, was chronicled in the Oscar-nominated documentary Street Fight. Booker was elected mayor last year, after James declined to seek a sixth term. (James was indicted on July 12 on 33 counts of fraud and depriving government of honest services.) A native of Harrington Park, New Jersey, Booker received bachelor’s and master's degrees from Stanford and won a Rhodes Scholarship before going to Yale Law School in 1997. A year later, he was elected a Newark councilman. New York Times reporter Tina Kelley '85 talked to Booker in July, a month before the city was rocked by the murders of three college students.

Y: What’s highest on your list of what Newark needs?

“Police were working on typewriters, like they were from Barney Miller.”

B: One is making Newark a safe city, and one year into it, we have great results. Next would be economic empowerment: helping people to get jobs, coming up with strategies for affordable housing, helping create more minority businesses, and creating loan funds. The third area is just focusing on kids—rehabbing recreation centers, turning around our horrendous situation with immunizations, scholarship programs for kids, the biggest summer job program this city’s seen in years for our young people. And the fourth is reforming a government that was completely defunct, corrupted, and broken, and trying to create systems of accountability, bring in more revenue, cut expenses, and deal with the $180 million budget gap.

Y: How can one person coming in as a new mayor reduce the crime rate in a city?

B: The sad thing about Newark is that there’s so little that was being done. There was just incredible neglect in the police department. The police precincts looked like the worst slums in developing nations, I mean, there were no bathrooms, the roofs were caving in, and officers were working on typewriters, like they were from Barney Miller. We invested in our police department, buying computers, doing $1 million worth of overhaul of the facilities, getting them cars that worked, getting them bulletproof vests, you name it. When 28 percent of your officers are behind desks, you desperately need to get police back on the streets. We didn’t have a fugitive-apprehension team. We hadn’t worked to end quality-of-life crimes. We started an “anonymous tip hotline,” which you can call and get rewards. I challenge you to find another city in America that had a 30 percent drop in crime. 

Y: So how did Yale help prepare you for this job?

B: Thank God it’s not a law school that puts you through a grind or forces you into their little box. It gives you such freedom to pursue what you're interested in. I mean, I wrote my last substantial paper on Newark, and I had professors who allowed me to come down here and do major research. I spent a lot of my time doing law clinic work. It was almost like I got three years to train for what I’m doing now.

Y: Can you talk about the death threats you’ve received as mayor of Newark?

“Newark is a big city with a very small-town feel.”

B: I don’t really live in fear—I’m not going to focus on that. In the beginning, it was a little unnerving to have federal or state authorities calling me up and saying, “We think there’s a credible threat against you.” But I think that this country is where it is because people are willing to take personal risks, and these are small risks compared to the people one generation before me. Sleepless nights and no personal life are small compared to what other folks are doing.

Y: This is the 40th anniversary of the riots in Newark. What are your thoughts on that?

B: It even more grounds me in the challenge at hand. You still have a city with a poverty rate that is unacceptable in a country that’s rich. You still have a city that’s facing a racial division that’s unacceptable in a nation that’s great. It’s a very poignant time for me to remember what was really a tragedy.

Y: What do you like most about Newark?

B: The people, most definitely. It’s a big city with a very small-town feel. “Brick City” is our nickname, and the people here are like bricks. They're tough, they’re hard, they’re resilient, they’re enduring. When they come together, there’s nothing that they can’t create that’s beautiful and that's great. I feel like I had great professors in college; I got my BA from Stanford and my JD from Yale, but my PhD on the streets here, with the lessons here I've learned from phenomenal people.

Y: You’re trying to bring in chain stores and other new business. How is that working?

B: We did a very quick study on where Newarkers spend their money, and we found out. Newark residents leave Newark to spend their money elsewhere—half a billion dollars a year. We have more condo projects in the first quarter of this year than we had in the entire previous year. And, as Newark grows like that, we’ve got to find ways to capture that energy to create jobs for Newark residents as well as places for them to shop and locate and recreate. The great news is that the retailers are coming to us now.

Y: So what are your future plans?

B: I’m committed to giving two terms, maybe more. This is the big fight in America right now. As important as the presidential race is, as important as national politics is to me, I think the greatest threat to our national security is not external threats, not terrorism, it’s the unfinished work of democracy here at home. This country—as profoundly amazing and inspirational as it is—it’s still unfinished business, and a nation is only as strong as its weakest aspects. Whether it’s racial separation, poverty, health issues, education, these are the things American mayors are on the front lines trying to deal with.  the end


©1992–2012, Yale Alumni Publications, Inc. All rights reserved.

Yale Alumni Magazine, P.O. Box 1905, New Haven, CT 06509-1905, USA. yam@yale.edu