Sen. Cory Booker released a video saying he wants the Democratic nomination for president in 2020, but a sizable number of progressive New Jersey residents are not willing to embrace his candidacy, which was announced on the first day of Black History Month.
Members of area immigrant advocacy groups say Booker has failed to stop political allies from collaborating with President Donald Trump’s harsh policies, noting that Essex County gets millions of dollars each year from ICE, for housing undocumented immigrants in its jail.
Essex County Executive Joe DiVincenzo was the first New Jersey official to endorse Booker for the Democratic presidential nomination and Booker has never discussed human rights violations cited in a report by Human Rights First, that found poor conditions at the jail, including “countless complaints” of inadequate medical care, bad hygiene, racial discrimination by staff and denial of due process.
The former Newark mayor was frequently absent from the city during his tenure, a period during which he collected millions of dollars from Wall Street investors, colleges around the country and even his former law firm, which profited from new contracts with city agencies.
He unleashed a wave of police brutality that brought in the FBI and resulted in a federal consent order, before Booker cut hundreds of municipal jobs that made crime rates skyrocket. The entire time he was mayor, more than 80 percent of crimes reported to police in Newark went unsolved.
Taxes and crime rates spiked in the city before Booker left that job to join the US Senate in 2013, following the death of Sen. Frank Lautenberg. Newark continues to suffer from violence, economic instability, political corruption, and other urban challenges.
Booker has faced a steady drumbeat of criticism from sites like Daily Kos, where a contributor asserted that he “would actually be much more at home in the Republican Party.”
“When the predatory nature of America’s business elites threatened to become an actual political issue, Cory Booker leaped to salve the wounded fee-fees of the crooks,” Esquire’s Charlie Pierce wrote. “Which is why I would not vote for Cory Booker.”
Since 2013, he raised more than $25.9 million. In the 2018 cycle, in which he was not a candidate, Booker’s campaign brought in more than $8.3 million. In 2014, his largest overall contributor was pro-Israel NorPAC, which donated $158,871, much of it earmarked for Booker by individuals giving to the PAC.
In 2014, Booker was the Senate’s top recipient of Wall Street money, and billionaires from both Wall Street and Silicon Valley may be expected to shower his campaign with money to ensure they have a friend in the White House, instead of a genuiune champion for working people.
Booker was one of 13 Senate Democrats who joined a Republican majority to kill Bernie Sanders’ amendment to the 21st Century Century Cures Act aimed at lowering drug costs and allowing the import of cheaper drugs from other countries. At that time, Ellie Shechet of Jezebel noted that between 2010 and 2016, Booker received $267,338 from pharmaceutical companies.
“As the former mayor of Newark, Cory Booker faced corruption scandals and increased crime and unemployment levels as his star power outside the state rose. He is heavily favored by Wall Street, with securities and investment firms donating $1.88 million to Booker during the 2014 midterm elections; their second-favorite candidate was Mitch McConnell,” wrote Shechet.
Booker announced that his presidential campaign would not accept corporate political action committee donations, but if that sounds like he’s going cold turkey on corporate cash, the reality he is a showhorse creating a false impression to conceal a record of votes that have been influenced by big money. Booker had more than $4.1 million in the bank at year end, and a newly-signed state law will also allow him to run for president and the U.S. Senate at the same time, if he chooses.
“I would not vote for him, but it confirms my expectation that Cory Booker does not want to be New Jersey’s Senator,” said progressive Lisa McCormick, who challenged Sen. Bob Menendez in the 2018 Democratic primary.
Booker together with Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham, testified during the bribery and corruption trial of Sen. Bob Menendez, following the Obama administration’s indictment of the New Jersey lawmaker and the Florida eye doctor who robbed millions from Medicare.
Despite his pledge to support ‘Medicare for All,’ Booker denied that he would eliminate private health insurance policies.
He also claims to support a Green New Deal, but has yet to face questions about the proposal, which would shut down every gas pipeline, fuel station and oil refinery in America, including one in Bayway.
“Education-wise, he’s not far removed from a Betsy DeVos philosophically,” said John Abeigon, president of the Newark Teachers Union, who noted that Booker served on the board of Alliance for School Choice, which was led by DeVos, who is now President Donald Trump’s education secretary.
The group urged policymakers to spend tax money on charter, private, and religious schools instead of fully funding traditional public schools.
Booker has cultivated a national reputation through social media and self-aggrandizing, appearing on late night comedy shows, Oprah and The View where he confronts lightweight television interviews, but as the New York Times put it: “he has a relatively thin record of signature legislative accomplishments.”
“Cory Booker has done very little about making the promise of America real for all citizens, but he has made friends with wealthy people and turned that into lucrative advantages for himself,” said James Devine, a Democratic strategist who noted that Booker made 39 trips to 24 states during the 2018 midterm election campaign, showing little interest in representing New Jersey in the Senate, just as he ignored duties as a councilman and mayor.
Ivanka Trump and her husband, Jared Kushner, collected $41,000 for Booker’s first Senate election in 2013, at a fundraiser for him held at their Park Avenue home in New York City.
He established residency in Newark while he attended law school in Connecticut, but he waged a Wall Street-funded campaign in the impoverished community and got elected to represent a crime-ridden neighborhood in the city’s Central Ward. One of his first campaign contributors was a hedge fund manager. Another was one of the WalMart heirs.
In 1998, he defeated a long-time incumbent to become the youngest-ever member of the Newark Municipal Council but his charisma could not cure a dysfunctional government.
Booker grew up in a wealthy North Jersey suburb, thrived in the shark tank of New Jersey’s notoriously corrupt political establishment, and consolidated support among rival south and north Democratic factions as well as former Republican Governor Chris Christie.
Booker gained national attention before he lost a 2002 campaign for Mayor of Newark, then effortlessly won his second attempt in 2006, and coasted to reelection in 2010.
But even with a friendly relationship with the Republican governor and his career advancement on a fast track, Booked was entirely unable to move forward New Jersey’s top priority in Washington, a new rail tunnel under the Hudson River.
Booker also got national attention for appearing to solve problems he created, such as when, on December 28, 2010, a constituent used Twitter to tell him her elderly father’s driveway was snowed in. Booker showed up with a shovel, but only because his administration failed to secure a snow removal contract as the city had done in prior years.
Shortly after he closed several fire companies, a cell phone video captured Booker’s ‘rescue’ of a neighbor from an April 12, 2012, house fire.
Booker made an average of $577,000 from 2010 to 2012, but he got substantial media attention for living on a $30 food budget one week, when he highlighted the amount New Jersey’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) recipients receive.
A video news release describing his publicity stunt was produced by Waywire, an Internet start-up company Booker started while he was mayor.
Booker personally obtained $1.75 million seed money for Waywire, from investors — including First Round Capital, Google billionaire Eric Schmidt’s Innovation Endeavors, Troy Carter, Oprah Winfrey and LinkedIn’s Jeff Weiner — who may still get hefty returns from Booker’s political success, now that the company has evaporated.
The finacial backing from Silicon Valley executives of Facebook, LinkedIn, Google and Twitter or entrepreneurs, tech moguls and billionaires troubled some ethics watchdogs. “If you’re getting a large percentage just because you’re a well-known political figure, that’s a little bit problematic,” said Melanie Sloan, executive director of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington. “People tend to prefer their political figures not to be cashing in on their positions of public trust.”
Owning a multimillion company might be convenient for creating self-promotion videos, but it also makes a $30 food budget look like a scam.
Booker sought and received the backing of political bosses like George Norcross in South Jersey and he was one of 19 individuals billionaire former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg invited to serve on the inaugural Board of Directors of the Bloomberg Family Foundation. He also endorsed the former Republican billionaire’s re-election over Democrat Bill Thompson, who ended up losing by a scant four percent.
Booker spoke to the media on a street in Newark, after announcing on Twitter his candidacy for the Democratic presidential nomination, but his celebrity status also opens him up to riducule. White House counselor Kellyanne Conway said Booker often “sounds like a Hallmark card.”
“Booker reportedly apologized to a coterie of Wall Street bankers Friday for all the mean things he is going to have to say about them in the upcoming months,” said a satirical story in the Onion.
The agenda Booker is expected to present has been largely lifted off the platform articulated by Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, whose insurgent presidential campaign in 2016 attacked the reckless greed in the securities industry.
Booker’s key 2020 policies are expected to include Medicare for All, a Green New Deal to address climate change, “Baby bonds” to wipe out the wealth gap, new criminal justice reforms, modern antitrust measures, marijuana legalization, and a pilot program to guarantee jobs.
During the federal government shutdown Booker, as well as Senators Kristen Gillibrand and Kamala Harris, were courting Wall Street executives in an effort to get the blessings of big money donors.
Such concerns are not new. “Booker’s ties to the financial community might cause some concerns in the same way that they have with Hillary,” said Julian Zelizer, a professor of history and public affairs at Princeton University, while discussing a potential Booker vice presidency in 2016.
“Cory Booker is an outspoken proponent for charter schools, which academic experts have characterized as a vehicle to bankrupt public education and uphold segregation in schools,” said Carl Gibson, of Lexington, Kentucky. “The charter movement likes him so much that a group once led by Betsy DeVos invited him to speak at their annual conference.”
“Booker sounds a lot like Trump in a Democratic uniform,” said progressive leader Don Mersel. “He is dangerous because he can actually sell Social Security privatization, charter schools and high priced drugs to unsuspecting Americans.”
Booker authored United, to solidify his image, but critics noted that while he extolled the mother of two who works as a waitress at IHOP for $2.13 an hour, the senator says nothing about the company’s $6 million CEO.
“Booker often quotes Martin Luther King, Jr., John F. Kennedy, Maya Angelou and Langston Hughes but he cannot be the voice of his generation, because anyone who is paying attention has got to be mad as hell,” said Devine. “Booker’s rivals might embrace more flowerly language, if the American people were not tired of being victimized by the greedy rich and angry about incompetence in Washington.”
Critics also posted a video of the November 20, 2012 Newark City Council meeting, where Booker as Mayor, disregarded the rules of procedure to illegally install a political ally to the city council to fill a vacancy. The incident caused a riot.
Democracy for America, Daily Kos and MoveOn straw polls put Booker at or near the bottom among Democratic presidential contenders.
Other Democratic candidates in the race includes former San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro, US Rep. John Delaney of Maryland, Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, Senator Kamala Harris of California, and entrepreneur Andrew Yang.
Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard will hold her presidential campaign kickoff on Saturday, February 2, with a nationally broadcast announcement from her home state, Hawaii.
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