Thursday, May 22, 2008

Mayor Booker at the MI

There are benefits to being a card-carrying member of the working press. Free intellectual stimulation, for one. All of this is to say, if I haven't said so already, that the Manhattan Institute is a wonderful thing.

And that Cory Booker is an impressive guy. The MI had the young mayor of Newark over this morning for a breakfast lecture, purportedly on his new prison-to-work program, but what ultimately became the general story of the city as he found it two years ago, and what he's been doing since.

The background story is better laid out here, but the cartoon summary is that when New York City had Rudy Giuliani, Newark got stuck with Sharpe James, who Booker finally unseated in 2006. Booker's a democrat, but a young, tough-on-crime, school-vouchers-believing one, for whom the sky's the limit politically if he can actually deliver as promised.

Which would be a very good thing, at least judging from the 45 min I got to hear him talk. He's been compared to Barack Obama (young, black, charismatic, community organizer type), but while there are other things to recommend him over Obama, he's not quite as smooth.

He's even got a bit of that Mike-Bloomberg-post-partisan-problem-solver vibe, which would be annoying -- the one cringe-inducing moment of the breakfast came when, searching briefly for the right turn of phrase, he came up with "inefficiencies of the human spirit" -- if the problems he was facing weren't of such a greater magnitude, and if he didn't have the serious street cred to back it up.

His success, of course, remains to be seen, but all signs still indicate that this guy is for real. It tells you something about a guy when he moves into the housing projects immediately upon being elected to the city council and stays there for 8 years -- camping out on the street, among other things, to protest the lack of police protection.

As mayor, not only has he seriously cut the city's crime rate already, he'll also quite frequently tag along with cops on their nightly patrols, sometimes -- sometimes -- chasing down criminals himself.

I'm not quite sure what to think of that last part. It reminds me a bit of Winston Churchill's stint as home secretary back before WWI, when he once famously insisted on commanding a police confrontation with a group of anarchists holed up inside their London hideout. There's a school of thought that says that the great man didn't exactly help matters with his presence.

Then again, it was all part of the same package: A leader who had a strong enough sense of himself and his purpose to think to do something like that as anything more than a PR stunt.

So yeah, press work has its perks.

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