Cory Booker: Hero?

Cory Booker at StoryCorps Griot launch by jsmooth995
Despite my previous reflexive defense of East Orange, I’ll admit to buying in to the some of the negative perceptions of Newark, and was originally going to post a link to a great article on Newark’s Mayor Cory Booker that I just got around to reading in last month’s Esquire (with the inane Mike Myers on the cover), but when I went to their site to get the link, I was suprised to come across a scathing letter from Booker, ripping the article’s author Scott Raab a new one.
While I thought the article was a well-written bit of hero worship, it does go a bit overboard in comparing Booker to Will Smith’s character in I Am Legend, effectively casting Newark as a blighted dead zone with little hope of recovery, pretty much what I believed it to be despite knowing better. In his letter, Booker takes Raab to task on a number of points, particularly his narrow focus on the ills plaguing the largest city in New Jersey while ignoring the strides made in the past couple of years — of which he cites numerous examples — but perhaps more impressively, I appreciated his lengthy rebuttal of the idea that he is some lone hero facing insurmountable odds:

But perhaps the most insulting part of the article was the constant insinuation that there was only one good person in Newark, one hero, only one person who was looking to make positive change to confront Newark’s challenges (and perhaps one omniscient observer in Dr. Clement Price).

There could be nothing further from truth.

Newark, New Jersey, is home to MANY heroes. Everyday heroes who give of themselves every day—for the well-being of their families and for the future of their city. These heroes may not attract the spotlight but, often behind the scenes, they are making Newark a place of promise and progress.

Moreover, all signs clearly show that, thanks to heroic residents in every sector of our city, Newark began to turn a corner BEFORE my election as mayor. One thing the article did accurately portray is that I am fraught with faults, from worn and torn suits to a propensity to talk a little too much. But in Newark, there is a collective perfection that has enabled our city to not only endure the challenges shared by other urban centers, but also that is helping Newark distinguish itself as a place of innovation and excellence. Nowhere is this collective perfection more evident than in our ability to prevail against our trials and preserve the centuries-old values and character that has made Newark so consistently great since its founding over 300 years ago…

ENOUGH! There has not been an article written since I have been mayor that has made me and my fellow Newarkers more angry than this one. It is altogether a tired song that has been sung by people who don’t know our city. This music has played for decades, and the people of Newark have endured enough disrespect, disregard, and contempt. Enough!

At the end of his article, the author claims that “ . . . there are nearly 275,000 people in Newark—and all of them are victims, too.” I haven’t met one person living in Newark who would ever define themselves or our city this way. Sadly, the victims I am concerned about today are those people who will read this article and do not know enough about Newark to counter its effect. I worry that such readers will be further blinded by stereotype, convenient clichés, and Hollywood hype. Perhaps this is the “Battle” that Esquire should be most concerned with in future articles.

The letter serves as a perfect bookend to the article and leaves you believing that, whatever the truth is regarding the current state of Newark and the progress it’s made — former Mayor Sharpe James’ sentencing today was interesting, no? — Mayor Booker seems like the real deal, a true public servant in every sense of the term, and I look forward to following his story closely from now on.

I also really want to see Street Fight now!

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