Newark, New Jersey mayor Cory Booker is one of THE media darlings, constantly a Democrat that David Gregory calls onto his Meet the Press program, Sunday mornings on NBC. But his senate victory would be risky for teachers, for he would be able to propagate his Michelle Rhee-like perspective on how to "fix education." Moreover, as numerous writers have suggested, Booker is more of a show-boater, a grand-stander that has raked in speaking fees and has allowed the material status of Newarkers to stagnate or worsen.
The city and state executives (Newark mayor and N.J. governor) are close cousins in two fractured parties. Booker represents the increasingly dominant and aggressive financial sector-friendly business class wing of the party, to the detriment of the traditional economic liberals. Christie is aloof to the Tea Party, keeping the libertarian or paleo-conservative Brett Schundler and Steve Lonegan politicians at an arm's length.
N.J. VOTERS HAVE A BETTER CHOICE
The widow of Frank Lautenberg and the couple's children have endorsed Congressman Frank Pallone for the August 13 special primary and October 16 general election. They have endorsed Pallone as continuing Lautenberg's liberal legacy. Along with the endorsement they slammed Booker as a "showhorse," implying that he's an empty suit. Pallone also comes with the endorsement of several mid-state politicians. He and the other Booker challengers, Rush Holt and Sheila Oliver are distinct from Booker, as each of them has a history of at least nine years as a legislator, an important consideration as the U.S. senate is a legislative body. Holt and Pallone in the Congress and Oliver in New Jersey's state assembly. (Oliver is currently speaker.) Josh Lautenberg wrote an email, sent out by the Pallone campaign Tuesday, "the person my father would've wanted to succeed him," Huffington Post reported earlier this week.
Booker served a mere four years in the Newark City Council. (The media-obsessed mayor announced his campaign intentions a mere five days after the senator's passing.) Has anyone spelt out how Booker has better leadership or issue position credentials than any of these candidates? No. Cory Booker is no Frank Lautenberg. As Jason Farago noted his myth-busting gem in June 11's UK "Guardian," "Cory Booker: the inexorable rise of Newark's neoliberal egomaniac", the senator was a venerable liberal, championing unions, the working class and progressive taxation. Booker, on the other hand, lives in a fantasy world in which there are no systemic problems or class interests, only inefficiencies to fixed by data-driven approaches. And don't wait for the fall for a progressive alternative. No Green Party candidate has come forward yet.
As a CNN blogger noted, there is little love between the Lautenberg family and Cory Booker, as the latter announced his intention to challenge Lautenberg in the 2014 primary.
The Lautenberg family endorsement statement read:
"Pallone knows that gimmicks and celebrity status won't get you very far in the real battles that Democrats face in the future," the statement read. "While it may not always attract glamorous headlines, Frank knows that to be effective you must put New Jersey and your principles first, not your own glory."
GRAND DEBT TO CHRISTIE
Booker's history with Christie and his grand debt: he alleged the Newark mayoral election irregularities allegations in his earlier unsuccessful race, and the appeal to then federal attorney Christie to investigate, and Christie cooperated.
The closeness leads to a problem for Booker's inherent obligation to be party stalwart for the Democratic challenger to Christie.
The apparently limited progressive credentials of Booker: stand-out positions of distinction from Christie and mainstream (as opposed to Tea Party) Republicans are his positions of yes on gay marriage and minimum wage. He should have spoken more aggressively in public on these issues, confronting his friend, governor Christie. But beyond this he has never distinguished himself as being on the progressive wing of the Democratic party on economic issues.
And being "tight with Christie" can be a problem. As Taylor noted, Christie's built his support with business by "hurling rhetorical grenades at labor unions whenever the opportunity presents itself." Failing to stand up his friend, Christie, to defend organized labor amidst these attacks, Booker hints at how little he would stand by organized labor once in Washington.
BLOGGERS ON HIS FOOD STAMPS STUNT
Bloggers have criticized his sampling of life on food stamps as exploitative. This comes in awkward taste, given his background of privilege (raised in a posh Bergen County suburb and his Stanford and Oxford college histories). Here's one critique of living on food stamps for a stint, calling it a shameless appriation of the poor. The Feminist Griote wrote:
The same way appropriating someone else’s culture, religion, or spiritual artifact isn’t okay, neither is appropriating their narrative. If you want to help the poor, Mr. Booker, do so by lobbying for them and championing their cause the same way you did when you were on Meet The Press defending Bain Capital and private equity firms. The dubious honor of the negro please award goes to Cory Booker for appropriating poverty!
The blogger at Colorlines called his time on food stamps a "potentially regrettable stunt."
Another blog gave a quote that suggested that he was concerned with how he'd look.
I should try it, because do you know how fabulous I’d look? I’d be so skinny. I mean, the camera adds ten pounds, it really does. I would be looking great.Where were the speeches of empathy with the desperately poor after his food stamps stint? None.
These issues mirror his overall record in Newark: plenty of emphasis on glitzy development in downtown, but little effort to bring living wage jobs for working class Newarkers.
This mood was tapped into in Linn Washington, Jr.'s article, February 7, 2013, "Media Mayor Cory Booker Bombs in Home Town of Newark." in the "This Can't Be Happening" blog. He noted that Newark's current unemployment rate of 15 percent, much higher than the state average, is five points higher than when Booker entered the mayor's office in 2006. [The state's unemployment rate was last reported at 8.7 percent.] Carjackings remain remarkably high.
Washington cited a Newark Star-Ledger July 2012 report that in an 18 month period Booker spent one-fourth of his time out of town.
While Booker boosted Newark during many of those trips (some of them day-trips), he also boosted his personal bank account with speaking fees estimated between $250,000-to-$500,000, that article stated.
Thus, the New York Times reported on May 17, 2013, "Newark Mayor Discloses $1.3 Million in Speaking Fees" in the prior four and a half years.
Fittingly a New York Times article last December wrote, "A growing number of Newark residents say Cory A. Booker is a better marketer than mayor." The article, "Promise vs. Reality in Newark on Mayor’s Watch."
COZY WITH BUSINESS, FROM EDUCATION PRIVATIZERS TO HEALTH INDUSTRY TO FINANCIAL INDUSTRY TO MEDIA TO REAL ESTATE
Further, this is an election year at the gubernatorial level in New Jersey. Booker has given a weak effort into supporting state senator Barbara Buono, Christie's Democratic challenger to the governor's office. Indeed, as Farago notes, it is public knowledge that there is good will between Booker and economic conservatives of Democratic and Republican stripes: George Will spoke favorably of him in a column. Michelle Rhee, disgraced former chancellor of D.C. schools is one that Booker calls "a friend of mine." Akin to Rhee's test score scandals, news broke last fall that three Newark charter school officials breached test security. Philadelphia publisher George Norcross III, a business and political bully, a figure of William Randolph Hearst/Citizen Kane proportions and major Democratic Party fund-raiser that Philly mag called "The Man Who Destroyed Democracy," is a Booker fan. Farago wrote of Booker's corporate-beholden politics made-over in post-ideological garb and added:
That helped him win the support this weekend of the most powerful man in New Jersey: George Norcross III, the feared political boss and owner of the Philadelphia Inquirer, who said he liked Booker because he was "a Democrat that's fiscally conservative yet socially progressive."Norcross' heavy investments in the health industry are troubling. Salon's Taylor described him as "the notorious and influential insurance and hospital magnate who runs South Jersey Democratic politics and is easily the most feared power broker in the state." If Booker is beholden to him, how can he take on the health care crisis? This is the same power figure that Christie is afraid to take on:
[Norcross is] the owner of several local news organizations, he was caught on tape making what appeared to be illegal threats in 2005, with the state attorney general widely criticized for not developing a case against him. The incriminating information would later be passed on to Christie, who also declined to prosecute, blaming the attorney general for allegedly mishandling the case. Politically, Norcross is also known for guiding his allies in the Legislature to help Christie push through his major legislative agenda, including a controversial pension overhaul.(Norcross had been caught on tape, discussing his influence with Jim McGreevey and Jon Corzine. This is the case that Christie sloughed off as mishandled by the A.G.; Christie Republican rival Doug Forrester said of the Norcross case, "This reeks of Watergate-like corruption.") Dick Codey (Democrat), the interim governor between McGreevey and Christie, said of Norcross (Democratic funder, remember),
[“It’s very upsetting to think in the year 2013 you have a private citizen with more influence in state government than anybody except the governor,” but Norcross does. “He’s almost a co-governor.”The Times has noted Booker's coziness with Christie as a liability. Booker’s Opponents May Use His Friendship With Christie Against Him.
Perhaps Christie's controversial moving the Senatorial election earlier than the general election was intended to aid Booker: with a snap election there would be less time for the opposition research to do damage to Booker's substanceless Emperor's New Clothes candidacy.
EARLY RIGHT WING TIES, PARALLELING HIS RECENT NEO-LIBERAL EDUCATION AND FINANCE POLICIES
Back in 2000 Cory Booker gave a speech at the economic libertarian Manhattan Institute, which the foundation published as "School Choice and Government Reform: Pillars of an Urban Renaissance." In the speech he declared his support for charter schools and public funds for religious and private schools (vouchers). As the Wall Street Journal reported in 2007, "In 1999 he helped found E3, a prominent education-reform group in New Jersey that pushes for charter schools and vouchers for inner-city communities." WSJ's glowing portrait of Booker was reprinted by E3, which stands for "Excellent Education for Everyone."
And so this kind of thinking has continued on his career as Newark mayor. He has clearly aligned himself with the dominant neo-liberal pro-corporate faction of the Democrats, now firmly in control of the Democratic Party. He privatized the sanitation department and attempted to do the same with the water department.
Mayor Booker also secured support for a teachers' 3-year contract that would include merit-based bonuses.
The local education reform handlers saluted the school system for this change.
Booker, with this merit based contract, curiously has the backing of Newark Teachers Union president Joseph Del Grasso, who just survived a challenge by a nine vote margin from a new democratic-minded dissident caucus, the Newark Education Workers (NEW) Caucus; yet the new caucus won a majority of 18 of 29 seats (Samantha Winslow at Labor Notes). Even Booker supporters are drawing parallels between Booker and mayor Rahm Emanuel of Chicago. (Speaking hostile Democratic executives, I discuss the anti-teacher parallels of Emanuel and Andrew Cuomo in yesterday's post on Chicago's mass layoffs and their larger ramifications.) Like Emanuel, Booker claimed that the path to "reform" was to get mayoral control of the school board. He clearly stated his opposition to educational democracy: “Elected school boards often hit the lowest common denominator . . . they are not the way to get courageous, driven change.” He flew to Seattle to hob-knob with the charter school chain, KIPP. Back in 2007 he bemoaned that without mayoral control it would be hard to get charter foundations or the Broad Foundation into Newark. (2007 WSJ article in E3.)
New York City's United Federation of Teachers website ran this accurate caption below the above picture, characterizing mayor Booker's teacher-bashing 2011 'Morning Joe' (MSNBC) appearance: Former Florida governor Jeb Bush (second from right) and Newark Mayor Cory Booker (far right) scapegoat teachers' unions on the MSNBC "Morning Joe" show on Sept 27. Check it out soon, in case the UFT pulls this embarrassing (to its Democratic Party owners, whoops, I mean partners) from its archive of "OCTOBER 13, 2011 NEW YORK TEACHER ISSUE."
See this March 2013 'Mother Jones' article on Booker's secretiveness around accounting issues related to Facebook Founder's $100 million donation to Newark public schools. Farago demolished the Facebook myth succinctly, "The [Facebook] cash didn't go into the Newark school system; it's controlled by a non-governmental fund, with Booker on the board, and has been so unaccountable that the ACLU had to sue the city to learn what was going on."
The Daily Kos blog reported that Booker appeared with Governors Christie and Bobby Jindal (Louisiana) at a two-day Alliance for School Choice conference advocating school privatization/school choice. (Read on Louisiana's union-free school environment in recent years.) The Newark Star-Ledger reported,
The two day conference is hosted by the Alliance for School Choice and is sponsored by the American Legislative Exchange council or ALEC, a right leaning think tank that drafts legislation, as well as the Walton Family foundation and Excellent Education for Everyone.(The Kock brothers' Koch Industries reportedly fund the American Legislative Exchange Council.) Bloggers Perdido Street School and Big Education Ape have also reported recently on Booker's ties to hedge-funders. Glen Ford at Black Agenda Report has given other quite informative links on Booker's financial sector and education privatizer personalities and institutions. Ford cites a hedge-funder Whitney Tilson (co-founder of Democrats for Education Reform) saying of Booker, "He'll be our second [black president]." Does Tilson mean financiers' president or America's president?
Aside from local issues of education and construction, there are these other issues that put Booker outside of the progressive consensus: his advocacy for a "middle ground" on gun control and his adamant attack on the Obama campaign, staunchly defending Bain Capital and private equity. Here's a video clip from that appearance on his chum Gregory's Meet the Press.
PLAYING LIBERAL GAME, FREE OF ECONOMIC LIBERAL COMMITMENTS
Matt Taylor at Salon:
“Cory’s definitely no Democrat but he plays the liberal game,” says Ronald Rice, the longtime Newark state senator whom Booker defeated in 2006. “His whole life is Wall Street and Silicon Valley. We picked that up when he first came here. He was always a part of the privatization movement.”
“We just had the worst financial decline in my lifetime, and there were really, really bad actors involved in it,” Taylor quoted him. But the Salon writer pointed out: "You’ll notice Booker didn’t include 'banks' on that list."
BOOKER'S HEDGE FUND CASH COWS
No wonder Congressman Pallone cited this as evidence that Booker is “too close to Wall Street.” Further evidence comes from Republic Report, which chronicles how cash in politics corrupts democracy, which detailed numerous rich relationships between Booker and his hedge-fund billionaire and other Wall Street friends ["Celebrity cash fueling Cory Booker's Senate dreams"], "Cory Booker's Political Career Guided by Top Wall St Donors to Romney's Super PAC," May 21, 2012.
Hedge-funder Lee Ainslie, who gave $100,000 to Mitt Romney's presidential bid, maxed out his donation to Booker. ("Booker’s Wall Street Fundraising Past – and Obama’s")
[Tiger Management LLC’s Julian] Robertson, the prominent Booker campaign supporter who helped finance a Newark Charter program on behalf of Booker, is a close ally to Mitt Romney.Notable donors donating the maximum $10,400 to the Booker campaign: Michael Bloomberg, Ivanka Trump, Mark Zuckerberg.
Other donors giving the maximum $10,400 include Maria Cuomo Cole, the daughter of New York’s former governor and sister of the current governor; Wal-Mart billionaire Christy Walton and writer/producer Jeffrey Abrams.Christy Walton, the Texan wife of Wal-Mart founder Sam Walton is another billionaire who gave $10,400. ("Cory Booker Cashing In On National Name Recognition," the Howell Patch.) According to that site and this one, Hollywood titans and the major soccer commissioner are among the millionaires dumping acres of cash into Booker's campaign bag. Note that these were part of $4.6 million in donations between April and June, mainly prior to Sen. Lautenberg's passing, and during a period when Booker planned to challenge Lautenberg from the right in 2014. Buzzfeed's Ruby Cramer report that Trump will hold a fundraiser on Jul 24 at her Park Avenue residence. The site also reports that the businesswoman and her husband, Jared Kushner, real estate holding company co-owner and 'New York Observer' owner, together gave more than $41,000 to Booker's senatorial campaign in the first quarter of 2013. The two real estate hiers' suggested donation for Wednesday's party is $5,200 per attendee.
Venture capitalist and Netscape founder Marc Andreessen and his wife, Laura Arrillaga-Andreessen, gave $10,400 each.
Cramer earlier reported in Buzzfeed, in "The Plan To Take Down Cory Booker: “America’s favorite mayor” may be favored to win the New Jersey Senate race, but his opponents are working overtime to stop his momentum" noted Booker's controversial education stances and how this relates to the support he has received campaign contributions over the years from donors the financial sector.
Rival candidates could also seize on Booker’s strained relationship with state teachers unions, as well as his support for charter schools, which are championed by the same hedge fund and Wall Street communities that have financed Booker for years.To boot, Booker has another opportunity to keep up his connections with his finance sector pals. He sits as the only elected official on the Board of Advisors of Democrats for Education Reform (DFER). The rest are wealthy one-percenters, or as Diane Ravitch says, “the billionaire boys club.” DFER is the group run by Joe Williams, who said that said that charter schools should use public funds to do lobbying work:
“That’s what makes us least comfortable,” said Steve Phillips, a progressive fundraiser whose political action committee has vowed to raise $1 to $2 million for Booker. “I understand the complexities of trying to do something for lower-income kids in a political bureaucracy, but if I could wave my magic wand, I wouldn’t want him as close to the hedge fund folks as he is.”
“I think charter schools should be paying advocacy organizations for their advocacy work out of their per pupil dollars. If you think of running a school as running a business, any sound business is going to allocate right off the bat a certain percentage of their funding towards lobbying, advocacy work.”
Taylor summed this up well, Booker packages a sales pitch of "progressivism that centers on financial capitalism and charity instead of social rights. Or as one Democratic operative who has worked in New Jersey put it, 'He’s a good politician for the Obama Democratic Party.'"
So, the Booker record and relationships are in clear sight. It is only now up to the real progressives, the economic liberals in the race --and their supporters-- to seize on these issues on the campaign hustings. UPDATE:
John Mooney in NJ Spotlight reported, June 25, "TEACHER CONTRACT DEAL IN NEWARK CAME WITH STRINGS ATTACHED: Facebook founder’s group required accountability, reserved right to take back money."
Note how there's a Facebook created educational policy foundation -- Shades of Stand for Children of Chicago (dubbed Stand on Children by activists)?
When Newark’s landmark teacher contract was agreed upon this winter, a key factor in pulling off the deal was that a big chunk of retroactive salaries would be paid with $31 million out of the $100 million gift made to the city’s schools by Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg.[Ed.: the Education Law Center was founded in 1993 to pursue the Campaign for Fiscal Equity case in New York City.]
Now, documents released by the district show the trade-offs and conditions the school district chose to accept in its agreement with the Zuckerberg-funded Foundation for Newark’s Future.
According to a copy of the December 2012 grant agreement obtained by the Education Law Center through an Open Public Records Act request, the district and FNF agreed that the district would have to account for how the money was spent well into the future.
In one of the more notable provisions, FNF also reserved the right to “suspend payments” if current school-district leadership was replaced by individuals FNF didn’t support. The provision specifically named positions now held by Superintendent Cami Anderson, state Education Commissioner Chris Cerf and Paymon Rouhanifard, the district’s chief strategy officer.Read the rest of the story, TEACHER CONTRACT DEAL IN NEWARK CAME WITH STRINGS ATTACHED and visit the site for more links (namely, Zuckerberg's Foundation for Newark's Future, FNF's Grant agreement with Newark State-opearted School district). Note how Newark citizens lost control of their educational process to the state, yet a private individual from outside New Jersey is able to dictate policy terms upon the city.
“FNF reserves the right to suspend payments under this agreement or any other grant until it, in its sole discretion, is satisfied that the successor of any key personnel has comparable quality and commitment and is likely to be effective,” read the document released.
Given the bulk of the retroactive payments have already been disbursed, how much this provision will play is uncertain. The first disbursement of 90 percent of the $31 million has been paid, officials said.
The agreement also only briefly mentions the additional $18 million that FNF agreed to provide for the more notable piece of the new labor contract -- the state’s first large-scale performance bonuses for teachers.
But the leverage built into the agreement has nonetheless sparked complaints by some critical of the school district’s management under the Christie administration -- and Anderson, in particular. Some of them say it’s another example of a private group influencing public policy.
Antoinette Baskerville-Richardson, chair of the district’s advisory board, which has seeking to regain local control of the district, said the board was never apprised of the agreement and that she saw it only after the ELC’s OPRA request.
“I found a number of things questionable and in some cases extremely disturbing,” she said yesterday. “This gives an unprecedented amount of leverage to an independent organization. That’s the most egregious thing to me.”
Baskerville-Richardson was also critical of provisions that had Anderson making more regular reports to the foundation than to the local board. “It seems unethical to me that this group has information when the local board doesn’t,” she said.
David Sciarra, executive director of the ELC, the Newark-based advocacy group, added: “This is another example of a foundation seeking to promote preferred education reforms by giving money to state and local education agencies, without any public disclosure.
“These secret transactions erode public confidence in our public schools and the state education department,” he wrote in an email. “We need new laws to rein in this practice.”
Efforts to reach Anderson and officers of the foundation were unsuccessful yesterday. The agreement was crafted under FNF’s former executive director Greg Taylor, who left the post this spring.
Also, see JerseyJazzman blog for an important post on how the Newark Teachers Union is sabotaging itself with its support for the "Teachers Village" project, "How the Newark Teachers Union Shot Itself In the Foot." UPDATE #2: Lois Weiner and some other New Jersey editors get to the core of teaching issues in this op-ed better than do brothers-at-heart Christie or Booker:
When teachers reach kids whose families are drowning in social and economic problems, we are like emergency room doctors. There’s no either/or here. We need to recruit, educate, and support good teachers AND tackle the social crises outside school walls that are undercut learning.