Cory Booker says Washington could use a small-town mayor with a big view

Can Booker shake things up in Washington?
Can Booker shake things up in Washington?
Image: Getty Images/John Moore
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Cory Booker has helped constituents shovel their driveways and offered them refuge from Hurricane Sandy. Now, the mayor of Newark, New Jersey—the state’s largest city—has his eye on higher office: he’s running for US Senate. In a talk last night, Booker explained why:

“I love mayors. You learn so much from mayors in this country… but this spirit needs to be in Washington,” he said.

His candidacy is a pledge to end the short-term, partisan-style politics. (His remarks come amid those drastic budget cuts, known as sequestration, that have been devastating for cities. Fittingly, the talk was titled, ”How Cities are Leading Us Out of the Great Recession.”)

“In Newark, we see a problem and want to seize it but we run up against the wall of state government, the wall of federal government that does not have the flexibility or doesn’t see problems even. At the federal level, it’s often a zero-sum game: If you win, I lose. At the local level, it’s just not local that. It’s win-win-win,” says Booker.

Other panelists took a similar view. As leaders of their fief, mayors are forced to have a perspective that often eludes politicians in DC. Where a senator may work on a gun bill and another will work on an education bill, a mayor sees the whole spectrum, says Jennifer Bradley a fellow at the Brookings Institution and co-author of the The Metropolitan Revolution. Mayors see that crime isn’t an isolated problem but is related to education and jobs. Leaders at this level are forced to deal with all of these issues, all at once, Bradley says.

Yet Booker has had his fair share of DC-style drama that comes when local politics play out on a global stage. He has been criticized for spending too much time politicking outside of Newark, perpetrating public stunts, and cultivating a celebrity persona. Known for being active on Twitter with more than 1 million followers and tweeting directly at constituents, Booker is often in headlines for acts of heroism or the time he spent a week on food stamps. But there’s no question he’s overhauled Newark, too: lower crime rates, lower rates of offenders repeating crimes, and more affordable public housing.

You can take Booker out of the city, but for Washington’s sake, here’s hoping you can’t take the city out of Booker.