NYT Fawns over 'Charismatic,' 'Media-Savvy Star' Booker, Ignores Mayor's Record and Controversies

The New York Times’s Raymond Hernandez delivered New Jersey primary election results with a spin Tuesday night, offering a mushy profile of Newark Mayor Cory Booker, the state’s landslide winner in the Democratic primary for United States Senate. The report’s lead lauded Booker as a “charismatic and media-savvy star in the Democratic Party,” noting the mayor’s efforts to “remake a notoriously troubled city.”

Hernandez celebrated Booker as a nonpartisan figure arguing for a “pragmatic brand of politics, favoring practical solutions over ideology.” And what about Booker’s Republican opponent, former Bogota Mayor Steven Lonegan? Well, Lonegan merited a mere paragraph in the Times’s New Jersey election coverage [picture after the jump, courtesy of Chang W. Lee, New York Times]:

In the special general election in October, Mr. Booker will face Steven M. Lonegan, a former mayor of Bogota, N.J., and candidate for governor, who easily won the Republican primary on Tuesday. After his victory, Mr. Lonegan said in an interview that he planned to run a vigorous campaign against Mr. Booker that highlighted their deep ideological differences. “I intend to run a line-in-the-sand campaign between a conservative and an extreme liberal,” he said. “The differences could not be clearer.”

But Hernandez turned right back to Booker, touting the mayor’s fundraising and social media skills. The Times made sure to note that Booker had “more than a million Twitter followers” – apparently some qualification for public office these days.

Hernandez turned to Palisades Park native Juan Valdes for an assessment of Booker:

“You can actually see the changes” in Newark, [Valdes] said outside a polling place. “How he turned Newark, of all places, around to where it is, I figured he could do some good for the rest of us.”

But Newark hasn’t necessarily been better off with Booker. Just ask the New York Times, circa December 2012:

Taxes have risen more than 20 percent over the past three years [Booker assumed office in July 2006], even after the city laid off about 1,100 workers, including more than 160 police officers. Crime has risen, and unemployment is up. Schools remain under state control, and the city’s finances remain so troubled that it cannot borrow to fix its antiquated water system.

And Booker has been the subject of recent controversy over his fundraising efforts – not for any campaign, but for a technology startup he co-founded and failed to initially disclose in personal finance reports. Booker apparently used his “national profile” to tap wealthy donors for contributions to the private venture, which some argue represents a conflict of interest for the mayor.

But all these details seem inconvenient for the Times and their generous coverage of Booker, who seems well on his way to capturing the U.S. Senate seat vacated by the deceased Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.). Though Booker has a comfortable lead in the polls, you can be sure the New York Times will give him a leg up as the election approaches.

See the full article here, or below:


Booker Coasts in Primary; 'Make Me Your Senate,' He Tells New Jersey
By: Raymond Hernandez
Published: August 13, 2013

Cory A. Booker, the mayor of Newark, who rose to prominence with his efforts to remake a notoriously troubled city and then used that perch to build a national reputation as a charismatic and media-savvy star in the Democratic Party, easily won the Democratic nomination for United States Senate on Tuesday night.

Steven M. Lonegan, a former mayor of Bogota, N.J., who easily won the Republican primary, will face Mr. Booker in the special general election in October.

With 98 percent of the vote counted, Mr. Booker had won nearly 60 percent of the vote, far more than his nearest challenger, Representative Frank Pallone Jr., who had about 20 percent of the vote. Representative Rush D. Holt trailed with about 17 percent and the State Assembly speaker, Sheila Y. Oliver, had less than 5 percent.

Mr. Booker gave a victory speech to more than 300 supporters gathered at Championship Plaza in Newark that looked ahead to the general election. “Make me your senator, New Jersey,” he said, “and I will be unwavering in my focus on finding common ground. I will not be concerned with right or left but going forward.”

Mr. Booker is a heavy favorite to win the October general election in an overwhelmingly Democratic state that has not elected a Republican senator in four decades. If he does he will become the country’s only elected black senator.

In the special general election in October, Mr. Booker will face Steven M. Lonegan, a former mayor of Bogota, N.J., and candidate for governor, who easily won the Republican primary on Tuesday. After his victory, Mr. Lonegan said in an interview that he planned to run a vigorous campaign against Mr. Booker that highlighted their deep ideological differences. “I intend to run a line-in-the-sand campaign between a conservative and an extreme liberal,” he said. “The differences could not be clearer.”

The results ended an unusually fast 10-week primary contest to fill the Senate seat that became vacant with the death of Frank R. Lautenberg in June. The winner of the October general election will serve the remaining 17 months of the late senator’s term and will have to run for re-election in November 2014 to keep the seat.

Voter turnout, which was projected to be more than 300,000, was higher than expected for a primary election in the dead of summer.

Mr. Booker had publicly declared his intention to run for the Senate seat even before Mr. Lautenberg’s death. After Gov. Chris Christie announced the quick timetable to fill the vacant seat — a move the Republican made in part to avoid appearing on the same ballot as Mr. Booker in November, when he will be seeking re-election to a second term — the other Democrats announced that they were joining the race.

But from the start, Mr. Booker had significant political advantages: a name that is recognizable statewide, a formidable fund-raising operation, a knack for drawing news media attention and more than a million Twitter followers. In one measure of Mr. Booker’s star power, his campaign drew support from his prominent friends, including Oprah Winfrey, who hosted a fund-raiser for him.

Mr. Booker shored up his early lead in the polls by spending at least $5 million to date, compared to the combined $4 million spent by his two chief rivals, Mr. Pallone and Mr. Holt. (Ms. Oliver, who has feuded with Mr. Booker, spent only about $25,000 and campaigned little in the final days.)

Throughout the race, Mr. Booker’s three rivals — all serious political forces in New Jersey — struggled to shift the focus on their own qualifications, prompting increasingly direct attacks on Mr. Booker’s record and business interests, including his ownership stake in an Internet start-up that had been created with financial backing of his powerful friends while he was in office.

Mr. Booker’s campaign pushed back hard against the attacks, saying there was nothing improper about his financial dealings and noting that he had given much of his income to charity and used his media appearances to focus attention on Newark. As he campaigned, he portrayed what his opponents saw as a weakness — that he was insufficiently liberal on issues important to Democrats like gun control and unions — as a strength. He argued that his pragmatic brand of politics, favoring practical solutions over ideology, had enabled him to lift the fortunes of Newark, the state’s largest city.

His message seemed to register with voters. Juan Valdes, a 38-year-old Palisades Park resident who voted for Mr. Booker, said that the mayor’s record in Newark far outweighed any criticism his rivals had.

“You can actually see the changes” in Newark, he said outside a polling place. “How he turned Newark, of all places, around to where it is, I figured he could do some good for the rest of us.”

Mr. Booker’s political rise has been unconventional. After graduating from Yale Law School in 1997, he moved to Newark, where he lived in a housing project and became a community activist, making a successful bid for a City Council seat a year later. He positioned himself as an outsider, challenging the city’s political establishment. In 2002, he ran against Sharpe James, the powerful Newark mayor who had been dogged by scandal. Mr. Booker lost that race, but four years later won his second bid for the office and later a second term.

Mr. Booker’s public profile has always been much larger than would be expected for the mayor of a medium-size city. He is a regular on cable television shows, is in great demand on the speaking circuit and has long been mentioned as a possible presidential candidate. His ascension to the Senate would make him one of the most recognizable figures in a chamber known for its exclusivity.

Randy Leonard contributed reporting.

This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:

Correction: August 13, 2013

An earlier version of this article misstated the name of the location where Mr. Booker was to give his victory speech. It is Championship Plaza, not Champion Plaza.