Newark Mayor Cory Booker, a Democrat who’s eying a U.S. Senate bid, said he’ll expand the police force this year as growing revenue frees New Jersey’s biggest city from reliance on emergency state aid.
“After years dating back to the 1990s, I declare this year Newark’s year of budgetary independence,” Booker, 43, said yesterday in his annual speech about the state of the city. “Our budget is now strong, our budget is now balanced, and, in fact, our revenues are growing and our tax base is expanding.”
Booker said he’ll also seek to set up a review board after misconduct complaints against police. “It is my vision that this citizen-lead police oversight panel will help us to make Newark a model for police-community trust,” he said in a prepared text of the speech. “With more police, we will double down on our efforts to improve police-community relations.”
Booker in 2010 fired more than 160 police officers, or 15 percent of the force, after Republican Governor Chris Christie cut local aid in his first budget. About one-fourth of Newark’s almost 278,000 residents live in poverty. City statistics show a 5 percent increase in crime this year through March 3 compared with a similar period a year ago.
The mayor said he’ll seek to add more than 50 new police officers this year, and more in 2014. Newark will end its past reliance on state aid as an expanding tax base lets the city increase the department’s roster, Booker said.
“We are becoming the economic engine of our state,” the mayor said before business and political leaders at the New Jersey Performing Arts Center in the city. “Based on reported data from the fourth quarter of 2012, Newark is currently the hottest market for construction” in New Jersey, he said. “We are leading growth. We are booming.”
Booker said his efforts to turn around the city since taking office in 2006 have resulted in efficiency gains and productivity improvements, allowing him to submit a budget that calls for less spending than in his first year in office.
“In 2013 Newark will break through and we as a municipal government will not have to apply for emergency state aid, distressed city state aid or transitional state aid,” Booker said. “We are done, done and done.”
The mayor said he has also sought to improve schools while taking steps to attract business and investment to Newark.
Those efforts bore fruit in the form of a new Marriott International Inc. hotel downtown, the first in more than 40 years, Booker said. he said a partnership that includes Newark native Shaquille O’Neal “will begin construction this year on Newark’s first new residential tower in decades.”
While crime has declined since 2006, Booker said more needs to be done. He said that by adding officers and creating a Civilian Police Review Board, he aims to restore the department’s standing in the community.
In May 2011, the U.S. Justice Department started a probe into allegations of discrimination, use of excessive force and improper treatment of suspects by Newark police. The American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey had requested the investigation, saying the force failed to follow up on misconduct claims.
Booker was the first to line up a bid for the U.S. Senate seat held by Frank Lautenberg, a Democrat. The mayor said Dec. 20 that he is exploring a run and used his speech yesterday to shore up his legacy in City Hall.
Lautenberg, who at 89 is the oldest member of the Senate, said last month that he won’t seek a sixth term in 2014, setting off a wide-open race.
Booker is a rising star in the national Democratic Party -- he was a speaker at the 2012 Democratic National Convention and helped lead its platform committee.
The mayor may have to contend with New Jersey Senate President Stephen Sweeney of West Deptford, the state’s highest-ranking Democratic lawmaker, and U.S. Representative Frank Pallone for his party’s nomination. Both have expressed interest in the post.
“With 481 days left in my term as mayor, and the demand for jobs in this city among the top needs of our residents, I will not stop, I will not yield,” Booker said of his efforts to attract business and investment to Newark. “We won’t just count the days -- we will make every day count.”
The 2014 Senate campaign will be the first for an open seat in the Garden State since 2002. No New Jersey Republicans have been elected to the chamber since Clifford Case in 1972, and none have said they might make a bid for the office since Lautenberg announced his plan to step down.