Booker Says Federal ’Headwinds’ Imperil Cities Like Newark

Cory Booker, the Newark, New Jersey, mayor who is a Democratic candidate for U.S. Senate, said the “headwinds” of congressional politics thwart progress on crime, nutrition and education.

“We caught over the weekend some crews of kids sticking up people with guns,” Booker said at a Bloomberg View luncheon in Manhattan. Their enablers are “criminals who go to secondary markets -- gun shows -- and buy weapons.”

“When 14-year-olds can so easily get their hands on guns, that’s not something we’re going to stop on a local level,” he said. The U.S. Senate in April failed to pass a bill, written in response to the Newtown, Connecticut, school massacre, with a bipartisan amendment to expand background checks and include the collectors marketplace.

Crime in Newark through April was up 3 percent from the same period in 2012, largely because of an increase in robberies, as other violent offenses have declined. The mayor’s firing of 160 police officers as a result of budget cuts was followed by a 43 percent increase in shootings in the first six months of 2011. Shootings had fallen 46 percent during Booker’s first term, from 2006 to 2010.

Money Magnet

Booker, 44, is a year from the end of his second term leading Newark, where more than 25 percent of 278,000 residents live below federal poverty standards. A Yale-educated lawyer and former Rhodes scholar, Booker has drawn $1 billion in economic development, according to his office, and millions of dollars in philanthropy from hedge-fund founders including Bill Ackman and Leon Cooperman. Facebook Inc. co-founder Mark Zuckerberg has pledged $100 million for schools.

In the Aug. 13 special Democratic primary, Booker will face Frank Pallone and Rush Holt, who are congressmen, and Sheila Oliver from East Orange, speaker of the New Jersey Assembly. Republicans in the race are Steve Lonegan, the former mayor of Bogota who has run for Congress and New Jersey governor, and Alieta Eck, a physician with a practice in Somerset. The winners from each party will face off Oct. 16 in a Senate election.

The votes were scheduled by Governor Chris Christie, 50, a Republican seeking a second term, to choose a successor to Frank Lautenberg, a Democrat who was 89 when he died June 3 of complications related to viral pneumonia.

Cheaper Twinkies

Booker said he was frustrated by congressional standoffs such as the one involving the $939 billion agricultural policy bill, defeated 195-234 on June 20 as Republicans and Democrats squabbled over crop subsidies and food stamps.

“I can go through dozens of issues that we face, from the fact that my kids can go into a store and buy a Twinkie at a cheaper price than an apple, right?” he said.

A lack of progress on immigration reform also is affecting “some of the smartest people in my city right now” because they leave such schools as the New Jersey Institute of Technology and Rutgers University unable to participate in the business incubators and loan fund started by his administration.

“They can’t get a visa to create wealth-opportunity jobs,” he said.

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