(The Root) — With approximately 450 days left as mayor, Newark, N.J.'s Cory Booker must use his charisma to charm all of New Jersey if he indeed runs for Senate. But during Tuesday's media breakfast for black journalists, it was clear that his first order of business is to make Newark an example of his political acumen and economic savvy.
Booker told The Root that his mayoral focus for the rest of his term will be "crime fighting, hiring police and enacting strategies that are more collaborative with the community, including an effective police-civilian review board driven by the community." He added, "Economic development is booming, and we're about to do another $1.5 billion of development around the city. I want to usher in an efficient budget, where not only is it balanced but the biggest challenge will be where to invest the increased tax revenues coming in."
Booker said that as the population grows, much of the city's increased revenue has been used to build supermarkets, affordable housing and other improvements outside of the downtown area. Still, as his social networking presence and heroic deeds raise the profile and popularity of Newark, the FBI listed it as 2012's 20th-most-dangerous city in America.
"I don't know how they compile those statistics," he said. "We're down 27 percent on shootings, 17 percent down on murders, and auto theft is down."
Elsewhere, according to city crime statistics, carjacking — the city's unofficial claim to fame, thanks to the film New Jersey Drive and mid-1990s crime rates — rose between 2010 and 2011. Statistics for 2012 have yet to be released. Still, the man who calls Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg a friend has convinced big business to make his downtown home.
"We attracted Panasonic, Manischewitz and Audible.com to move their headquarters here by showing them crime stats. And they saw that regions of our city are just as safe as others," he said. "The problem with Newark is, you have about 8 square miles that are responsible for 80 percent of our shootings, and they give our city a bad name."
Although Booker has filed paperwork with the Federal Election Committee that allows him to raise funds for a Senate campaign, he said that he won't make an official announcement about a bid until after his state's gubernatorial race. He counts Republican Gov. Chris Christie as a buddy, but he's supporting Christie's opponent, state Sen. Barbara Buono.
As one journalist asked during Tuesday's press breakfast, aren't Christie's high approval numbers a concern if Booker indeed runs for Senate? Will voters swayed by Christie be more likely to support a Republican candidate in 2014?
"His numbers … are a recent trend, and the governor has been ascending post-[Hurricane] Sandy, even in Newark," Booker said. "For me, the problem with politics is it gets distracted with the personalities, not the policies, of candidates. The governor is a legitimate friend of mine … but if you're an inner-city person, I ask you to look at issues.
"When I line up the issues — and there are some things Chris Christie and I agree [on] — but when I line them all up … I see the struggles of poor working people in my city … Christie promised he wouldn't raise taxes, but he cut [the New Jersey Earned] Income Tax Credit, so they're paying more taxes," he continued. "I believe in the 14th Amendment and equality under the law, and the law of New Jersey discriminates against gays and lesbians; Chris Christie is standing against marriage equality. I believe access to health care for women actually lowers costs in the long run; Chris Christie's cut Planned Parenthood. I'm campaigning hard for Barbara Buono, and I'm hoping that African-American voters will do the same thing."
By creating a fresh Newark, Booker might secure success in his post-mayoral political career.
"I have about 450 days left as mayor of Newark," Booker told the audience. "New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg sent me a clock that counts down the days, hours and seconds with a nice note saying, 'Don't count the days; make every one count.' "
Hillary Crosley is The Root's New York bureau chief. Follow her on Twitter.