Cory Booker, standard bearer of the new politics
Even before the ballots were cast Tuesday in Newark, N.J. home of the hottest mayoral race in the country the lasting result was clear: Cory Booker had already won.
In the end, 33-year-old Mr. Booker garnered 47 percent of the votes, losing to four-term incumbent Sharpe James after a bitter campaign. But in fact, Booker and his team have much to celebrate.
Half a year ago, Booker was just a brash young councilman; after Tuesday's vote, he's a major Democratic contender. Over the past few months, Booker has entered the national spotlight with a bang. He raised millions of dollars, assembled a skilled staff, played the media like a fiddle, and eloquently communicated a message that Newark deserves safer streets, more jobs, and better schools, and that he's the man who can deliver.
Even though he lost, he rallied a significant portion of Newark's population to his side without the advantages of incumbency in a city that has long been run as a personal fiefdom. It won't be long before Booker's name is on yard signs again.
Like many Generation X-ers, I watched the Newark mayoral race with interest, as did many young American expatriates on this side of the Atlantic. In the days before the election, I heard his name bounce around tables in Oxford dining halls, a Turkish cafe in London, and a Cambridge tapas restaurant. The consensus is that he is fast becoming the standard bearer for a new generation of American leaders.
Even while his contemporaries may disagree with some of his ideas, such as support for school vouchers, they embrace him for his approach. A workaholic schedule and gutsy political stunts such as camping out and fasting for 10 days in a successful bid to get the mayor to assign more police to a drug-dealer-infested housing project helped craft his image as a committed and creative leader.
One New Jersey native studying urban planning at the London School of Economics said recently: "Too many people think of New Jersey as just a place to live because you can't afford New York or Philly. Having an educated, articulate, and charismatic young person as mayor of Newark would do a lot to change the profile of the city and the state."
It's precisely because he's become a political mascot of sorts that Tuesday's results are less interesting than the phenomenon of Cory Booker. He has proved that a relative neophyte can mount a credible campaign against an old-guard incumbent. Booker's media-friendly stance enhanced his underdog image. Unlike his opponent, Booker and his team welcomed journalists into their humble headquarters (in an old plastic-bag factory dubbed the Bat Cave).