Sorry, fellow Democrats: Cory Booker is overrated

The real disappointments began in his second term—Booker had been reelected after outspending his opponent 20 to 1—when the “Booker Team,” which arrived with him in 2006, lost control of the city council. Then there were crime waves and police layoffs. That November, 167 officers were let go in the largest reduction since 1978 after Booker’s unsuccessful union negotiations. The dispute worsened because of a hole in the budget—a hole created by Booker’s failure to pass a bond-selling plan.

It seemed that motivational maxims did not make a legislative majority, and Booker’s refusal to get involved in nitty-gritty horse-trading doomed his crime-control agenda. Last year, 429 people were shot in Newark, down from 502 in Booker’s first year, but far from the “national standard for urban transformation” to which he aspires.

Booker’s leadership style has seen its most disastrous effects in the mayor’s warm relationship with Chris Christie. When the Republican unseated Jon Corzine in 2009, state Democrats expected Booker to step up as their new champion—to exchange his rising-star status for standard-bearer. But, even as Christie emerged as a partisan sensation, Booker chose to bolster his holier-than-thou anti-politics brand. Not only did he work with the Republican; he used his high profile to undercut his fellow Democrats. The most egregious incident came early in Christie’s term, as the governor pushed a constitutional amendment limiting property taxes, forcing municipalities to downsize. On the day that no-name Democratic leaders in the state legislature rolled out their alternative, Booker joined Christie at a Newark press conference with a banner blaring, “property tax relief now,” and Christie blasting “professional politicians in Trenton.” The mayor endorsed Christie’s constitutional amendment without even informing the city council. It was the beginning of a political pacifism that has endured through three years of Christie’s siege of state government.