Saturday, July 09, 2005

POV: Street Fight

I had seen an interesting episode of the POV series on PBS. It took place in Newark, New Jersey. A young upstart a freshman member of the city council there decided to run for mayor of Newark. He had an uphill battle.

He ran against an entrenched incumbent Mayor Sharpe James who pulled all the stops he could to defeat this young man Cory Booker. It goes from threatening business owners with closures, threatening churches with violations, and even threatening residents of public housing with eviction. The incumbent even gets nastier referring to Mr. Booker as a Jew, as not being black, as even a tool of the conservative right wing.

We see two sides of the story of Newark. Mayor James had engaged in building the city of Newark. There were new homes, businesses, even sports stadiums. As his administration pressed on there were charges of corruption. To be sure Mayor James had been in politics since he was 34. Mr. Booker is even younger at 32. This campaign for Mr. Booker is about Mayor James' policies regarding Newark's poorer residents.

He (Cory Booker) cites Newark's sky-high murder rate, a poverty level over 30%, and an astounding high school dropout rate of 60%. Booker suggests that it's time for a new generation to bring Newark's downtown "renaissance" to all the city's residents.
Mr. James has the support of Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson. One of the Booker campaign aids refer to Marion Barry from DC who despite getting caught with crack cocaine was re-elected mayor of Washington and even worse he is still able to return to power having defeated a city council incumbent. This aide explains that Mayor James is well known and liked by everybody, they know him but Cory Booker is an unknown brand. If only they knew of how Mayor James had been able to continue to retain power for so long having never lost an election.

In America, democracy has many unwritten rules but the basic one is key, whoever gets the most votes wins. Ethics also has unwritten rules but in this election ethics had been thrown out the window. The main thing about this episode is the generational divide.

My generation is far removed from the Civil Rights struggle. Indeed, I've never seen any of it and neither have other young guys who have been elected around the country. From Rep. Harold Ford Jr., Sen. Barack Obama, and even Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick. Indeed a lot of us have been the results of the Civil Rights struggle. Unfortunately there are leaders who have been in power since the Civil Rights struggle and are loathe to let go of power. They don't know how to step aside and will have a problem with someone trying to go up against them. And perhaps we're looking at the effect of urban style machine politics.

There are lots of issues and questions to be had here. I want to see more young people take on entrenched incumbents essentially to FIGHT THE POWER.


Anonymous said...

If you missed Street Fight on PBS, check out
for info on future screenings and DVDs.

Anonymous said...

Here in Mpls, we just experienced a city council race similar to Newark with the black on black race-baiting...check out
and features/2005/08/22_williamsb_council/

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