Are People Hating On Cory Booker Just As He’s Poised To Take A Senate Seat?

August 14, 2013  |  

Newark Mayor Cory Booker rather easily won the special Democratic primary that took place in New Jersey yesterday, as the state prepares for a special election on October 16 to replace longtime Senator Frank Lautenberg who died recently. Booker took about 60 percent of the ballots in the four-person field. With the exception of a now-deleted offensive tweet from Republican candidate Steve Lonegan, Booker rode a wave of popularity to last night’s vote. Lonegan is trailing Booker in the polls today, according to CNN, 29 percent to 54 percent.

But in the latter stages of the primary race, greater negativity has started to seep into the media coverage. A good chunk of it has to do with money. As The New York Times reports, the mayor has a stake in the troubled video-based website Waywire valued between $1 million and $5 million. “That is, at best, strange,” says The Daily Beast. “As mayor, Booker is paid about the same as a member of Congress, and one can imagine the outcry if a sitting congressman used his connections to lure investors into a corporate venture that made him an instant millionaire. Indeed, it would be illegal for a congressman to do so, and while it may not be illegal for a Newark mayor, the whole thing still stinks.”

He has said he will give up his stake in the company if he becomes senator, and the company will be forbidden from lobbying his office. It may not be much of an issue since visits to the site are low — fewer than 3,000 in June — and the company has had to make cuts to staff and office space. It sounds like Waywire is having trouble staying afloat at the moment despite investment from people like Oprah Winfrey and Google’s Eric Schmidt. (The Beast takes Booker and Waywire to task for having the 15-year-old son of Jeff Zucker, president of CNN, on the board. He resigned last week.)

In other money news, as The Washington Post points out in this slideshow, Mayor Booker has made more than $1.3 million in speaking engagements since 2008, donated $619,000 to charity, paid $423,000 on that money, and kept $232,000 of it. And his campaign has raised $8.6 million and has spent $4.6 million, according to the Sunlight Foundation.

Still, the issue for The Daily Beast is whether he used powerful connections to make money. And it’s not just that site. The Atlantic Wire has a rundown of Booker’s critics, most vocally, Alex Pareene on Salon, who says Booker hasn’t proposed solutions to tackle the issues at the heart of what ails Newark and is using the Senate as a stepping stone to the White House.

“The anti-Booker sentiment has been brewing among liberals for some time. But it was less intense when Booker was less close to becoming one of 100 senators, instead of a Twitter celebrity and mayor of a city of 277,000,” writes The Atlantic Wire. (Separately but worth noting, Booker would only be the second African American in the Senate should he win in October. And the other Senator, Tim Scott from South Carolina, was appointed to his seat when Jim DeMint stepped down.)

Booker has faced critics for some time. They’ve accused him of being too interested in getting media attention, either through his 1.4 million Twitter followers (he would have the most in the Senate just behind John McCain from Arizona), or through his heroics, or his appearances.  “Yet Booker is the front-runner not necessarily because of his political accomplishments, but rather his remarkable ability to promote his public persona as a champion of the people. That, some fear, is exactly the problem with sending him to Congress,” writes The Week.

So the backlash has been in full effect for a while but it seems to be getting louder as this special election continues on. I’ll personally admit to a (very) soft spot for the mayor. (Very… very.) But it’s always a good idea to take a closer look at a candidate before they’re elected into office. The question is whether Booker can stand up to that scrutiny and whether he can live up to the promise. Despite the naysayers, a lot of people think he can.

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