Decades after urban riots destroyed whole neighborhoods in the city of Newark, it’s hard to imagine that this place I’ve always called home was once a hotbed of business, trade and the performing arts.
Crime is high. Unemployment is in the double digits. For most residents poverty is nothing less than a lifelong struggle. Few places in America represent the urban trauma of the 1960s more than Newark. Suburban flight, corruption and economic change brought on by loss of industry have gutted its core and helped fuel crime and riots in the streets. Today, Newark is sadly one of the most impoverished cities in the United States.
More troubling changes ahead?
While Newark has come to represent urban decay, it is perhaps now most synonymous with Cory Booker. His promise when he was elected mayor in 2006 was to rescue a city and restore hope to all residents looking for the first chance to flee it troubled confines. It can be argued that this was not done. With our governor concentrating most of his efforts on the Jersey shores, and our mayor focused on procuring an elected Senate seat, Newark will more than likely have to endure more changes yet again.
I am among the large numbers of Newarkers who have argued that throughout his tenure Booker proved to be a better at building his brand than leading real, on-the-ground change as mayor. His riveting speeches and PR exploits — rescuing a neighbor from an apartment fire, living on food stamps for a week, etc. — have enhanced his heroic reputation. But he has not demonstrated a strong interest in carrying out the kind of work it takes to transform an entire city, beyond the rebuilding of its downtown infrastructure.
Booker should definitely be applauded for the unprecedented attention and investment he has brought to Newark. There is little doubt, however, that the attention being paid to our downtown commerce district overshadows the attention that needs to be paid to the rest of the city. Parents and community leaders blame politicians; politicians blame our society. Who is really to blame will remain a debate for the ages. But it is clear to me that the citizens of Newark need to start taking responsibility for their own futures.
The future rests with Newarkers
Our outgoing mayor has cleaned up the city enough to give outsiders glimpses of a possible new age and renaissance. Now residents must start picking themselves up from the inside and thinking outside of the box.
As Booker himself said, “We are brick city. We are like bricks themselves. We are strong. We are resilient. We are enduring.”