Newark: The First Domino? The Hard Right Tests Its National Black Strategy

by Glen Ford

In this May 2, 2002 article, which appeared in the second issue of the Black Commentator, co-founded by Glen Ford, the author continues the examination of the strange career of Corey Booker that began in April 2002's Fruit of the Poisoned Tree. This was published just before Newark's 2002 mayoral election.

Newark: The First Domino? The Hard Right Tests Its National Black Strategy

by Glen Ford

In a few days the voters of overwhelmingly Black and Hispanic Newark, New Jersey, will either blunt the Hard Right’s first serious drive for urban political power, in blackface, or be overwhelmed by it.  Cory Booker, the 32 year-old first term councilman whose short career embodies the betrayal of Black America’s historical sacrifices and dreams, is riding a wave of ultra-conservative cash and corporate media sponsorship.  If he defeats 16-year incumbent Sharpe James and seizes control of City Hall on May 14, the true victors will be the financiers of the Bradley and Walton foundations and their think tanks.  The Manhattan Institute is chief among them.

"Sharpe's entire campaign platform is to say I'm part of a right-wing conspiracy," Booker complained to his friendly local newspaper, the Star Ledger, May 1.   If only that were true.  In reality, it has been only recently that Booker’s shameless bid to establish a rightwing political base in a majority Black city has received any media exposure.  It has also been in recent weeks that Booker’s ties to the Hard Right became a focus of Sharpe James’ re-election efforts.

The four-term mayor’s early decision to mount a straightforward, run-on-the-record campaign is understandable.  No established Black, big city administration had ever faced a concerted effort by African America’s historical enemies to cultivate and lavish support on a Black, stealth opposition.  These are uncharted waters for both Mayor James and the Bradley Foundation.  The foundation is the master of the house in Milwaukee and bankroller of the Black Alliance for Educational Options, a pro-private school voucher outfit.  Its board includes Cory Booker and a sleazy cast of Republicans, professional rightwing propagandists, and political hustlers.

The Big Picture 

The Bradley Foundation has spent at least $365 million since 1985 to create and finance rightwing “movements” opposed to affirmative action, civil liberties and the entire historic Black political agenda.  Much of the organizational and public relations work is carried out by think tanks supported by Bradley, the Walton Family Foundation, the Olin Foundation, the Scaife Foundation, and the rest of the rich crowd that brought us Ronald Reagan’s “new ideas.”

This is where Cory Booker acquired both his ideas and national funding network.  The Right decided to expand upon its previous, limited Black Strategy of providing money and public relations support to obscure, conservative Black “intellectuals.”  Instead, they charged directly into intra-Black electoral politics, alien territory in which they had never scored a single success.  Booker, with his youth and Yale law degree, presented himself as the perfect package. 

Black folks love a success story.  They have fought for so long to see credentialed young members of the race rise upwards.  How were they to suspect that Booker is, as Harvard political science professor Martin Kilson describes him, a “Black Trojan Horse for the Republican right wing”?  (See Dr. Kilson’s analysis in the Guest Commentator section of this issue.)

The major media pretended to know nothing of Booker’s associations.  The evidence was everywhere on the public record as the Hard Right national organizations loudly championed him as a “New Black leader.” 

As recently as April 7, in a profile of the candidates, the Star Ledger’s Tom Moran ignored the ideological character of Booker’s support.  His keen interest was focused on Booker’s show business admirers:  “You've raised large sums of money from outside Newark, some from celeb­rities, such as Barbra Streisand. Why is that?”

The question and the answer were a total waste of space.  The same reporter handled Mayor James’ profile, which appeared in the April 14 issue.

Moran: “Your opponent has raised much of his money from outside Newark. He says there are no strings attached. What do you think?”

Sharpe James: “It would be totally irresponsible to suggest that an individual can receive $3 million from Arkansas, Colorado, Wall Street and renowned Republicans — people who don’t know Mr. Cory Booker personally, and don’t know the city of Newark — without expecting something in return.  Clearly, they want control of the city of Newark. They want contracts. They want business. They want favors.”

In this kind of thin political dialogue, the Hard Right wins.  Everybody takes money from businessmen.  All businessmen want contracts and favors.  That’s politics as usual, and the public knows it.  What’s newsworthy is the political coloration of the funding.  Booker’s ultra-conservative backers don’t covet contracts or the usual favors from Newark’s City Hall.  They want to use the city as a pulpit and laboratory for their right wing ideas and programs. The Bradley Foundation is attempting to do this in Milwaukee, but Milwaukee doesn’t have a Black majority.

Booker’s sugar daddies need a Black face mouthing their words, in a majority Black city.  They want a Black political platform from which to attack national African American leadership and destroy what’s left of the Democratic Party coalition.  Their front man is Cory Booker, and the urban issue with most financial backing is school vouchers.

This is anything but politics as usual.  The Sharpe James campaign did not realize what it was up against.

Booker’s Media Benefactors

The Star Ledger and the New York Times framed the mayoral race as a contest between an old guard politician and a young reformer.  This was precisely the spin the right wing’s public relations specialists hoped for.  Yes, Booker was awash in money, but the two papers had no interest in where it came from.  They were effectively acting as appendages of the Booker-Bradley campaign.

The Black Commentator has attempted to play a role in alerting Newark’s electorate and progressive forces, nationally, to the grave danger Booker’s Hard Right-inspired campaign represents.  Part of that role is confronting the corporate media.

Notification of our April 5 issue and its featured article, Fruit of the Poisoned Tree: The Hard Right’s Campaign to Capture Newark NJ, was sent to virtually the entire Star Ledger news department, and to the National Alliance of Black Journalists’ members working at the paper.  We knew the article had been widely read among the staff.  On April 16, we sent emails to writers and editors:

Dear Star Ledger staff members:

Perhaps we at The Black Commentator have missed some important elements

of your coverage of the current mayoral campaign.  Nowhere within your pages have we found even a hint of the massive support that far-right institutions and individuals have lavished on Cory Booker.  The Star Ledger has quite enough resources to connect Booker's campaign to the same circles and individuals that back private school vouchers and the entire universe of right-wing "movements."  You could follow the giant footprints.  You choose not to.

Even George F. Will's brazen March 17 incursion into Newark politics, interpreting the race to his national audience, failed to prompt you to examine the depth of affection for Booker among the institutional right-wing forces that Will represents.  It is as if the writers of the Star Ledger don't read.

Instead, you provide anecdotal tales of street level campaign excesses, all the while giving the impression that coerced city employees are the backbone of the Sharpe James re-election effort.  You are doing a better job of framing the story to Booker's advantage than his own camp could possibly manage to construct.

There are lies, and then there are lies of omission.  The Star Ledger is massively guilty of the latter category of lying.  The big story, the angle that any honest reporter would find irresistible, the aspect that elevates this local political battle to national significance, finds no expression in your paper.  Since when do the likes of George F. Will rally to the banner of any candidate in a Black-on-Black contest in a medium-sized city?  What is his crowd doing in this race?  How deep is their involvement?  What is Booker's relationship to these forces?

We emailed the five of you the link to The Black Commentator's piece, Fruit of the Poisoned Tree: The Hard Right's Plan to Capture Newark NJ.  We also know that a number of you read it.  You cannot plead ignorance.  The facts that served as the basis for the commentary are all available on the public record.  Clearly, the Star Ledger has decided to exclude these facts from its framing of the campaign.

You have every constitutional right to use your newspaper for whatever purposes you desire.  But you have squandered any claim to maintaining a journalistic distance from this story.  The only thing the Star Ledger has distanced itself from, is the truth….

The Black Commentator found Cory Booker's bizarre political connections worthy of national exposure.  The Star Ledger hides these facts from its readers.  You should be ashamed.

Sincerely,

Glen Ford, co-publisher

A reply arrived within hours.  City Editor David Goodwin wrote:

Mr. Ford:

Thank you for your prompt response and including me on your e-mail list.

I don't want to offer an official reply to your letter since it wasn't addressed to me. I am overseeing the newspaper's coverage of the Newark mayoral election. My staff and I read your story about Cory Booker with great interest and saw the cartoon.

Aspects of the points made in your story about Booker have appeared in our publication in bits and pieces. I'd like to know who wrote the piece and perhaps reach out to the writer.

This is an exciting election with lots of angles, twists and turns by the candidates. Our aim is to cover the election, the candidates and the issues along with other interested media outlets like the Black Commentator.

I look forward to talking to you soon. I've already bookmarked your site.

Regards,

David M. David Goodwin - City Editor

The Star-Ledger

 answered, immediately:

Dear Mr. Goodwin:

We appreciate your attention to our letter to your staff, and your bookmarking of the  site….

I researched and wrote the Cory Booker piece, and have scrupulously followed the Star Ledger's campaign coverage.  Please tell me where to find the "bits and pieces" of items relating to Booker's connections to the ultra-conservative Bradley Foundation and its recipient institutes and anti-affirmative action legal outfits.  You and your staff must be aware that Booker's national visibility is based on his support for private school vouchers, and that he is on the board of the Bradley-created Black Alliance for Educational Options, a group packed with Republicans and high-profile right-wingers.

I understand why Booker does not dwell on this aspect of his political rise while campaigning in the Black, brown and poor precincts of Newark.  But, if you and your staff know his history and connections, don't you have an obligation to question Booker about these ties, and to report the results to your readers?   Again, please direct me to such coverage.

I first became aware of Booker's strange allegiances through an October 2000 article in the New York Times.   The not-yet-candidate had just spoken to a luncheon of the Manhattan Institute, the notorious right-wing think tank.  Three decades of reporting experience told me that this was Booker's coming-out event.  The Manhattan Institute cultivates close ties with The New York Times.  Publicizing new right-wing talent is one of the institute's specialties.

But, you and your staff know this.  Reporters read the NYT, and should be familiar with the work of the Manhattan Institute.  At least, I assume this is true at the Star Ledger….

Your newspaper is the only local daily in Newark.  Please "reach out" to this writer and explain to me how Cory Booker's right-wing affiliations became scattered in "bits and pieces" in your coverage of the "angles, twists and turns" of the campaign.  There are only 27 days left before the currently uninformed voters make their choice.  That's just barely enough time to make up for past omissions.

I look forward to your reply.

There was no further communication from City Editor Goodwin.  We turned our attention to the New York Times:

To:  Andrew Jacobs and Steve Strumsky

Re:  Your uninformed coverage of Newark mayoral campaign

Your April 9 article, Newark Relives Day of Machine in Mayor's Race once again fails to note the most newsworthy aspect of the contest: Cory Booker's deep ties to ultra-conservative institutions.  Surely, this is big news in a Black-on-Black contest, yet you frame the story in terms of old-time bossism versus youthful reform.

By leaving out Booker's political ties, you commit grave journalistic sins of omission, creating a totally distorted picture.

So that you cannot plead ignorance in the future, here's a link to our piece in The Black Commentator, titled Fruit of the Poisoned Tree: The Hard Right's Plan to Capture Newark.  It is thoroughly researched.  All facts are part of the public record

http://www.blackcommentator.com/poisoned_tree.html

I can be reached at any time on my cell phone, listed below.

Best regards…

The paper’s Newark bureau responded almost immediately, and conducted a lengthy telephone interview with .  There seemed to be some prospect that Booker’s right-wing connections would finally be revealed in the newspaper that had covered his Manhattan Institute debut, two years before. 

Reluctant Reporters

On April 19, the Star Ledger for the first time linked Cory Booker’s name with the words, “conservative think tanks,” in a paraphrase of remarks by the head of the Newark Teachers Union.  Even this reluctant bow to the facts was turned into a backhanded slap:

“But the NTU endorsement [of Sharpe James] is more about the union’s dislike of Booker.  [Joseph] Del Grosso said Booker’s associations with conservative think tanks, which promote privatization and school vouchers, is a turnoff for Newark teachers.  Booker is a founding member of Excellent Education for Everyone, or E-Cubed, a group that promotes school vouchers.”

Printed versions of the  story, including a flyer headlined “Cory Booker Fronts for the Enemy,” a brief outline of the candidate’s allegiances, were circulated throughout Newark neighborhoods by community activists.

Community activists also reported that members of the City Council, which is unanimously opposed to their colleague Booker’s bid, had gathered to pore over copies of the  article.  In New Jersey’s largest city, at the height of the most hard-fought political campaign in16 years, there was no other documentation that one of the candidate’s was in league with Black people’s most dangerous and powerful foes.

This void, by itself, shows just how vulnerable African Americans are to the Hard Right’s fielding of a heavily financed Black proxy.  It will be up to the people to expose these traitorous candidates, wherever they pop up.  The major media will not provide the ammunition.

Ms. Maria Johnson, the granddaughter of a prominent minister and Newark homeowner, made available to  a letter written by Harvard’s Dr. Martin Kilson to his friend Lee Daniels, publications director at the National Urban League.  The letter warns of the “ominous” threat posed by the Booker campaign.  Kilson said Booker was taking advantage of a “leadership vacuum because Black community minded activist professionals feel that they have no-place-to-go.”

The Kilson letter and the  article, along with Al Sharpton’s endorsement of Mayor James, became part of a mass mailing to voters organized by a local religious group not directly connected to the James campaign.

“The people I know are not those people that Dr. Kilson refers to,” said Ms. Johnson.  “We don’t see a ‘vacuum.’  We are professionals and value the experience that our elders put on the table.”

 “We have to stand together and understand the gravity of the situation.  It’s not just about our city.  This could be the first of the dominos to fall.  That’s my worry, that we could lose our city.”  She acknowledged that many younger Blacks are enthralled with Booker, a trend noted in the polls.

Booker’s Ties and  Make the Front Page of the New York Times

Finally, with only three weeks to go in the campaign, The New York Times became the first major media publication to provide space for a critique of Booker’s political associations.  The April 24 profile of Booker, written by Andrew Jacobs, appeared on page 1 under the headline, Youth, Money and Ambition Fuel Rival to Newark Mayor.

“Glen Ford, a journalist from Jersey City who is the co-publisher of a Web site called Black Commentator, says Mr. Booker is allied with conservatives seeking to dismantle public education, destroy affirmative action and gain an urban foothold for their views. He points to a speech Mr. Booker gave to the conservative Manhattan Institute two years ago and a recent column by the conservative writer George F. Will that ridiculed Mr. James and lionized Mr. Booker. "He's totally cynical, careerist and mercenary," Mr. Ford said. "They're backing him so they can claim a black elected official from a black city."

The article quoted Sharpe James, who inched closer to describing Booker as a pawn.

"He's all smoke and mirrors," said Mr. James, who often uses words like "fraud" and "phony" to describe his rival. "These wealthy businessmen are investing in an opportunity to take over Newark."

The paragraphs represented a mere drizzle in the information drought.  Indeed, the following Sunday the New York Times Magazine featured a long, fawning and weird article, written by a senior editor at the journal Foreign Affairs, that can be summed up in one sentence:  Cory Booker is good for the Jews.  This use of theTimes pages should be of special concern to Jews.

The right-wing genie, however, was out of the bottle.  The non-partisan web sitewww.NewarkVotes.com now includes references to Booker’s ultra-conservative connections:

Mayor Sharpe James, his campaign, and some supporters have publicly stated the position that Councilman Cory Booker is really a Republican running with secret right-wing backers based outside the city. Evidence cited for this claim includes Booker's support of school vouchers, his fundraising ties outside Newark, and support of his campaign by conservatives like columnist George Will.

The James camp was becoming more aggressive. More importantly, James stopped using the language of politics as usual. The local newspaper could no longer frame the issues as it wished. On May 1, the Star Ledger provided this account of a confrontation between the candidates at a public forum:

"You are a closet Republican for vouchers and you refuse to admit who you are," James said. Booker accused James of getting most of his campaign contributions from slumlords and people who get rich at the city's expense.

At one point, James whispered to his aides and they returned with two large signs and placed them behind Booker as he addressed the crowd. One said that Booker was a Republican while the other said he supports vouchers.

It came as no surprise that both the New York Times and the Star Ledger later editorially endorsed Cory Booker for Mayor. They had been doing just that from the very beginning.

At the time of this writing, polls show Booker slightly ahead, with Hispanic and white voters leaning or lurching, respectively, in his direction—emphasizing the urgency that he be continuously indicted as a soldier in someone else’s army.

Booker money is flooding the streets, with reports of kids making up to $200 a day handing out campaign literature.  The Hard Right’s candidate had $500,000 available for a final blitz, roughly the amount he is outspending Mayor James.  It is becoming ever clearer to a grossly misinformed population that the Booker campaign is not a local phenomenon. Said activist Maria Johnson, “They know that a 32 year old running against a 16-year incumbent isn’t supposed to have all that money.  They smell a rat.”

Black Trojan Horse Alert

No matter what happens in Newark on May 14—a Booker victory or a close loss—heavily Black cities across the nation should expect an assault for which they are ill prepared.  Ultra-conservatives have made an historic decision to invest all the money it takes to plant their flag in our midst.  Using these unfortunate cities, they plan to create the appearance of an alternative Black politics of the Right.  Booker’s showing so far has already given them all the encouragement they need.  They have sensed our confusion.

The school voucher issue is their wedge into the Black community.  Candidates like Cory Booker will likely come from that direction.  Well-funded machinery is already in place, in the form of Booker’s Black Alliance for Educational Options, headquartered in Milwaukee under Bradley Foundation supplicant Howard Fuller, who runs a school for pro-voucher minority cadre.  (See our previous article.)

But treachery can come from any quarter, when the money is right—and it is. Cory Booker raised $3 million to Sharpe James’ $2.5 million, and James is the most important Black Democrat in a Democrat-controlled state, endorsed by virtually every cog in the party’s machinery and supportive coalitions. 

The Black Commentator volunteers its services in a national Black Trojan Horse watch.  Alert us if you believe they are on the make in your area.

The Hard Right is hiring on an equal opportunity basis these days, big time players in the Black-on-Black political game.

Prof. Martin Kilson’s insightful letter to Lee Daniels, of the National Urban. League.

http://www.blackcommentator.com/harvard.html

For research and links on Cory Booker’s ties to the Hard Right

http://www.blackcommentator.com/poisoned_tree.html