Thursday, October 19, 2006

Campaign contributions - Ledger - Booker will ban employee contributions

Published in the Star-Ledger, Thursday, October 19, 2006

Booker to ban some contributions
Mayor says he will not accept campaign donations from city employees

Star-Ledger Staff

Newark Mayor Cory Booker said yesterday he will no longer ac cept campaign contributions from city employees for his future mayoral campaigns.

The self-imposed ban, possibly the first in the state, is aimed at erasing the long-standing perception in Newark that campaign cash leads to job security in City Hall. As a candidate, Booker criticized his predecessor, former Mayor Sharpe James for sending city employees invitations to his $500 fund-raisers.

"Never again will we have a situation where people think they have job security based upon how much they give to the executive office," Booker said yesterday at a news conference at the New Jersey Institute of Technology where he reviewed his first 100 days in office.

Booker said he plans to sign an executive order outlining the ban next week.

The order does not apply to city council campaigns. The mayor's spokeswoman Desiree Peterkin Bell said the mayor decided to sign an executive order so that it is legally binding.

"This is a very good step for ward," said Heather Taylor, a spokeswoman for the Citizens Campaign, a statewide group pushing for reforms in campaign fundraising laws. "You are seeing a new direction in Newark."

According to campaign filings, Booker received $226,856 in contributions from 245 employees during this year's race. That figure is a tiny fraction of the nearly $7 million he raised to win this May's election.

The ban is one of a package of ethical reforms that Booker touted in a 48-minute speech about his first three months in office. At the beginning of his tenure in July, Booker unveiled a packed agenda that included hiring a new police director, launching new departments, kicking off a "safe summer" initiative, passing a 2006 spending plan and hosting office hours for the public.

Next on his agenda, he said, is to go after companies who are not complying with affirmative action laws or paying payroll taxes.

Amina Baraka, a poet, activist and critic of Booker's, called his remarks hypocritical.

"He talks about going after big businesses, but he went after the people first," she said. "Now that he's raised the taxes 8 percent, he's going to tell us he's going to go after money in different areas?"

Earl Best, also known as the "Street Doctor," praised Booker for keeping a visible presence in the community so far. At the same time, he said the mayor needs to bring more smaller community groups into the fold.

"There should be more grassroots," Best said. "I see him begin ning to do that."

Overall Booker gave himself a "B or B-plus" for his performance in office, saying his administration accomplished many initiatives, but fell short on several key ones.

Chief among those was curbing the homicide rate, which is on pace to exceed last year's total of 97 killings. On Friday, two more people were discovered dead in their Willoughby Street home by their 6-year-old daughter.

"We have to put down this perception of Newark as a violent city," Booker said before a crowd of about 200 dignitaries and City Hall employees. "The murders in our city and the shootings in our city continue. We are not successful in that one area."

Booker said the administration is still also trying to negotiate a better deal for the city on the New Jersey Devils hockey arena, a project he has criticized repeatedly. Among other things, Booker said he is fighting to get more city residents and businesses involved in the building and operation of the arena, which is scheduled to be ready by next year's season.

Booker has previously hinted that the Continental Airlines Arena should close. Yesterday, he said the Newark arena should be the state's major arena.

"The two cannot sustain, I don't think, and it hurts our state," Booker said about having two are nas.

"The way out is to use that land (Continental Airlines Arena) which is valuable and centrally located for something other than an arena. We will have the modern arena if this goes forward and a more advanta geous position."

Staff writers Ted Sherman and Jeffery C. Mays contributed to this report.

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Plainfield resident since 1983. Retired as the city's Public Information Officer in 2006; prior to that Community Programs Coordinator for the Plainfield Public Library. Founding member and past president of: Faith, Bricks & Mortar; Residents Supporting Victorian Plainfield; and PCO (the outreach nonprofit of Grace Episcopal Church). Supporter of the Library, Symphony and Historic Society as well as other community groups, and active in Democratic politics.