Cory Booker Blasts Partisanship

At a Newsweek/Daily Beast breakfast, the mayor of Newark talked about the president’s jobs speech, the perils of ideological divide, and his relationship with Gov. Chris Christie. By Christopher Dickey.

09.09.11 4:14 PM ET

Mayor Cory Booker of Newark, New Jersey, is a star in the Democratic Party, but these days he’s warning that “the parties” – and he’s talking about both the Democrats and the Republicans – “have hijacked our democracy.” The public is cynical, he said. The parties are more interested in partisanship than in solving the great problems facing the nation. And as a result, said Booker, good ideas in President Barack Obama’s jobs speech on Thursday night might amount to nothing more than “screaming into the wind.”

"I thought he was great," Booker said of Obama. "I thought he was right on on the important points. But the question is...will anything come of it? And it’s unfortunate that we have a political process right now that has created just cynicism, as I see, [that's] just pervasive in my generation, person after person just surrendering to the cynicism about our government."

“There is just too much of a damned crisis right now for partisanship,” Booker told a small breakfast meeting at the offices of Newsweek and The Daily Beast. “This isn’t World War II, but just imagine for a second during World War II if you had the kind of hyper-partisanship where our leaders couldn’t get things done,” said Booker. In Newark, unemployment is over 14 percent and people are confronted every day with poverty, with ignorance, with pain. “My generation won’t be called to storm beaches in Normandy,” said Booker, who is 42. “The great crisis of my generation is making this American economy work again.”

At the local and state level, where government is closer to the people and either delivers services or doesn’t, politicians may still find ways to cross that partisan divide to get things done. The governor of New Jersey, Chris Christie, is a Republican star. But Booker says he and Christie have found common ground on critical issues.

Even before Christie was elected in 2009, he joined Booker one night on a citizen patrol driving through some of the most dangerous corners of Newark. As they rode through those mean streets in the dark, they talked about how people would try to pit them against each other. Instead, then and there they found areas where they could agree: education, economic growth, and public safety.

“We stayed true to ourselves,” said Booker. Even though Booker campaigned for Christie’s Democratic opponent, “I would not get involved in this vicious, brutal, cruel politics that is pervasive in our nation where you want to demonize another persons,” he said.

“What I see with the governor right now is a guy who definitely plays politics,” said Booker. “But when it comes to things that he and I agree on, he’s willing to take hits to stand in the trenches with me and try to make real things happen.”