Are you still looking for the mystical sixth borough—that El Dorado of cheap rents, decent bagels and authentic street life? Well, you can officially forget Philadelphia, recently designated as a possible contender for borough No. 6. How about Newark? It’s closer to Manhattan than parts of Queens, and it costs only $1.50 on the PATH from 33rd Street or downtown.
Yes, Newark. It’s in play, now that one of affluent New York’s favorite politicians, Cory Booker, overwhelmingly won the city’s Mayoral election last night.
Mr. Booker, a 37-year-old lawyer, former Council member, college-football player and Rhodes Scholar, will take over the second-poorest city in the country next month. Sharpe James will depart after choosing to end his 20-year reign.
“It will be a new direction for the city,” said Joseph Marbach, a political scientist and the associate dean of Arts and Sciences at Seton Hall University in South Orange, N.J. “I think the administration is going to take a more conservative, business-friendly approach.”
That would be welcome news for Mr. Booker’s wealthy supporters, who also happen to be some of the richest investors in New York. Andrew Tisch, chairman of the executive committee of the Loews Corporation, held a fund-raiser for Mr. Booker at the Regency last year. Gayle King, best friend to the queen of daytime television, Oprah Winfrey, hosted an evening for him at the West Village workshop of Diane von Furstenberg. Former U.S. Senator Bill Bradley and Barbra Streisand have sung his praises.
The question now is whether Mr. Booker, who cites Mayor Michael Bloomberg as one of his political heroes, will be able to convince wealthy New Yorkers to invest in Newark with the same enthusiasm they showed for his campaign.
“Newark offers an incredible opportunity,” said Ravenel B. Curry III, a Park Avenue money manager and longtime supporter of Mr. Booker. “There are three interstate highways that run through it, commuter lines, Amtrak, one of the best airports, and it’s just a short distance from New York.” But for a long time, New Yorkers preferred to get their dose of Newark through Philip Roth’s fiction. Under Mr. James, the city saw a small revival in its downtown, but for the most part, Newark’s potential remained unrealized despite its many advantages.
Mr. James, who, like Mr. Booker, is a black Democrat, has called Mr. Booker everything from Republican to gay to white to Jewish. But facing Mr. Booker’s rising popularity, he bowed out of the race in March and essentially assured Mr. Booker’s victory by barely campaigning for his own former deputy, Ronald Rice. Ironically, in one of those inexplicable New Jersey curiosities, both Mr. James and Mr. Rice also are State Senators who represent Newark in the State Legislature. So the three of them will have to work together as colleagues.
While Mr. Booker’s rise to office has much to do with his vows to reform and develop the city, his growing fame didn’t hurt either. A documentary, Street Fight, about Mr. Booker’s 2002 mayoral bid, which he lost by just 3,500 votes, was nominated for an Oscar. That film was directed by Mr. Curry’s son Marshall. Mr. Curry’s other son, Boykin, has also made significant contributions to the Booker campaign.
“We’re all enthusiastic,” said Mr. Curry, who first met Mr. Booker over coffee at a friend’s house in Summit, N.J., eight years ago.
Boykin Curry, not surprisingly, echoed his father’s remarks. “There is so much potential” in Newark, he said from a restaurant near Mr. Booker’s victory party. “I think four years from now, Newark will be dramatically different.”
But will that enthusiasm translate into investment now that Mr. Booker runs City Hall?
“At least the opportunity for that kind of investment is going to present itself now,” said Mr. Marbach, who attributed Newark’s newfound potential to the Mayor-elect’s “ties to developers and those who have the potential to invest large sums of money.”
For a long time, though, those very ties seemed to keep Mr. Booker tethered to the image of meddling outsider. Newarkers, less than half of whom graduated high school, looked askance at his Ivy League polish, affluent upbringing and rich New York friends. The contrast between Mr. Booker and Mr. James was jarring. Mr. Booker went to Stanford, Oxford and Yale and has been told he will be the first black President since grade school. Mr. James, the ultimate iteration of a machine-style mayor, rode bicycles around City Hall and had biceps that spoke louder than words.
But Mr. Booker eventually overcame criticism that the son of I.B.M. executives who grew up in a mostly white suburb outside Newark had nothing in common with the city’s working-class black population. Late last year, leaflets were found sitting on a table in Mr. Booker’s South Ward headquarters that read “How Black Mayors Sell Our Cities to White Developers.” The vegetarian had learned that Newark was a politically carnivorous town.
But Mr. Booker represents a clear break with Mr. James’ style of governing.
“We’re almost looking at a new generation of African-American leaders starting to emerge,” said Mr. Marbach, who added that Mr. Booker could be placed in a category of rising black mainstream stars like Barack Obama. “He’s got the right kind of pedigree or background to make a possible run.”
While Mr. Booker is not quite ready yet to share a spot on the national Democratic stage with the likes of Hillary Clinton or Mr. Obama, he is a meteor on the New Jersey political landscape and immediately casts Senators Frank Lautenberg and Robert Menendez under his shadow.
“He’s an extraordinary person,” said the elder Mr. Curry, though he added: “He’s got his work cut out for him.”
What would surely help is a lot of investment and development from the Curry family and their wealthy New York friends. An address change or two wouldn’t hurt either.
“I like New York,” said the elder Mr. Curry. “I don’t think I’ll move.”