Father and son

Politically, the apple sometimes falls far from the tree.

To State Sen. Ron Rice, Sr. talk of a potential recall of Cory Booker isn’t just the noise of a few activists — it’s a city waking up to the notion that Booker has not affected positive change.

To Newark City Councilman Ron Rice, Jr., the state Senator’s son, the very fact that people openly protested Booker without fear of political retribution is a sign of progress.

A Tuesday City Council meeting in Newark was attended by an anti-Booker crowd of over 300 people, some wearing shirts that demanded the mayor’s recall. A good chunk of the protestors were current and former city hall employees, according to the Star-Ledger, many of whom Booker plans to lay off.

“His goal is not so much to work with the city. His goal is to get out of here,” said Rice, Sr. “It’s offensive, particularly when you start take jobs away.”

Rice, Sr. is Booker’s fiercest political opponent – an ally of former Mayor Sharpe James whose political fortunes waned with the James’s unceremonious retirement, but whose hand has been strengthened by his primary election victory over Essex County Freeholder Bilal Beasley, Booker’s chosen candidate. In criticizing the Newark Mayor, Rice sounded a theme that harkened back to James’s 2002 mayoral contest against Booker: that he was not born in Newark and does not understand its people. Rice said that Booker had spent too much time blaming the city’s woes on Sharpe James.

“You’ve got to deal with the hand that’s dealt,” he said.

Call it a conspiracy theory if you will, but Rice argues that Booker’s candidacy was funded and run by a national network of school voucher supporters, who put him up as Mayor to launch his political career and get him into Congress.

“The most interesting thing about Cory is that he didn’t come to Newark to make it home,” said Rice. “His goal is not so much to work with the city. His goal is to get out of here.”

Rice, Jr., finds himself caught between two worlds. He’s a political ally of Booker’s, but won’t disavow his father.

I do feel like the man in the middle,” said Rice, Jr, who treads carefully when talking politics with his father. In fact, the two are such busy politicians that much of the time they spend together is at political events. “We talk about it, but I’m very respectful. I don’t really throw my opinions at him so much as I listen to what he has to say…. I learn from him – I listen to him, and even when I disagree I just keep my mouth shut.”

But while Rice, Jr. tries to avoid face-to-face confrontation with Rice, Sr., he’s not afraid to challenge his father’s ideas in the public sphere. The recall effort against Booker is not a political groundswell, he said, but a group of activists who have always been against Booker.

“The simple fact that they feel the freedom to make these kinds of charges shows that there’s a new feeling in the air, because they never would have done that to Sharpe James,” said Rice, Jr. “The retribution that would have happened to their jobs – that would have been legendary.”

As for his father’s accusation that Booker is, in effect, a carpetbagger, Rice, Jr. said that the type of rhetoric does not belong in a city that he hopes is on the verge a major transformation for the better. In fact, Rice, Jr. sees it as his responsibility to bridge the gap between the Booker team and his father’s political allies — something that could bode well for his political future.

“The Citizens of Newark want problem solving,” said Rice, Jr. “They don’t want to go back to 2002 and rehash the street fight.”

Father and son