After murders, Booker and Rice come together

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The anger doesn’t die.

Blown into the same foxhole this week, old foes Sen. Ronald Rice and Mayor Cory Booker resolved to fight crime side-by-side.

In the aftermath of execution-style killings in Newark that left three young people dead on Saturday, and two additional killings on Sunday and Tuesday, Rice went to Trenton today with Booker’s good graces to huddle with state Attorney General Anne Milgram.

"The reality is that crises forge relationships," said Booker in Vailsburg Park as he helped register people for jobs in the stricken West Ward. "At the end of the day the two of us love Newark, and we’re partnering more. Our relationship is better now than ever before."

"He (the mayor) just called me," said Rice, emerging earlier in the day from the session with Milgram in his Statehouse office, where the senator said he urged the Attorney General to implement measures contained in the Gang Land Security Task Force.

"One of the problems we’re having fighting the gangs is intelligence, and intelligence should be a strong element in law enforcement," said Rice. "I’m very encouraged by the new attorney general. She’s committed to helping address the gangs problem."

Booker demolished Rice in their mayoral contest a year ago, but stamping out the wiry old Newark operator proved too much for Team Booker, and Rice won re-election to the state Senate in June.

They are classic Newark adversaries, these two African-American politicians separated by a generation.

Schooled on the city’s streets in the 1960s and 1970s, Rice is a heartthrob of the old anti-establishment forces of those decades who today laughs at his golf-playing colleagues in the state legislature, and who makes it a point to head for the exit ramp as soon as he sees the word "corporate." With his suburban background, Yale pedigree and big money backing, Booker epitomizes the young cross-over star.

But they were forced out of those stereotypes on Tuesday evening, when Booker and Rice found themselves sharing a stage at Valesburg Middle School in the West Ward, facing a crowd of discouraged Newarkers, some of whom said they were too depressed to go to a free National Night Out baseball game at Bears Stadium later that night.

"Oh, sure, we shook hands," said Rice. "That’s all we do is shake hands. He’s always cordial."

This time it was different.

"Finally," said Booker.

On this night the Yale man and the street operator were angry together, not at each other – and each in his own way.

There was Booker in the West Ward where the murders occurred, outside the Newark WorkForce RV, talking to residents as they filled out forms on a stifling summer evening.

"Brick by brick we’re going to build something positive," said the mayor. "In the last year, the Newark companies we have worked with have gone from hiring 7% of their work force from within Newark to over 30%."

Standing beside Booker was Rodney Bruton, executive director of the Newark Investment Workforce Board, who said the administration has been able to place 125 Newarkers in jobs in the last four weeks.

"My job is to beat the pavement and cultivate relationships with employers," said Bruton.

And there was Rice, down in Trenton, telling Milgram to please take advantage of that portion of the Gang Land Security Task Force law he authored that enables her office to partner with the Department of Labor.

"I have a right to be angry," said Rice. "I’ve got five bodies in five days. And I have to say my greatest anger and frustration is with state government. It’s not just criminal justice we need; we need that too, of course – but it’s support for labor. We need the Department of Labor to work with the unions and the AG’s Office and the city to create more jobs."

News of the fifth murder of the week in the West Ward on Tuesday night prompted Rice to call his son, Councilman Ron Rice, Jr., who represents the west, who wearily told his father on the other end of the cell-phone that he was already at the scene of the crime.

An ally of Booker’s but also a critic of the mayor’s, the younger Rice today defended the administration against "Recall Booker" activists who insist on making a connection between the murders and the administration’s first-year performance.

"It’s irresponsible to use these crimes to go after the administration," said Rice, Jr. "We don’t need naysayers to confront this crisis. I need mentors. I need coaches. I need community builders. That’s the kind of support we need. ‘Roll up your sleeves, West Ward.’ That’s what I’m calling for."

Standing at his side Wednesday were his father, and the mayor.

After murders, Booker and Rice come together