In police force-depleted Newark, Booker doggedly pursues education agenda

NEWARK – Mayor Cory Booker continued his education improvement drive today at the Ironbound Catholic Academy as he helped open the neighborhood’s first Early Head Start (EHS) Program with U.S. Sen. Bob Menendez (D-Hoboken) and the Ironbound Community Corporation.

Staggering out of last year’s budget debacle, Booker’s two-fold agenda was public safety and education. The former focus took a hit when the mayor failed to reach an agreement with the police union and agonizingly had to cut 167 uniformed officers to balance the city budget.

There have been 30 murders since City Hall made those cuts last year as Booker and his administration struggle to control violent crime. Eleven murders in Brick City in the New Year. Even the Ironbound has felt the blunt impact of murder, including four in 2011.

But Facebook maven Mark Zuckerberg’s $100 million donation to the city for education and the similar education philosophies espoused by the mayor and Gov. Chris Christie (pro charter schools, pro vouchers, pro public and private schools and other reforms), provide what Booker allies see as the prime platform on which Booker can keep his chin above the swamp and keep the Booker kleig lights intact.  

“You cannot build a great America if you do not focus on those years zero to five,” the mayor told a crowd at the school here this morning with the announcement of the federal-private partnership. “Those are the years we must focus on. Unless you get those early years right, you’re never going to achieve your boldest dream. 

“You cannot stand tall if you have feet of clay,” he added.

Then the man who would be the Democrats’ statewide darling if only he could define himself as an alternative to a governor who holds the purse strings to Newark made a plea in the direction of state budgeting that last year sapped him of millions. 

“In this era of budget cuts – understandly there need to be budget cuts – but we must make sure when we’re cutting things, we don’t cut off the blood supply,” Booker said. “This is the battle from the federal level, to the state level, to the city level.”

An appreciative crowd welcomed both Booker, Menendez and Assemblyman Albert Coutinho (D-Newark).

“There are many people here who still believe in your efforts to reform our educational system,” ICC Executive Director Joseph Della Fave told Booker.

Considering the federal context of Head Start, the mayor kept much of the spotlight on Menendez, vowing over the comign year to remind residents of how much of a “warrior for justice” the senator is for the city, in Booker’s words.

“He’s looking at his budget and thinking, ‘If it could only melt naturally, it would cost a lot less,'” said Menendez, referring to the mayor’s double barrel woes of budget and weather.

The senator was also thinking about the national budget, but his words reverberated locally – just as Booker invoked the state budget in his remarks.

“What we are celebrating here will be a challenge,” said Menendez, who’s heading back to Washington, D.C. and work on the budget later today. “I know that as a nation we are going to make some significant cuts, but there are ways to make cuts that don’t undermine our future and our growth.”

In police force-depleted Newark, Booker doggedly pursues education agenda