Paul Mulshine has an article in today’s WSJ, A New Arc: A botched city on the cusp of a renaissance. Newark, which is on a prime location, is one of the most blighted places in our country. And, until this week, it was doomed to remain that way.
So why don’t builders take advantage of this prime location? “Newark has a notorious reputation in the state of New Jersey for the length of time it takes to get certificates of code compliance or certificates of occupancy for these buildings,” Mr. Booker said. One woman had to wait eight months to get approval to open a business, he noted. Meanwhile, one builder found it impossible to get his paperwork approved–even though the work he was doing was for the city housing authority. The guy then hired a “facilitator” to move the project along, but he still got nowhere. The really frightening part, said Mr. Booker, was that the facilitator was the son of the mayor.
That mayor was Sharpe James. In his 20 years of running Newark, Mr. James managed to accumulate a Rolls-Royce, several houses and a yacht. Throughout that time, he openly opposed gentrification. He didn’t want newcomers moving to the city. With good reason: They would have voted him out.
When Mr. Booker first challenged Mr. James for the mayoralty in 2002, Mr. James survived only by running what was almost certainly the dirtiest campaign of the century. He accused Mr. Booker of “collaborating with the Jews to take over Newark” and even went so far as to say of Mr. Booker on TV, “He’s Jewish.” He isn’t. He isn’t white, either. But Mr. James accused him of that as well.
The tactics won Mr. James enough of a margin in the housing projects and among city workers to beat Mr. Booker. Meanwhile the state’s Democratic establishment turned a blind eye to the race-baiting and anti-Semitism. The policy of the political class toward Newark, even in Republican administrations, has been to throw pork-barrel projects at it.
Mr. James looked like he was on a roll. But then he pulled out of this year’s mayoral race at the last minute. His reason remains a subject of speculation to those who follow New Jersey politics.
“There were lots of mayors like James who said, ‘I’d rather keep my power base than build my city,'” says Mr. Florida. “Jane Jacobs told me the problem is that these cities are run by squelchers.” By that she meant politicos who try to stamp out anything they can’t control. They love big public projects, but private enterprise makes them nervous. Meanwhile the professional planners on public payrolls are squelchers of a different sort. They keep trying to remake cities in their past image.
As Paul has mentioned in another article, mayor-elect Booker believes in private entrepeneurship as a way to bring the city back to life:
Booker told me Newark’s future hinges not on huge public investments but on small private investments.
New Jersey For Change posts,
A major change in Newark’s politics and management could have a profound impact, not only for the people of Newark, but for the entire state. An honest leader, with the will and tenacity to try new ideas and abandoned the failed programs of the last 35 years could send shockwaves across the state.