Hard Right Cash Defeated in Black City - This Time
Ultra-Conservative Favorite Cory Booker Loses in Newark, New Jersey
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Black America dodged a bullet, May 14. The national ultra-conservative network, after committing resources that only billionaires can muster, failed in its first serious effort to intervene directly in intra-Black electoral politics. Their champion, 33-year old first term Newark Councilman Cory Booker, lost his bid to unseat 66-year old Mayor Sharpe James, 53% to 47%. But don't believe for a second that the enemy feels whipped. The opposite is true.
Conventional wisdom and the corporate media maintained all along that the Newark election was a local battle pitting youth against age, in which money played a large role. This shallow analysis contains just enough truth to mask the essential lessons of the campaign. In a practical sense, the conventional and corporate media line is a lie.
The Newark election was no local contest. Rather, it was a test of the Hard Right's new Black Strategy, applicable anywhere else in the country. Other Right-driven campaigns will follow, thoroughly transforming the way urban politics has been conducted for the last 30 years. The forces that brought us Reagan and two Bushs named George have the money, media and organizational resources to mount many Newark-type assaults on the African American body politic. They now also have the political will, and a dramatic near-success. From the Hard Right's standpoint, Newark was well worth the effort.
Money Comes in Many Forms
"I'm of the opinion that Mr. Booker will spend about $10 million on this election," Sharpe James was quoted as saying in the last days of the campaign. Actually, the latest official figures showed that Booker raised $2.8 million dollars to the mayor's $2.3 million, a fantastic feat for a Yale-educated upstart with no local roots. Booker finished the money race half a million dollars ahead of a four-term incumbent who was backed by the entire city council (except Booker), the party apparatus of a Democrat-controlled state, every union but the suburb-residing firefighters, and many of the corporations with a stake in the city.
However, Sharpe James' $10 million figure is not far off the mark. In addition to besting the mayor in cash, which Booker used to purchase great quantities of TV and radio advertising time and to field a $200,000 army of "volunteers" on election day, the challenger was championed by the entire New York-based corporate media. The free publicity, combined with relentless attacks against Sharpe James, was worth several times Booker's cash war chest. New York news outlets have not paid such attention to Newark since the 1967 riot. Even Kenneth Gibson's historic 1970 campaign, resulting in Newark becoming the first major American city to come under Black administration, received nowhere near 2002's intensity of coverage.
Any news professional worthy of the description understands that media unanimity on this scale is the result of skilled orchestration. Booker's youthful, telegenic persona doesn't even begin to explain the unprecedented, free print and electronic blitz-especially the rapt attention of the New York Times and the national newsweeklies.
Introductions to the Right (wing) People
The fingers that stroked the media's keys are the same ones that gave Cory Booker his coming out party, in October 2000, and facilitated Booker's next-day debut on the front page of the New York Times. The Manhattan Institute is a workshop of Hard Right propaganda. Its role in the ultra-conservative network's division of labor is manipulation of media, in the media capital of the world. The think tank is funded by the entire spectrum of reactionary philanthropy, most notably the Bradley Foundation, the primary moneybag for private school vouchers. Together, these outfits create "movements," publicize and credentialize "intellectuals" of the Right, and foster electoral candidacies. Booker's Manhattan Institute luncheon address was the culmination of a long process of vetting and grooming by the right wing network's talent scouts, as well as the eager recruit's active wooing of the most racist rich men in the country.
Booker knew precisely whose resources he would tap to seize City Hall. His courting of the Hard Right was anything but secret. Alarms should have gone off throughout the national African American political community. With some exceptions, progressive Blacks were blind and deaf to the threat. (See, How to Spot a Black Trojan Horse, in this issue.)
Foundations and their think tank offspring do not need to directly fund their political favorites. All that is necessary to start the cash flowing is the proper signal, one that is understood by the faithful. Booker's luncheon speech was just such an announcement by the Manhattan Institute and its benefactors. "Cory is alright," it shouted. "He's one of us."
As if with the flip of a switch, the ultra-conservative money machine started churning out Booker contributions from around the nation, from sources with absolutely no material interest in Newark. That's the way ideological fundraising is done. The only thing unusual about the process was the recipient: a young Black man who was vouched for as an up-and-coming New Black Leader, someone who could be trusted to keep the faith on private school vouchers and, presumably, the rest of the Hard Right's political agenda. Plus, he just might win, providing a voice and pulpit for propaganda deep in the heart of urban America.
George F. Will's syndicated howling served the same purpose. Keep the money flowing, he encouraged his Hard Right brethren. Send Booker your consultants. Don't worry about the tab.
Anyone who thought that Black and brown Newark was the intended audience for Will's March 17 column has no idea how money and politics work in the U.S. Will was sending a money message. The Hard Right invented this game. The process enthralls Booker, a smart, articulate lawyer with no loyalty whatsoever to his own people-the ultimate careerist.
Confusion in the Ranks
On Broad Street in Newark, Sharpe James' administration initially failed to understand the nature and extent of Booker's deepening connections. Not until the last month of the contest did the mayor aggressively point out Booker's associations, calling him "a closet Republican for vouchers," and tailoring his media messages, accordingly.
The first domino to fall is often the last to know. The next big city Black target will not have that excuse, nor will he or she necessarily possess the organizational advantages that allowed Sharpe James to overcome an all-out media and money assault.
In our April 5 and May 8 issues, exhaustively documented Booker's alliances with African America's historic foes. Printouts of our articles were widely circulated by the James campaign during the final weeks. We know we made a difference. However, unless Black leadership begins an intense discussion of the new electoral threat from the Right, Blacks will remain vulnerable to the enemy's institutional clout.
Cory Booker's career path among the arch-conservatives is already set. He didn't sound a bit worried when the final numbers came in. "We lost one skirmish tonight, but the battle continues," Booker told his friendly local newspaper. "I was called many creative names during this campaign. But let me tell the entire city and the nation that I have only begun to fight for the people."
We know which people he's talking about.
There are plenty of Cory Bookers out there. The Hard Right's coffers are full. Be prepared.
Issue Number 3 - May 16, 2002