Could Big Money Leave Newark With Mayor Booker?

NEWARK, N.J. (AP) -

Visits from Britain’s prime minister. A $100 million gift to the school system. Wall Street buy-in. Coverage from worldwide media.

Such attention and investment is rarely paid to America’s midsized cities, especially one in the shadow of New York that has long been plagued by crime and poverty.

But others aren’t the Newark governed by Cory Booker, who hobnobs with celebrities, frequently appears on national media and is now gunning for higher office, announcing a U.S. Senate bid June 8.

Booker gets mixed reviews for how he has run the city during his two terms. But no one disputes that funds have gushed to and interest has spiked in Newark, largely because of the mayor, who has worked to put the city — and himself — on the national stage.

With Booker a heavy favorite to win and leave for Washington in four months, many wonder: Will his successor be able to sustain the attention and money that has flowed into this city based largely on Booker’s outsized personality?

“If Booker goes to the Senate, then suddenly Newark is another high spending, low-performing struggling community. And there are a lot of those,” said Frederick M. Hess, a philanthropy expert with the American Enterprise Institute. “If he leaves, I think it would definitely be a substantial setback in terms of trying to keep the philanthropists and national advocacy organizations interested.”

Online business mogul Mark Zuckerberg provided the most high-profile donation of Booker’s tenure: a $100 million matching grant to Newark’s schools. But Zuckerberg admitted he didn’t know much about Newark before sitting at a dinner with Booker at a Sun Valley, Idaho, conference, where the young mayor regaled the guests with stories about how he moved into a crime-ridden housing project and rode along with police on late-night patrols.

“It’s the kind of personal and real dedication that you get from real leaders,” Zuckerberg recalled at the announcement in September 2010. “It just made me think this is a guy I want to invest in.”

At his Senate campaign announcement, Booker said projects will proceed without him.

“The momentum is clear. There is about $1 billion worth of development projects rolling into the city,” Booker said. “As much as you might think I’m necessary to complete those projects, this momentum will continue. And I’ll continue to be a part of it.”