Up-and-coming political star and Mayor of Newark, N.J. Cory Booker, whose first campaign was documented in the entertaining documentary "Street Fight," recently sat down for a Q&A with Huffington Post. He offered some interesting thoughts on what it’s like to run a city in today’s America, and the challenges facing leaders in terms of both budget cuts and communication:
HuffPost: A trailer for the new season of Brick City starts with a quote from you, on the screen, where you say, "Squeeze everything else but police and fire." But late last year, the city laid off 164 officers, about 13 percent of the force. How did it come to that?
Booker: Look, budgets across the country — 60 percent of American cities have had reductions in their forces of public safety. And, so, this is not something that’s unique to Newark. In fact, right now it’s plaguing major cities in New Jersey. Camden has had major layoffs. Paterson is facing layoffs. Atlantic City. Jersey City. We’re facing, literally, the worst economy of our lifetimes.
So, we have dramatic losses in revenue. And public safety, frankly — police and fire — make up the significant majority of our budget. We were squeezing and starving every other area of our city. Furloughing employees, cutting staff. But it came to a point where we couldn’t cut enough to make up for the tremendous budgetary shortfall.
Challenges demand creativity. I’m grateful that the police director and my team really came forward with a substantive plan to make sure that the loss of those police officers didn’t affect the progress we were making in the street.
And, look, it’s been a difficult adjustment. We had really some challenges in the month of December. But now, as we’re going through January, things are really getting back on track. And I’m really encouraged. Remember, the first three years in office, we led the nation in percentage reduction of shootings and murders. And I’m really confident that now we’re beginning to get back to that nation-leading pace.
HP: I’ve heard that there are the same number of officers patrolling the street. But I also have heard from some of the union officials that in order to accomplish that, older officers have had to be re-deployed: People who were looking at retirement are now on street patrol. Are you concerned about officer safety?
CB: I’m always concerned about officer safety. I think when you are the leader of men and women who put their lives on the line — whether it’s firefighters and police, or national guard members in the military — that’s the most horrific thing, I think, for an executive, when guys who put their lives on the line get hurt or injured.
That’s a concern that hasn’t changed as a result of the layoffs. But in many ways, we have more experienced officers on the streets. Guys with more years under their belts, not people that are six months out of the academy. It’s a give-and-take in many ways.
Look, I’m very happy: We have our chief, who used to be doing other jobs, now in precincts, running our precincts. In many ways, we have the best talent of the agency closer to the street and closer to the ground on a daily basis.