Booker on Budgets, Being Mayoral

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.

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A Few Good Men… in Politics?

Politics is a brutal game. Personal insults. Name-calling. Misrepresenting opponents’ positions. Watching this banter is about the only thing negative about the fall season for many Hoosiers. But a new magazine, The Good Men Project, takes a less cynical stance, recognizing the Top 10 Good Men in American politics. And wouldn’t you know it — two Hoosiers made the list.

"While we don’t expect our list to restore your faith in America’s political system, we do hope to bring your attention to elected officials worth respecting for their integrity, their passion and their ideas," the editors added. "As our political landscape grows ever more polarized — and ordinary Americans feel increasingly alienated from the political process — the conventional wisdom seems to be that when it comes to elected officials, a good man is hard to find. As legendary humorist Kin Hubbard once put it, ‘We’d all love to vote for the best man, but he’s never a candidate."

The proprietors of the Good Men Project Magazine beg to disagree — and they placed two of Kin Hubbard’s fellow Hoosiers on their list to bolster their case. Citing a "need" to believe that there are still good men in public life, they spent months looking for them. Their list is bipartisan, and has its share of surprises. The criteria cited by the magazine in its accompanying article included integrity, intellectual honesty, respect for their political opponents – as well as their constituents – a belief in open government and a willingness to work in a bipartisan fashion. At a premium were men with compelling ideas, along with the political skill to help advance those ideas.

Here is the full list:

1. Sen. Carl Levin, D-Michigan
2. Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wisconsin
3. Mayor Cory Booker, Newark Democrat
4. Rep. Anh "Joseph" Cao, R-Louisiana
5. Sen. Al Franken. D-Minnesota
6. Rep. Jeff Flake, R-Arizona
7. Sen. Richard Lugar, R-Indiana
8. Rep. Mark Strama, D-Tex.
9. Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vermont
10. Gov. Mitch Daniels, Indiana Republican

Working our way up the list, the fiscally prudent Mitch Daniels — a former White House budget director who is sometimes mentioned as future GOP presidential material — was cited for his sheer competence in cutting a huge state budget deficit in Indiana, and for doing so humanely and without stirring up much animosity among Democrats — his job approval rating tops 70 percent.

Hat tip to the Chamber’s Ashton Eller for the story.