Newark Mayor Cory Booker's decision not to challenge Gov. Chris Christie in 2013, and instead finish out the last two years of his term, will bring stability to the city and its businesses sector, which is now engaged in numerous downtown development projects that were attracted in some measure by Booker's high-profile leadership, experts said.
Booker announced today his decision to finish his term as mayor and explore a 2014 challenge to U.S. Sen. Frank Lautenberg. With that settled, the attention now turns to who will succeed him at City Hall when he finishes his second term.
Al Koeppe, president of the Newark Alliance, said "to have the uncertainty (eliminated) of whether there will be a functioning mayor in place over the next two years … is a stabilizing factor which the city needs."
"Clearly, if the next two years were spent in a campaign of one kind or another, that certainly would not be to the city's benefit," Koeppe said.
Booker's primary obligation now, Koeppe said, "is to the next leaders in the city of Newark — to put aside the differences, to work hard to make them as good as they can be."
Koeppe, also chairman of the New Jersey Economic Development Authority board, said potential mayoral candidates include North Ward Councilman Anibal Ramos, West Ward Councilman Ron Rice, South Ward Councilman Ras Baraka and school board member Shavar Jeffries.
Jeffries is an attorney with Newark's Gibbons P.C., where Patrick C. Dunican Jr. is managing partner. Dunican said Booker "has managed to achieve national stardom, so it makes perfect sense for him to consider and explore a U.S. Senate run, particularly given that Senator Lautenberg has not yet announced he is running again. The move also allows more time for a transition of power in the city as a new generation of leaders, like Shavar Jeffries, now must begin to step up and ensure continuity and growth for Newark's vibrant business community."
"Newark has made some very good progress in its revitalization over the last few years, and this gives us two more years to work with the mayor to continue that," said Chip Hallock, CEO of the Newark Regional Business Partnership. "He has brought a lot of attention, in a good way, to the city, and certainly helped to work with other elected officials, state and federal, as well as the private sector, to bring more resources here."
Koeppe said the current downtown development surge, including Panasonic's new headquarters and the Teacher's Village housing and retail project "has an inexorable trajectory to it right now which I don't think would have changed. If the mayor said 'I'm going to run for Senate and I'm starting a campaign today,' I don't think that would change the trajectory of development." Koeppe said the business community is not a silo unto itself, but is concerned and affected by Newark's problems just as all the city's residents are.
"Public safety is a concern in Newark, and the quality of the work force is still connected to a school system that needs repair," he said.
Hallock said Booker "has been a very visible personality, and that visibility has shed a positive light on Newark. … The mayor certainly played a role in raising the city's visibility. I think the mayor, the level of his public persona, has helped people to feel more comfortable in taking a look and considering Newark as a place for business."