Cory Booker Fights to Restore Superhero Image

In December, the New York Times gave Cory Booker a taste of what he might face in a nasty Senate campaign, reporting that many in Newark feel he “has proved to be a better marketer than mayor.” His onetime rival, Senator Frank Lautenberg, expounded on the “media darling who can’t fixing up his city” theme, but now the mayor is fighting back. He confirmed to the Times on Monday that while in office he’s earned around $1 million in fees from his many public speaking engagements, far more than his annual salary of $135,000. However, he argues that he shouldn’t be faulted for traipsing about the country to deliver speeches because he’s used the money to benefit his city, not himself. “Even though I am entitled to keep it,” Booker said, “after Uncle Sam takes his share and after I’ve given away hundreds and hundreds of thousands, I’ve kept very little of it, if any.”

While Booker has resisted releasing information on his travel and outside income in the past, he told the paper that the public should expect “certain levels of scrutiny and analysis” and asking about speaking fees is “the right inquiry.” “If I, as a constituent, have a mayor that’s been able to make over the last seven years a million dollars for public speeches, I want to know about that,” he added. “They’re not asking anything that’s overboard.” Booker said he plans to release more financial information in the next month or so, as is required of Senate candidates.

Booker said that the speaking engagements don’t distract him from his job as mayor, and he mainly accepts money for the gigs, “so I can drive money in every way possible toward nonprofit endeavors.” He argues that rather than simply promoting his own career, his national profile has helped him bring philanthropy to Newark to fund projects the city couldn’t afford otherwise, and attract developers.

The mayor will also defend his record in his State of the City address on Tuesday, offering hard data to counter the accusation that Newark is still plagued by many problems because he “shows little interest in the less-glamorous work of what it takes to run a city,” as the Times’ takedown put it. A city official tells BuzzFeed that Booker will note that the city has seen a population increase for the first time in 60 years, a billion dollars of development in the last year with more to come, and a decrease in crime during his time in office, though violence has been up in the last two years. Booker’s office is also touting an October 2012 poll recently obtained by the New Jersey Star-Ledger that shows Booker has a 70-percent  rating among likely voters in Newark. Hopefully that will be enough to prove to voters in a statewide election that Booker has done right by his city. If not, he has a lot of driveways to shovel.