Cory Booker uses his social networks to funnel Wall Street money to Newark

Newark mayor Cory Booker has found a way to bring needed money to his city: work his wealthy social networks.

“The room is packed; you had every major hedge-fund, private-equity person,” recalls Joseph Shenker, chairman of law firm Sullivan & Cromwell LLP.

Booker holds guests spellbound using the Hebrew phrase “tikkun olam,” or fixing the world, to describe Ackman’s generosity. It’s a notion Booker has adapted to his city 12 miles (19 kilometers) west of Wall Street, and the moneyed elite are buying in…

“One of the things Cory Booker has done is turned Newark into a national cause,” says Shenker, 55, a New Yorker who remembers watching TV footage of the 1967 riots that left 26 dead. “He has made it a serious issue for the United States.”

Booker, midway through his second four-year term, has raised more than $250 million in donations and pledges for a city where the previous three mayors were convicted of or pleaded guilty to felonies after leaving office.

Mining a network stretching back to Stanford University and Yale Law School, Booker is promoting New Jersey’s largest city as a lower-cost alternative to New York and overseeing nonprofits to fund everything from security cameras to midnight basketball tournaments. Benefactors view Booker as somebody they can work with after decades of corruption, says Larry Sabato, director of the Center for Politics at the University of Virginia.

This reminds me of some of the public-private efforts also being undertaken by Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel. If major cities are facing budget issues, this is one way to get money: work with wealthy business people, offer them some results/benefits of investing, and then use the money as you wish.

I could imagine some potential issues with this:

1. Is this a sustainable long-term solution? What if another cause becomes more attractive? What if the city problems become too big to be dealt with using private money?

2. Do the donators have any sway or influence of how the money is used? If so, or, perhaps even more important, if there is even the perception of this, the public may not appreciate this.

3. Generally, does this suggest that it is primarily the powerful people in society, people like important elected officials and wealthy businesspeople, who really to get to decide what gets done? Who really controls a city: the people or those with money and clout?

4. What happens if this money doesn’t lead to much improvement? In business terms, what if there is not a high return on investment?

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