Sunday, April 20, 2014
Inquirer Daily News

Cory Booker's troubling 'social network'

Cory Booker's cozy business ties with Silicon Valley should be a big issue in NJ Senate race

Cory Booker's troubling 'social network'

Cory Booker, the Newark mayor who will shock the world if he's NOT elected New Jersey's next senator this fall (to the point where he's actually denying that he'll run for president in 2016!) is charismatic and filled to the brim with ambition, the kind of person you might expect to find atop Silicon Valley instead of the U.S. Capitol. Which is one of Cory Booker's problems. He'd like to do both. At the same time:

Two and a half years later, some of those same Silicon Valley leaders joined forces again on Mr. Booker’s behalf. But this time, their efforts resulted in giving Mr. Booker, until then an admired outsider, the equivalent of full-fledged membership in their elite circle: an Internet start-up of his own.

Mr. Booker personally has obtained money for the start-up, called Waywire, from influential investors, including Eric E. Schmidt, Google’s executive chairman. A year after its debut, Waywire has already endured a round of layoffs and had just 2,207 visitors in June, according to Compete, a Web-tracking service. The company says it is still under development.

Yet in a financial disclosure filed last month, Mr. Booker, 44, revealed that his stake in the company was worth $1 million to $5 million. Taken together, his other assets were worth no more than $730,000.

That revelation, with just a week left in Mr. Booker’s campaign for the Democratic nomination for the United States Senate, shows how a few tech moguls and entrepreneurs, many of them also campaign donors, not only made a financial bet on the mayor’s political future but also provided the brainpower and financing to help create a company that could make him very rich.

The New York Times blockbuster piece also chronicles how Waywire became a source of jobs for some of Booker's associates. It notes that Booker -- a graduate of Stanford in the heart of Silicon Valley -- has forged remarkably close ties to the biggest names in high tech, from Google (its executive chairman Eric Schmidt is an investor) to Facebook (Mark Zuckerberg gave $100 million to help Newark schools on the week that The Social Network came out, remember?) to Apple (Steve Jobs' widow recently hosted a fundraiser for Booker).

So how is this not a problem...a huge problem? With rapid changes in technology, there are arguably few industries that have a greater interest in what will be happening in the current U.S. Senate than high tech, especially companies like Google who have now forged personal business ties with the likely future junior senator from New Jersey. Internet privacy, taxation,, net neutrality and cooperating with spy agencies such as the NSA -- those are just a few of the many issues that Booker's high-flying patrons have on their Washington agenda. Will Booker be representing Cherry Hill and Jersey City...or Palo Alto?

On a broader level, the stampede for Booker -- aided and abetted by Gov. Christie in his eagerness to play ball with Democratic power brokers who hold sway in the New Jersey Legislature -- should be highly disturbing to the citizens of the Garden State. In the Democratic primary, you have several candidates claiming the mantle of progressivism. But Booker is largely a faux liberal. In an era when income inequality is the greatest issue facing America, the Newark mayor has planted his flag with Team Billionaire, as he showed ;last year with his jaw-dropping endorsement of the predatory Bain Capital. On education, Booker has clearly cast his lot with the corporate education reformers who are dead set on destroying traditional public schools and their hard-working teachers.

All of his main primary rivals -- state House Speaker Sheila Oliver and U.S. Reps. Frank Pallone and Rush Holt -- have solid experience and bona fide progressive credentials. Holt is a particularly impressive candidate -- an honest-to-goodness rocket scientist from Princeton who rode the backlash over the GOP's Clinton impeachment overreach and won election in 1998 in a solidly Republican district. Since arriving in Washington, Holt has become the No. 1 figure working to protect your privacy against unwarranted government spying. In other words, Holt is exactly the type of citizen lawmaker -- not a professional politician -- that the Founding Fathers envisioned more than two centuries ago.

I don't officially endorse candidates at Attytood -- that's been a good practice and I'm certainly not going to change it now. But in the New Jersey Democratic primary for Senate, I will endorse this: That voters take a few minutes out from their busy summer to actually look at the candidates and their records. Ask yourself: Who is the candidate really committed to progressive ideas and a strong middle class? And who is just the guy with the coolest social network?

About this blog
Will Bunch, a senior writer at the Philadelphia Daily News, blogs about his obsessions, including national and local politics and world affairs, the media, pop music, the Philadelphia Phillies, soccer and other sports, not necessarily in that order.

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