warning Hi, we've moved to USCANNENBERGMEDIA.COM. Visit us there!

Neon Tommy - Annenberg digital news

Cory Booker Talks Torah And Bain In West L.A.

Matt Pressberg |
December 4, 2012 | 3:51 a.m. PST


Mayor Cory Booker talks with a man after speaking at a charity event in West L.A. (Matt Pressberg/Neon Tommy)
Mayor Cory Booker talks with a man after speaking at a charity event in West L.A. (Matt Pressberg/Neon Tommy)
“It was one of those experiences in my life that really was eye-opening,” said Newark, N.J. Mayor Cory Booker, responding to a question about his now-infamous defense of Bain Capital on “Meet the Press” this past May.

Booker, one of the nation’s more popular mayors and a President Obama surrogate, saw his comment end up being inconsequential, as the president won a fairly easy re-election contest against former Bain CEO Mitt Romney, but it’s clear the episode has made him more resolute in opposing the binary mudslinging that makes up a large part of our political conversation.

“It was one of the worst months of my life,” Booker said. “Because suddenly I’m on the front page of the Republican Party’s website with Republicans saying ‘I’m with Cory Booker.’ I’m like ‘Noooooo!’ Axelrod gives a speech and he’s heckled with my name. ‘Cory Booker! Cory Booker!’ And I’m calling my mom to stop her from crying.”

The mayor opened up about Bain Capital, black-Jewish relations, social media and Torah in a half-hour question and answer session that followed a nearly forty-minute speech to about two hundred major and moderate Jewish Federation of Los Angeles donors at a West Los Angeles synagogue.

Continuing on the Bain Capital question, Booker pointed to his current role as the chief executive of a large city, where he is tasked with creating jobs to continue reversing what had been decades of decline, as giving him the real-world experience with which to make nuanced judgments about the American financial system.

“I know how difficult it is when you have a $130 million project that we have in the center of Newark…how hard it is to get those capital stacks to work that will produce thousands of jobs,” he said. “So I lean on Goldman Sachs and their investment. I lean on Prudential to buy my tax credits. So in a political culture where we give simplistic vilification of sectors of our community, it is so irresponsible. So as a person who is on the front lines of this fight, I think, to manifest the truth of America everywhere, I don’t need to be vilifying—in a broad-brush way—anyone.”

The mayor emphasized the need for Wall Street reform, but “in a way that elevates all of us as opposed to denigrating people unnecessarily,” which he felt was the case with some of the discourse from the political left.

Unity was an underlying theme of Booker’s speech, which as it was tailored for a mostly middle-aged Jewish audience, was as heavy on Torah references and Yiddish as a rabbinical sermon, but kept an audience that was hardly monochromatically Democratic at rapt attention. Booker spoke at length about his two-decade friendship with Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, whom he met while studying at Oxford and who convinced Booker to be the head of the university’s Jewish society.

Booker talked about the universal morals that allowed him to make that connection with the rabbi and the Jewish community writ large, quoting the ancient scholar Hillel on the importance of not being only for oneself. He used the phrase “a conspiracy of love” several times in his speech, referring to small acts by ordinary people that lay the critical groundwork for a better future, tying it back to events that helped him advance his own life, as well as Jewish values.

The first question the mayor received after opening the floor was about how to bridge the gap that has grown between black and Jewish communities since the 1960s.

“There was definitely a period when you saw a lot of challenges—the 70s and the 80s,” Booker said. “But the problem I often have is that the media loves to focus on those things. And you get demagogues and others who try to capture and propel their own careers, who can exploit those kinds of bigotries and hatreds.”

Booker touched back on his the theme of his speech, rejecting messengers of division, saying that shared values and often similar pasts should and will bring the black and Jewish Americans closer together.

“I can’t speak to leaders that I do not agree with, but what I can do is say that as an African-American now, as someone in the leadership in the public eye, all I want to do is inspire more people to understand that our two communities have so much in common within an American context, but more importantly I think, it’s that history’s calling us to not only heal our rift but to find ways to serve together,” Booker said.

Read more of Neon Tommy’s coverage of Cory Booker here.

Reach Editor-at-Large Matt Pressberg here.



Craig Gillespie directed this true story about "the most daring rescue mission in the history of the U.S. Coast Guard.”

Watch USC Annenberg Media's live State of the Union recap and analysis here.