There's an old saying in Newark, New Jersey, that the city's political leaders only leave office by death or conviction.
It's a principle the city's longtime mayor Sharpe James apparently takes seriously based on the evidence of Marshall Curry's fascinating, disturbing documentary, Street Fight. Curry's film follows a brutal 2002 mayoral campaign between James and his articulate, energetic challenger, Cory Booker. The campaign attracts national attention because it pits two African Americans from different generations and socio-economic backgrounds against each other and bitterly divides the city's black population.
|Newark Councilman Cory Booker (above) challenged incumbent mayor Sharpe James (below) in 2002 in what became a brutal battle to the political death, captured on film in Street Fight.|
On the surface, Booker looks tough to beat. He's extremely well-educated (Stanford University, Yale Law School, a Rhodes Sholarship to Oxford); a former college athlete; a straight arrow who doesn't drink, smoke, or eat meat; an idealistic city councilman who lives in Newark's most run-down housing project so he can stay connected to his constituents; and a rising star endorsed by everyone from Bill Bradley to Spike Lee. What's more, he's a young voice for change in a city with a poverty level of more than 30 percent and a high-school dropout rate of 60 percent.
But James demonstrates both a public folksiness and a private willingness to unleash every last bit of the municipal machinery against his opponent. Over the course of the campaign the city shuts down a car-wash owner who openly supports Booker, a cop who supports Booker gets transferred to night patrol in a dangerous neighborhood, and a minister who criticizes James finds his church threatened by code enforcement. James and his henchmen also harass Curry whenever he turns up at public events to film the mayor.
| P.O.V.: Street Fight |
10pm Tue, Jul 5
Check local listings at klrn.org
After watching this ballot-box bloodbath unfold, you'll probably come away convinced that it's a required skill for all successful American politicians. •