You’d think that with the dirty campaigning shown in Street Fight that it was a national election, for President or Senate. But no, this is Newark, New Jersey, circa 2002. Incumbent mayor Sharpe James is so comfortably entrenched in his role after four terms that in past elections he barely bothered campaigning. But now the old-school mayor finds himself challenged by a surprising opponent, a young upstart named Cory Booker.
The 32-year-old Booker is a Yale grad and Rhodes Scholar, a university football star, and a city councilperson. He, like James, is African American. He, like James, is a Democrat. But by Election Day, as Booker gained in the polls, he will have been slurred by the opponent and his supporters as being “white”, being a Jew, and worst of all, being a Republican.
Cory Booker comes across as clean as you can hope for in a politician. He lives in the projects that he one day hopes to represent, he goes door to door while campaigning, and he is an inspiring enough speaker that you find yourself getting riled up and wanting to improve your own neighborhood. But James is very savvy, and has obviously been in the nitty gritty of politics for much longer. It is truly shocking to see what his establishment gets away with, from intimidating businesses that display Booker signs, to blocking press access to public rallies, to shuttling in volunteers from Pennsylvania to act as James supporters. The harassment and intimidation gets so bad that there ends up being a Federal presence in Newark on Election Day to make sure there is no violence or corruption in the voting process.
The thing is, if you are an American who has paid attention to the media during any election period, you know that such dirty campaigning these days seems to be more the norm than the exception. I, for one, did not know the results of the Booker/James race from 2002 when I watched Street Fight, and I won’t spoil it here. But I have to admit that I’m dying of curiosity to find out if politics changed at all in Newark since the making of this film.