Booker hit for high-profile Senate bid while Newark besieged by killings

FILE: April 13, 2012: Newark Mayor Cory Booker speaks to the media in Newark, N.J.

FILE: April 13, 2012: Newark Mayor Cory Booker speaks to the media in Newark, N.J.  (Reuters)

Newark Democratic Mayor Cory Booker is facing pressure to focus his attention on his crime-challenged city instead of his Senate bid, following a string of 10 homicides in 10 straight days.

The most recent killing occurred Wednesday when a 14-year-old boy was gunned down in the courtyard of Newark's Riverview Terrace housing complex.

Booker, whose popularity and national prominence are largely the result of his high-profile efforts to clean up the city, has announced a new anti-crime initiative that includes police overtime and a plan to send officers into sections of the city notorious for gun violence.

However, Booker's Republican opponent, Steve Lonegan, and others continue to say the mayor is not spending enough time in Newark nor doing enough to curb crime.

“Cory Booker should be setting up a command center to combat the unconscionable amount of violence in his city,” Lonegan said Wednesday. “While [he] is traveling the state and taking money from Hollywood celebrities, the people of Newark are besieged. Newark needs leadership, not a mayor who is looking to be promoted to the U.S. Senate for his failed policies.”

And in a NJ.com readers’ poll earlier this week, readers voted for Booker to suspend his Senate campaign and return to Newark, New Jersey’s largest city, to focus on stopping the violence.

Booker said Friday on Twitter: “Our police dept is continuing its increased operations tonight. Operation Blue Zone with increased foot patrols is having a positive impact.”

The majority of polls, all taken before the killing spree kicked in, show Booker having already locked down at least 50 percent of the likely vote and leading Lonegan by 23 percentage points, in an averaging of polls by the website RealClearPolitics.

To be sure, Booker, a Yale Law School graduate, has captured the support of Newark residents and the rest of American with his use of social media and his heroic efforts to improve the city, including personally shoveling a constituent’s snow-covered driveway, saving a women from a burning building and going on a hunger strike to draw attention to open-air drug dealing.

However, the 44-year-old Booker has faced increasing criticism during his Senate campaign -- including his attendance at a fundraiser in early August with Oprah Winfrey while his Democratic challengers were at a NAACP debate.

Booker won the primary and faces Lonegan in November for the Senate seat of the late Democratic Sen. Frank Lautenberg.

Booker also has been criticized for having a large stake in the tech company Waywire -- a Silicon Valley startup he and others helped create.

He announced Friday that he would step down from the company’s board and that he would donate his shares to charity.

The company, which was funded by influential investors including Eric Schmidt of Google, helps people curate videos they find on the Internet. Booker's stake in the company is worth $1 million to $5 million, according to financial disclosure statements filed in July.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.