Perhaps Newark, N.J., Mayor Cory Booker's gaffe on NBC's Meet the Press has caused collateral damage, with the resignation Tuesday of his communications director.
The aide, Ann Torres, insists her departure isn't related to the mayor's remarks, or his subsequent clumsy backpedal, saying on Twitter that such rumors are "ridiculous...come on folks."
However, Torres did say that she and her boss "have very different views about how communications should be run." It's a rare admission by a political staffer, particularly one responsible for crafting messages for a politician who caused an uproar after going off message on national television.
In any case, the job of managing the messaging for the charismatic 43-year-old Democrat is becoming a bigger challenge as Booker's political star rises.
"He's used to crafting his own message. He's probably now come to the point where he's going to get more help," says Emory University political science professor Andra Gillespie, author of the new book The New Black Politician: Cory Booker, Newark, and Post-Racial America.
In April, Booker was nicknamed Super Mayor after he rescued a woman from a house fire. After a snowstorm in December 2010, he made news for shoveling people's homes and even delivering diapers to some families.
Booker also stars in the documentary-style series Brick City (a nickname for Newark) that airs on Sundance Channel.
But Booker's positive media run hit a pothole during his May 20 appearance on Meet the Press. The mayor scolded the Obama and Romney campaigns for fielding attack ads:
"This kind of stuff is nauseating to me on both sides. It's nauseating to the American public. Enough is enough. Stop attacking private equity; stop attacking Jeremiah Wright."
Booker was referring to an Obama campaign ad that portrays Romney's former company, Bain Capital, as one that eliminated jobs rather than created them. He also was referring to discussions among some Republicans about launching a "racially tinged advertising campaign" tying President Obama to his controversial former pastor, Jeremiah Wright. (The plan was abandoned.)
As a prominent surrogate for the Obama campaign, Booker drew the ire of the Obama camp with his comments. Meanwhile, the Romney campaign and the GOP quickly tried to turn his remarks against Obama, even using them to raise money.
Booker tried to clarify his comments (saying Romney's history at Bain is fair game) with a YouTube video that appeared to be hastily produced. But the backlash continued. He then appeared on Rachel Maddow's MSBNC show:
"Obviously, I did things in the Meet the Press interview, as I told you, that did not land the points that I was trying to make. ... And in some ways, frustratingly, I think I conflated the attacks that the Republicans were making with Jeremiah Wright with some of the attacks on the left. And those can't even be equated."
Booker has long been a political brand. But now, as an Obama surrogate, he's under the hot lights of an intense presidential election. It's a new world for a politician who styled himself as a grass-roots leader (for years he voluntarily lived in a crime-ridden public housing development) and relied on his own rhetorical gifts when speaking publicly.
"I don't think it's anything he can't recover from, but he's going to have to go through the process of regaining the trust of the Democratic establishment," Gillespie, the political science professor, says.
Gillespie adds that the latest flap provides Booker's Newark critics with further proof that his desire for stardom has made him prone to missteps.
Back home in New Jersey, Booker is known for spinning yarns about Newark's crime and seedy characters. A number of residents have expressed concern that Booker portrays himself as a white knight trying to rescue a poor, predominantly black city, particularly during his appearances in the media.
Some critics believe he embellishes, and Booker himself has acknowledged referring to composite characters in some speeches. He has since stopped telling most of those stories.
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