Corey Booker and Sharpe James have at it in full swing in the film “Street Fight”. Hoping to knock out their opponent the two candidates attack each other’s platform with different types of authority. Interpreting the distinct applications of power and group identification used in the mayoral campaign we can better understand the acquisition and manipulation of power.
Sharpe James is the incumbent mayor of Newark running for re-election. He is noted for being “ a good cheerleader for the city of Newark”. James’ popularity and semi-inspirational stature make him a charismatic leader. James’ personable persona has carried him through over thirty years in mayoral office. Serving three decades of public office is quite rare in a democratic system. James’s longevity in office has made him into a quasi-traditional authority. Being the elected mayor James has bestowed legal rational authority. Be it that James embodies all three statutes of authority charismatic, traditional, and legal rational James has no checks or balances. James is able to oppress civil rights and cover his corruption. By lording over Newark with his abundance of power James’s hegemony makes Corey Booker’s usurpation of mayoral office near impossible.
As a newcomer to Newark, Corey Booker has only marginal charismatic authority and some sway with his prestige. Booker acquired his prestige through education and affluent connections. Coming from an Ivy League institution Booker attempts to employ overly cerebral ideals to his campaign. Booker seems to believe that the people of Newark are afflicted by a “false conscious” (Corrin, 69). Booker’s rhetoric implies that James uses the illusion of prosperity to cover his own gains. Booker believes that by simply unveiling James’ corruption he will win the full support of voters. Booker’s idealized view of democracy and his misunderstanding of the people of Newark will be his downfall.
Once the campaign season is in motion James puts his power in play and crushes Corey Booker. James’ initial attack is that Booker is an outsider who has come into Newark with ten million dollars and an “agenda”. By creating an in-group out-group dynamic James pushes Booker onto the ropes. To combat James’ attack Booker moves into the projects to show his connection to the community. The out-group stigma will never wash off of Booker. Even in the last days before the election Booker’s group affiliation is questioned.
James continues to prey on the out-group theme of his attacks by slandering Booker as a Republican. Booker decides to bring legal authority to validate his membership to the Democratic Party. After a key senator vouches for him, Booker’s position as a Democrat is reaffirmed. However, in the emotional charged Newark the stigma of the slander marks Booker’s campaign.
Booker retaliates to James’ offense by pulling his trump card. He attacks James’ excess. Booker hopes to unlock the people of Newark from their “false conscious” by exposing James’ corruption. Booker hoping for a Pied Piper effect is disheartened to realize that his strongest blow will not knock out James. It becomes apparent that Booker’s idealized methods will not be effective in Newark.
With Booker down for the count James’ delivers his final blow. James banishes Booker to the out-group when he slanders Booker’s well-educated and light skinned ethclass. Even though noted Black historian Cornel West publicly vouches for Corey’s “Blackness” someone in the crowd shouts out that Corey is “not black”. It becomes apparent that Sharpe James has a grip on the people of Newark and by effectively using his authority he wins the mayoral election.
James has the type of power that Weber defines as “ the ability to realize one’s will, even against the resistance and opposition of others”(McGrath, 70). James’ legal rational authority coupled with his corruption give him an authoritarian grip over Newark. By conspiring corruption with police officials he sets up a pseudo-autocracy. Using the police to violate civil rights and intimidate voters he holds a firm grip over his city. Although James’ method is immoral it is a textbook example of realizing one’s will.
Sharpe James has access to the three principal types of power. With this in mind, the slander that James throws at Booker carries three times the punch that Booker’s would have. Booker having no power of his own he has to block James’ blows by calling upon an outside authority to validate Booker’s defense. Booker’s lack of effective defense presents him as weak.
As an inexperienced outsider Corey’s naïve choices leave him wide open. James wisely puts his money into advertising and media for “money, especially concentrated in the media, can control public perceptions” (McGrath, 74). While James spreads his slander on a massive level Booker toils by going door to door to get out his message of change. Unfortunately, Corey finds himself defending his position from James’ attacks on every doorstep and makes little progress. Booker’s idealized view of what Newarkian politics should be and not what they are cause him to opt out of many vital resources for convincing voters. Booker, unlike James, does not attempt to buy votes with free meals, gifts, or charter buses to Atlantic City. Corey’s attempt to run a modern campaign does not fly in Newark, where “old fashion politics” is the norm.
Booker’s biggest detriment is his ideals in campaigning. By trying to usher in a new era of change and fore go the traditions of Newark he finds himself merely reaffirming Sharpe’s claim that he is an outsider. By doing so he knocks himself out of the ring. Although he looses this race, by running he becomes well known and by the end of the campaign has taken hold of a firmer grasp of charismatic authority. Should Corey forget some of his idealized notions and play ball the Newarkian way, he will have a good chance to convince voters. Corey is lucky for in the democratic system there is a legal-rational authority above the elected leader: the people. (1006 words)