Mayor Cory Booker Facing Backlash Over Inoffensive Comments

Newark Mayor Cory Booker made some pretty benign statements on Meet The Press yesterday and today it’s the big political story.

After MTP host David Gregory showed a clip of an Obama ad that debuted last week in which steel workers say Bain Capital is responsible for the shutdown of the mill they worked for, Gregory opened the discussion to the roundtable, which included Mayor Booker. Throughout his comments Mayor Booker talks up the accomplishments of President Obama’s administration, the support that his policies have generated, and the need for President Obama to emphasize his positive record.

But he also said he’s not going to “indict” public equity, doesn’t completely bash Bain Capital, and says that the negative campaigning on both sides is “nauseating” to him and now he’s the “surrogate from hell” for the Obama administration.

Note, Mayor Booker says, “On the issues that matter in the communities, I’ve seen the Obama administration step up and they just need to get their voice out there more.” Even if you think Mayor Booker should be tougher on private equity in general and Bain Capital specifically in his criticism, he’s overwhelmingly in support of the majority of what the President has done. He says as much in the first clip we’ve embedded below and throughout his appearance.

But what everyone has latched on to is the brief comment in the second clip where he calls the negative attacks “nauseating.”

The Washington Post opens a column on the subject with: “A gaffe is when a politician is accidentally honest.” Mayor Booker essentially expressed his personal opinion — not all public equity is bad, I don’t like negative advertising from anyone — and now it’s a political issue with Salon columnist Steve Kornacki accusing the Mayor of seeking to somehow pursue his own ambitions with these statements. And the RNC, suddenly a big Booker supporter, has sent out a petition saying that it “stands with” Mayor Booker.

The Obama campaign is also using Mayor Booker’s words in its response, pulling segments from a YouTube video he posted later in the day to convey an anti-Romney message.

Both take the Mayor’s words out of context.

“This is a minor moment in a campaign that is more than five months away from its conclusion. But Booker’s comments and the way in which they made life difficult for the Obama campaign on Sunday show just how careful both sides — and their surrogates — have to be every time they open their mouths between now and Nov. 6,” WaPo writes.

It also goes to show that the Mayor might have a point about all that negativity he was talking about.

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*Update: Mayor Booker made an appearance on The Rachel Maddow Show after becoming “upset” by what he calls the “cynical” use of his comments in an email the RNC sent saying “I Stand with Cory.” He asked that, if the GOP truly stands with him, which he welcomes, they stand with him for “progress,” in places like Newark, and in favor of policies that further equality for women and gays, and those trying to afford higher education.

Clarifying his statements even more, he said Romney’s record on job creation is “fair game,” an opinion shared by a Mitt Romney surrogate, former New Hampshire Gov. John Sununu. But Booker regrets “conflating” Jeremiah Wright attacks with the Bain Capital issue. He said he spoke with the Obama campaign but he wasn’t forced to say anything; Obama campaign press secretary Ben LaBolt reaffirmed that. The RNC continued the attack, expressing its belief that the Obama camp tried to shut down criticism. You can watch Mayor Booker’s Rachel Maddow interview here.

For his part, President Obama, speaking from the NATO Summit in Chicago, called Booker an “outstanding mayor” and expressed his support for private equity as a business endeavor. But as President, “your job is not simply to maximize profits. It’s to figure out how everyone in the country has a fair shot.” The President’s comments are available in this separate Rachel Maddow clip.