You can't say New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker doesn't know how to get attention. While he was mayor of Newark, his critics bemoaned his "Hollywood" status. He's got more Twitter followers than there are residents in the city he led for almost eight years. Last Monday on a morning news show in New York City, Booker was asked about Donald Sterling, the owner of a basketball team in Los Angeles who made racist comments in a private conversation whose contents were leaked. He gave what was a pretty standard answer that matched up with what is likely to happen: Sterling losing the Clippers.
The same morning Booker made the comments about Sterling, a controversy involving racially-tinged comments hit closer to home. The Star Ledger reported that Joseph Tutela, a Newark deputy chief who ran the police department's Internal Affairs division on three separate occasions (including once while Booker was mayor), was under investigation for working a second job while on duty and using cops to perform maintenance on his home when he was in charge of Internal Affairs.
In addition to this, The Ledger reported that Tutela was also accused of making racist remarks about Portuguese people (Newark has a significant Portuguese population) at the retirement ceremony of the last police chief. The American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey also points out that more troubling than the comments or the alleged corruption could be that the Internal Affairs division, under Tutela and under other deputy chiefs, has such a horrendous record on sustaining civilian complaints. Only three complaints were sustained over a non-consecutive two year period during which Tutela headed Internal Affairs.
Donald Sterling was a private citizen in the public limelight. He made offensive comments that were going to hurt his bottom line and the bottom line of the National Basketball Association (NBA), and so the NBA acted quickly to ban him from basketball and team owners are expected to vote to force Sterling to sell his team. Sterling's finished. Presumably the NBA's constitution (which has not been made public) made it easier for the league to act.
Tutela, meanwhile, is a "public servant" shielded from the public limelight. He's been reportedly accused not just of making racist comments but of corruption. He appears to have done a pretty poor job as Internal Affairs chief. He may have only found a handful of sustained complaints, yet the Department of Justice's decision in 2011 to investigate the department suggests the lack of sustained complaints doesn't stem from a lack of wrongdoing but a lack of accountability. Tutela was also previously arrested and charged with assaulting a cop (in 1988) and was investigated for domestic violence twice in 2010 (around the same time he headed Internal Affairs).
Sterling was convicted in a court of public opinion, a function of the (show) business that Sterling is/was in. Tutela, on the other hand, is immunized by his generous police contract from conviction in a court of public opinion. No amount of outrage could remove Tutela, and the politicians like Booker so eager to pile on where outrage has gathered have little interest in digging up dirt in their backyards.
We reached out to Senator Booker's office last Monday, the day the Tutela story broke and the day he made public comments about Donald Sterling. We were promised a response but despite a follow up none has been forthcoming yet.