“Street Fight” is a 2005 political documentary directed by Marshall Curry. The film documents the 2002 Newark mayoral election between 16-year incumbent Sharpe James, and his challenger, future US Senator Cory Booker. The film follows Booker and several of his campaign supporters over a period of four months from their earliest days of campaigning to election day. In his campaign for mayor, Booker positioned himself as an outsider candidate who would fight against the entrenched political machine of Sharpe James, which was characterized by high levels corruption and its use of underhanded campaign tactics to remain in power. Booker also highlighted the need to pass on the leadership of Newark to a younger generation of politicians to better address the pressing issues facing the city. Additionally, “Street Fight” presents an intimate view of urban politics, the nature of local political campaigns and the issue of race within the context of a political campaign.
An example of a political communication theory shown in “Street Fight” is the different campaign strategies adopted by Cory Booker and Sharpe James to communicate their messages more effectively to the voters. For example, Sharpe James received endorsements from politicians such as former President Bill Clinton and New Jersey Governor James McGreevy and utilized their endorsements as a way to further establish his credibility as mayor and gain increased levels of support from those who viewed such politicians in a positive light. Another strategy used by James was to remind voters of his accomplishments as mayor and his experiences as an African-American political leader who came of age during the civil rights era. On the other hand, Booker adopted a campaign strategy of taking an offensive position on the issues and questioned the effectiveness of James’ policies on solving the issues facing Newark. Moreover, Booker argued that Newark’s 30% poverty rate, 60% drop-out rate, and the cities high murder rate would only improve if a change were to be made in the city’s leadership. By taking the offensive on such issues and highlighting the need for change, Booker was able to put James on the defensive on the issues and was able to raise doubts in the minds of voters regarding James’ record as the mayor of Newark.
Another political communication strategy highlighted in “Street Fight” is the types of campaign styles promoted by both Cory Booker and Sharpe James. Despite his middle-class background, Booker attempted to cast an image of himself as a defender of the poor residents of Newark by living in a public housing complex and by starting a non-profit organization meant to combat abuses committed by landlords. On the other hand, James highlighted the fact that he was able to become a success despite coming from a modest background. Additionally, James questioned Booker’s sincerity and advocacy for the poor residents of Newark. By following certain campaign styles and developing their own distinctive images, Booker and James were more effective in communicating their messages to the voters and their main bases of support.
In conclusion, “Street Fight” explores the nature of local political campaigning through the 2002 Newark mayoral election between Cory Booker and Sharpe James. Some of the themes that are explored throughout the film include the role of race in political campaigns and the need for political change. Throughout the film, both Booker and James employ various forms of political communication to frame their messages and appeal to supporters. An understanding of the communication methods used by both Booker and James allows political scientists better to understand the effectiveness of political communication in municipal elections.