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Cory Booker faces Newark crime wave amid campaign

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KATIE ZEZIMA | AP

NEWARK, N.J. (AP) -- Mayor Cory Booker, with six weeks left in his campaign for a U.S. Senate seat, is grappling with a surge in violence that has left nine people dead in his city in as many days.

Booker, a second-term mayor and rising star in the Democratic Party, announced Wednesday the city will extend a summer deployment of increased police patrols in troubled neighborhoods, boost police overtime and deploy narcotics officers and tactical forces.

"The spate of violence that our city has seen over the last couple of weeks is unconscionable and drives me towards both anger and sadness," Booker, who spent Labor Day weekend campaigning, said in a statement.

Among the nine people killed in Newark, the state's biggest city, since Aug. 26 was a pizza delivery driver, who was robbed and shot. Five of the killings involved guns, drugs or gangs, and two were domestic incidents, police Director Samuel DeMaio said. The killings aren't believed to be connected, and it appears all the victims were targeted.

Booker, who's seeking to succeed the late Democratic U.S. Sen. Frank Lautenberg, won the Democratic primary last month and has campaigned around the state, occasionally with celebrities including Eva Longoria and Oprah Winfrey.

His Republican opponent, Steve Lonegan, has accused him of spending too much time outside Newark and working on a national profile instead of focusing on his city of more than 250,000 residents, who've dealt with decades of systemic crime and poverty.

"While Cory Booker is traveling the state and taking money from Hollywood celebrities, the people of Newark are besieged," Lonegan said. "Newark needs leadership, not a mayor who is looking to be promoted to the U.S Senate for his failed policies."

Lonegan, a former mayor of Bogota, said Booker "should be setting up a command center to combat the unconscionable amount of violence in his city."

Similar criticism -- that Booker spends too much time in places such as Silicon Valley and New York City instead of concentrating on Newark -- from residents has dogged Booker for the past few years.

On the campaign trail and in television interviews, Booker talks about how crime has dramatically dropped during his administration. The murder rate plummeted when he first took office, from 107 in 2006 to 68 in 2009, according to state police statistics. But after 162 police officers were laid off in 2010 it spiked; there were 90 murders in 2010.

The number of murders ticked up to 96 last year.

DeMaio said the spike in violence comes after a drop in crime. State police statistics show the number of murders dropped 23 percent during the first half of this year compared to last year, and the summer, which is traditionally the most dangerous time of year, was comparatively quiet, with dips in assaults and motor vehicle thefts.

DeMaio called Lonegan's criticisms speculative, and he brushed aside claims that Booker is focused on other things.

"As far as my position as a police director I wouldn't even know he's in a campaign," DeMaio said. "I was in his office at 9 a.m."

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