IMAGE: BILLBOARD PROTESTING MURDERS
Mike Derer  /  AP file
This billboard in Newark, N.J., is among those paid for by the Newark Teachers Union to draw attention to murders in the city.
updated 3/26/2007 4:49:31 PM ET 2007-03-26T20:49:31

The head of the city's teachers union said it won't take down "Stop the killings" billboards despite complaints from business owners and the new mayor that they're driving away business.

Mayor Cory Booker, who campaigned last year on a promise of reducing crime, says the signs fuel a negative image of the city, where a record 106 people were killed last year — the highest number in a decade.

"I know if I had tens of thousands of dollars, I wouldn't use them on billboards," Booker said. "I would use them for after-school programs. I would use them to help teachers get supplies."

The six billboards in the downtown area were put up about two months ago. They scream, "HELP WANTED: Stop the killings in Newark mow!" Joe Del Grosso, president of the Newark Teachers Union, wouldn't say how much the signs cost.

"I think we have a serious problem," said Del Grosso, whose union endorsed Booker's opponent and is at odds with Booker over school vouchers. "It's about people dying."

There have been 22 slayings in Newark so far this year, the same number in the comparable period last year, police Detective Todd McClendon said Monday.

Artie Wassif, catering manager at the Newark Club, said some brides have shied away from holding their wedding receptions at the restaurant because of the message the signs convey. A real estate developer, Arthur Stern, said he had complaints from some tenants.

Rutgers University in Newark and Prudential Financial Inc. said they have not seen a downturn in recruiting because of the signs.

Del Grasso said the signs will remain up indefinitely.

Copyright 2007 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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