NEW YORK (WFAN/AP) — Newark is the new kid on the block in this year’s NCAA Tournament, a scrappy underdog looking to compete with the big boys and grab a piece of March Madness for its own.

Mayor Cory Booker joined WFAN’s Boomer & Carton on Tuesday morning to pump his constituency up for Newark’s Sweet 16 spotlight. And let’s face it, five or six years ago, Newark couldn’t have hosted an event of this magnitude.

That was before the completion of the Prudential Center.

“We’ve got the NBA Draft coming to the city of Newark, a global peace conference with the Dalai Lama coming,” said Booker. “All businesses, jobs, entertainment, shows, UFC Ultimate Fighting we had just this past week with some great action, so Newark is really becoming the ‘it’ spot in the area.”

LISTEN: Newark Mayor Cory Booker with Boomer & Carton

Booker is tight-lipped about his tournament bracket.

“I haven’t been too public with it, but give me a break, every year me and my friends, we’ve got to pick our bracket,” Booker said.

When the arena opened, hockey analyst Barry Melrose described it as a “beautiful new building” but added, “Don’t go outside if you have a wallet or anything else, because the area around the arena is just horrible.” He later apologized to Booker for the remarks.

“Unfortunately the press loves it. One shooting, you see it all over the newspapers,” Booker said. “We’re going to continue to tell our truth. And the great thing about the arena right now is we’re bringing millions of people in, and I call it ‘Newark Shock.’ People come in and see the city and say, ‘Wait a minute, it’s nothing (like) my ideas of the city of Newark.'”

Newark’s violent crime rate fell dramatically in 2008 and 2009, but has crept upward in the last two years. Still, the arena district, which includes the New Jersey Performing Arts Center and the Penn Station rail terminal, has historically had the lowest incidence of crime in the city.

“I’m a competitor, just like you are,” Booker told Boomer & Carton. “We’re all former athletes here. I’m going to fight for my city, I’m going to go to the mat for it.”

Prudential Center NCAA Tournament schedule:

Regional Semifinals
Friday, March 25

North Carolina (28-7) vs. Marquette (22-14), 7:15 p.m.

Ohio State (34-2) vs. Kentucky (27-8), 9:45 p.m.

Have you been to the Prudential Center? If so, what was your experience like? Let us know in the comments below…

(TM and Copyright 2011 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2011 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)

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