Newark Mayor Cory Booker has almost made it official that he is going to run in 2014 for the New Jersey U.S. Senate seat currently occupied by Sen. Frank Lautenberg.
While Booker has not made his formal announcement yet, earlier this week he filed papers with the Federal Election Commission, creating a “Cory Booker for Senate” campaign committee.
Booker has been making national headlines for years, becoming known for going the extra mile on behalf of his Newark constituents. He has helped a car accident victim on the scene; run into a burning building to rescue a woman; invited Newark residents use the electricity at his home during Superstorm Sandy; and personally shown up on residents’ doorsteps during a couple of snowstorms after they tweeted that they were trapped. Most recently, the mayor drew attention to the plight of the nation’s poor by living for a week on the equivalent of a food stamp budget — $30 weekly, or just $4.32 a day.
Booker has been attacked by political operatives in New Jersey for implying that he was on the verge of announcing a Senate run before the 88-year-old Lautenberg, who would be turning 91 when his next term begins. Appearing on CNN’s Starting Point, Booker hinted that he hoped to run unopposed, which was just short of asking Lautenberg to step down.
“I want to give him the space to make his own decision. I’ve announced my intention to run, but the reality is we’ve got a good senator,” Booker said on Monday’s program. “He’s been loyal. He’s been there for a long time. And I think he’s got a decision to make.”
Lautenberg has served New Jersey in the Senate for 28 years, with a short gap between 2001 and 2003. Recently a spokesman for Lautenberg said that the Senator was focusing on passing bills for Superstorm Sandy relief, and pushing for new gun legislation, rather than “political distractions.”
“I’m focusing on my job for now. And I hope to talk to him. We’ve reached out to him a number of times. In fact, I had a plane trip going down to meet with him, but unfortunately with a lot of the challenges going down in Washington, he had to cancel the meeting,” Booker added.
Recent polls show Booker stomping Lautenberg in a head-to-head matchup, perhaps a signal that the public also feels the highly esteemed Lautenberg may be too old for another term.
When asked the question “If a Democrat were to win, who would you like to see elected? Frank Lautenberg, Cory Booker, or someone else?” in a recent Fairleigh Dickinson University poll, 42 percent of respondents said they would prefer Booker and 20 percent stated a preference for Lautenberg.
A statewide win for a black politician in New Jersey would have been considered unthinkable a decade ago, considering the state’s relatively small black population of 14 percent. However, after two triumphant runs by President Obama, white New Jersey residents have grown so accustomed to pulling a lever for a black man that Booker’s task is now easier. In addition, New Jersey’s Latino population is now 18 percent — and Booker is extremely popular in the Latino community and even speaks serviceable Spanish.
As news circulated about Booker’s new campaign committee, The Associated Press ran excerpts from a column Booker wrote while he was a student at Stanford 20 years ago about overcoming the “disgust and latent hostility” he once felt toward gay people.
The column, which appeared in the Stanford student newspaper, was entitled “Pointing the finger at gays.” In the article Booker wrote that he had “hated gays” until a meeting with a gay peer counselor opened his eyes to the struggle for acceptance shared by homosexuals and his black grandparents.
“It was chilling to find that so much of the testimony he shared with me was almost identical to stories my grandparents told me about growing up black,” Booker wrote.