Newark Mayor Cory Booker can move ahead with his U.S. Senate aspirations now that New Jersey Sen. Frank Lautenberg announced Thursday he will not seek re-election
next year when his fifth term ends.
Lautenberg's departure opens the door for Booker, the 43-year-old Democrat who boldly announced his intentions to run in a very public YouTube video in December.
"As for my political future, I will explore the possibility of running for the United States Senate in 2014," Booker said. "In the coming months there are transformative development projects coming to Newark and I will finish out this work that we've begun."
As he appears poised to launch a campaign for senator, here's an inside look at Cory Booker's politics, in his own words, what he's accomplished as mayor of Newark, his larger-than-life public persona and what his critics have to say.
Cory Booker's Newark Record on Issues
• On the budget and economy:
"Amazingly, in a down economy, Newark is in its biggest period of economic development since the 1950s, with our first new office towers and downtown hotels going up in decades. Housing production has increased at a rapid pace… businesses are coming back, and the most promising sign is that for first time in 60 years, Newark’s population is not contracting, but actually growing." (Cory Booker's "Finishing the Work We Started" YouTube video, Dec. 2012)
• On crime and safety:
"Crime is down in Newark. For our kids, parks and recreation facilities are growing throughout our city like spring grass." (Cory Booker's "Finishing the Work We Started" YouTube video, Dec. 2012)
"Approximately 1,000 security cameras record footage across the City 24/7. Seven square miles of acoustic gunshot detection technology has been deployed throughout Newark at no additional cost to the taxpayers. A new Records Management System (RMS) allows for instantaneous access to critical information and enables more intelligent policing. LiveScan technology was adapted, as was Inkless Electronic Fingerprinting technology, that instantly transmits fingerprinting to FBI and State Police for criminal identification purposes, and 100 Mobile Data Computers (MDC) have been installed in police cruisers, allowing officers to electronically file reports while still on the street. (Cory Booker's 2013 mayoral website)
• On gun control:
"[In our] Coalition of Mayors, called 'Mayors Against Illegal Guns,' we believe that local states should make their own choices and that other people should respect those laws. The laws of Florida when it comes to concealed loaded weapons should not apply to New Jersey. The laws of New Jersey shouldn't necessarily apply to the laws of Utah or Alabama." (Cory Booker's 2013 mayoral website)
Booker has said he supports President Barack Obama's proposed ban on assault weapons, but also said he doubts it will do much to curb gun violence in the America. This position is drastically different from what Booker has said previously. In a 2000 C-SPAN interview, Booker said he favors banning all guns. (The Star-Ledger, Jan. 27, 2013)
• On education:
"In 2010, the City of Newark began a historic transformation of Newark's schools to provide every child with a pathway to educational excellence. Mayor Booker has joined with a coalition of local, state, and national leaders to launch the most ambitious education reform effort in the nation. In partnership with local foundations committed to public education, Mayor Booker and a coalition of leaders created a $20 million fund to improve and expand high quality Newark charter schools. The Newark Charter School Fund is a unique coalition of local and national philanthropists dedicated to expanding high-quality public charter schools throughout the City." (Cory Booker's 2013 mayoral website)
• On food stamps:
In Nov. 2012, Booker offered to live off food stamps for a week after a Twitter exchange. When Booker wrote a tweet extolling the virtues of government investment in "schools, nutrition, etc.," a woman offered this response: "nutrition is not a responsibility of the government." Booker disagreed. "We have a shared responsibility that kids go to school nutritionally ready 2 learn," he tweeted. "Lets you and I try to live on food stamps in New Jersey (high cost of living) and feed a family for a week or month. U game?" Booker completed the challenge and kept a blog of his experiences using just $30 a day to feed himself for a week.
Cory Booker in the Public Eye
In the last year, Booker has been in the news multiple times for reasons other than his politics, earning "hero" cheers from his supporters and suspicious looks from his critics.
He's been known to help residents dig out during blizzards and even lived in a rundown housing project once to make a point.
In April 2012, Booker sustained second-degree burns after pushing through his security detail to rush into a burning home and save a woman who was trapped.
"I didn't feel bravery, I felt terror," he told reporters after the recue. "I couldn't breathe. It was a moment I felt very religious, let me put it that way."
Booker was gifted with a superhero costume from Ellen DeGeneres when he made an appearance on her show following the rescue.
Over the summer, Booker made headlines again when he tweeted that he had helped stabilize a pedestrian who had been hit by a car.
And, perhaps most famously, just a few weeks ago Booker reportedly rescued a shivering dog left out in the cold on the stoop of a Newark home
"This is brutal weather, this dog is shaking really bad and you just can't leave your dogs out here on a day like this and go away and expect them to be OK," Booker told the TV crew who happened to be at the scene. "Hypothermia on any animal, including a human animal will, set in pretty quickly. So this is very sad, you can just feel the dog shaking pretty badly."
Cory Booker's Critics
Politically, Booker's critics say he hasn't lived up to his promises as Newark mayor, and would be better suited as a senator, making speeches in Washington rather than handling the day-to-day runnings of a city.
"Cory Booker’s promise—captured in two books, two documentaries and frequent television appearances—was to save a city that had been hemorrhaging residents, industry and hope since the riots that ripped it apart 45 years ago," wrote Kate Zernike in a Dec. 2012 New York Times article. "But a growing number of Newarkers complain that he has proved to be a better marketer than mayor, who shines in the spotlight but shows little interest in the less-glamorous work of what it takes to run a city."
Citing climbing taxes and rising unemployment, Booker's critics complain that he is not present enough in the city he's expected to run.
"They say Mr. Booker’s frequent Twitter posts to his 1.3 million followers, his appearances on television and at gatherings of moguls and celebrities have distracted him from the local trench work needed to push his agenda," Zernike wrote. "Business leaders say he dazzles at news conferences, but flags on the follow-through. Residents have wearied of the outside fascination for the mayor whom Oprah Winfrey called 'a rock star' and Jon Stewart referred to as 'the superhero mayor of Newark.'"
Booker's senatorial aspirations have also drawn the ire of Lautenberg who said "there's work to be done in Newark."
"I'd encourage him to finish the job that has to be done in Newark," Lautenberg said Thursday of Booker. "We still have a lot of violence, we still have a lot of inconvenience. Newark is a place that deserves encouragement, it's our largest city and [it has] many education problems."
Booker has also drawn backlash for his "hero" antics, with some on social media and message boards nicknaming him "Story Booker."
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