NEWARK, N.J. (AP) — Just two months ago, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg was at a conference in Sun Valley, Idaho, and found himself seated at dinner with Newark Mayor Cory Booker.
Booker, a charismatic, 41-year-old former Stanford football player, regaled the other guests around the table with stories about how he had moved into one of his crime-ridden city's most dangerous neighborhoods and rode along with police on late-night patrols.
"It's the kind of personal and real dedication that you get from real leaders," Zuckerberg recalled. "It just made me think this is a guy I want to invest in."
On Friday, Zuckerberg did just that.
The 26-year-old Internet tycoon, with a net worth estimated by Forbes magazine at $6.9 billion, made his first major charitable donation, pledging $100 million over the next five years to help Newark's struggling schools, which are in such sad shape that they were taken over by the state in the 1990s.
Zuckerberg made the announcement on Oprah Winfrey's show, where he was joined by the Democratic mayor and New Jersey Republican Gov. Chris Christie.
"I believe in these guys, right?" the Harvard dropout told Winfrey as he sat in sneakers, T-shirt and jacket with the two suit-and-tie-clad politicians.
Zuckerberg has no other connection to Newark; he grew up in suburban New York and attended prep school in New Hampshire.
As part of the deal, Christie agreed to hand over responsibility for improving the schools to Booker. And Booker, who helped dramatically reduce violent crime in his desperately poor city of 280,000 with the aid of cameras and other police equipment paid for with donated money, said he will try to raise an additional $150 million.
Zuckerberg said he doesn't expect to spend much time in Newark. "I also spend all of my time running a company," he said. Instead, he is leaving it to Christie and Booker to oversee the gift.
Christie and Booker pledged fundamental change but offered no specifics. Booker said he would start meeting with Newark residents to figure out how to use the money. He said it could go to both traditional public schools and charter schools.
"I'm putting everything on the line when it comes to my energy, my resources, my relationships, and frankly my career," the mayor said. "We've got to show achievement within a number of years."
The Newark school system has been plagued by low test scores, high dropout rates and crumbling buildings. Education experts will be watching closely to see whether the money makes a difference in a district that already spends nearly $24,000 a year — more than twice the national average — on each of its 40,000 students.
"Mark Zuckerberg's generous pledge provides a rare opportunity to dramatically improve the education of Newark's children and the quality of life for everyone who lives in this city," said Joseph Del Grosso, president of the Newark teachers union.
Joseph De Pierro, dean of education at Seton Hall University, said he would focus on rewarding top teachers and providing additional training for them.
"It would not be the standard kind of stuff after school and in the summer," he said. "It would be something that takes place in their classroom when they're teaching."
Zuckerberg said he had been thinking about becoming a philanthropist and focusing on education, and decided to act now. "The status quo path would be to wait until later into my career to do something," he told reporters.
The donation came just ahead of the opening of "The Social Network," a movie that suggests Zuckerberg stole the idea for Facebook from his Harvard classmates.
Zuckerberg said he worried that the contribution would be seen as an attempt to improve his image, and he considered making the donation anonymously. Booker said he and Winfrey persuaded Zuckerberg to attach his name to the gift.
As for the film, "oh, well, I mean it's a movie, it's fun," Zuckerberg told Winfrey. "A lot of it is fiction, but even the filmmakers will say that. ... I can promise you this is my life, so I know it's not that dramatic. The last six years have been a lot coding and focus and hard work, but maybe it would be fun to remember it as partying and all this crazy drama."
Associated Press writer Carla K. Johnson in Chicago and technology writer Barbara Ortutay in New York contributed to this article.
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