It’s a crowded field among the Democratic candidates in the running for the U.S. Senate seat of the late Frank Lautenberg. Newark Mayor Cory Booker is the frontrunner in the primary and the special general election in October.
In an interview with NJ Today Managing Editor Mike Schneider, Booker says the $24 million that will be spent on the special election could be better put to use in shore towns and urban areas in need.
“Actually, it might be a better election [in November] because more New Jerseyans would be involved,” said Booker.
Long before Lautenberg passed away, the Newark mayor had made his intentions to run for the U.S. Senate known. He says one of the reasons for running was to advance the “extraordinary’ work that was being done in Newark. Another reason, he cites, was to give New Jerseyans a sense that Washington is working for them. His mayoral experience, he says, qualifies him to be their representative.
“What better leader to have … than somebody that’s been working as a mayor to solve real problems every day for the last seven years and showing great progress?” he asked.
Congressman Frank Pallone criticized Booker’s cozy relationship with Gov. Christie on yesterday’s edition of NJ Today, saying “[Booker] should be trying to get him to pass a minimum wage bill, marriage equality, I don’t see any of those things happening.”
In response, Booker says he refuses to be drawn into an exchange of negative attacks with the other candidates.
“I’m not one of those politicians that’s going to sit in my ideological camp and just scream at the other side,” said Booker, adding that his ability to form partnerships is exactly what’s needed in Washington.
“I’ve got a track record for doing that. So working with the governor, we’ve got the biggest economic development boom in the city of Newark since the 1960s,” he touted.
When asked if he thinks the attention he has brought to Newark, in the form of business development and education funding like the Facebook grant, will dissipate after he leaves Newark, he insists that he will continue to be rooted in New Jersey.
“A lot of the innovations in Newark [that were the] first of their kind either in the nation or the state, [whether] it’s the first Youth Corps, the first Veteran Corps, the first financial empowerment centers, the first of their kind prison reentry programs, I now can help spread throughout the state of New Jersey.”
Critics have pointed to the high crime rate in Newark as a black mark on Booker’s term in office, but he says the number of shootings has been down in Newark since he started office. But he adds that his ability, as a mayor, to stem the tide of crime is limited because of what is happening (or not happening) in Congress when it comes to gun control.
“Look, the carjacking is done with a gun — people pulling out a gun, where does that gun come from? Not the city of Newark and often not the state of New Jersey. They’re coming from out-of-state because criminals are allowed to buy guns in the secondary markets, gun shows and the like,” he said. “So we need champions in Washington with real experience [with] crime fighting on the ground that know … common sense gun safety can stop the people on the ground from committing these crimes.”
Earlier this month, Assembly Speaker Sheila Oliver took issue with the portrayal of Cory Booker as “heir apparent” to Lautenberg’s seat.
Booker denies the charge of entitlement, pointing to the 2005 documentary Street Fight which he says shows him working hard to earn every vote.
“I’m gonna be all over the state of New Jersey, looking voters in the eye, trying to earn their vote, talking to them not with just words but showing the progress that we’ve made,” Booker said. “One of the reasons why people know me around the state [is] not only because [of] the work we’ve been doing in Newark, it’s because we’ve found creative ways to champion issues, to turn even the national focus, whether it’s for my food stamp challenge or talking about marriage equality.”
Lately, it seems as if Gov. Christie has as many Democratic leaders endorsing him as Democratic gubernatorial candidate Barbara Buono. Several Democratic mayors, as well as Essex County Executive Joe DiVincenzo, are among those who have publicly thrown their support for the Republican governor.
Booker has been publicly supportive of Buono but refuses to criticize those in the party that are backing Christie.
“I’m not going to cast aspersions on individuals,’ said Booker. “We only have one vote in New Jersey, so whether you’re a state senator, a mayor or a citizen who goes to work every single day to try to bring home a paycheck to their families, we all get one vote and so sometimes we focus on too much on the politicians.”