Facebook Inc. co-founder Mark Zuckerberg and his wife, Priscilla Chan, will give Newark Mayor Cory Booker some help in his U.S. Senate bid, which the New Jersey Democrat plans to formally announce today.
Booker, 44, will enter the special-election race to replace Senator Frank Lautenberg, a five-term Democrat who died at age 89 on June 3. The mayor plans events in Newark and Willingboro Township, according to Kevin Griffis, a spokesman.
Zuckerberg, who hasn’t declared a party affiliation, held his first political fundraiser on Feb. 14, when he welcomed New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, a 50-year-old Republican seeking a second term, to his Palo Alto, California, home. The 29-year-old billionaire pledged $100 million to help Newark schools during a 2010 appearance on Oprah Winfrey’s television show, alongside Booker and Christie.
“Mark and Priscilla are hosting a fundraiser for Mayor Booker in the coming days,” Sarah Feinberg, a Facebook spokeswoman, said yesterday by e-mail. Griffis confirmed the plan.
Booker is serving his second term as mayor of New Jersey’s most populous city, with almost 278,000 residents. In 2006, he rose from the City Council to oust Sharpe James from the top office and won re-election in 2010. Booker has focused on reviving the city’s economy and improving its schools.
The mayor’s efforts to turn around Newark have drawn investments from Wall Street financiers, including hedge-fund manager Bill Ackman. Audible Inc., a provider of audio over the Internet, moved its headquarters to Newark and Booker will make his announcement at its offices today, Griffis said.
Late last year, the mayor said he was exploring a Senate run in 2014 instead of challenging Christie’s re-election in November. Booker’s statements prompted a rebuke from Lautenberg, who hadn’t said whether he would seek a sixth term. In February, the state’s senior senator and the oldest member of the upper house of Congress said he wouldn’t run for re-election.
The mayor is the second Democrat to formally enter the race. U.S. Representative Rush Holt, a physicist and five-time winner of the television game show “Jeopardy!,” said on June 6 that he was running. Another Democratic congressman, Frank Pallone, also has expressed interest. Only one Republican has entered the campaign, former Bogota, New Jersey, Mayor Steve Lonegan.
Booker has $1.6 million in hand for the campaign, according to Federal Election Commission filings. That compares with almost $800,000 for Holt and more than $3.7 million held by Pallone, FEC records show. Recent reports for Lonegan, who ran for Congress in 1998, weren’t available on the agency website.
Zuckerberg’s current net worth is estimated at $11.5 billion, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. Almost all of his wealth is in the form of Facebook shares, which closed yesterday at $23.29, up 1.4 percent on the Nasdaq Stock Market.
In the New Jersey special election, a party primary vote is set for Aug. 13, with the final balloting on Oct. 16. The winner will serve the remainder of Lautenberg’s term, which ends in January 2015, and faces the prospect of running again next year to retain the seat after that.
Christie has appointed New Jersey Attorney General Jeffrey Chiesa, a Republican, as an interim replacement to serve until the special election decides the new occupant of the seat.
Zuckerberg’s pledge to Newark’s schools helped draw national attention to Booker, who has almost 1.4 million followers on the Twitter Inc. website. The mayor was a speaker at the 2012 Democratic National Convention and helped lead its platform committee.
Booker is considered the frontrunner for the seat. He’s a Yale Law School and Stanford University graduate who became a Rhodes Scholar, earning a degree in modern history from Oxford University in the U.K.
New Jersey Democrats outnumber Republicans by more than 700,000 registered voters, giving the party an edge. Voters in the state haven’t sent a Republican to the Senate since Clifford Case won a seat 1972 and have backed Democrats for president since 1992.