Newark Mayor Cory Booker, positioning himself as a Washington outsider, said he’ll run in a “ramped-up” Democratic primary for the seat left open by the death of New Jersey’s U.S. Senator Frank Lautenberg.
Booker, 44, made his bid official in Newark, New Jersey’s most-populous city, where he has presided since 2006. In December, he said he was exploring a Senate run instead of challenging Republican Governor Chris Christie’s re-election bid. Booker would be the state’s first black U.S. senator.
Lautenberg, an 89-year-old Democrat who didn’t plan to seek a sixth term in 2014, died June 3 of complications from viral pneumonia. Christie, 50, set an Oct. 16 special election for the Senate seat. Candidates must submit 1,000 voter signatures by tomorrow to qualify for the Aug. 13 primary ballot.
“This is not what any of us wanted or expected,” said Booker, who held an announcement at the offices of Audible Inc., a provider of audio over the Internet that moved its headquarters to Newark in 2007, and another in Willingboro. “There’s an old saying -- men plan and God laughs. So we’re going to have to adjust to this ramped-up timeline.”
Booker called the timing of the August primary “crazy” and said he expects the campaign to be “an around-the-clock drill.” He said he won’t run negative ads against fellow Democrats in order to win the nomination.
Booker grabbed national attention when Facebook Inc. co-founder Mark Zuckerberg pledged $100 million to the city’s schools during a 2010 appearance on Oprah Winfrey’s television show. Zuckerberg, 29, and his wife, Priscilla Chan, are holding a fundraiser for Booker “in the coming days,” Sarah Feinberg, a Facebook spokeswoman, said by e-mail.
Zuckerberg hasn’t declared a party affiliation. He held his first political fundraiser on Feb. 13, when he welcomed Christie, who is seeking a second term in November, to his home in Palo Alto, California.
Booker is the second Democrat to formally enter the special Senate 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. U.S. Representative Frank Pallone also has expressed interest.
State voters haven’t elected a Republican to the Senate since Clifford Case won in 1972, and have backed Democrats for president since 1992. Registered Democrats outnumber Republicans by more than 700,000, while the 2.6 million independents top both parties. Only one Republican has entered the Senate race, former Bogota, New Jersey, Mayor Steve Lonegan.
Whoever wins the special election also faces the prospect of a second statewide campaign to retain it next year.
Booker, a graduate of Stanford University and Yale Law School, is considered the frontrunner for the seat. A Rhodes scholar, he rose from the City Council to win the top job in the municipality of almost 278,000 residents. He won re-election in May 2010.
He was joined at both announcements by former U.S. Senator Bill Bradley, a Democrat who served in the senate from 1979 to 1997 and is known as an elder statesman in New Jersey politics. He said Booker is a person who sees politics as a “noble enterprise, not a dirty business.”
The mayor’s efforts to turn around Newark have drawn investments from Wall Street financiers, including hedge-fund manager Bill Ackman. Booker was a speaker at the 2012 Democratic National Convention and helped lead its platform committee.
“There is another city in America that needs some change: Too many have come to see Washington, D.C., as a place where nothing can get done,” Booker said in Newark. “People believe that Washington is a place that is not sticking up for American families, taking on difficult problems or improving the quality of life in our communities. This has to change.”
He cited $1 billion in economic growth and advancements in public safety and quality of life in Newark as accomplishments during his time as mayor. He said he’d initially planned to finish his term before moving on, though he said he’ll continue living in the city.
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.
Faced with two rivals with years of experience in Washington, Booker has chosen to cast himself in the role of outsider and change agent, said government professor Peter Woolley of Fairleigh Dickinson University in Madison, New Jersey.
“That’s his big advantage,” Woolley said yesterday in an interview. “The other two guys have been in Washington a long time and he’s the guy who can bring change. That’s a popular theme in American politics.”