Who Is Cory Booker?
Cory Booker was born on April 27, 1969, in Washington, D.C., to affluent civil rights activists. He attended prestigious schools, including Stanford University and Yale Law School, and went on to become a politician in the city of Newark, New Jersey. Vowing to reduce the crime rate there and improve education and city services, Booker was elected mayor of Newark. An avid user of social media, particularly Twitter, Booker became known as the second most social mayor in the country. He won a seat in the U.S. Senate in a special 2013 election, and went on to announce his bid for the presidency in February 2019, before dropping out of the race early the following year.
Before Cory Anthony Booker became one of America's most well-known mayors, he was just a regular high school football star. He was born on April 27, 1969, in Washington D.C., to civil rights activists Cary Alfred and Carolyn Rose Booker, who were among the first Black executives at IBM.
Raised in Harrington Park, New Jersey, Booker went on to attend Stanford University, where he received a bachelor's degree in political science and a master's degree in sociology. In addition to playing varsity football, Booker served as senior class president and headed a student-run crisis hotline. Upon his graduation from Stanford, Booker was awarded a Rhodes Scholarship to study at the University of Oxford.
He also attended Yale Law School, where he received his Juris Doctor and operated free legal clinics for low-income residents of New Haven. Despite his busy schedule, Booker made time to get involved in the National Black Law Students Association and in the Big Brothers Big Sisters organization, serving as a Big Brother.
Political Career: Newark City Council to Mayor
Booker took an interest in local politics—particularly the Newark City Council—and ran against and defeated four-term City Council incumbent George Branch. To call attention to the city's drug and violence problems, Booker went on a 10-day hunger strike and lived in a tent near the drug-dealing areas. He became known as an advocate of education reform and for proposing council initiatives regarding City Hall transparency, on which he was regularly outvoted 8-1.
But Booker was not discouraged. In fact, instead of running for re-election, he took his ambitions a step further and ran for the mayoral seat against longtime incumbent Sharpe James. During his campaign, his opponent's supporters called Booker a carpetbagger and said he was "not Black enough" to understand the city; Booker lost the election and instead finished out his council term in 2002.
Following his loss, Booker began investing his time in establishing nonprofit organizations aimed to provide Newark residents with resources and services to better their communities, including Newark Now, and was making headlines. He ran for the mayoral seat again in 2006 and won. Booker's tough campaign and promises to battle crime angered several Bloods gang leaders in four New Jersey state prisons: They plotted his assassination, which was then foiled by state investigators.
After Booker assumed office as mayor—the third consecutive Black person to govern the city since 1970—he implemented a number of reforms, including overhauling the police department and improving city services. Through what has been described as one of the largest property-tax increases in the city's history, Booker's administration approved a large budget and fixed the city's structural financial deficit.
He reduced the crime rate significantly during his first term as mayor—even patrolling the streets himself until 4 a.m.—implemented pay cuts for top-earning city managers and directors and reduced his own salary by 8 percent. Additionally, as a result of Booker's leadership, the city of Newark collected more than $100 million in private philanthropy.
As a member of the nonpartisan Mayors Against Illegal Guns Coalition, Booker was honored in October 2009 by the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence and was among finalists for the 2010 World Mayor prize, where he placed seventh. He was a candidate for the prize in 2012.
Recognition in the Media
Booker was re-elected to his seat in May 2010 and made headlines again in December of that year after responding to a constituent's Twitter request for him to send someone to shovel her elderly father's driveway: Booker responded, saying, "I will do it myself; where does he live?" He and several other volunteers showed up and shoveled the man's driveway. Earlier in 2010, Samepoint LLC released a study that measured the social media influence of mayors around the country and ranked Booker second most social mayor.
The Newark mayor made news again in April 2012, when he saved a woman from a house fire and, as a result, suffered second-degree burns on his hands and smoke inhalation. His actions earned Booker the nickname "super-mayor," according to the Toronto Sun, while The Week news magazine published an issue that month with the headline "Newark's Cory Booker: America's most overachieving mayor?"
He made many appearances on The Oprah Winfrey Show—including one with Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg, who donated $100 million to the city's education fund—and spoke about his relationship with President Barack Obama.
Booker traveled with the Democratic National Convention in September 2012 and gave speeches before large crowds, eventually sparking speculation that he would someday run for president himself. Rumors also began circulating that he was considering running for the U.S. Senate, which proved to be true.
Booker officially announced his candidacy for the U.S. Senate in New Jersey on June 8, 2013, the seat open following the death of Senator Frank Lautenberg. The Democratic primary began in August, with Booker campaigning against Representative Frank Pallone, Representative Rush Holt and Assembly Speaker Sheila Oliver. With a 40-point lead over runner-up Pallone, Booker won the primary election for the Democratic nomination on August 13, 2013. He soon won the Senate seat, beating out Republican Steve Lonegan in a special election held on October 16, 2013.
In 2014, election season came around again, and Booker defeated Republican challenger Jeff Bell to hold onto his Senate seat.
In July 2016, Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton placed Booker on her short list for possible vice presidential running mates. Although Booker was not Clinton's VP selection, he was given a prime-time speaking position on the first night of the Democratic National Convention. Booker gave a rousing speech that received cheers from the audience when he repeated a refrain from "Still I Rise," a poem by Maya Angelou: "America, we will rise!"
He also drew a distinction between Clinton and her opponent, Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump. "Hillary Clinton knows what Donald Trump betrays time and time again in this campaign: that we are not a zero sum nation, it is not you or me, it is not one American against another American. It is you and I together, interdependent, interconnected with one single interwoven destiny.
"When we are indivisible, we are invincible," he said, ending his speech to a standing ovation and praise as one of the Democratic Party's rising stars.
During Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh's hearing in 2018, Booker released 12 pages of "committee confidential" emails sent by Kavanaugh that dealt with racial inequality, an act that left him in danger of expulsion. "I understand the penalty comes with potential ousting from the Senate," Booker said. "I openly invite and accept the consequences of my team releasing that email right now."
The following April, Booker introduced a bill to study the impact of slavery on generations of African Americans and the possibilities of reparations for descendants of slaves. It came a few months after a companion measure was introduced in the House by Sheila Jackson Lee of Texas in January.
"This bill is a way of addressing head-on the persistence of racism, white supremacy, and implicit racial bias in our country," said Booker. "It will bring together the best minds to study the issue and propose solutions that will finally begin to right the economic scales of past harms and make sure we are a country where all dignity and humanity is affirmed."
On February 1, 2019, the first day of Black History Month, Booker announced via an email to supporters that he was running for president in 2020.
He sought to project a unifying image in an accompanying video, noting: "The history of our nation is defined by collective action; by interwoven destinies of slaves and abolitionists; of those born here and those who chose America as home; of those who took up arms to defend our country, and those who linked arms to challenge and change it."
Despite his notable public profile, Booker was unable to generate significant momentum as the campaign season progressed, the polls favoring Joe Biden, Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders and the upstart Pete Buttigieg. Late in the year, Booker failed to qualify for the sixth Democratic debate, an ominous sign for his hopes of capturing the party's nomination.
In January 2020, after falling short of qualifying for that month's debate, Booker announced that he was suspending his presidential campaign.
Booker has been tight-lipped about his relationships, though it was confirmed in March 2019 that he was dating actress Rosario Dawson.
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