Welcome to our recurring series “Who The Fuck Are All These Fucks?” in which we profile, in brief, each of the 2020 candidates for president. This series is not meant to be exhaustive, and you’re encouraged to look into each candidate on your own.
NAME: Cory Anthony Booker
CURRENT JOB: United States Senator from New Jersey
PREVIOUS JOB: Mayor of Newark, New Jersey
HOW COME HE DIDN’T GET A PROFILE UNTIL THE DAY OF THE DEBATES: Because he’s a very qualified, intelligent man who no one remembers because he’s kind of a big goof
Cory Booker was born in Washington, D.C., on 4/27/69, which is so close to being Internet gold. He grew up in New Jersey, studied political science at Stanford, got a masters degree, ran a crisis hotline, studied at Oxford on a Rhodes Scholarship, went to Yale Law, operated a free legal clinic for low-income New Haven residents, and then went back to New Jersey and became that guy.
Elected to the Newark City Council in 1998, Booker thought that “Stanford-Oxford-Yale graduate” might mean people would listen to his ideas on social inequity and the struggles of working class people living in the city. His fellow city councilors were not particularly interested in talking about those things, though, because they sounded like bad things and no one wants to talk about bad things.
Frustrated, Booker announced his candidacy for Mayor of Newark in 2002. Running against popular incumbent Mayor Sharpe James, Booker encountered what would be the harshest election of his life (and the subject of an Oscar-nominated documentary). He insisted that James had plenty of time to clean up the city. “After sixteen years, anything he could have done he should have done.” And what was James response? Not… not great. As Salon reported in 2002, ” Sharpe James has leveled a variety of lunatic charges against his opponent, city councilman Cory Booker, accusing him of taking money from the KKK and the Taliban, collaborating with Jews to take over Newark, being a “faggot white boy” and (cover your ears, children) a Republican.”
Sharpe won re-election, 53%-47%. But the closer-than-comfortable result may have prompted him to not seek another term in 2006. Instead, Booker ran again and faced Ronald Rice, Sharpe’s deputy. It was a landslide for Booker, who not only won 72% of the vote in his race but who endorsed a group of candidates for city council – three of Booker’s candidates won on election night and four more won in runoff elections a month later, giving him allies in seven out of nine seats.
Now the mayor with a sympathetic city council, it was time for Booker to put his money where his mouth was. And, in a move that might be slightly unusual for a politician, he did. Booker cut his salary, made it easier for reformed offenders to get city government jobs as a way out of poverty and crime, overhauled police stations so they weren’t awful, dramatically increased the city’s affordable housing stock, and lowered the city’s deficit. Re-elected in 2010, Booker oversaw increased commercial development in the city and saved a woman from a house fire, you know, like mayors do.
There was question over whether Booker would run for re-election in 2014 or challenge Governor Chris Christie in 2013. Booker confirmed that he would do neither: instead, he would run for U.S. Senate in 2014, as Senator Frank Lautenberg was retiring. However, Lautenberg died in 2013, and Booker made the decision to run in a special election that year. He won, resigning as mayor and joining the Senate on Halloween.
As a senator, Booker frequently meets with Republicans and works to reach across the aisle. But he is not a Republican. Booker co-sponsored a bill to repeal the Defense of Marriage Act; he has taken positions in favor of criminal justice reform, legalizing marijuana, and greatly limiting the power of the Trump administration. In 2017, he co-sponsored a bill to implement Medicare for All.
“He is a Good Liberal on many issues. But he’s also an avatar of the wealthy elite, a camera hog and a political cipher who has never proposed anything to address the structural causes of the problems he claims to care so deeply about.”Alex Pareene for Salon
Booker was a rumored vice presidential choice for Hillary Clinton in 2016 and it was believed that he would mount a campaign in 2018 – surprise, he did – with a lot of talk about Booker as ‘the next Barack Obama.’ But Booker faced skepticism when he was first elected, with progressives saying he’s too close to Wall Street (insurance giant Prudential is headquartered in Newark) and moderates saying he’s too squishy-soft when it comes to crime and social issues.
Ahead of the 2013 special election primary, Salon said that, if he won, Booker was “going to be a very annoying senator.” Why? “He is a Good Liberal on many issues. But he’s also an avatar of the wealthy elite, a camera hog and a political cipher who has never proposed anything to address the structural causes of the problems he claims to care so deeply about.”
Booker’s senate career has defied some expectations, as he has come out in favor of a lot of socially progressive bills. But he has few big successes to campaign on; in that sense, maybe he is the next Barack Obama, dependent on his persona more than his accomplishments or his vision. But it isn’t clear that Democratic voters want that this time around.