After months of speculation about whether he’d challenge popular New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie for the state’s top job in 2013, Newark Mayor Cory Booker has finally come to a decision: He won’t. Instead, he said in a web video and an op-ed Thursday, he’ll finish his term as mayor of Newark and explore the possibility of running for Senate in 2014 in New Jersey.
“There is still much work to do. And so, let there be no doubt, I will complete my full second term as mayor. As for my political future, I will explore the possibility of running for the United States Senate in 2014,” he said in a slick video on CoryBooker.com that features him sitting in front of a blue curtain, next to a stack of books, including the Koran.
Booker’s announcement isn’t all that surprising. Since Hurricane Sandy blew through New Jersey, Christie has been enjoying historically high approval ratings, and it will be an uphill battle for anyone to unseat him. But Booker, who has many big-name backers on the national level and the campaign money that comes with it, might have had a chance. Now, he’ll vie for Frank Lautenberg’s Senate seat. Lautenberg is a Democrat who has not expressed interest in retiring, though he will be 90 in 2014.
In an interview Wednesday with the Los Angeles Times, Booker said he had reached the limits of what he can do in Newark as mayor.
“We’re getting to the point where we are seeing ourselves advance the ball as far as it can go unless we get better help and support at a state or national level,” he said.
Booker said he would try to be an advocate for the urban poor in his next step, drawing attention to crime, poverty and declining wages.
“I don’t hear people with a real urban agenda on the national level – in terms of talking about poverty, in terms of talking about how real wages are declining in this country, how I have residents in my city who work two jobs just to make ends meet, and what we really need to do to change this,” he said. “I’ve now kind of gotten to the point where I do think I have a obligation to try to move on, be able to leverage more change to the issues going on in my community.”
Booker is already well-known on the national level – he’s appeared on shows ranging from “The Daily Show with Jon Stewart” to “Meet the Press” – and has more than a million Twitter followers. He recently lived off food stamps for a week, which got national coverage, and once saved a neighbor from a burning building when he saw smoke coming from inside.
In his announcement, he cited the progress he’s made in the city, including increasing housing production and convincing companies, such as Panasonic and Audible.com, to move their headquarters to Newark. He also emphasized that the population in the city is growing for the first time in decades.
But Booker also has his critics in Newark. He raised property taxes 16% and cut police to balance the budget. Earlier this month, police had to subdue protesters at a council meeting with pepper spray after Booker battled with the council over filling an empty seat.
One-time backers such as Councilwoman Mildred Crump say that for all of Booker’s promise, they are disappointed in the mayor, criticizing him for dividing the city.
“People who live outside Newark have no clue,” she said in an interview last week in the council chambers. “The polarizing by our city with this mayor reached epidemic limits.”
Newark is a notoriously difficult city to govern, with powerful political factions and alliances, which may give Booker some practice for dealing with the inside politics of the U.S. Senate.