Throughout Cory Booker’s career, he hasn’t run away from big problems; he’s run towards them. From leading legal clinics in New Haven, Conn. as a law student to taking on one of the most powerful and entrenched political machines in New Jersey, Booker has built a record of bringing people together around tough challenges and delivering results that improved people’s lives.
“This is the fight I will carry to Washington – our fight, our spirit, our guts and our grit. It is time to have more courage in DC to take on the big problems, to take risks for the sake of our children and our families, to have the needed valor to reach out across whatever lines that divide, join with others, and brick by brick, as we have done in Brick City, to build a stronger foundation for our future – for New Jersey, for our nation.”
When Booker swept into office as mayor of Newark, N.J. in 2006, defeating the political operation of a five-term incumbent, he won with the largest margin ever recorded in a contested Newark election and immediately began uniting people to tackle problems that had been plaguing Newark for decades.
Violent crime was rising; businesses were leaving Newark, and its tax base was shrinking; its population had been declining for 60 years; failing schools were pervasive, and the city’s finances were in shambles.
In the face of these intense challenges, many had given up on Newark. But Booker, 44, a Harrington Park native, Rhodes Scholar and graduate of Stanford and Oxford Universities and Yale Law School, joined with residents and others who believed that something better was possible for Newark. They have been hard at work for more than seven years proving the skeptics wrong.
And they have succeeded. Today, after decades of neglect, mismanagement and decay, Newark has started a turnaround.
“I will bring to Washington experience forged from working together with other New Jersey residents – not to talk about problems but to run towards them, take them on and get things done,” Booker said when he announced his Senate candidacy.
Newark today is in the midst of its biggest period of economic growth since the 1960s. Newark is the site of more than one-third of all new commercial and multi-family development in New Jersey, despite being home to only 3 percent of the state’s population. The first new hotels in the downtown in 40 years are being built, the first new office towers in 20. There is more than $1 billion of new development currently underway, translating to new jobs and opportunity for Newark residents, and there’s $2 billion more in the pipeline for this year and next.
“Together, in fact, I think a new era is coming where we will fight to rekindle the fundamental American understanding that principled people can hold to their beliefs and still find the common ground necessary to advance the most diverse, unique and exceptional nation on the globe. This is the American spirit after all. A spirit that runs deep and abundant, North to South and all over the great state of New Jersey.”
To drive this development and Newark’s turnaround, Booker helped convince companies such as Audible.com, Panasonic North America and Manischewitz to take a chance on Newark and relocate their companies’ headquarters to the city. Booker worked with residents, philanthropists and civic organizations to lower crime – even with hundreds fewer police officers than his predecessor – and strengthen and empower at-risk families. He lobbied Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg to invest in Newark’s children, resulting in a $100 million gift to reform its schools – with the mayor now having raised more than $200 million to support public education.
There’s still a long way to go, but Booker and his team have driven change in all areas of the city. They spearheaded a more than doubling of the rate of affordable housing production, created the city’s largest expansion of parks and recreation spaces in over a century, with nearly 50 acres of new or refurbished parks, and driven first-of-their-kind innovations in New Jersey in grassroots economic empowerment, programs to support grandparents raising their grandchildren and innovations and efforts to combat and reduce childhood obesity.
At the same time, faced with an economic recession and dire financial circumstances, Booker set out to reform City Hall and balance its books.
The mayor created an inspector general’s office, which has been responsible for 19 indictments, all leading to guilty pleas. And he adopted the management tool CitiSTAT across several departments. It has resulted in hundreds of improvements including:
- a 60 percent drop in missed sanitation pickups;
- an at least 50 percent drop in workman’s compensation claims across a series of departments;
- a 98 percent per-inspector increase of inspections in Code Enforcement;
- a $15 million decrease in overtime expenditures for police; and
- significant reductions in absences – down 40 percent in Engineering and 46 percent in Neighborhood Recreational Services.
Meanwhile, despite coming into office facing a $118 million deficit and a budget nearly a quarter of which was comprised of “one-timers,” Newark’s 2013 budget is structurally balanced and relies on less than 5 percent one-time funding sources. In fact this year’s budget proposes less total spending than when the Mayor took office in 2006.
To make his city more competitive and improve the lives of its residents, Booker has worked hard to tackle some of the root causes of poverty and hopelessness. His team created an innovative network of resources and programs for men and women coming home from incarceration, driving down recidivism rates for those involved. He attracted millions in charitable donations to put books in the hands of at-risk children, and Booker and his team created New Jersey’s first veterans and community courts, as well as a network of grassroots financial and family empowerment centers in 14 neighborhoods throughout Newark, helping working families keep more of what they make.
In his announcement for Senate, Booker explained it this way: “If I can claim any credit, it is that I was successful bringing people together who believed that better things were possible – community leaders, philanthropists, residents and entrepreneurs who didn’t just bet on themselves but who also bet on the city of Newark and its people.”
Booker was born in Washington D.C. His father, Cary, who was from North Carolina and the son of a single mom, and his mother, Carolyn, a Detroit native, both worked for IBM and relocated the family to Harrington Park in Bergen County. Housing rights activists helped the family buy their first home after initially being turned down because of the color of their skin.
Booker earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Stanford, where he played for the Stanford football team. He also ran a crisis hotline for students and worked with disadvantaged youth in East Palo Alto. Booker then attended Oxford University as a Rhodes Scholar where he ran a student tutoring and mentoring program in a disadvantaged community and served as president of the Oxford L’Chaim Society. Booker earned his juris doctor from Yale Law School, where he helped lead free legal clinics for New Haven residents. After moving to Newark, Booker lived for eight years in Brick Towers, a public housing complex. He now lives in Newark’s South Ward community.