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Mayor Cory Booker On Senate Run

As Mayor of Newark, NJ, Cory Booker has made a habit of grabbing national headlines. The 44-year-old Democrat is as known for shoveling citizen’s sidewalks and rescuing a neighbor from a burning building just as much as his impressive record— during his seven-year tenure Newark’s crime rate has decreased and business opportunities have grown. Ready to take his talents to the Senate, Booker explains to JET in our August 12 issue, which is on stands now, how he plans on shaking things up on Capitol Hill. Here’s an extended excerpt of our dialogue.

Given your success as mayor of Newark, NJ, how hard was it for you to come to the decision of running for Senate?
The passing of Senator Frank Lautenberg in June forced me to make a tough decision. I knew that I wouldn’t be able to finish out my full term as Mayor— there’s a little more than half a year before the end of my term— and then have to shift into a Senate race would be a challenge. But the momentum of change in Newark right now is simply incredible. This is our biggest economic development boom since the 1960s and this city is just going through a transformative change. It’s a lot of pipeline projects that are important to me that I’ve worked very hard to get here. But I think it’s a good time to pass the baton– giving the next mayor a balanced budget, a growing tax face, reduced crime and incredible innovations in everything from urban farming to court reform.

As you said, the plan was to finish your term before seeking a higher office. How have you prepared for the sped up special election to fill Lautenberg’s vacated Senate seat?
It’s making everything a lot more urgent. Instead of having more than a year to run an election, everything is being condensed. I’m having to pack a lot more into my days because I’m still running the city and so I’m really going around the clock these days. But nothing worthwhile is easy and in life often taking the harder road will always yield more opportunities in my opinion to do good.

How do you respond to critics who label your heroics as “publicity stunts?”
I don’t know if you would even need to respond. I just ask people to look at my life and what I’ve been doing consistently for the last 25 years. I’ve been shoveling people’s driveways since I was in high school. My parents raised me to understand that the most important thing you can do is a small act of kindness. And never ever miss the opportunity to do good now.

You’re also very active on social media and interact directly with the public. What role does technology play in your campaign strategy?
I find that technology has been incredibly empowering in my work as mayor of the city of Newark. Whether it’s being able to connect instantly with thousands of my constituents in a way that I could never do before. I could do a dozen community meetings in a day and not connect with as many people as I can often on social media platforms. Now one doesn’t replace the other. You’re going to see me in this campaign and as I’ve done as mayor constantly in my neighborhoods and constantly in communities. But it’s a powerful tool to be able to use technology to organize and empower. And in politics and in elections, it’s an important tool and we’re going to most definitely use that in our campaign. But I’m more excited about using it to be a more effective United States Senator.

With the new school year around the corner, education and so many school closings in Chicago and Philadelphia, where do you stand on the issue of education?
Every child in America should have the right—and I use that word purposely—the right to attend a high performing public school. That’s our mission. And there’s a lot of debate about getting there, but I know one thing for certain. When we pull together as a country and prioritize our children and understand that our greatest natural resource is the genius of our kids. And that genius is equally distributed in wealthy neighbors, in poor neighborhoods, in suburban neighborhoods and in urban neighborhoods. It’s an American imperative that we all are involved in and all accountable for creating a great a system of public schools and that’s something I’ll advocate for in Washington just like I’ve advocated it for in Newark, but being an advocate is not enough. We must roll up our sleeves and get engaged and involved in a grassroots local level to make that happen.

What other issues are front of mind for you?
There are so many issues that we are struggling with on a local level— from mass incarceration and federal policy— that promotes the failure of the drug war to even economic development and job creation. We need someone in Washington that’s speaking to these issues, finding ways to bring people together and ultimately making progress to empower our communities here in New Jersey and beyond.

To hear from Cory Booker, be sure to pick the August 12 issue of JET, which is on stands now, to read more of this interview.