Biography of Cory Booker, Likely Presidential Candidate in 2020

A Rising Star of the Democratic Party in the Trump Era

U.S. Sen. Cory Booker of New Jersey
Democratic U.S. Sen. Cory Booker of New Jersey listens during a markup hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee in Washington, D.C., in 2018.

 Alex Wong/Getty Images

Cory Booker is an American politician and rising star in the Democratic Party who is considered a likely candidate for president in the 2020 election. He is a former mayor of Newark, New Jersey, who once considered challenging the most popular governor in the U.S., Republican Gov. Chris Christie, but chose instead to seek election to the U.S. Senate. Booker has taken credit for reviving one of American most notorious failed cities and emerged as one of President Donald Trump's fiercest critics. 

Early Years

Booker was born to Carolyn and Cary Booker, both executives at the IBM computer company, on April 27, 1969, in Washington, D.C. He was raised from a young age in Newark, New Jersey, and earned a football scholarship to Stanford University after graduating from Northern Valley Regional High School in Old Tappan, New Jersey, in 1987. He had been a football standout in high school but decided that athletics would be his "ticket and not my destination."

Booker earned both a bachelor's degree political science and master's degree in sociology from Stanford University and an honors degree in history at Oxford University. He was a Rhodes Scholar and completed his law degree at Yale University.

Political Career

Booker began work as a staff attorney for the Urban Justice Center, a nonprofit legal-services and advocacy agency in Newark, after earning his law degree. He was stationed in East Harlem at a time when police were aggressively sweeping many of the area's young people into the criminal justice system.

Booker was elected to the Newark city council at age 29 and served from 1998 to 2002. In 2006, at age 37, he was first elected Newark mayor and heads the state's largest, and perhaps most troubled, city. He was re-elected Newark mayor in 2010. He turned down an offer from President Barack Obama in 2009 to head the newly created White House Office of Urban Affairs Policy.

Booker said he was considering a run for governor against Christie, whose popularity surged largely due to his handling of Hurricane Sandy in 2012 and was seeking a second term in 2013. In June of that year, he announced he would seek the U.S. Senate seat left vacant by the death of U.S. Sen. Frank Lautenberg, who died at age 89.

In 2011, Time magazine named Booker one of the 100 most influential people.

He was a prominent surrogate for Obama in the 2012 election against Republican Mitt Romney and spoke at that year's Democratic National Convention.

Presidential Aspirations

Booker has said he will not run for the White House in 2020, but many observers believe he is laying the groundwork to unseat Republican Donald Trump, who was elected to a first term in 2016. They believe Booker's first signal at a 2020 candidacy we his unprecedented testimony against a colleague in the U.S. Senate, Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions, who was nominated for attorney general by Trump.

Booker's speech in opposition to his colleague was compared to former President Barack Obama's soaring rhetoric. Said Booker of his decision to testify against Sessions: "In the choice between standing with Senate norms or standing up for what my conscience tells me is best for our country, I will always choose conscience and country. ... The arc of the moral universe does not just naturally curve toward justice. We must bend it."

Obama often referred to the "arc of history" and often used the quote: "The arc of the moral universe is long but it bends toward justice.” 

Critics saw Booker's decision to testify against Sessions a clear sign of his intention to run for president in 2020. Wrote Republican U.S. Sen. Tom Cotton of Arkansas: “I’m very disappointed that Sen. Booker has chosen to start his 2020 presidential campaign by testifying against Sen. Sessions."

Booker also made high-profile visits to states that are considered vital to presidential candidates including Iowa.

Personal Life

Booker is single and has no children.

Controversies

Booker has developed a reputation as Newark mayor for being plainspoken and blunt - characteristics that are somewhat rare in politicians and occasionally land them in hot water. During the 2012 election, Booker caught some flak when he described his party's attacks on Republican Mitt Romney's work at Bain Capital "nauseating." The Romney picked up on the comments and used them in the campaign.

Legacy

Booker is an outspoken advocate for boosting the quality of public education in his city, and has led some particularly successful reforms as Newark mayor. He is also known for shining a light of poverty. In 2012, he embarked on a weeklong campaign to live on food stamps and lived on less than $30 worth of groceries. "The constrained food options I have for this one short week highlight for me ... what many hardworking families have to deal with week after week," Booker wrote.

Booker said he embarked on the food stamp project following a complaint by a constituent that nutrition is not the government's responsibility. "This comment caused me to reflect on the families and children in my community who benefit from SNAP assistance and deserve deeper consideration," he wrote. "In my own quest to better understand the outcomes of SNAP assistance, I suggested to this specific Twitter user that we both live on a SNAP equivalent food budget for a week and document our experience."

In "25 Accomplishments in 25 Months," Booker and the Newark city council proclaimed successes in adding more police to the city streets, reducing violent crime, expanding public parks, improving access to public transportation and attracting new businesses to the area and creating jobs.

Critics, however, have suggested the notion of a reviving Newark was just a mirage and Booker was merely a cheerleader who cared more about his image than getting things done. Journalist Amy S. Rosenberg wrote in 2016 that Booker "left behind bruised feelings in the neighborhoods where residents wanted jobs more than cheerleading. And to the residents who forked over big increases in fees and taxes, there remains a gnawing suspicion that Booker cared more about the optics of a social media moment than actually delivering on basic city services."

In 2012, Booker saved a woman from a burning house, news of which spread rapidly across social media. On the social network Twitter, users elevated Booker to a sort of hero status, writing that he could "win a game of Connect Four with only three moves" and that "super heroes dress up as Cory Booker on Halloween." He became known as Supermayor.

Notable Quotes

“Before you speak to me about your religion, first show it to me in how you treat other people; before you tell me how much you love your God, show me in how much you love all His children; before you preach to me of your passion for your faith, teach me about it through your compassion for your neighbors. In the end, I’m not as interested in what you have to tell or sell as I am in how you choose to live and give.”

“There are two ways to go through life, as a thermometer or a thermostat. Don't be a thermometer, just reflecting what's around you, going up or down with your surroundings. Be a thermostat and set the temperature.” 

“Tolerance is becoming accustomed to injustice; love is becoming disturbed and activated by another’s adverse condition. Tolerance crosses the street; love confronts. Tolerance builds fences; love opens doors. Tolerance breeds indifference; love demands engagement. Tolerance couldn’t care less; love always cares more."

Sources

Fast Facts: Cory Anthony Booker

Known For: U.S. Senator from New Jersey and potential 2020 presidential candidate. 

Born: April 27, 1969, in Washington, D.C.

Parents: Carolyn and Cary Booker.

Education: Stanford University, B.S., M.A.; University of Oxford, honors degree; Yale Law School, J.D.

Fun Fact: Booker became a social-media sensation after he entered a burning home in Newark, New Jersey, to save his neighbor in 2012.