Professor: Booker admitted to inventing stories about drug-dealer friend

August 29, 2013
Newark Mayor CoryBooker speaks at the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, N.C., on Sept. 4. (Lynne Sladky/AP) Newark Mayor Cory Booker (Lynne Sladky/AP)

The conservative National Review reports that a Rutgers University professor says Cory Booker admitted to him that a drug-dealing friend that Booker has frequently talked about on the campaign trail was an invented character.

Booker in the past has regularly talked about a drug-dealer named "T-Bone," but questions were raised years ago — and are being raised again now that Booker is likely to become a U.S. senator — about whether that person actually exists.

Booker has said T-Bone is "1,000 percent real."

From Eliana Johnson:

The T-Bone tale never sat right with Rutgers University history professor Clement Price, a Booker supporter who tells National Review Online he found the mayor’s story offensive because it “pandered to a stereotype of inner-city black men.” T-Bone, Price says, “is a Southern-inflected name. You would expect to run into something or somebody named T-Bone in Memphis, not Newark.”

Price considers himself a mentor and friend to Booker and says Booker conceded to him in 2008 that T-Bone was a “composite” of several people he’d met while living in Newark. The professor describes a “tough conversation” in which he told Booker “that I disapproved of his inventing such a person.” “If you’re going to create a composite of a man along High Street,” he says he asked Booker, “why don’t you make it W. E. B. DuBois?” From Booker, he says, “There was no pushback. He agreed that was a mistake.” Since then, references to T-Bone have been conspicuously absent from Booker’s speeches.

Booker has never publicly said that T-Bone does not exist. In fact, he has done quite the opposite. Andra Gillespie, author of The New Black Politician (2012), writes: “For his part, Booker defended the veracity of this story to me, insisting that T-Bone really existed.” The mayor told Esquire in 2008 that T-Bone is both “1,000 percent real” but also an “archetype” symbolic of Newark’s plight. Asked whether the mayor stands by his previous statements, Booker campaign spokesman Kevin Griffis told me, “I think your questions have been answered a long time ago,” but declined to specify further.

...

Walter C. Farrell, a professor of social work at the University of North Carolina, tells me that he has long had ties to Newark and, upon hearing Booker recount his experiences with T-Bone, set out to look for him. “I’ve been up and down the streets and nobody’s ever heard of this T-Bone,” says Farrell, who was in Newark when he spoke with me by phone. “You know a lot of politicians do that.”

Farrell argues that Booker serves up fables that appeal to his audiences. “Upper-middle-class white people love to hear these stories, you know, somebody who cares. So Cory Booker gave it to them and is still giving it to them,” he says.

Aaron Blake covers national politics and writes regularly for The Fix.
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