Cory Booker, 46, is the junior U.S. senator from New Jersey and former mayor of Newark. He is the author of “ United, ” which was published this month .
So what was it like to move from mayor to senator?
Being a mayor is sort of like the two-minute warning of football — that speed-up time where you just move up the line, get hit hard, get back up and try to gain ground. While here, it’s much more of a chess game. As mayor I had to figure out ways for the universe to discover Newark. So I tried to be on TV a lot, tried to run around the country begging developers and philanthropists to come. Here, it’s been better to keep my head down and really start to earn and deepen relationships with colleagues on both sides of the aisle. If you are passionate and aggressive — not necessarily in the way you have to be as mayor, where I’d hold a press conference and rake people over the coals — you can move the needle down here on issues that you care about. And even when you can’t necessarily move the needle, the fact that I can have a conversation with my caucus or other members about Black Lives Matter, or about policing and how to run a department, gives me this sense of satisfaction at night that, Hey, I’m in the right place.
You seem to put yourself in situations most people try hard to avoid: moving into public housing, running into burning buildings. What’s that about?
Just driving in our car, most of us see problems and challenges, and the question is: Are you going to be someone who just keeps going? Being in a community like Newark, living in the poorest parts of the city, the heroes jump out at you and you see great acts of kindness or courage. I get lots of attention for doing these things, but the reality is that people do exactly what I do on a daily basis but are not getting the public attention.
And it’s good that we celebrate these things — I know from social science that if you do a good deed and 10 people witness it, it actually changes their behavior [for the better]. But I do feel a little uncomfortable by people making this assumption — it became a caricature that was doomed to be criticized — that I’m some kind of superhero.
The superhero costume they gave you on “The Ellen DeGeneres Show”?
Exactly. And that’s the curse and the blessing of social media for me. As a mayor, Twitter became this platform where I could accelerate our ability to help our constituencies. So if there’s a traffic light out, the first commuter tweets: “Fix the traffic light.” And I would just say: “On it.” But I’d also find out about people in distress. So if it’s 11 p.m. — and this might be why I’m still single — if somebody tweets me, “I called the police and nobody showed up,” and I’m in the South Ward, just six blocks down, I get out and run for it. People see that playing out on a public platform, and it becomes a national story. And then it cuts two ways because people say, “You’re showboating.” A few senators in my caucus had this presumption that I was, quote, “an a------” because what we know about each other before we get here is only by the media.
So the media doesn’t always get it right?
[Laughs.] Look, we’re all mountain ranges: We all have peaks and valleys. And I’d like to focus on people’s peaks and figure out where we can work together. All of us have been jerks in our lives. Let us not be judged by our lesser moments but seek in each other the best of who we are. If you read my quotes on my tweets, I’m always trying to put positive energy out there.
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