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What Cory Booker’s State of the City speech says about his emerging Senate bid

Newark Mayor Cory Booker (D) offered a full-throated defense of his record as mayor of Newark in his State of the City address Tuesday night, keeping up an effort to shore up his résumé in advance of a probable Senate run in which opponents will likely try to use Booker's record against him.

(J. Scott Applewhite/AP)

Booker began his speech by pointing to the challenges he faced when he entered office in 2006, and went on to note the city's improvements since then. He noted progress in reducing overtime and boosting city worker productivity, as well as the Housing Authority reforms he spearheaded, among other things. Overall, Booker's speech marked a departure from previous addresses. Here's what the Newark Star-Ledger reported:

In the past, the mayor’s speeches have been filled with lofty goals and bold initiatives aimed at improving the lives of city residents. But as Booker looks to become the first mayor to leave City Hall for higher office in more than 160 years, his 75-minute address tonight largely looked back as he extolled his record as chief executive of the state’s largest — and often most troubled — city, a record his primary opponents are likely to challenge.

The speech is notable because it appears to be part of a larger Booker effort to portray his record in a positive light and push back against critics. When Booker declared last last year that he would explore a Senate run, much of his video announcement was devoted to touting his tenure as mayor of Newark.

Just a week before that announcement, the New York Times ran a front page story detailing the problems that have plagued the city under Booker's watch, including rising taxes, crime and unemployment.

Now, any politician who runs for higher office can reasonably expect his or her current job to be the subject of close scrutiny from opponents looking for attack fodder. This will be especially true for Booker if he runs for the Senate, for a couple of reasons.

For one thing, with Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D) retiring, it's an open race. Campaigns featuring incumbents generally shape up as referenda on their records. But without a current officeholder in the mix, the attention will shift to the front-running candidate.

And Booker, who sports high name recognition and good favorability numbers statewide, looks like that candidate. But his nomination is not a forgone conclusion, especially if, as expected, Rep. Frank Pallone (D) makes a bid. And that means Booker needs to be prepared for meaningful attacks on his record.

Close observers of the New Jersey Senate race can expect to hear more about Booker's record as mayor in the months to come. And at this point, the mayor appears determined not to let anyone else paint it in a negative light so long as he has anything to say about it.

Sean Sullivan has covered national politics for The Washington Post since 2012.



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