Cory Booker won't run for the New Jersey governor's office in 2014, he has announced. Instead, the energetic Newark mayor will consider a U.S. Senate bid.
“Let there be no doubt, I will complete my full second term as mayor,” Booker said in statement Thursday (December 20). “As for my political future, I will explore the possibility of running for The United States Senate in 2014.”
The decision prevents a major shakeup in New Jersey politics, rendering moot months of speculation that the state would see a marquee matchup in its race for governor: Booker, a rising star among Democrats who landed a prime speaking slot at the party's convention last fall, and Governor Chris Christie, the blunt Republican whose popularity has soared in Superstorm Sandy's aftermath.
Booker and Christie had already developed a political rivalry, most of it cordial. In May, the men appeared together in a Youtube video, a parody of the sit-com Seinfeld, making light of the rivalry and Booker's reputation as “Superman,” earned after he pulled a neighbor from a burning building.
Booker was widely considered his party's best, if only, chance to unseat Christie. His announcement disheartened some New Jersey Democrats.
“I am disappointed that Mayor Booker has chosen not to seek the nomination for New Jersey Governor; he is an attractive candidate,” Assemblyman John Wisniewski, chairman of the state's Democratic Committee, said in a statement. “However, New Jersey Democrats have a number of talented, experienced individuals on our ‘bench' who would make both excellent candidates and excellent governors.”
Booker's departure leaves his party without a clear front runner. A handful of names have been pitched as possibilities.
“Of course it makes it harder. We have to rally around a candidate quickly,” Senator Raymond Lesniak told nj.com. “I would say certainly within 30 days.”
Should Booker run for U.S. Senate, it would be for a seat currently held by Frank Lautenberg, who is up for reelection in November 2014. It's not clear whether Booker would challenge 89-year-old Lautenberg in a primary, or if the senator plans to retire.
Despite his national popularity, Booker's record during his six years in long-troubled Newark is mixed. He has overseen a rejuvenation of the city's downtown, but has had to raise taxes and make drastic cuts to basic services, such as law enforcement. Crime rates are still high and the schools remain under state control.
And as The New York Times reported last week, Booker has faced local criticism for the time he spends outside of the Newark, and his apparent zeal for the national spotlight — something that some New Jersey politicos have suggested makes him better suited for Washington than Trenton.
National aspirations aside, Booker says he will be “fully involved” in the state's coming elections.
“Over the coming months my presence in New Jersey's state election season will be felt from the Highlands in the North to Southern shore communities,” he says. “No one will fight harder than me for the Democratic ticket this fall, from the top to the bottom.”