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Trailblazer: U.S. Senator Cory Booker

First Black to win statewide office in New Jersey

By David Wildstein, January 17 2022 12:10 am

Cory Booker, is the first Black to win statewide office in New Jersey.  He was elected to the United States Senate in 2013, winning a special election to replace the late Frank R. Lautenberg.

Booker sought the 2020 Democratic nomination for president in his bid to become the second African American to hold the office.  He dropped out in January, 2019.

A Rhodes Scholar and former Urban Justice Center lawyer, Booker moved to Newark during his final year at Yale Law School.  In 1998, at age 29, he challenged Central Ward councilman George Branch, a four-term incumbent who was 40 years older.

Booker forced Branch into a runoff after trailing him by just 340 votes in the May non-partisan election.  He won the runoff with 55% of the vote.

In 2002, Booker challenged four-term Newark mayor Sharpe James and held him to a 3,494-vote win, 53%-46%.

Booker never stopped running and James bowed out when his fifth term ended in 2002.  Booker was elected mayor by 21,797 votes (72%-23%) against State Sen. Ronald Rice and two others.

He was re-elected four years later by a margin of 9,175 (59%-35%) against former Essex County Prosecutor Clifford Minor.

Following Lautenberg’s death in June 2013, Booker became a candidate for the Democratic nomination for U.S. Senate.  He won a special August primary with 59%.  Rep. Frank Pallone, Jr. (D-Long Branch) finished second with 20%, followed by Rep. Rush Holt (D-Hopewell) with 17% and Assembly Speaker Sheila Oliver (D-East Orange) with 4%.

In the October special general election, Booker defeated former Bogota mayor Steve Lonegan by 147,058 votes, 55%-44%.

He was re-elected in 2014 by a 56%-42% margin – 252,569 votes – against former Reagan speechwriter Jeff Bell.

This story was first published on January 19, 2021.

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