New Jersey Assembly Speaker Sheila Oliver (D-East Orange) recently told reporters that she is thinking of challenging Booker in the state Democratic primary, saying that no one is "heir apparent" to the seat currently held by Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D) and that Booker's victory in a Senate race would not be a "fait accompli."
Oliver also questioned Booker's investment in state affairs, telling The Huffington Post this week that "all politics is local" and that "national adoration does not win you a Senate seat in New Jersey" -- likely a reference to Booker's status as something of a political rock star, thanks to his history of headline-grabbing moves like taking up residence in a Newark housing project, pulling a neighbor from a burning house and living on food stamps for a week.
We asked the HuffPost community, particularly our readers in New Jersey, what they think about Booker -- whether he would be a senator attentive to the needs of the Garden State, or whether Oliver is right to be skeptical.
A majority of those who responded said they supported Booker. HuffPost commenter MurphtheSurf3 highlighted the items on Booker's CV that he found particularly noteworthy:
My read on Sheila Oliver is that she is a fine Speaker of the NJ House and an accomplished public servant in general. I wish her well. BUT, if Mr. Booker runs for the U.S. Senate he can count on my support. Yes, he is a bit of a PR hound, and he loves being a celebrity politician, but I believe that if you've got it, it is OK to flaunt it.
He has a record of solid accomplishment in one term as the mayor of Newark. He has overseen the reform of city government, a very significant reduction in crime, the doubling of affordable housing, reducing the budget deficit by 60 percent (which included initiatives to cut bloated salaries, including his own), integrating new charter schools with the public school system, city park and other greenway growth, and creative funding of new police and fire initiatives.
He knows how to attract attention. He has shoveled residents driveways, taken part in a fire rescue, welcomed people into his home made homeless by Hurricane Sandy, and lived on food stamps and in a trailer to get a feel for another kind of life.
And he is very smart. Stanford, Oxford, Yale. And in each place he was very involved in social outreach and intercultural dialogue. He could have started his political life anywhere. He is not a son of Newark, but he chose one of American's toughest cities to make a start. He could have failed in a very big way. But he is a committed and reasoned risk taker. I really like that. More, I admire it.
Several commenters cited Booker's record of helping the needy. One person wrote:
There is a humanistic quality about Booker that makes me think he would be great Senator. He has a way of connecting with "real" people and goes out of his way to help those who need help. Also, the fact he is so highly educated gives him the capacity to think critically and to take an analytic approach to solving our problems. Booker's depth, coupled with his sense of compassion towards others, makes me believe he is most deserving of that job as Senator.
Another commenter offered a pragmatic assessment of Oliver's strengths and weaknesses.
Assembly Speaker Oliver has a point, and she has an impressive background, with seats on the Labor, Higher Ed, and Human Services Committees. She may be able to win Emily's List backing, depending on her speaking ability and contacts, but let's be realistic: Mayor Booker comes to the election with a huge advantage that is almost impossible to overcome by an opponent. He's already speaking on Sunday political talk shows as an honored guest, and his rescue of a woman from a house fire sealed his reputation as someone who takes risks for his constituents.
He's well-known in the state and nationally, and well-liked across New Jersey; I think he'll easily nab the Democratic nomination for senator. As a NJ resident, I'm excited by Mayor Booker's candidacy; Sen. Lautenberg has done a wonderful job, but as the years progress it's time for some new blood.
Reader Talib Morgan took a more philosophical approach:
I find that a lot of people -- especially people from and around Essex County, where Newark is located -- have animosity towards Cory. To my mind, Cory is doing a good job in Newark but not a great one. He is clearly out for celebrating himself, but what politician isn't?
It's unclear why people feel Cory should be above having the media sing his praises. As someone who was born in Newark and attended college there, I see Cory as someone who really wants to do good in the city. Certainly, some of what he does is for publicity, but the truth is that it takes a sincere heart to personally run down thieves and to put yourself at risk running into burning buildings. Granted, those things don't build a stronger city, but when was the last time we've heard of any mayor putting himself at risk in such a way?
If we determine whether someone is a good Senate prospect by measuring what they might accomplish, along with their willingness to give their heart for their constituency, Cory is as good or better as anyone. If only flawless candidates could run, there wouldn't be a Senate.
One reader told us that they approved of Booker, but wouldn't look for him to change Washington overnight.
From what I have heard from Mr. Booker, he seems to be a nuanced thinker who strives for equity and diversity in policy. That is something sorely lacking from DC, but I fear Booker would be a voice in the wilderness, much like Bernie Sanders on most liberal policy matters.
The winds are changing in Booker's direction, thus the national adoration, but DC generally caters to older generations. Booker would have to hold a seat for several terms in order to even see mild consensus on his policies (and that is sad being that his policies are generally good ideas).
Many commenters pointed out that while Booker has decent name recognition, Oliver is a mostly unknown quantity:
Cory Booker is quite a charismatic Democrat. Charming, assertive and self-assured, Republicans would have good cause to beware of blindly attacking him. I do not know enough about Ms. Oliver to make an informed judgment to compare the two.
One commenter saw the Booker-Oliver scuffle as a bellwether for a healthy Democratic Party.
I suspect that what we are seeing in NJ with Booker and Oliver is a precursor to what is brewing in a lot of upcoming races. That is, the Democrats are sensing that the Republican agenda is not going to fly with the majority of Americans and most certainly not with women voters. Thus, we are witnessing in NJ high-quality Democrats considering a run for office they might never had considered before the elections this past November.
Because the Republicans have blatantly admitted that they do not think they need to change (or at a minimum modify) their harsh, narrow-minded, cold-hearted agenda, because they believe they only need to course correct that how agenda is delivered, the Democrats have honed in on the high probability of winning many, if not most upcoming elections. Booker and Oliver are simply at the head of what I anticipate will be a long list of highly electable Democratic candidates. Frankly, that's very good news for all Americans at the local, state and national levels.
Not everyone had glowing things to say about Booker. Several readers said they weren't impressed with Newark's progress, or lack thereof, during Booker's time in office. One reader told us:
Booker's only experience is running Newark, and as far as I’m concerned, Newark is still a mess. There have been some improvements in the last 30 years, and it’s not nearly as scary as it once was. But it is not conducive to business. The company I work for left Newark this past year after being located there for 50 years.
And several readers voiced their support of Frank Lautenberg, pointing out that the sitting senator, who is 89, hasn't actually said anything about vacating his seat. (On the contrary, Lautenberg said this week that when Booker spoke openly about exploring a Senate run, it put Lautenberg in mind of a "disrespectful" child in need of "a spanking.") One fan of the incumbent told us:
I’ll vote for whoever Frank Lautenberg endorses -- especially if it’s himself. Outside of that, Booker has developed that lean and hungry look, Oliver sounds like she’s being passed over for a prom date, [state Assemblyman Joseph] Cryan is so much a part of the machine they oil him weekly, and the rest… well, welcome to NJ Politics 101.
Some comments have been edited for length and clarity.