Booker was born on April 27, 1969, in Washington, D.C., and grew up in Harrington Park, New Jersey, 20 miles (32 km) north of Newark, New Jersey. His parents, Carolyn Rose (née Jordan) and Cary Alfred Booker, were among the first black executives at IBM. Booker has stated that he was raised in a religious household and that he and his family attended a small African Methodist Episcopal Church in New Jersey.
On January 9, 2014, Brian D. Goldberg, a West Orange resident and New Jersey businessman, announced that he would seek the Republican nomination for U.S. Senate. On January 27, 2014, Freehold Township businessman Richard J. "Rich" Pezzullo announced his candidacy for the Republican nomination. Pezzullo had previously run for the US Senate in 1996 as the Conservative Party candidate. On February 4, 2014, conservative political consultant Jeff Bell announced his bid for the nomination. Bell was the Republican Party nominee for U.S. Senate in 1978. Ramapo College professor Murray Sabrin, who ran for the Senate in 2000 and 2008, announced another run on February 13.
He supports long-term deficit reduction efforts to ensure economic prosperity, cap and trade taxation to combat climate change, and increased funding for education. He has spoken in favor of creating a federal jobs guarantee and baby bonds (low-risk savings accounts that minors get access to at age 18). In the Senate, he has emphasized issues of racial and social justice. He played a leading role in the push to pass the First Step Act, a bipartisan criminal justice reform bill. He supports ending the War on Drugs. Booker supports abortion rights and affirmative action. He also supports a single-payer health care plan: in September 2017, he joined Bernie Sanders and 14 other co-sponsors in submitting a single-payer health care plan to congress called the "Medicare for All" bill.
Booker graduated from Northern Valley Regional High School at Old Tappan, where he played varsity football and was named to the 1986 USA Today All-USA high school football team. Booker went on to Stanford University, receiving a Bachelor of Arts in political science in 1991 and a Master of Arts in sociology the following year. While at Stanford, he played football as a tight end and was teammates with Brad Muster and Ed McCaffrey, and also made the All–Pacific-10 Academic team and was elected senior class president. In addition, Booker ran The Bridge Peer Counseling Center, a student-run crisis hotline, and organized help from Stanford students for youth in East Palo Alto, California.
In 1992, Booker recounted in his column for The Stanford Daily that as a 15-year-old kissing a friend on New Year's Eve, he reached for her breast, had his hand pushed away once, and then "reached [his] 'mark.'" The column described Booker's changed attitudes towards sexual relations and how "skewed attitudes" lead to rape. The Daily Caller and Fox News brought up the column during the Kavanaugh confirmation hearings in September 2018.
After Stanford, Booker was awarded a Rhodes Scholarship to study at Oxford University, where he earned an honors degree in United States history in 1994 as a member of The Queen's College. He earned his Juris Doctor in 1997 from Yale Law School, where he operated free legal clinics for low-income residents of New Haven, Connecticut. At Yale, Booker was a founding member of the Chai Society (now Shabtai), was a Big Brother with Big Brothers Big Sisters of America, and was active in the National Black Law Students Association.
Contemplating advocacy work and a run for city council in Newark after graduating law school, Booker lived in the city during his final year at Yale. After graduation, he served as staff attorney for the Urban Justice Center in New York and program coordinator of the Newark Youth Project. In 1998, Booker won an upset victory for a seat on the Municipal Council of Newark, defeating four-term incumbent George Branch. To draw attention to the problems of open-air drug dealing and associated violence, he went on a 10-day hunger strike and lived in a tent and later in a motor home near drug-dealing areas of the city. Booker also proposed council initiatives that impacted housing, young people, law and order, and the efficiency and transparency of city hall, but was regularly outvoted by all of his fellow councilors.
Booker announced on February 11, 2006, that he would again run for mayor. Although incumbent Mayor Sharpe James filed paperwork to run for reelection, shortly thereafter he announced that he would instead cancel his bid to focus on his work as a State Senator, which he was originally elected to in 1999. At James's discretion, Deputy Mayor Ronald Rice decided to run as well. Booker's campaign outspent Rice's 25 to 1, for which Rice attacked him. In addition to raising over $6 million for the race, Booker attacked Rice as a "political crony" of James. Booker won the May 9 election with 72% of the vote. His slate of city council candidates, known as the "Booker Team", swept the council elections, giving Booker firm leadership of the city government.
On January 9, 2002, Booker announced his campaign for Mayor of Newark, rather than running for re-election as councilman; this pitted him against longtime incumbent Sharpe James. James, who had easily won election four consecutive times, saw Booker as a real threat, and responded with mudslinging, at one campaign event calling him "a Republican who took money from the KKK [and] Taliban ... [who's] collaborating with the Jews to take over Newark". In the campaign, James' supporters questioned Booker's suburban background, calling him a carpetbagger who was "not black enough" to understand the city. Booker lost the election on May 14, garnering 47% of the vote to James' 53%. The election was chronicled in the Oscar-nominated documentary Street Fight.
On August 13, 2013, Booker was declared the winner of the Democratic primary, with approximately 59% of the vote. On October 16, 2013, he defeated Republican Steve Lonegan in the general election, 54.9% to 44.0%, Booker is the first African-American to be elected to the Senate since Barack Obama in 2004. The night before his victory, Booker visited the gravesite of Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson, where he offered his prayers and lit a vigil candle in memory of his father.
Booker's 2002 mayoral campaign, which he lost, was chronicled by filmmaker Marshall Curry in his documentary Street Fight. The film was nominated in 2005 for the Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature.
In late June 2006, before Booker took office, New Jersey investigators foiled a plot to assassinate Booker led by Bloods gang leaders inside four New Jersey state prisons. The motive for the plot was unclear, but was described variously as a response to the acrimonious campaign and to Booker's campaign promises to take a harder line on crime.
Before taking office as mayor, Booker sued the James administration, seeking to terminate cut-rate land deals favoring two redevelopment agencies that had contributed to James's campaigns and listed James as a member of their advisory boards. Booker argued that the state's "pay-to-play" laws had been violated and that the land deals would cost the city more than $15 million in lost revenue. Specifically, Booker referenced a parcel at Broad and South Streets that would generate only $87,000 under the proposed land deals yet was valued at $3.7 million under then-current market rates. On June 20, 2006, Superior Court Judge Patricia Costello ruled in favor of Booker.
Booker assumed office as Mayor of Newark on July 1, 2006. After his first week in office, he announced a 100-day plan to implement reforms in Newark. The proposed changes included increasing police forces, ending background checks for many city jobs to help former offenders find employment in the city, refurbishing police stations, improving city services, and expanding summer youth programs.
From 1998 to 2006, Booker lived in Brick Towers, a troubled housing complex in Newark's Central Ward. In November 2006, as one of the last remaining tenants in Brick Towers, Booker left his apartment for the top unit in a three-story rental on Hawthorne Avenue in Newark's South Ward, an area described as "a drug- and gang-plagued neighborhood of boarded-up houses and empty lots". Brick Towers has since been demolished, and a new mixed-income development was built there in 2010.
After taking office, Booker voluntarily reduced his own salary twice, reducing his salary by 8% early in his first year as mayor. He also raised the salaries of many city workers. However, his administration imposed one-day-a-month furloughs for all non-uniformed employees from July through December 2010, as well as 2% pay cuts for managers and directors earning more than $100,000 a year. In 2008 and 2009, the City of Newark received the Government Finance Officers Association's Distinguished Budget Presentation Award. In an effort to make government more accessible, Booker held regular open office hours during which city residents could meet with him personally to discuss their concerns. In 2010, Booker was among the finalists for the World Mayor prize, ultimately placing seventh. He was an unsuccessful candidate for the 2012 award.
In 2009, after Barack Obama became President of the United States, Booker was offered the leadership of the new White House Office of Urban Affairs. He turned the offer down, citing a commitment to Newark.
Since 2009, Booker has starred in the documentary series Brick City. The series focuses on Booker and his efforts to improve Newark by reducing crime and bringing about economic renewal. Brick City won a Peabody Award in 2009 and was nominated for a Primetime Emmy in 2010.
In May 2009, Booker received an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters degree from the Newark-based New Jersey Institute of Technology for "his outstanding career in public service as the Mayor of Newark". In May 2009, he received an honorary doctorate from Brandeis University, and was a commencement speaker that year as well. Booker received another honorary Doctor of Humane Letters degree in December 2010 from Yeshiva University for "his bold vision for Newark and setting a national standard for urban transformation". In June 2011, Booker received an honorary Doctor of Laws degree and served as that year's commencement speaker at Williams College for the urban transformation of Newark. In May 2012, Booker received an honorary Doctor of Laws degree from Bard College and gave the commencement speech at the graduation. In 2010, Booker delivered the commencement addresses at Pitzer College in Claremont, California, on May 15; Columbia University's Teachers College in New York City on May 17; and Suffolk University Law School in Boston, Massachusetts, a week later on May 23, 2010. Booker gave the commencement address to New York Law School graduates on May 13, 2011, at Avery Fisher Hall (now David Geffen Hall) at Lincoln Center. Booker gave the commencement address at the University of Rhode Island in May 2011; he also received an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters degree. He delivered a commencement address to Stanford University graduates on June 17, 2012, at Stanford Stadium. He also received an honorary degree at Fairleigh Dickinson's 69th Commencement Ceremony in May 2012.
Booker was a member of the Mayors Against Illegal Guns Coalition, a bipartisan group with a stated goal of "making the public safer by getting illegal guns off the streets". Booker was honored in October 2009 by the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence with the Sarah Brady Visionary Award for his work in reducing gun violence. During his mayoralty, crime dropped significantly in Newark, which led the nation in violent crime reduction from 2006 to 2008. March 2010 marked Newark's first murder-free month in over 44 years, although murder and overall crime rates began to rise again after 2008. In addition to his crime-lowering initiatives, Booker doubled the amount of affordable housing under development and quadrupled the amount under pre-development, and reduced the city budget deficit from $180 million to $73 million.
In 2010, Booker received the U.S. Senator John Heinz Award for Greatest Public Service by an Elected or Appointed Official, an award given out annually by the Jefferson Awards.
On April 3, 2010, Booker announced his campaign for reelection. At his announcement event, he remarked that a "united government" was crucial to progress, knowing his supporters in the city council faced tough reelections. Heavily favored to win, Booker faced former judge and Essex County prosecutor Clifford J. Minor, as well as two minor candidates. On May 11, Booker won reelection with 59% of the vote.
In July 2010, Booker attended a dinner at a conference in Sun Valley, Idaho, where he was seated with Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg. Zuckerberg, who had no known ties to Newark, announced in September 2010 that he was donating $100 million of his personal fortune to the Newark school system. According to an article in The New York Times, Booker and Zuckerberg continued their conversation about Booker's plans for Newark. The initial gift was made to start a foundation for education. The gift was formally announced when Booker, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, and Zuckerberg appeared together on The Oprah Winfrey Show. The timing of Zuckerberg's donation was questioned by some as a move for damage control to his image, as it was announced on the opening day of the movie The Social Network, a film that painted an unflattering portrait of Zuckerberg. On her show, however, Winfrey told the audience that Zuckerberg and Booker had been in talks for months and had actually planned the announcement for the previous month, and that she and Booker had to force Zuckerberg to put his name to the donation, which he had wanted to make anonymously.
On October 10, 2010, Booker established Let's Move! Newark as part of First Lady Michelle Obama's national Let's Move! initiative against childhood obesity.
Booker gained national attention when, on December 28, 2010, a constituent used Twitter to ask him to send someone to her father's house to shovel his driveway, because her elderly father was going to attempt to do it himself. Booker responded by tweeting, "I will do it myself; where does he live?" Other people volunteered, including one person who offered his help on Twitter, and 20 minutes later Booker and some volunteers showed up and shoveled the man's driveway.
Booker's mayoralty and personal celebrity drew much media attention to Newark. While he enjoyed high ratings from city residents, his legacy has received mixed reviews. During his tenure, millions of dollars were invested in downtown development, but underemployment and high murder rates continue to characterize many of the city's neighborhoods. Despite legal challenges initiated during his term, Newark Public Schools has remained under control of the state for nearly twenty years. Newark received $32 million in emergency state aid in 2011 and 2012, requiring a memorandum of understanding between Newark and the state that obligated the city to request and the state to approve appointments to city hall administrative positions.
In October 2011, Booker expanded the Let's Move! Newark program to include Let's Move! Newark: Our Power, a four-month fitness challenge for Newark public school students run by public health advocate Jeff Halevy.
In 2012, Booker and tech executives Sarah Ross and Nathan Richardson formed Waywire, a company focused on video sharing technology. Early investors included Oprah Winfrey, Eric Schmidt, Jeff Weiner, and Troy Carter. After Booker's relationship to Waywire was discussed in a front-page The New York Times story, board member Andrew Zucker stepped down from his position. Shortly thereafter, Waywire CEO Nathan Richardson departed the business as the company shifted its focus from content creation to content curation. In August 2013, Booker told NBC News he intended to resign from the Waywire board and put his holdings in a trust if elected to the Senate; by September, he had resigned his place on the board and donated his share of the company to charity. Waywire was sold to another video curation business the following month.
On April 12, 2012, Booker saved a woman from a house fire, suffering smoke inhalation and second-degree burns on his hands in the process. Newark Fire Chief John Centanni said that Booker's actions possibly saved the woman's life. After Hurricane Sandy destroyed much of the shoreline areas of New Jersey and New York in late October 2012, Booker invited Newarkers without power to eat and sleep in his home. In February 2013, responding to a Twitter post, Booker helped a nervous constituent propose to his girlfriend. Booker rescued a dog from freezing temperatures in January 2013 and another dog that had been abandoned in a cage in July 2013.
Booker generated controversy on May 12, 2012, when he appeared on Meet The Press as a surrogate for the reelection campaign of Barack Obama and made remarks that were critical of that campaign. Booker said that the attacks on Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney's record at Bain Capital were "nauseating to me on both sides. It's nauseating to the American public. Enough is enough. Stop attacking private equity. Stop attacking Jeremiah Wright." The comments were subsequently used by the Romney campaign against Obama. Booker made follow-up comments clarifying that he believed Obama's attacks on Romney's record at Bain were legitimate but did not retract his point about attacking private equity in general. Two weeks later, Booker's communications director Anne Torres tendered her resignation, although she maintained it was unrelated to Meet the Press.
On November 20, 2012, a melee occurred at a Newark City Council meeting attended by Booker. The nine-seat council was to vote on the successor to the seat vacated by newly elected U.S. Representative Donald M. Payne, Jr. Booker's opponents on the council, including Ras Baraka, sought to appoint John Sharpe James, son of the former mayor, while Booker and his supporters favored Shanique Speight. Booker attended the meeting to deal with the eventuality of the lack of a quorum or a tie vote, in which state law would allow him to cast a deciding vote. After Baraka was refused an opportunity to address the council by acting Council President Anibal Ramos, Jr., Baraka and two other council members walked away in protest. Booker cast the deciding vote for Speight. Supporters of James stormed the stage and were held back by riot police, who eventually used pepper spray on some members of the crowd. Baraka later blamed Booker for inciting the disturbance, while Booker refused comment to the media after the vote.
In December 2012, after discussions with a constituent about New Jersey's Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), Booker began a week-long challenge attempting to live on a food budget of $30 per week—the amount SNAP recipients receive. When critics noted that the very name of the SNAP program shows that it is intended to "supplement" an individual's food budget, not be its sole source, Booker replied that his aim was to spark a discussion about the reality that many Americans rely solely on food stamps to survive.
On December 20, 2012, Booker announced that he would explore running for the U.S. Senate seat that was then occupied by Frank Lautenberg in the 2014 election, ending speculation that he would challenge Governor Chris Christie in the 2013 gubernatorial election. On January 11, 2013, Booker filed papers to form a campaign committee, without announcing whether he would run. Roughly one month later, incumbent Lautenberg—then 89 years of age—announced that he would not seek reelection in 2014.
Booker has never been married, and in 2013 he was named one of Town & Country's "Top 40 Bachelors". Although he has generally tried to keep his personal life private, Booker has in the past described himself as a "straight male" and has said that he is trying to date more in hopes of finding someone to settle down with. He has been romantically linked to poet Cleo Wade. In March 2019, actress Rosario Dawson confirmed to TMZ that she was in a relationship with Booker.
In a 1992 column in The Stanford Daily, Booker admitted that as a teenager he had "hated gays". Booker has himself been the target of rumors about being gay and has generally refused to address these on principle, which he explained in 2013:
In May 2013, Booker gave the commencement address at Washington University in St. Louis and received an honorary doctorate of law.
Booker has been described as a liberal. Throughout his Senate career, Booker has amassed a liberal voting record. In a July 2013 Salon interview, Booker said that "there's nothing in that realm of progressive politics where you won't find me." In a September 2013 interview with The Grio, when asked if he considered himself a progressive, he stated that he is a Democrat and an American. Booker has the most pro-animal welfare voting record in the Senate year after year according to the Humane Society.
Booker resigned as Mayor of Newark on October 30, 2013 and was sworn in on October 31, 2013 as the junior U.S. Senator from New Jersey. He is the first African-American U.S. Senator from New Jersey.
On October 31, 2013, Booker was sworn into the Senate. In November 2013, Booker co-sponsored and voted for the Employment Non-Discrimination Act. In December 2013, he was one of the original cosponsors of Bob Menéndez's Nuclear Weapon Free Iran Act of 2013, which would toughen sanctions against Iran. He also voted for the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2014 and the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2013. In January 2014, he cosponsored the Respect for Marriage Act. In February 2014, Booker voted against the Federal Agriculture Reform and Risk Management Act of 2013. In March, Booker pledged to meet with each of his Republican colleagues in the Senate in order to find common ground, and was spotted having dinner with Senator Ted Cruz in Washington.
Booker regularly exercises and has been a vegetarian since 1992, when he was a student at Oxford University in the UK. He abstains from alcohol and "has no known vices or addictions" other than coffee. In 2014, Booker began practicing a vegan diet and has expressed his vegan ethical philosophy and advocacy for animals. As of June 2016, Booker worshiped at the Metropolitan Baptist Church in Newark, New Jersey.
The Newark Watershed comprises 35,000 acres of pristine land and reservoirs that supply water to municipalities in northern New Jersey. A New Jersey State Comptroller report issued in February 2014 revealed irregularities and corruption within the Newark Watershed and Development Corporation, which was in the process of being dismantled after being taken over by the city during Booker's mayoralty.
On May 16, 2014, Booker gave the commencement speech for Ramapo College of New Jersey graduates at the IZOD Center.
In 2016, Booker wrote an autobiography, United: Thoughts on Finding Common Ground and Advancing the Common Good.
Leading up to the 2016 presidential election, Booker endorsed Hillary Clinton for the Democratic nomination. He was speculated as a potential vice presidential candidate during the primary and as the general election began, though Booker stated on June 16, 2016, that he was not being vetted. After the election, in which Donald Trump defeated Clinton, on January 11, 2017, Booker testified against Attorney General nominee Jeff Sessions, the first instance of a sitting senator testifying against another during a cabinet position confirmation hearing.
On foreign policy, Booker supports scaling down U.S. involvement in Afghanistan and is against intervention in Syria. After the US strike on Syria in April 2017, he criticized military action "without a clear plan" or authorization from Congress. He supports a two-state solution to the Israeli–Palestinian conflict. On Iran, Booker has stated the country poses a direct threat to American and Israeli security and feels all options should be on the table for dealing with the conflict. However, his decision to back the Iran nuclear deal framework damaged his long-term relationship with Jewish voters and supporters. In an attempt to reduce the damage, he initiated an emergency summit for Jewish leaders, which some of his longstanding supporters did not attend.
Cory Booker was named as part of the "Hell-No Caucus" by Politico in 2018, along with Senators Kamala Harris, Kirsten Gillibrand, Elizabeth Warren, and Bernie Sanders, given he voted "overwhelmingly to thwart his [Trump's] nominees for administration jobs", such as with Rex Tillerson, Betsy De Vos, and Mike Pompeo; all of the Senators were considered potential 2020 presidential contenders at this point in time.
In April 2018, following the FBI raid on the hotel room and offices of Trump's personal attorney, Michael Cohen, Booker, together with Chris Coons, Lindsey Graham, and Thom Tillis, introduced new legislation to "limit President Trump's ability to fire special counsel Robert Mueller". Termed the Special Counsel Independence and Integrity Act, the legislation would allow any special counsel, in this case Mueller, to receive an "expedited judicial review" in the 10 days following being dismissed to determine if said dismissal was suitable. If negative, the special counsel would be reinstated. At the same time, according to The Hill, the bill would "codify regulations" that a special counsel could be fired by only a senior Justice Department official, while having to provide reasons in writing.
On September 5, 2018, during the Senate Judiciary Committee's confirmation hearings for Brett Kavanaugh, nominated by Trump to replace retiring Associate Justice Anthony Kennedy on the Supreme Court, Booker questioned Kavanaugh on a series of E-mails marked "committee confidential", dating back to Kavanaugh's time in the office of the White House Counsel during the presidency of George W. Bush. The E-mails, which were released to the public by Booker's office the following day, show Kavanaugh and others in the Counsel's office discussing racial profiling as a means to combat terrorism, particularly after 9/11. Booker said that he was violating Senate rules in releasing the documents, with the penalty including possible expulsion from the Senate; he nonetheless defended his decision, referring to the process of producing documents for the hearing as a "sham" and challenging those who warned him about the consequences to "bring it on". Booker also described the release as "probably the closest I'll ever have in my life to an 'I am Spartacus' moment", referring to a line in the 1960 film, Spartacus. But committee chairman Chuck Grassley said the documents had already been cleared for public release the night before, and that Booker was not violating any rules, leading some Republicans to accuse Booker of engaging in "theatrics" and "histrionics". Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas mocked Booker in comments the following week, saying, "Honorable – if we could use that word about more people who are in public life, people who actually ask the questions at confirmation hearings, instead of 'Spartacus.'"
In November 2018, Booker co-sponsored the Israel Anti-Boycott Act (S.270), which made it a federal crime, punishable by a maximum sentence of 20 years imprisonment, for Americans to encourage or participate in boycotts against Israel and Israeli settlements in the occupied Palestinian territories if protesting actions by the Israeli government.
Booker announced his candidacy for the Democratic nomination for president in the 2020 election on February 1, 2019.
On February 1, 2019, Booker announced his campaign for the Democratic nomination for President of the United States in the 2020 presidential election, the start of Black History Month. Before his announcement, he was widely speculated to run for president but expressed uncertainty as to whether he would run. The same month Booker announced his campaign, Governor Phil Murphy U.S. Senator Bob Menendez and every Democratic member of the House of Representatives from New Jersey endorsed Booker. Booker held a campaign kick off rally in Newark on April 13. After qualifying for the first five Democratic Party presidential debates, Booker failed to meet the polling thresholds to participate in the sixth debate that was held in December 2019. On January 13, Booker announced that he was ending his run at the Democratic nomination for president.