By David Jones
NEWARK, New Jersey (Reuters) - Newark Mayor Cory Booker announced his candidacy on Saturday for a U.S. Senate seat for New Jersey and will run in a Democratic primary set for August to fill the seat of late Senator Frank Lautenberg.
"I do not run from challenges. I run towards them," Booker said at a news conference in the city where he has served as mayor since 2006.
After the death of Lautenberg, 89, on Monday, Republican Governor Chris Christie called a special election to fill the remainder of the late senator's term.
Booker, 44, had previously announced his intention to seek the seat when Lautenberg's term expired in 2014 after the Democratic senator said he would not seek a sixth term.
Booker enters the primary race against U.S. Representative Rush Holt, a seven-term congressman. U.S. Representative Frank Pallone Jr. of Long Branch and state Assembly Speaker Sheila Oliver are also widely expected to join the race.
Conservative activist Steve Lonegan, a former mayor of Bogota, New Jersey, is the only Republican who has officially declared his candidacy for the seat.
Booker said lawmakers in Washington need to work together to pass comprehensive immigration reform and gun safety laws that include stringent background checks.
He noted his efforts to work with Christie on the controversial expansion of charter schools in Newark, despite their political differences on issues such as marriage equality and the environment.
"People say that Washington is a lost cause, that DC is broken and that the two sides are too far apart," Booker said. "I tell you today that I reject that attitude."
SPECIAL ELECTION CRITICIZED
Democrats criticized Christie's decision to hold a special election, calling it a calculated attempt by the governor to avoid appearing on the same ballot in November as Booker, who is among the state's most popular Democrats.
The special election, including the August primaries and the general election three weeks ahead of the normally scheduled November election, will cost the state about $24 million.
Christie, who is leading his Democratic challenger for the governorship by more than 30 points, dismissed the criticism, saying New Jersey should have a voter-approved representative in the Senate as soon as possible.
On Thursday, Christie appointed a fellow Republican, the state's attorney general Jeffrey Chiesa, to fill the seat until the general special election in October. Chiesa said he would not compete for the seat.
Booker is credited with bringing $1 billion in new development to Newark, including the city's first new downtown hotel in 40 years and the relocation of major companies, including Panasonic, which is building a new North American headquarters in downtown.
Some people have criticized him for his prolific use of Twitter and media exposure.
"A lot of us in Newark feel that he's been a terrible manager, and most people outside of Newark don't know this," said 70-year-old retiree and activist Bill Chappel. "Because all they know are Tweets."
Facebook co-founder Mark Zuckerberg, who in September 2010 pledged $100 million for Newark schools, will host a fundraiser in California for Booker in the coming days, campaign spokesman Kevin Griffis said, without giving any details.
(Reporting by David Jones; Writing by Colleen Jenkins; Editing by Vicki Allen and Sandra Maler)