TRENTON, N.J. (AP) — In his first book, "United," Sen. Cory Booker traces his political rise from a councilman in Newark to the mayor to U.S. senator through stories about the people he learned from or was inspired by along the way.
They include his parents, who were forced to run a sting operation to prove that a real estate agent wouldn't sell them a house in a white suburb; the tenant leader of the dilapidated high-rise apartment building where he lived in Newark, whom he describes as a mentor and surrogate mother; and a single mom working double shifts at an IHOP restaurant to care for her kids.
They even include a drug dealer who ran a ruthless operation in the Brick City apartment buildings but looks back years later with regret. Booker writes that the dealer told him that he once talked a group of men down from shooting him as a warning sign to get Booker, a councilman at the time, to back off.
The 46-year-old former Rhodes scholar, who attended Stanford University on a football scholarship and has 1.6 million Twitter followers, uses those lessons in the book to call for working together to solve problems including criminal justice reform and poverty.
"The beauty of having your ego checked as many times as my ego was checked in Newark made me recognize how much I needed other people who were very different than me in order to get big things done," Booker said in a recent interview. "If we are going to do big things in our country, we're going to have to think about better ways working across our differences. Because as I say in the book, our differences matter, but our country matters more."
Booker got mixed reviews for how he ran New Jersey's largest city during his two terms as mayor, but he helped attract both philanthropic support and businesses to the city 10 miles west of Manhattan by putting Newark —and himself — on the national stage. He attracted visits from the British prime minster and the Dalai Lama, as well as a $100 million donation from Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg to overhaul the city's schools announced on "The Oprah Winfrey Show."
Booker aims to get back into the national spotlight as he promotes his book, which will likely fan discussion about his political future. Asked about being discussed as a vice presidential candidate for Hillary Clinton, for whom he has campaigned, Booker says he's focused on pushing his legislative priorities. He says he's happy not to face re-election until 2020.
His priority in Washington has been working with a group of Democratic and Republican lawmakers on criminal justice reform, including giving judges discretion to give lesser sentences than federal mandatory minimums, and eliminate mandatory life sentences for three-time, nonviolent drug offenders. Changes originally proposed by Booker and Republican Sen. Rand Paul in 2014, including limiting solitary confinement for juveniles in federal facilities, are also included.
The reform effort has drawn supporters from both sides and made for some surprising bedfellows. Koch Industries, a company run by billionaire industrialist brothers known for their strong support of conservative candidates, launched a media campaign last year in support of it. But it was one of the first phone calls they got in return — from Booker — that surprised general counsel Mark Holden.
"He is just a great personality and such positive energy and such an engaging positive person," Holden said. "He looks for commonality, to find where you agree and work on that. He just wants to work with people to get something done."
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