Cory Booker: city councilman, mayor, senator now seeking White House

Chris Lefkow
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US Senator Cory Booker, seen here taking a selfie, is the latest Democrat to seek the 2020 presidential nomination

US Senator Cory Booker, seen here taking a selfie, is the latest Democrat to seek the 2020 presidential nomination (AFP Photo/KENA BETANCUR)

Washington (AFP) - As mayor of Newark, Cory Booker would get out during snowstorms to shovel the driveways and sidewalks of residents of the New Jersey city.

Now a Democratic senator from the northeastern US state, Booker is planning to bring that personal touch to the 2020 race for the White House.

"We are better when we help each other," Booker said in the video he released on Friday announcing he was a candidate for his party's presidential nomination.

The charismatic 49-year-old African-American politician joins what is shaping up to be a crowded Democratic field seeking to take on President Donald Trump next year.

Booker's candidacy has raised inevitable comparisons to Barack Obama, America's first black president.

Both are gifted orators, community activists and graduates of prestigious law schools -- Harvard for Obama and Yale for Booker.

While Obama was raised by a single white mother who frequently struggled to make ends meet, Booker's parents were among the first black executives at computer giant IBM.

But his parents had first-hand experience of racism and Booker recounted one such event in the video announcing his White House bid.

"When I was a baby, my parents tried to move us into a neighborhood with great public schools, but realtors wouldn't sell us a home because of the color of our skin," he said.

"A group of white lawyers, who had watched the courage of civil rights activists, were inspired to help black families in their own community, including mine," he said. "And they changed the course of my entire life."

- Football player, Rhodes Scholar -

Born in the capital Washington on April 27, 1969, Booker grew up in an affluent suburb of Newark, where he was a standout high school football player.

He attended Stanford University in California, where he cut an imposing 6ft 3in (1.92-meter) figure on the football team.

He earned a bachelor's degree in political science and a master's degrees in sociology at Stanford before going on to study at Oxford in England as a Rhodes Scholar.

In 1998, at 29, Booker became the youngest ever member of the Newark city council.

He ran for mayor of the crime-ridden and racially-divided city of around 280,000 in 2002 but lost. He sought the post again in 2006 and won.

As mayor -- besides personally responding to appeals from constituents for snow removal -- Booker launched a crackdown on crime and earned a national profile with his savvy use of social media.

Re-elected mayor in 2010, Booker attracted a $100 million investment in the city's ailing schools from Facebook co-founder Mark Zuckerberg.

Booker won a special election in 2013 to fill a vacant US Senate seat and was easily re-elected the following year.

New Jersey's first black US senator, Booker has compiled a liberal voting record, advocating a $15 an hour minimum wage, criminal justice reform and legalization of marijuana.

Booker was reportedly on the short-list of potential vice presidential candidates drawn up by Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton in 2016.

In a bid to burnish his foreign policy credentials, Booker joined the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in 2017.

Fluent in Spanish and a life-long bachelor, Booker, a vegan, would be the first unmarried man elected to the White House since 1884.