Newark Mayor Cory Booker is having the time of his life leading his city's urban revitalization, but it hasn't kept him from strongly considering a run at higher office when his term expires in 2014.
That's what the rising Democratic star told a partisan audience of about 200 on Wednesday night at a Fair Lawn Democratic County Committee event at the Fair Lawn Community Center.
"I came [to Newark] and said I was going to do a mission," said Booker, responding to an audience question about his future political aspirations. "But I'll tell you this, I'm strongly considering the options at the end of my term."
Booker said he has his eyes set on either the governor's seat or the U.S. Senate seat currently held by 88-year-old Frank Lautenberg.
If Booker intends to challenge Chris Christie in next year's New Jersey governor's race, he'll need to start ramping up his campaign very soon. A run at Lautenberg's seat, which opens up in 2014, appears more logistically plausible.
In June, the Star-Ledger reported that sources close to the Booker camp said he was considering a U.S. Senate run.
"There's a potential for a Senate run if the lane opens up for a Senate run," a source close to Booker who was not authorized to speak on the record told the Star-Ledger.
Outside of announcing his future political aspirations -- which were met with thunderous applause -- Booker spoke about some of his achievements in Newark, expounded on his belief in the "Conspiracy of Love," and stumped for President Barack Obama's reelection bid.
His humorous personal anecdotes about growing up in Harrington Park, frivolously banning late night talk show host Conan O'Brien from Newark Liberty International Airport, receiving a "special mommy hug" from Michelle Obama after his recent "Meet the Press" flap and becoming the president of Oxford's L'Chaim Society all drew raucous laughter and applause.
"He was engaging, animated and had me on the edge of my seat, chin in hands and hanging on his every word," said 25-year-old resident Leah Batelli, who canvassed for Obama in 2008 as a member of Rutgers Democrats, and had heard Booker speak once before.
Booker responded to an audience question about countering falsehoods propagated by political campaigns by saying he believed this presidential campaign would go down as one of the most negative of all time, due in large part to the corporate money flowing into super PACs as a result of the Supreme Court's 2010 Citizens United decision.
Although he called some of the recent anti-Obama mudslinging, "so outrageous," he said the best Democratic counter to Republican attacks is simply motivating the party's base to vote on election day.
"I don't get bothered by people who spew hate and disinformation," Booker said. "What bothers me is the good people that we all have in our lives who don't think it's important to get involved."
If Democrats could wake up their inactive constituency, he said, it would drown out any negativity coming from the other side.
Booker, whom Fair Lawn councilwoman Lisa Swain introduced as "one hot politician," opened his talk by recalling what he said was his final high school football game.
"The last time I was in this area I was playing on that field out there," Booker said, gesturing out the window toward Sasso Field. "I grew up in Harrington Park, at Old Tappan High School, and we lost our last game against ."
When's Booker's statement was met with a rousing cheer from the audience, he acknowledged he was probably in front of the wrong crowd to seek sympathy, and then offered a facetious challenge.
"I’m hoping that afterward we can all go to the field and have a little football game," he said "I brought some security from Newark – our guys against your guys.”
In addition to Booker, other speakers at Wednesday's event included councilman Kurt Peluso, Obama's New Jersey state campaign director Jackie Cornell-Bechelli and Bergen County Democratic Organization Chairman Lou Stellato. Fair Lawn Democratic Muncipal Chair Cristina Cutrone served as moderator.
Cornell Christianson contributed to this report