WASHINGTON -- Cory Booker, who built a national profile for a hands-on style of leadership as mayor of New Jersey's largest city, Saturday entered the race for the state's vacant Senate seat, vowing to bring the same energy to change another city: Washington.
"Too many people have come to believe that Washington, D.C., is a place where nothing can get done. Where people don't work together, don't find compromise and common ground," the Newark mayor said. "I tell you today that I reject that attitude. We in New Jersey won't ultimately accept this attitude, especially when we know we can do more."
Booker, 44, had been expected to run for the Senate in 2014, but Sen. Frank Lautenberg's death on Monday, and Gov. Chris Christie's decision to hold a special election Oct. 16 to fill the seat, has forced him to speed up his campaign. There are just more than two months before the Aug. 13 primary.
Booker's social media-aided national name recognition -- he has nearly 1.4 million followers on Twitter, which he used Saturday to tout his campaign -- is seen as his greatest asset as he enters the special election campaign. He regularly fields constituent service requests and answers questions via social media, and indicated he would continue to do so as a candidate. But as he kicked off his effort, Booker suggested he knows that it might also be made to be a liability in the rough-and-tumble world of Garden State politics.
"You know it's going to be messy, and there's going to be critics," he said. "I've got to know a lot about criticism. 'Too much Twitter for the mayor, too much exposure.' I've heard it all. But there's one thing that everyone has to admit about my life as a professional . . . I do not run from challenges, I run towards them."
Some in New Jersey's Democratic Party establishment criticized Booker when he moved last winter to take steps toward a run in the regularly scheduled 2014 election -- including Lautenberg, who had not yet announced his plans. Lautenberg, who died Monday at the age of 89, said in February that he would not run again.
In his announcement Saturday, Booker paid tribute to Lautenberg, whose death ended 28 years of service in Washington, as "truly a giant in the United States Senate," and "a giant for our state and a giant for our nation."
He also called on another state Democratic heavyweight, former Sen. Bill Bradley, to kick off the race.
"I think he can be a great United States senator," said Bradley, who introduced Booker after announcing his endorsement. "He can put us in touch with our better selves."
Booker announced his candidacy at the Newark headquarters of Audible, a business whose expansion in the city the mayor highlighted as an example of his work to reverse the decline of Newark.
Booker, who has been mayor since 2006, will face challengers who question whether his high profile has helped his struggling city as much as it has benefited the mayor himself.
They include Democratic Rep. Frank Pallone, who has more than $3.4 million in his campaign chest compared to Booker's roughly $1.7 million. The governor's decision to call an election this year, rather than 2014 as some national Republicans hoped he might, gives Pallone and fellow Rep. Rush Holt, another likely candidate, the ability to run for the seat without giving up their safe House seats.
Monday is the deadline for candidates in the primary to submit petitions to make the ballot. Conservative activist Steve Lonegan, former mayor of Bogota, N.J., who challenged Christie in the 2009 gubernatorial primary, has announced his candidacy in the Republican primary.
Jeffrey Chiesa, Christie's appointee to replace Lautenberg in the Senate, will be sworn in Monday. He said he would not run in the election.