Edison Mayor Jun H. Choi, the Mayor of New Jersey's fifth largest town and a leader in the state's Korean American community, has endorsed Barack Obama for the Democratic nomination for President.
"I’ve been leaning Obama for quite some time now," said Choi. "I wanted to see if there was real momentum in the campaign, and there is."
This is Obama’s second New Jersey endorsement this week: Rep. Steven Rothman announced two days ago that he would support the Senator from Illinois.
Choi likened Obama’s candidacy to his own upstart bid in 2005.
"I ran because the establishment was not working for Edison, and I was the only outsider to ever win," said Choi, who made his announcement at a Young Lawyers for Obama fundraiser in Newark on Thursday.
"What I see in Obama is the ability to shake things up and get things back to the grassroots."
Newark Councilman Ron Rice, Jr., who acts as a liaison between government and the grassroots group NJ for Obama, said Choi’s presence in the campaign underscores the ground-level organization of the Obama movement in New Jersey.
"We’re going to win that ground war," said Rice in the face of New York Sen. Hillary Clinton’s double digit lead in the state over Obama, and her backyard advantages here in money and big name endorsements.
The dearth of big names is but an invitation to everyone, said Newark Mayor Cory Booker, who moved the people-power idea with a reminder that the country’s history, from the trenches of Gettysburg, to the shores of Normandy and the streets of Alabama – was forged not by stars but by people "whose names I don’t even know."
"The sacred effort" that Frederick Douglass ascribed to Lincoln’s second inaugural is now incumbent on the people in the room fighting to create change, striving to help give hope to those who have none,” Booker said. "The people of my city more than anything crave hope," said the mayor, a craving that is strong in the state and in the country.
Thursday evening’s $150-a head Obama fund-raiser featuring the rally cry from Booker, and backup chest thumps from Jersey City Mayor Jerramiah Healy, Assemblyman Neil Cohen and NJ for Obama coordinator Keith Hovey, came on the same day Obama defended himself against Sen. Hillary Clinton’s charge that his willingness to speak to leaders who are enemies of the United States is "irresponsible and naive."
Julie Diaz of Perth Amboy, a volunteer with NJ for Obama, said she likes her candidate’s mostly even tone but conceded she’s been waiting for the Illinois senator to go on the offensive.
"I was looking down at the watch thinking, ‘It’s getting to be around that time,’" she said.
Obama obliged Thursday morning in Concord, N.H., when he called Clinton’s foreign policy "Bush-Cheney lite" and said of his own approach to diplomacy that he is "not afraid of losing the PR war to dictators."
Other Obama troops at the Newark fund-raiser said they were happy their candidate deepened the distinction between himself and Clinton, who in 2002 voted to authorize the use of force in Iraq, which on Thursday Obama called "irresponsible and frankly naive."
"The country needs to go in a totally different direction," said Edgar Freeman of Bergen.
For some of the youngest fund-raisers at the event, much of Obama’s strength derives from his initial opposition to the Iraq War.
"He said back in 2002 that a war in Iraq would fan the flames in the Middle East," said Jacob Alperin-Sheriff, 19, of Princeton. "I think now that we’re in this crisis, Obama knows how to reach out to the world community in a way we have not had these last six years. He can bring people to the table at a time when we have lost our image in the world."
Sam Bassangergi, 17, of Morristown, a high school coordinator for Obama, said his candidate’s emphasis on diplomacy "could help him in a Democratic Primary, while Matt Grosshans of Princeton, 18, said of Obama, "He’s someone who opposed the war before it was popular to do so, and I think that shows majority of judgement that some of the other candidates seem to lack."