Inside the Launch of Cory Booker’s ‘Justice For All’ Campaign Tour

Cory Booker speaks to a large crowd at his "Justice For All" Kickoff Tour in Newark, N.J. on April 13, 2019.

Cory Booker speaks to a large crowd at his “Justice For All” Kickoff Tour in Newark, N.J. on April 13, 2019. Jason Bergman

Senator Cory Booker launched his “Justice For All” campaign tour in Newark, New Jersey on an unexpectedly hot day this past Saturday, kicking off what will be his 2020 presidential campaign’s first official nationwide tour. After months of stops in every major primary state, Booker brought his message home with an event that felt more like a family carnival than a campaign rally. As a DJ played hype man and blasted Michael Jackson and Stevie Wonder hits, children in face paint did arts and crafts while giant bubbles floated above the crowd.

With nine opening speakers, including Senator Bob Menendez, Governor Phil Murphy, and current Newark mayor Ras Baraka, Booker’s campaign made it clear that he has the support of his home state. If that wasn’t enough, Booker was also preceded by a children’s choir, a marching band and his own mother. When he finally hit the stage to wild applause from the thousands in the crowd, Booker was quick to dive into his track record in his adopted hometown: increased economic development, tackling of slumlords, and growing a city known for being bogged down by corruption. (Booker’s predecessor, Mayor Sharpe James, spent 18 months in prison on fraud charges.)

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For 30 minutes, Booker tried to highlight how he stands out in an extremely crowded Democratic race. He made clear his support for HBCUs, legalizing marijuana, universal background checks for guns, climate change legislation and more. One central theme of Booker’s message was that the time to act is now; we can no longer wait to fix what is broken, and that he is running a truly progressive campaign at a time when every candidate is attempting to ‘out-progressive’ the next. Booker exclaimed, “A real progressive movement refuses to stall out in righteous indignation. It channels that indignation into the work that actually improves people’s lives. A real progressive movement does not hold progress for communities like mine hostage today for promises that perfection will come tomorrow.”

Governor Phil Murphy speaks at Cory Booker's "Justice For All" Kickoff Tour in Newark, N.J. on April, 13, 2019.

Governor Phil Murphy speaks at Cory Booker’s “Justice For All” Kickoff Tour in Newark, N.J. on April, 13, 2019. Jason Bergman

Throughout his speech, Booker emphasized that he has put in work for his constituents (in case you’ve forgotten, just google “Cory Booker snow shoveling“) and always has his sights set on those he represents. This, however, stands in contrast to a complicated past that is still trailing him. His past fundraising efforts before running for president have come largely from large corporate interests: tech companies, banks and Super PACs. His charter school project, launched with a $100 million donation from Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg, came under intense scrutiny at the time for mismanagement and stands in contrast with a Democratic party that is currently distancing itself from charter schools and school choice in general, while trying to court teachers unions made up of public school employees. And while Booker currently pushes for criminal justice reform, his time as mayor brought a lawsuit by the ACLU over the police department’s treatment of citizens and resulted in the Department of Justice issuing a consent decree that is still in place on the city’s police.

With this campaign, it is still unclear whether Booker can draw the support he needs, both physically on the ground and financially in the bank. He is currently in sixth place in the polls according to the RealClearPolitics average, and his $5 million dollar donation haul from the first quarter of 2019 is well behind many of the other frontrunners. Even South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg, relatively unknown up until a couple of months ago, outraised Booker.

Cory Booker at the "Justice For All" Kickoff Tour in Newark, N.J. on April 13, 2019.

Cory Booker at his “Justice For All” Kickoff Tour in Newark, N.J. on April 13, 2019. Jason Bergman

Despite all of this, his hometown crowd was excited about the prospect of a Booker presidency and sending another New Jerseyan to the White House (shoutout to Grover Cleveland). We talked to attendees about Booker’s past and why they spent their afternoon with Newark’s favorite politician.

Milicent Gross from Navesink, New Jersey

Milicent Gross at the Cory Booker "Justice For All" Kickoff Tour in Newark, N.J. on April, 13, 2019.

Milicent Gross at the Cory Booker “Justice For All” Kickoff Tour in Newark, N.J. on April, 13, 2019. Jason Bergman

What brought you out to see Senator Booker today?

I wanted to hear more of what he had to say. There were a few things… I remember seeing Senator Booker just before the election with Trump and Hillary Clinton. Some of the things that he was having to say about Clinton and about other world issues, I didn’t agree with. But I thought, you know, I wanted to come and hear what he had to say. I would like to give him my support, and I probably will, but I want to hear what he has to say.

Are there any other candidates that you’re looking at?

Not really. I supported Bernie Sanders last time in the primary, but I actually was more for the Green Party candidate. But I supported Bernie and I am looking at him again. I just want to see what everybody has to say.

Booker has been criticized in the past for being a better speaker than actual politician who can get things done. Do you feel he is up to the task of being president and uniting a divided country?

Kind of. A lot of politicians are excellent speakers, and they can talk for days and not actually say anything. Another thing that concerns me, I have a friend who does a lot of work in Newark with the homeless and their concerned with his stand on the homelessness and he doesn’t seem to have really done much about it.

Is there anything that gives you pause from his time as mayor of Newark? The charter school situation, he brought crime down but it lead to over policing and stop and frisk…

Absolutely, and I do think about things like that. I’m at an age where I come from a place and a time where public school education was absolutely excellent. I’m all for that. I’m still for that. It seems more American.

Are there any specific policies of his that you’d like to hear more about today?

I hope he’s gonna talk about some of Trump’s policies on the wall, that very much concerns me. I think that is the most obscene thing I have ever heard. I hope he says something about that. I’m always concerned about the economy, the destruction of the environment, those are some my biggest concerns always. Those are issues that I’ve always stood up for.

Do you have misgivings about electing an unmarried man or is that no longer considered an issue for presidential candidates?

Well you figure if you have who is in their as first lady [now], you can have anybody. I think she’s a big enough of an embarrassment, she’s not a first lady anymore than he’s a president. I have no problems with him being single.

Shawn Hall, 54, from Newark, New Jersey and Nathaniel Crawford, 43, originally from Detroit, currently residing in Newark

Nathaniel Crawford (L) at the Cory Booker "Justice For All" Kickoff Tour in Newark, N.J. on April 13, 2019.

Shawn Hall (R) and Nathaniel Crawford (L) at the Cory Booker “Justice For All” Kickoff Tour in Newark, N.J. on April 13, 2019. Jason Bergman

What brought you out to see Senator Booker today?

Shawn: That very reason, that is a crowded Democratic field. I would like to hear more from the candidate himself to find out where he stands on the issues, what his thoughts are, what’s his programs for the future. Those average presidential things that you should understand from the candidate to get a better feel for what their thoughts are and where they see the country in the future.

Nathaniel: Obviously, we need a change in Washington, but furthermore, to have someone of his age doing what he’s doing, with the track record that he has. I mean the man shoveled some of the seniors snow over the years that he was here in the city. I will always support people who are grounded, who know where they come from.

What are your thoughts on his legacy as mayor of Newark?

Shawn: His mayoral track record is what brought me to Newark. I was living in New York, I’m from New York originally. I decided New York was unsustainable, the cost of living was ridiculous. I said, “Let me give New Jersey a try and come back to Newark. There are good things happening in Newark, Cory Booker’s doing well in Newark. Let me see what he’s doing.” I’ve been very satisfied with the progression, especially the downtown area, which is where I live. I just think that with him as first the mayor, and then senator, that he seems to be on the right track.

Nathaniel: I think more people were more well versed in how political entities actually operate. A lot of what you see, the current administration gets the credit for, but these were things Cory Booker put in play years before any of it came to fruition.

Yeah, you have Panasonic, the Prudential Center…

Shawn: Prudential, this is their global headquarters. This is where their higher echelon report to work, here in downtown Newark! The growth of NJIT, Rutgers, Amazon… all these companies that are coming here or growing here in town. There has to be something that’s attracting them to stay. They do their research. They invest money, they want to make sure their investment is gonna pay off.

A lot of people criticize him as being a very good speaker, but not having the policy to back it up. Do you agree with that?

Nathaniel: Well let me say, we had a president for eight years named Barack Obama and he got the same criticism.

Shawn: Government moves slow, especially the United States government; it’s a big ship and it doesn’t turn on a dime. First, you have to get thoughts and ideas out there, then you have to get buy in, then you have to get legislation, then legislation has to get approved, then it has to be enacted. So things take time, but the first step is the thought. He comes with those thoughts and he has shown that he can get buy in. We see it with this city, this was a very depressed city for a lot of years.

He inherited a mess.

Shawn: He did. The political turmoil that was involved before he came in. For him to build the confidence from business leaders who employ people to invest in this city, and not only invest, but grow within this city, shows a lot of what he stands for. I think if we can take this at a larger scale, the country can go forward and move in the right direction. It starts with a thought, an idea, a premise, and then you move forward from there. He’s shown he can build a consensus, that he can actually make things happen.

Nathaniel: That is why more people need to be involved in rallies such as this. Once you learn about the hiccups in the bureaucratic process in this country, it kind of explains a lot more. I recently started a nonprofit foundation in honor of my daughter, and I had no idea the political red tape and nonsense that goes into starting a business in this country, even that is what the American dream partially is. You educate, you have a family, you start a business. It’s so difficult to do that and I did not know that until I became an entrepreneur myself.

Are there any specific policies you’re hoping to hear announced today?

Nathaniel: Honestly, education reform is on top of my priority list. That’s part of what I do. Just a change. I know we talked about change in 2008, but because of how things are currently in this country… the mood in this country, the temperament of this country and how we’re looked at in the world. We’re looked at as a political joke throughout the world. I wanna hear education reform and something different than what we have now.

Shawn: Education reform, I’m actually back in school, getting my second masters degree. I work in IT, work for Verizon Communications, and IT is constantly changing and upgrading, and I have to stay current if I want to stay employed. It’s extremely expensive, it’s somewhat segregated. I want some reform in you’re education. I think we have to finally look at the issue of race in a real, focused way and make adjustments to give parity and some type of… come to a conclusion. Race holds this country back more than most people understand.

Nathaniel: Recently more than any other time in history.

He did introduce the bill this week in the Senate to study reparations.

Shawn: That is what we’re saying. He needs to take charge of these issues that really matter and bringing them to the forefront. Nothing grows with divisiveness. Things grow with inclusion, unity, strength in numbers. That’s what made America great and that is what will make America great again.

Nathaniel: If you look at the Preamble of the Constitution, “We the people.” If you look at where we are right now in 2019, there is no “We.” There is an “Us” and a “Them,” whether it’s the left side or the right side of the aisle, whether it’s by race, it’s complete separation which leads to segregation. We have to stop it. I believe that is what Booker brings, because he has always done things for the we. It doesn’t matter what your ethnic background [is], if you’re gay, straight or in between, it’s just the people.

Do you have misgivings about electing an unmarried man or is that no longer considered an issue for presidential candidates? How about Rosario Dawson as first lady?

Nathaniel: I think it’s beautiful. I’m a single man. This gentleman is a single man.

Shawn: It doesn’t matter. We’re electing a president. If he has a wife or doesn’t have a wife, it doesn’t matter, we’re voting for him.

Varun Khanna (L), 26, and Nakul Shah (R), 27, from Jersey City, New Jersey

Cory Booker "Justice For All" Kickoff Tour in Newark, N.J. on April 13, 2019.

Varun Khanna (L) and Nakul Shah (R) at the Cory Booker “Justice For All” Kickoff Tour in Newark, N.J. on April 13, 2019. Jason Bergman

What brought you out to see Senator Booker today?

Varun: I’m actually a Republican and Cory Booker for me, growing up in Jersey City, he’s an inspirational figure. The fact that he came to Newark, lived in the projects, when he was from privilege. Being a Jersey guy, I’m just pulling for Booker right now. He hasn’t put out a lot of policy documents, so I’m not 100 percent on where he’s coming from on a policy standpoint, but just on his personality and how personable he is, that’s why I’m out here supporting him today.

Nakul: I think that what distinguishes Booker is he has legislative experience, he has executive experience, he’s one of the most experienced candidates in the crowded field. I am interested in hearing more about specific policies, and I hope today to hear more straight from him. He’s [put] criminal justice reform at the forefront of his campaign and that’s something I care about most. I figure why not hear him out.

What are your thoughts on his legacy as mayor?

Varun: Their is a long history of… large municipalities like Newark and Jersey City getting the short end of the stick in assistance of the state. There’s no question that there was already a deficient school system in Newark. He did what he could and tried to really connect with the people. You can’t blame someone’s short tenure for the endemic problems.

He inherited a very large mess.

Varun: He does have failures as mayor, but he has held a large office in the state. He’s senator now and he has a lot of problems with Big Pharma; we can’t walk past that and [act like] it doesn’t exist. But out of a crowded field where a lot of people have a lot of problems, and who the current president is, you’ve gotta look past that. People are real people. I’m sure he’ll talk about the mistakes, like the $100 million he got from Zuckerberg, a lot of which was squandered. I mean our mayor, [Jersey City] Mayor [Steven] Fulop, has a lot of problems. So does Buttigieg and everybody else, I mean “1000 Homes in 1000 Days” was an awful program too. But we gotta look at that and what he’s proposing. It’s about the future, we can’t just keep looking at the past. His past shows a great record. He was mayor of the biggest city in the state and he’s a senator now. Who else is bringing that to the table? Not many other people.

Are there any specific policies you’re hoping to hear announced today?

Varun: Criminal justice reform, that is what should be. The shirt says “Justice For All.” Absolutely, I want to see some prison reform. He’s been championing that for a long time, because private prisons are a huge problem in this country.

Patrick Bevilecqua, 38, from Summit, New Jersey

Patrick Bevilecqua at the Cory Booker "Justice For All" Kickoff Tour in Newark, N.J. on April 13, 2019.

Patrick Bevilecqua at the Cory Booker “Justice For All” Kickoff Tour in Newark, N.J. on April 13, 2019. Jason Bergman

What brought you out to see Senator Booker today?

I think it helps New Jersey, absolutely. We’ve been following Cory for a while and a message of “Love for All” and “Justice for All” is huge for us. We have a six-year-old and all of it runs in full view of what we want to do and what we want the country to be.

What are your thoughts on his legacy as mayor of Newark?

I mean, I would just say that nobody is going to do 100 percent of what everybody wants. I’m sure some of it was amazing and others, the best decision wasn’t made. Ultimately, no one was going to make it 100 percent and satisfy everyone’s opinion of what is a good thing or a bad thing. I still think he did an amazing job, I’m sure he could have done better in some ways, it’s probably for the better than before he got here.

Are there any specific policies that you are hoping to hear about today?

I believe wages for all, giving our kids a better chance moving forward, getting our kids out of debt, that’s huge. The inequality of what we’re doing and how much money is going to certain people is really hard, it makes it hard for a large group of people to get out of what they’re doing now. Looking for a good, positive message, a nice day.

Do you have misgivings about electing an unmarried man or is that no longer considered an issue for presidential candidates? How about Rosario Dawson as first lady?

Neither of which I care about. I think the notion that you have to be a nuclear family is kind of ridiculous. Who cares? It’s just one thing for somebody else to complain about. You could have a wife or a husband and it doesn’t matter.

It seems like with what Trump did, nothing really matters anymore.

Well… certain things should matter absolutely (laugh). But as a family thing, are you a good person? Are you going to do good things for a lot of people?

Valentina, 28, from Italy, 28

Valentina at the Cory Booker "Justice For All" Kickoff Tour in Newark, N.J. on April 13, 2019.

Valentina at the Cory Booker “Justice For All” Kickoff Tour in Newark, N.J. on April 13, 2019. Jason Bergman

What brought you out to see Senator Booker today?

Someone I work with told me about the event, and I’ve heard Cory on a radio interview. I like how he speaks and comes across. I studied at Rutgers Newark for four years and I know he was mayor here first and has done good things. I like what he has to say about why he believes he’s the right choice for president.

Are you looking at any other candidates right now?

Not really. I know the Democratic field is pretty crowded. He’s the only one that I’d vote for.

What are your thoughts on his legacy as mayor of Newark?

I think he’s done good things. I remember when I started, crime was a big deal and I believe over the time he was mayor, crime went down a lot. I think that speaks to the good things he’s done as mayor.

So you’ve seen changes in your time here?

Oh, absolutely. Since I started, I know it was already better than it used to be. Even after he left Newark, more businesses have been coming in, transportation [has improved]… I’ve definitely seen a change.

Are there any specific policies you’re hoping to hear about today?

Policies… probably immigration, LGBT rights, if he decides to talk about them, and women’s issues.

Do you have misgivings about electing an unmarried man or is that no longer considered an issue for presidential candidates?

Absolutely, I think it’s a good change. I think the belief that you need to have a traditional man and wife in the White House… I think it’s good to change. I don’t think it matters. I don’t think that someone married is more qualified than someone single for running for president.

Robert Egert, 60, and Andrea Egert, 55, from Englewood, New Jersey

Robert Egert (R) and Andrea Egert (L) at Cory Booker "Justice For All" Kickoff Tour in Newark, N.J. on April 13, 2019.

Robert Egert (R) and Andrea Egert (L) at Cory Booker “Justice For All” Kickoff Tour in Newark, N.J. on April 13, 2019. Jason Bergman

What brought you out to see Senator Booker today?

Robert: Been following Cory since he was mayor of Newark, and I like his record as a senator. We’ve been supportive of him and curious to see how his campaign goes and wanted to come out be supportive.

Andrea: Also have been following Cory since he was mayor. Cory is friends of friends, I’ll say. I am really thinking about his criminal justice message and intentions. Interested to hear more about his platform, hoping that it’s comprehensive and strong on all fronts.

What are your thoughts on his legacy as mayor of Newark?

Robert: I think he did tremendous things for Newark. Both physically for infrastructure, policy and education, and reputationally. Newark is now a place where… I work in Manhattan and people in executive positions are moving to Newark. There are people who see Newark as a positive place to live. I think he had a tremendous positive impact on this town, which hadn’t really recovered since the ’60s. I think he did a tremendous job. Nobody is perfect, but I think he was terrific. As a senator, I think he’s been on the right side of every major issue. His record in the senate is, for me, perfect. I’m also impressed with his personal behavior as a human being. Like where he lives and how he conducts himself. With this current administration, we really need to turn this around. We’ve really debased our politics and that doesn’t have to stay that way. We need to set a higher standard, and I really see that with him.

Andrea: It’s been really amazing to see change happen under Cory Booker’s leadership and in whatever role he has maintained. In his personal conduct, he seems like a really wonderful person. Certainly a representative with integrity in these times.

Are there any specific policies you’re hoping to hear about today?

Robert: The ones that come to mind are voter rights, that’s a really big issue moving forward. How the Republicans are packing the courts, it’s almost like an underground coup. I think having an environmental policy that will start to work us toward some kind of a sustainable future. We’re parents, I think it’s a real significant burden on our society emotionally and will be economically because we’re not pricing in the cost of environmental degradation and increased disease and the things to come. It’s not questionable anymore. If anything, we’re making it worse right now.

Andrea: Future costs regarding health care. I work in mental health, I’m a psychotherapist, and I’m very interested in his health care platform over all. The environment. As a mother of a young adult, we really want to know what kind of world he’s growing up into and his peers. All the babies born today. What do they have in store, what kind of future do they have?

One of the biggest criticisms against him was his handling of the charter school situation and the money from Mark Zuckerberg. Are you worried that is going to stay with him during the campaign or hold him back?

Andrea: I think he can speak to that to that now. I don’t think it has to dog him. He can change the conversation if he wants.

Robert: I think one thing that Trump has done to the political discourse is he tends to put everybody on his heels and makes no apologies for his abhorrent behavior. Now it’s contingent on the contenders for 2020 to really lean into this stuff and not make apologies. We’re not in that kind of environment.

Andrea: I hope he will not be conciliatory and will take strong positions and speaks strongly and forcefully.

Do you have misgivings about electing an unmarried man or is that no longer considered an issue for presidential candidates?

Andrea: No, Donald Trump is basically a single man with his house woman. I don’t think he respects the institution of marriage. I think Cory Booker has more respect for it by maintaining his singlehood and waiting for the right person.

Inside the Launch of Cory Booker’s ‘Justice For All’ Campaign Tour