Cory Booker basks in glow of big day as nation's newest Senator

By Amy Ellis Nutt/The Star-Ledger
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on November 01, 2013

Sen. Cory Booker addresses hundreds of supporters in the Russell Senate Office Building with Sen. Robert Menendez at his left and Rep. Donald Payne Jr. at his right on Booker's first day as a US Senator. Washington, DC 10/31/13 (John Munson/The Star-Ledger)


WASHINGTON — Lost in an ocean of admirers, Cory Booker stood on a small dais in a crowded ballroom at the Liaison Hotel on Thursday night, posing for photos. A waiting line snaked through the crowd as Booker stood as patient as a groom receiving well-wishers.

It was 8 p.m. and he was already due at the next party, but the new U.S. Senator from New Jersey was content to bask in the glow of flashing cameras just a little bit longer.

Cory Booker became New Jersey’s first African-American U.S. Senator and the first former Newark mayor to ascend to higher political office when he was sworn in at high noon Thursday in the well of the U.S. Senate.

Later in the day, the Senate ratified Booker’s committee assignments: Commerce, Environment and Public Works and Small Business. With Booker, Democrats control of 55 Senate seats, counting two held by independents. Republicans hold 45 seats.

Vice President Joe Biden administered the oath during the official ceremony. Afterward, Booker, a 44-year-old Democat, attended a reception for some 400 family, friends and supporters in the Russell Senate Office Building. Upon entering, he was greeted with enthusiastic applause — and two massive white sheet cakes decorated with the U.S. Senate insignia and a "Congratulations Senator Booker" written in blue icing.

"It’s not titles that honor people," he told the crowd, "it’s people that honor titles. … In this journey I’ve had from small town Harrington Park to the Senate, there were truly incredible people who empowered me."

One of them was Jody Maxmin, who taught Booker in two Classical Art and Archaeology courses at Stanford University, and who was at both the ceremonial swearing-in in the old Senate chamber and the reception afterward.

"He taught me," she said. "He taught me about life, death, citizenship, selflessness, love, teamwork ...

All those hugs on the floor of the Senate — I think that’s what people want. He’s going to do it," she said of her belief in his ability to create a bipartisan concensus.

In between the two oaths, Booker cast his first vote as a U.S. Senator, saying "aye" in response to an attempt by Democrats to advance the nomination of Rep Mel Watt (D-N.C.) as director of the Federal Housing Finance Agency. Republicans, however, defeated the motion.

At the ceremonial swearing in, New Jersey’s senior U.S. Senator, Democrat Robert Menendez, peeked over the balustrade in the back of the room. When he was spotted, Booker called him to the front of the chamber where the two posed together for photographs.

Later, the new senator moved briskly through the halls in the Capitol, smiling and trying to take it all in before boarding the underground tram to the Russell building across the street. The crowd at the reception seemed to squeeze Booker toward the edge of the room, where he posed for more photographs and strained his voice to be heard.

By the time he gave his first press conference, about an hour later just outside the reception hall, the newly-minted U.S. Senator was already hoarse.

Booker took questions from the press for about five minutes, before he was whisked away by his aides for a 3:15 meeting at the White House. There, he and President Obama tossed a football outside the Oval Office, Booker later said, then sat and spoke for about 45 minutes.

"Bill Bradley (former U.S. Senator from New Jersey) and the president both advised me to sit with and meet my colleagues," Booker said. "I look forward to doing that and building those relationships."

Booker said he was impressed with the president.

"I loved that he was focused on New Jersey, talking about the Sandy recovery and what I could do," Booker said. "That’s what I want to do. It’s not the grand slam, it’s the singles and doubles — that’s the kind of thing he said to me."

After leaving the White House, New Jersey’s newest U.S. senator was ferried in a black SUV to the Hart Senate Office Building on the other side of the Capitol where he met with several local reporters. He spoke of inviting the widow of Frank Lautenberg, who died in June at the age of 89 and whose seat Booker won in a special election last month, to be at his swearing in. He also spoke of his gratitude toward Menendez and of his eagerness to begin working for the state as an "innovator and entrepreneur."

Booker spoke specifically of the needs of Cumberland County since Hurricane Sandy. The county has received little of the federal money allocated to New Jersey’s hardest hit regions, though several of its townships were devastated.

"I’m really looking forward to going to Cumberland County and thinking of creative ways of helping those people," he said. "What I want to do in New Jersey is find creative public-private partnerships. That’s helped us a lot in Newark ... A lot of what people will see in the first six months is going to be me going out and making those relationships."

Still exuding enthusiasm after a long day on Capitol Hill and with parties to attend Thursday evening, Booker added, "I want to start sprinting."

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