Booker wins NJ Senate seat, says he’s ‘a scrapper’

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Newark Mayor Cory Booker talks to supporters during an election night victory party after winning a special election for the U.S. Senate, Wednesday, Oct. 16, 2013, in Newark, N.J. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)

by Katie Zezima and Angela Delli Santi
Associated Press Writers

NEWARK, N.J. (AP) — U.S. senator-elect Cory Booker said Thursday he’s ready to go to Washington and is not afraid if he “breaks dishes” trying to serve his constituents in New Jersey.

Booker, 44, the Democratic mayor of Newark, made the rounds on the morning talk shows a day after defeating Republican Steve Lonegan. His win came after an aggressive two-month race to finish the term of Sen. Frank Lautenberg, who died in office in June at age 89.

Booker said he wants to channel Americans’ frustration with Congress into energy for change.

“I think everybody feels there’s fatigue and frustration with how things are, which creates a great climate for change,” Booker said on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe.” ”Often before you have great victory, you have to have great frustration.”

The mayor of New Jersey’s largest city takes to Washington a national profile — boosted by a strong social media presence, frequent television appearances and his status as a surrogate for Barack Obama during the president’s 2012 re-election campaign — just as the federal government begins functioning again after a 16-day shutdown.

He hasn’t even started his job as senator, but he is already being asked if he wants to run for president.

“I would rule it out,” he said on WNYW’s “Good Day New York.” ”I’m going into the Senate. If I break dishes on the way to try to serve the people of New Jersey, so be it.”

Booker called himself a “scrapper” and said he was able to change Newark despite people claiming its problems were intractable, which is what he said people are now saying about Congress.

“I find it eerily familiar with what people are saying to me now, because it was said 15 years ago in Newark,” he said. “The problems are too big.”

Booker had 55 percent of the vote to Lonegan’s 44 percent. He brushed off criticism that the race was closer than many anticipated. Lonegan was backed by the tea party in a Democratic-leaning state.

“We did not worry. We put our plan in place and we worked our plan,” Booker said. “I feel very lifted by the people of the state of New Jersey.”

Booker said he will likely be sworn in “the next week, two weeks max.” The timing, he said, depends on Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and Vice President Joe Biden, who will likely swear Booker in.

Booker will be the first black senator from New Jersey and will arrive in Washington with an unusual political resume.

He was raised in suburban Harington Park as the son of two of the first black IBM executives, graduated from Stanford and law school at Yale with a stint in between as a Rhodes Scholar before moving to one of Newark’s toughest neighborhoods with the intent of doing good.

He’s been an unconventional politician, a vegetarian with a Twitter following of 1.4 million — or five times the population of the city he governs. With state funding dwindling, he has used private fundraising, including a $100 million pledge from Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, to run programs in Newark, a strategy that has brought him both fame and criticism.

Former state Attorney General Jeffrey Chiesa had been appointed by Christie to temporarily replace Lautenberg. The governor scheduled the special election for just 20 days before Christie himself is on the ballot seeking re-election. Democrats said Christie was afraid of appearing on the same ballot as the popular Booker, but courts upheld the election schedule.

Before Lautenberg died, Booker passed up a chance to run against Christie this year, saying he was eyeing Lautenberg’s seat in 2014, in part so he could complete a full term as mayor — something he won’t do now.

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Delli Santi reported from Trenton, N.J. Associated Press reporters Geoff Mulvihill in Trenton and Bruce Shipkowski in Bridgewater, N.J., contributed to this report.

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