Booker won’t run for N.J. governor, eyes U.S. Senate seat

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TRENTON, N.J. (AP) — Newark Mayor Cory Booker has ruled out a bid for New Jersey governor and is eyeing a run for U.S. Senate in 2014.

Mr. Booker, 43, announced his decision on Twitter on Thursday, ending months of speculation over whether he would challenge Republican Gov. Chris Christie in a marquee matchup next year.

The mayor, one of the Democratic Party’s biggest draws, said in a follow-up statement that he would finish his second term as leader of the state’s largest city in mid-2014 and would strongly consider running for Senate after that.

“Let there be no doubt, I will complete my full second term as mayor,” Mr. Booker said in the statement, which was posted on Facebook and linked to on Twitter. “As for my political future, I will explore the possibility of running for the United States Senate in 2014.”

It’s not clear whether Sen. Frank R. Lautenberg will retire or run against Mr. Booker, and probably others, in a Democratic Senate primary. Mr. Lautenberg is 88.

U.S. Rep. Frank Pallone indicated his continued interest in a Senate seat on Wednesday.

Mr. Booker reached out to Mr. Lautenberg on Thursday morning, but it’s not clear whether the two talked. Mr. Booker also made a round of calls to Democratic county political chairs and state Senate President Stephen Sweeney, another Democrat said to be considering a run for governor or another office.

“It will be a privilege, an honor, to continue his legacy of service,” Mr. Booker said of Mr. Lautenberg in a three-minute video that accompanied his announcement.  Mr. Booker was not available for questions.

Many Democrats viewed Mr. Booker as having the best chance at unseating Mr. Christie. One Democrat, state Sen. Barbara Buono of Metuchen, has announced a gubernatorial candidacy so far. Now that Mr. Booker‘s out, the party will look for decisions from others, including Mr. Sweeney and state Sen. Dick Codey.

Mr. Christie’s popularity is at an all-time high following his handling of Hurricane Sandy and its aftermath. In announcing his re-election bid last month, Mr. Christie said he was motivated, in part, by the chance to lead New Jersey through the post-storm recovery, which he said won’t be complete when his first term expires.

Mr. Booker and Mr. Christie historically have had a good working relationship. They agreed on the elimination of lifetime teacher tenure, for example, and on the need for government workers to pay more for their retirement and health benefits. The two even appeared in a “Seinfeld” parody video this year.

But Newark schools remain under state control, and the city relies on the Christie administration for millions in aid to make up its deficit. As Mr. Booker eyed a gubernatorial run more publicly, Mr. Christie ramped up criticism of the mayor’s fiscal management.

Critics say the celebrity mayor is much more popular beyond the city’s borders than within Newark. Former Gov. Brendan Byrne, a fellow Democrat, cast doubt on Mr. Booker‘s ability to be as an effective an administrator as the governorship requires.

There is little doubt that Mr. Booker can raise money, however. He has brought in hundreds of millions in development and donations to the city, including a $100 million education donation from Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg.

In the video, he touted other achievements of his administration, including more budget stability, court reforms and a reduction in crime.

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