Newark Mayor Cory Booker told CNBC on Friday he's exploring a bid for U.S. Senate because the solutions to problems he's tackled in New Jersey's largest city can work at the national level.
Even though he's filed papers with the Federal Election Commission establishing a campaign committee, Booker was still coy about his intentions during a "Squawk Box" interview, in which he also talked about his teaming up with first lady Michelle Obama to promote healthier living in America.
"I've made no formal announcements or decisions," he stressed. "But I'm exploring and looking at running" next year for the seat being vacated by retiring long-time Sen. Frank Lautenberg, a fellow Democrat.
Booker touted his record in Newark: "Job creation, balancing budgets, dealing with violence in America, these are things I've been doing on the local level," he said. "And I believe on the national level, I can make a big contribution to tackle some of these enduring problems in our country."
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Brushing off speculation that he might challenge Republican Gov. Chris Christie in this year's New Jersey governor's race, Booker said, "I've got 478 days left as the mayor of the city of Newark. We are booming in our city right now. We have the largest economic development growth period since the 1950s and '60s."
But not everyone agrees with Booker's assessment of how Newark has done with him at the helm. An article titled "Promise vs. Reality in Newark on Mayor's Watch" in The New York Times at the end of last year pointed out the challenges that still remain there.
Taxes have risen more than 20 percent over the past three years, even after the city laid off about 1,100 workers, including more than 160 police officers. Crime has risen, and unemployment is up. Schools remain under state control, and the city's finances remain so troubled that it cannot borrow to fix its antiquated water system. While new restaurants have risen near the Prudential Center downtown, those in the outer wards were placed under a curfew this year because of shootings and drug dealing.
The article also quoted a Democratic state lawmaker who said Booker is out of town too much to focus on the day-to-day running of the city.
For his part, Booker told CNBC, "I love being the mayor. It's a job of my dreams." He said people used to ask him: "Why would you want to go to city government in Newark, New Jersey. It's so screwed up. It was." After seven years as mayor, he reflected: "So what people told me not to do or was impossible to do, we've now done, creating more opportunity for our residents."
Booker said that type of opportunity awaits an "under-performing" America and that's why he's considering a Senate run. "We could be doing so much better, but we just desperately need good people to stand up and do something about it. And never accept the impossible."