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Cory Booker Eyes (Chris Christie-Free) Path To His Political Future

Here was the choice facing Newark Mayor Cory Booker: Run next year against New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, whose popularity would have made the Republican exceedingly difficult to beat; or fix his gaze on the Senate seat now occupied by an 88-year-old fellow Democrat, Sen. Frank Lautenberg, who (according to certain polls) is seen by many voters as too old for re-election in 2014.

So, no surprise, Booker has decided to try for the Senate.

That would have been an easy decision for most politicians, let alone Booker, who holds degrees from Stanford, Oxford and Yale universities. While it's a logical move, some saw it as politically craven.

As the high-profile mayor of a long-suffering city where several predecessors were better known for corruption charges than good governance, the bar was obviously fairly low for Booker in terms of what he had to do to improve the reputation of Newark's City Hall.

But the 43-year-old Booker has been an energetic presence in his city and beyond. When he hasn't been rushing into a burning building to rescue a constituent or living on the equivalent of a food-stamp diet to make a point about poverty, he has been on Twitter fielding complaints from his city's residents, weighing in on national affairs or providing his tweeps with inspiration.

More substantively, he has generally been praised for beginning a turnaround in a city that had become synonymous with urban dysfunction.

As the Newark Star-Ledger wrote when it endorsed Booker's 2010 re-election:

"Under Booker, gun violence in Newark has been cut in half. The city payroll has shrunk by 17 percent. New parks have sprouted up across the city. The Housing Authority has been brought back from the dead, and the pace of new construction of affordable housing has picked up.

"New programs have helped hundreds of released prisoners find jobs, arranged financing for small businesses and helped families combat foreclosure. The list of innovative programs goes on."

As the editorial went on to note, and as Booker demonstrated in the video released Thursday about his political plans — when he said he would "explore a run for the United States Senate" — he isn't your cookie-cutter politician.

In the video, a stack of books is in the foreground. The title of two books, the Qu'ran and Bible, could be made out, at least by this writer. Some in the Twittersphere said they could identify other volumes: the Tanakh, or Hebrew Bible; the Hindu epic the Bhagavad-Gita; and the Bahai faith's Life of the Spirit. Definitely not the usual props in a political announcement video.

For Booker, a 2014 Senate run not only would allow him to avoid Christie, but he would be able to complete his present term as mayor as well, which he promised to do in his video titled, "Finishing the Work We Started."

One thing Booker appears to have done is to put pressure on Lautenberg, who hasn't announced whether he plans to seek re-election again, though not many senators have done so at age 90.

Of course, Strom Thurmond of South Carolina served in the Senate until he was 100.

Copyright 2012 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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