Newark Mayor Cory Booker, a top contender for New Jersey's vacant Senate seat, joined a panel of urban policy experts on Monday night to discuss national politics and local problem-solving.
George Stephanopoulos, the ABC news analyst and former adviser to President Bill Clinton, moderated the discussion at New York's 92nd Street Y. It was one of Booker's first major public outings since announcing his candidacy to succeed Democratic Sen. Frank Lautenberg, who died earlier this month.
“Why run for Senate?” Stephanopoulos asked Booker, a Democrat in his second term in the mayor's office. “What can you do in Washington?”
“We need to get more folks in Washington to start changing that spirit to get back to a way of thinking that’s not this short-term, heavily partisan, zero-sum-game politics," Booker said.
The Senate hopeful also talked about using his candidacy to bring a national focus to poverty, one of the major topics of the evening.
“One of the reasons why I want to go to the U.S. Senate is that nobody wants to talk about poverty in the United States,” he said. “The challenge is that we’re not unified as a country to deal with issues like the crushing impact of poverty.”
Polls show Booker with a wide lead over both Republican and Democratic rivals vying for the Senate seat. Both parties will select a candidate in a primary Aug. 13 to compete in a special election Oct. 16.
Booker, who has gained national attention for his hands-on approach to his troubled city's challenges, spoke about the importance of urban leadership not just in the mayor’s office but on all fronts.
“What we knew when we started talking to folks that gave us a detailed analysis of not just Newark but of the region was that there was an incredible set of cards that we could play,” said Booker. “I believe that every city has a competitive advantage if they can pull all sectors together.”
While the focus of the talk was on local leadership, Washington's role loomed large in the discussion. According to panelist Bruce Katz of the Brookings Institution, cities and metropolitan areas have been forced to step up where the federal government is failing.
“They’re investing in infrastructure. They’re making manufacturing a priority,” said Katz of urban hubs. “Leadership is pushing down from the federal and state governments to the cities and metros.”
Booker said he was optimistic about the future of American cities, suggesting the next phase of this country will be in urban centers. Katz said much the same, noting that local leaders like Booker "put place over party" and "just want to get things done."
Also present at the event were Jennifer Bradley of Brookings and Judith Rosen, president of the Rockefeller Foundation.