Newark Mayor Cory Booker sees pivotal time of leadership change in America

Cory Booker, the 39-year-old Mayor of Newark, N.J., who is seen as a rising political star, told Elon Law students Feb. 3 that they are experiencing a “watershed time in American life.” Delivering the law school’s Bryan Leadership Lecture, Booker said he has great hope in the leaders emerging from the millennial generation.

Cory Booker, Major of Newark, N.J.

Booker, a Yale Law alum and Rhodes Scholar, is nationally recognized as one of the country’s most innovative city leaders, addressing a range of urban policy challenges through bold city management strategies, coalition-building and direct dialogue with a broad cross-section of Newark residents.

Booker said he is proud to be one of the thousands of young leaders emerging at all political levels who are taking on challenges facing the nation. He said there is a new desire to create communities, a resurgence of interest in living in American cities, and growing virtual communities that are turning online connectivity into activism.

Booker called for a collaborative spirit to meet the nation’s challenges. “Leadership is not about being a leader in isolation,” Booker said, “but challenging other people to be leaders together.”

Booker said at a time when Americans are distracted by current problems, there is a need for what he calls “moral imagination,” the capacity to see wide-ranging possibilities for greater equality, prosperity and justice amidst the many challenges of our time.

Booker was elected mayor in 2006 in a landslide contest, eight years after winning his first public office by upsetting a popular incumbent councilman. His reputation for unorthodox approaches to fighting drugs and crime are legendary in Newark – acts that include a 10-day hunger strike in 1999 in one of the city’s most drug-infested housing complexes, which led to an increased police presence and improved safety for residents.

Reflecting on the hunger strike, Booker noted that hundreds of people quickly joined him in the effort to compel the city to address crime and violence in a drug-ridden housing complex, standing guard for him by night and sitting in prayer and protest with him through each day. He said the primary lesson learned from the experience was not the power of his individual action, but the capacity of people from all walks of life to come together to do what is necessary to achieve change.

“Will we take ownership of our nation?” Booker asked. “Will we not look for blame but accept responsibility? This is our challenge – this is the test of this fledgling democracy still in its youth. Can it be bold enough, rich enough and inclusive enough to fulfill the dreams of our ancestors?”

Prior to the evening lecture, Booker met with Elon Law students and faculty to hold a conversation and answer their questions.

The Joseph M. Bryan Distinguished Leadership Lecture Series is an integral part of Elon University School of Law’s commitment to develop lawyers who are also leaders. Endowed through a generous gift from the Joseph M. Bryan Foundation of Greensboro, N.C., the Distinguished Leadership Lecture Series brings accomplished leaders from a variety of disciplines to Elon to share their experiences and perspectives with students and faculty.