South Jersey's top Democratic officials formally endorsed Newark Mayor Cory Booker Wednesday afternoon, praising his political views and pragmatism, and also hoping that he'll return the favor in November, when Democrats hope to maintain control of the state Legislature in the face of Gov. Christie's re-election bid.
Senate President Stephen Sweeney (D., Gloucester) and Assembly Majority Leader Louis Greenwald (D., Camden) each said Booker embodies Democratic ideals and will work across party lines, but they also cited their own political imperatives when siding with the popular and famous mayor.
Booker gives Democrats the "greatest opportunity ... in November to make sure we maintain a Democratic Legislature in the state of New Jersey and Mayor Booker is as equally committed to that as we are to him," Greenwald said at a press conference in Deptford.
Booker, thanking the South Jersey Democratic establishment for their backing, vowed to help after October's special Senate election.
"I will be, god willing, a sitting United States senator, sitting here again in South Jersey, battling with the people I’m standing with right now to preserve and advance in the (state) Senate and the Assembly, to push for change at the state level," he said.
Booker has often been criticized within Democratic circles for not doing enough to use his name and fund-raising prowess to help other candidates, though he contested that critique Wednesday.
Later in the day, another Democratic Senate hopeful, U.S. Rep. Frank Pallone, announced support from a slew of Democrats from Middlesex County Democrats, part of his legislative district.
With four Democrats competing in the August primary, Greenwald said Booker "will stand for those same type of principles" as state-level New Jersey Democrats have.
The South Jersey officials praised the other Senate candidates, but Sweeney said "our next senator is the guy that can get it done ... no one comes close to Cory when it’s about getting things done."
He praised Booker's ability to work in Washington, although two of the mayor's opponents include veteran Congressmen Pallone and Rush Holt; the fourth is Assembly Speaker Sheila Oliver.
Booker again criticized Christie's decision to call a special election that could cost more than $24 million between the primary and October general election, but side-stepped a question about whether the move by the governor was "self-serving."
"I have a hard enough time reading my mind sometimes, I’m not going to read the governor's mind," Booker said.
Democratic critics have accused Christie of scheduling the added elections, with the added cost, as a way to pull Democratic attention and money to the Senate campaign, and away from Barbara Buono's campaign against him.
The endorsements for Booker Wednesday came from top Democratic officials in Burlington, Camden, Gloucester, Atlantic, Cape May, Cumberland and Salem counties. The backing was no surprise -- George Norcross, South Jersey's most influential Democrat had already endorsed Booker. Norcross is managing partner of the company that owns the Inquirer, Daily News and Philly.com.
Booker, the early favorite according to multiple polls, has raced out ahead in endorsements from party leaders, and more are expected in coming days.