It's unquestionably the hardest decision I've ever had to make as a voter.
In the New Jersey Democratic Party primary election to replace the late Senator Frank Lautenberg there are three candidates running for whom I have the greatest respect: Congressman Rush Holt, Congressman Frank Pallone, and Newark Mayor Cory Booker. New Jersey Assembly Speaker Sheila Oliver is running as well, but honestly, I don't know her or her record, and frankly I don't think she has much of a chance against the other three candidates.
Congressman Holt is a true progressive -- a champion of LGBT rights -- and he votes his values. He refused to vote in favor of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) in 2007 because it lacked protections for transgender people. That takes real political courage. He's been my congressman for several years now and I've voted for him each time he's run. He's earned my respect and my vote many times over.
Congressman Pallone is no slouch either. He's always been on the right side of the issues I care about and I haven't the slightest concern that he wouldn't continue to be as our Senator. I've marched with Congressman Pallone at Pride and I'd be just as proud to have him representing my interests in the Senate as either Congressman Holt or Mayor Booker.
So why Cory Booker? What earns him my vote in the upcoming primary over these two excellent alternatives?
If I'm to be completely honest here, I'd rather have seen Mayor Booker run against Chris Christie for Governor. Here in New Jersey, being Governor is a hands-on job, and Cory Booker is a hands-on kind of leader. We've all seen the stories of him running into burning buildings, shoveling snow, and doing whatever he can to make the lives of the people in his city easier, even when it requires him to roll up his sleeves and grab a shovel himself. He's a leader who doesn't just talk about leadership as an abstract concept, he lives it as part of his daily life as the mayor of New Jersey's largest city.
That's exactly the kind of leadership I believe we need in Trenton, the kind of leader who understands the impact of government policy at ground level on the people who are least able to advocate for themselves and who never fails to act with that in mind.
The reality, however, presents me and every New Jersey Democratic primary voter with a different choice, literally an abundance of riches in terms of qualified congressional candidates every New Jersey progressive should be thrilled with, regardless of the particular issues they care about most.
So, since I'd comfortably vote for any of these candidates, what sets Cory Booker apart for me?
In a word, engagement. He's one of the most accessible politicians I've ever seen and he doesn't reserve that accessibility to those within his own city. He doesn't just state his positions, he actually leads and challenges people to follow. He's not just a politician, or even just a mayor, but a real leader who leads by example. In other words, he's not just a political leader, he's a genuine activist. He doesn't just ask you to help him succeed, he asks you to join him -- to work with him, not just for him. That's something we desperately need more of not only in Trenton, but in Washington as well.
I've watched Elizabeth Warren's first months in the Senate with great interest. She was elected to the Senate because of who she is and the values she's represented all of her career. Voters in Massachusetts put her in office because they know she fights for those who can't fight for themselves, because average lower- and middle-class working folks in Massachusetts know she can be counted on to put their interests first and foremost, ahead of party politics.
That's the kind of senator I expect Cory Booker to be, the same kind of mayor he's been for Newark. He's not afraid to speak his mind or to fight for what he believes in.
Congressmen Holt and Pallone, as good as they are, haven't really done that. They vote their values as dependable progressives to be sure, but it's a rare day that we see either of them bucking Party leadership. We don't see them leading the charge in the media or in the House on the issues that matter most to progressives. Despite both being in the House for many years, neither has held a real leadership position within the Democratic Party. Both of these men have shown themselves to be excellent progressive legislators, but neither have shown themselves to be real leaders.
In addition, we need all three of these staunch progressives representing our interests in Washington, and the only way we get that is if Cory Booker becomes our next senator and Congressmen Holt and Pallone keep their seats in the House.
Cory Booker is a proven leader. He's demonstrated that he'll not only fight for what he believes in, but he'll lead others, build coalitions, and do the hard work of bringing together opposing factions to accomplish shared goals.
What we need most in the Senate and in our federal government in general right now is new blood, new ways of tackling the toughest issues, and new ways to engage average Americans in the governance of our country. We need legislators who are not just progressive, but also engaged and active progressive leaders and activists who are willing to look toward the skies but keep their feet planted firmly on the ground. Cory Booker is that kind of leader, and that's why I'll be voting for him in the New Jersey Senate primary.