Newark Mayor Cory Booker on Weed Law, Romney, and Why He's Not Vegan

Newark Mayor Cory Booker opened his internet doors to Reddit users in an "Ask Me Anything" session on Sunday. He explained, among other things, what went through his mind when he ran into that burning building.

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Cory Booker is the Mayor of Newark, New Jersey. The mayor who rushed into a burning building to save the woman inside, and gained his five minutes of tabloid gossip by allegedly dating Arianna Huffington. The Democrat who called liberal attacks on Mitt Romney's Bain Capital "nauseating," and responds to Twitter complaints about power outages, potholes, and fallen trees with the phrase, "I'm on it." That Mayor of Newark, New Jersey, just in case you had him confused with another one.

Today, Cory Booker opened his internet doors to Reddit users in an "Ask Me Anything" session.

We were pretty psyched to see how he'd fare in what my colleague Eric Randall called "the question-and-answer mosh pit."

Although many Redditors complained that Booker avoided the "tough" questions, we did get his thoughts on marijuana, ice cream, "The Brick City Bricks," and other important topics.

On New Jersey's loss of the now-Brooklyn Nets:

...I was gung-ho to start a campaign for a team named The Brick City Bricks but I was quickly reminded by my friends that this would not be a good name for an NBA team.

On what flashed through his mind when he ran into that burning building:

"Please Lord get me and my neighbor out of here alive"..."Fire - hot"; "can't believe I'm so out of shape climbing a flight of stairs"; And "I wish I was faster."

On drug policy:

...Medical Marijuana. It should be available and legal. The drug stores/pharmacies in Newark sell prescription drugs far more powerful, potentially dangerous, and addictive. Why is marijuana singled out and denied to sick people?

...The so called War on Drugs has not succeeded in making significant reductions in drug use, drug arrests or violence. We are pouring huge amounts of our public resources into this current effort that are bleeding our public treasury and unnecessarily undermining human potential. 

...It anguishes me how we seem to be so content with national and state recidivism rates of around 60% and how a staggering number of young black men are involved in the criminal justice system.

...I believe too many of my young people are being unfairly punished and chewed up by the criminal justice system over small amounts of marijuana. Their lives are being severely and adversely affected by the sheer number of arrests and incarcerations we are making. When a young person enters a system, it often leaves them worse off than other lower cost interventions would....My team here in Newark [is trying to pilot alternative programs that] will help prevent kids from getting swallowed by the system AND help them when they are released if preventative measures fail. Not to mention, programs such as these save taxpayer dollars...they are so much cheaper than our current rush to incarcerate...But these programs are too small and limited. We need policy makers at higher levels to reexamine how we treat non-violent drug offenders and yes, I believe it is time New Jersey considers, debates and examines decriminalization.

Today was not the first time Booker aired his views on marijuana the disproportionate impact of American drug policies on African-Americans. Booker declared war on the War on Drugs in a series of tweets back in May:


And in 2007, Booker told New Jersey's Star-Leger, “The drug war is causing crime. It is just chewing up young black men. And it’s killing Newark.”

[For context: The state of New Jersey spends more than $1 billion a year on its prison system and roughly one third of its prisoners are non-violent drug offenders. Newark is its biggest city and sends a disproportionate and number of its residents, and a disproportionate number of young black men, to the state's prisons and jails.]

On same-sex marriage:

Truly I think it is glaringly unjust in our nation...that we treat citizens differently just because of who they choose to love. As long as this injustice stands - that we do not have marriage equality under the law - I will speak out against it and work to change it. Right now in America there are hundreds of [laws] that affect straight Americans differently than gay Americans around the marriage issue. This to me is indefensible. This is unjust. This is unAmerican.

On New Jersey Governor Chris Christie:

Finally about Chris Christie. I could write a dissertation on our disagreements. Here for example is a HUGE one. He should have signed mariage equality into law...But let me say this. Just because he and I disagree about everything from abortion rights to the best baseball team in our area (Christie: Mets, Me: Yankees) doesn't mean there aren't many areas we agree. In those areas he has been a strong partner...Right now Newark urgently needs progress and little can be accomplished without some type of state partnership - you almost can't even put a shovel in the ground without a state permit. So where the governor and I can work together we will work together.

On Mitt Romney:

Finally, with Mitt Romney: Again I expressed myself poorly on MTP [Meet the Press] but I did go on to clarify...this key point: Mitt Romney opened the door to a fair examination of his private sector record when he claimed he was a "job creator". If I was running a campaign against Mitt Romney I would not only direct my team to thoroughly examine that record and his claims but I would trumpet our findings - especially if the record conflicted with Romney's claims (as it does). And now as more and more comes out about Romney and his private sector experience, it is even important that voters know the truth. The only thing I object to is people pivoting from a fair examination of the facts to misrepresentations of an industry or firm. President Obama after my appearance on MTP (and before) was brilliant on this point when interviewed. He made this distinction time and time again saying he wasn't attacking private equity, but he was shining light on the Romney record.

On what can be done to make the biggest change in Newark:

[Frederick] Douglass says; "It is easier to build strong children than repair broken men." So much.. could be solved by strong education systems and other systems of support for our children before they get in trouble. So let me offer this as a final action item to heal our nation, end many insidious racial divisions and exalt our country's highest ideals. Mentoring. It takes 4 hours a month to mentor a child, the amount of time most watch TV in a day...Mentoring has demonstrated a profound ability to dramatically lower incarceration for youth and even lower early unsafe sex practices. And it has shown to boost youth outcomes from self-esteem to dramatically increasing school performance. EVERYONE who is qualified should be mentoring a child who is not their own OR encouraging others to do so OR supporting mentoring organizations. If every so-called "at risk" kid in Newark had a mentor we could dramatically end future crime in our city. 

...In the end BIG changes are made most by small acts of kindness, decency, love and service.

On veganism [Booker is a vegetarian]:

I tried to be vegan for a while too. But that didn't last long. There is something about those two guys I love so much, that I lean on, that I so badly just want to hug: Ben & Jerry - I couldn't leave them. . . I think those guys need me too much. Ben . . . Jerry, I'm here for you. . . Call me. . .

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.