N.J. Mayor Booker Backs Democratic Party Platform

Mayor Cory Booker of Newark, N.J., presented the Democratic Party platform this week at the convention in Charlotte, N.C. Booker tells Steve Inskeep the economy is in a much better place than it was four years ago when Barack Obama first ran for president.

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STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Just before Newark Mayor Cory Booker presented the Democratic Party platform this week, he slipped on a curb. The mayor of New Jersey's largest city twisted his ankle but did not show it when he stepped onstage.

MAYOR CORY BOOKER: We taped it up. I swallowed enough drugs to tranquilize an elephant - pun intended. And after the adrenaline of the speech, Elma had to remind myself that my ankle was swollen to the size of a baseball, because I think I kind of floated off the stage.

INSKEEP: When we caught up with Newark's mayor a little later on Charlotte, he argued that the country is, in fact, better off than it was four years ago.

BOOKER: There was real fear all across this country, and in fact globally, about financial markets that were in free fall, about an auto industry that was crashing, about job losses that were up to about 750,000 a month. And now we see an economy stabilized, a financial industry rescued, an auto industry rescued. You see, frankly, that we're on a path to recovery.

INSKEEP: Although some of the president's own advisers on Sunday were not too eager to embrace that language at first, to say that we're better off.

BOOKER: You know, when it comes to language and soundbites, I'm going to be the first of many surrogates to say that we don't always maybe resonate with the chorus that we should in perfection.

But you know, surrogates are not facts. Facts are facts. And when you look at the facts of the president's record on everything, from education and significantly increasing Pell grants and pathways for people to college, when you look at his record on women's health, all of these things when it comes to his record show that we're a different America, a more secure America, a more inclusive America, and a recovered America, a recovering America, from a financial catastrophe.

INSKEEP: Mayor Booker, I want to mention for those who missed your speech on Tuesday night that you were effectively presenting the Democratic platform. And I want to play a little bit of that speech in which you talk about what the platform contains.

(SOUNDBITE OF CONVENTION SPEECH)

BOOKER: This platform of big and practical ideas sets forth an emboldened pathway towards the historic hope which is driven generation after generation of Americans forward.

INSKEEP: Mayor Booker, some people will hear that phrase big and practical ideas, and may be asking: What big and practical ideas? That seems to be one question that a lot of people have, is what exactly would President Obama do with a second term that he could practically accomplish, other than not be Mitt Romney?

BOOKER: Well, this is what excites, me, because I'm much more of a policy guy. I'm not a partisan guy. When it comes to our platform and our policy, we've got to have a balanced approach towards deficit reduction. We can't do that in a way that favors some Americans over others and continues a trend in our nation that's very disturbing to me, which is savage disparities in wealth.

We need to cut and have a balanced deficit reduction plan, which the president has presented to Congress, $4 trillion of deficit reduction in addition to strategies that will create jobs today - if Congress would act on them. Or you have the Romney-Ryan plan which the only thing I can divine out of that is that they're not only going to do deficit reduction, which is critical, but they're also going to gut those things that actually produce a return on investment for us and our economy in the long term.

So our president says we're going to cut and do responsible budgeting, address deficit. But we're also going to make sure we're investing in education, we're invested in infrastructure...

INSKEEP: Well, let me ask you about that. I mean, all the things that you lay out, do they not basically forecast several more years of massive battles with congressional Republicans, and also quite a few contradictions? Because if you're talking about trying to balance a budget that's a trillion dollars per year out of whack and, at the same time, talking about more investment in education, infrastructure and other things, are you not going to hit a wall someplace?

BOOKER: Well, you know, again, I can only speak to you as a guy who, every year, has to balance a budget. And so, there are areas that I've had to cut deeply, and it's tough for me. We cut our workforce 25 percent. But it didn't stop me from making critical investments in the areas that are important to my city. It's the same thing on the national level.

When we came out from war and we were a struggling American economy, we didn't cut education. We did the G.I. Bill. This is a time we need to go on a strict diet. But we also need to make sure that we are exercising America muscle by investing in those things that will make us a stronger country.

INSKEEP: One other thing, mayor, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie had a prominent speech at the Republican Convention. You had a prominent speech at the Democratic Convention. Did you feel at all competitive with him as you prepared your speech?

BOOKER: Not at all. Look, the governor and I are, I think, the smart kind of partisans, in the sense that we are putting partisan battles into the proper box. Chris Christie, I could write a dissertation on our disagreements. But to the extent that we can find common ground and work together, I'm going to seize that ground and focus on moving forward, not petty partisan battles.

INSKEEP: Governor Christie faces a reelection campaign next year. Should they be looking over his shoulder to see if you're coming?

BOOKER: He should look over his shoulder, because when I'm a candidate and not, I'm going to be supporting whoever the Democratic candidate is.

INSKEEP: By when do you need to decide if they're going to run, in practical terms?

BOOKER: You know, by early - the early months of 2013. I think the earlier that I decide, the better, because I really want to see a unified Democratic Party focused on getting New Jersey moving in the way that I think the most New Jerseyans will want to see on a range of issues.

INSKEEP: Well, Newark Mayor Cori Booker, thanks very much. I enjoyed it.

BOOKER: Thank you very much. I appreciate it.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

INSKEEP: He's at the Democratic Convention in Charlotte, a conversation recorded early yesterday before a fight over the Democratic platform. Democrats were criticized for omitting references to God and to Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. After some contention in the afternoon, they put those references back in. This is NPR News.

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