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Cory Booker was born in Washington in 1964 and raised in the affluent suburbs of northern New Jersey. He received a bachelor's degree in political science and a master's degree in sociology from Stanford University, where he also played tight end for the football team. After graduation, Booker was awarded a Rhodes scholarship to study at the University of Oxford, earning a master's degree in modern history. He returned to the U.S. for a law degree at Yale. After working as a public-interest attorney and housing advocate in Newark, Booker decided to run for the city's municipal council in 1998. He managed to topple a long-time incumbent and, at age 29, become the youngest-ever member of the council, where he gained notoriety for fasting outside a housing project to denounce the intensifying crime and drug use in some of Newark's neighborhoods. After launching an unsuccessful bid in 2002 against incumbent mayor Sharpe James, Booker ran again in 2006 and defeated deputy mayor Ronald Rice. During his seven-year tenure as mayor, Booker was praised for attracting large companies to Newark and revamping the city's downtown. But he was also criticized by local residents and officials for appearing out-of-touch and focusing on his national image. "The only way you can see the mayor is if you turn on 'Meet the Press,'" Newark's current mayor, Ras Baraka, said when he was a councilman during Booker's mayoral administration. After longtime New Jersey Senator Frank Lautenberg died in the summer of 2013, Booker ran to fill his seat and defeated a little-known Republican mayor in a special election. In 2014, he won reelection to serve a full term in the Senate. During his years in the Senate, he has sought to promote bipartisanship through conciliatory rhetoric.
He has made criminal justice reform and the decriminalization of marijuana integral issues of his agenda in the Senate. Pointing to the disproportionate incarceration of minorities for marijuana-related offenses, he crafted the Marijuana Justice Act in the summer of 2017. The bill would remove marijuana from the 1970 Controlled Substances Act, withhold federal funding for states which continue to criminalize the substance, require courts to expunge convictions for marijuana use or possession and establish a federal fund to help low-income communities affected by the so-called "war on drugs." The junior senator from New Jersey is one of the chief architects of the First Step Act, a landmark bill that President Trump signed into law in December after rare overwhelming bipartisan support in Congress. The legislation increases investment in programs to curb recidivism among federal prisoners and modifies several sentencing laws, including mandatory minimum sentences for nonviolent drug offenders. Although he hopes to tout it as a signature achievement of his career in Congress, Booker acknowledged that the bill is just one stepping stone to overhaul the criminal justice system.
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