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The disadvantage of being a rising national star, and an all-but-certain candidate for U. Senate, is that you have reporters and opposition researchers exhuming your early years — and all of your years — for something that will stick.Booker, it would seem, now has too much of what he once lacked.By the time the article goes live — The Stanford Daily with the scoop! Booker had them up all night and day on the phone about it."That took 48 hours of our time," says Modia Butler, Booker's chief of staff.When he first ran for mayor more than 10 years ago, the then-city councilman had a problem that he has since attacked with admirable, obsessive diligence: Name recognition, his polling indicated, was the snag in Booker's failed campaign against five-term incumbent mayor Sharpe James, a corrupt yet popular mainstay in the rough-and-tumble political class of Newark.Booker would knock on every door in vain that year. "I'm not sure if you've ever heard of me, but I'm the city councilman from the Central Ward, but now I'm running for mayor." In the decade that followed his loss — he would run for mayor again in 2006, this time successfully — Booker took steps to create and shape a public narrative around his career of service: He founded a grassroots nonprofit, Newark Now; starred in the Sundance Channel's documentary series Brick City; became a prominent surrogate during President Obama's reelection campaign; created his own digital media company, Waywire; and built a national constituency on Twitter, where he sends inspirational quotes to his 1.3 million-plus followers at all hours of the night and DMs his cell phone number to Newarkers in need.
"I took my columns as a way to address what I considered social justice issues that weren't being talked about," he says. I was pretty proud of myself."But to have a long-forgotten piece of writing dredged up from two-decade-old archives is the sort of media phenomenon still foreign to the 43-year-old mayor of New Jersey's largest city.
Booker wrote the 700-word article in 1992, during his final year at Stanford.
He was keeping up a weekly column for the Daily — published maybe 15 pieces in total — and says he wrote about "every hot-button issue there was, from rape to race." This one happened to focus on Booker's struggle with homophobia.
But amidst mounting media scrutiny, Booker is still learning what it takes to keep running the show from his new spot on the national stage.
THE REALITY THAT most reporters would rather talk to Booker about the "agita" that was the Stanford Daily column than about the development meeting in progress as the column hit the web is a fact that Booker understands, yet is nonetheless troubled and disturbed by.