Cory Booker's Imaginary Drug-Dealer Friend?

The Newark, N.J., mayor is accused of fabricating a friend.

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Cory Booker (Michael Bocchieri/Getty Images)

The scrutiny of Cory Booker continues, but instead of his sexuality, the National Review is going after his credibility.

Since the first time he ran for mayor, unsuccessfully, in 2002, Booker has woven into his speeches a story about a drug dealer he befriended named T-Bone. Booker has given detailed anecdotes about his relationship with T-Bone, from how they met to heart-to-heart moments between them. According to the National Review, none of it might be true.

The T-Bone tale never sat right with Rutgers University history professor Clement Price, a Booker supporter who tells National Review Online he found the mayor's story offensive because it "pandered to a stereotype of inner-city black men." T-Bone, Price says, "is a southern-inflected name. You would expect to run into something or somebody named T-Bone in Memphis, not Newark."

Price considers himself a mentor and friend to Booker and says Booker conceded to him in 2008 that T-Bone was a "composite" of several people he'd met while living in Newark. The professor describes a "tough conversation" in which he told Booker "that I disapproved of his inventing such a person." "If you're going to create a composite of a man along High Street," he says he asked Booker, "why don't you make it W. E. B. DuBois?" From Booker, he says, "There was no pushback. He agreed that was a mistake." Since then, references to T-Bone have been conspicuously absent from Booker's speeches. 

Perhaps sensing an unwelcome swell of controversy as he prepares for his U.S. Senate bid, Booker has stopped mentioning T-Bone but has not apologized for any fabrication.

Booker has never publicly said that T-Bone does not exist. In fact, he has done quite the opposite. Andra Gillespie, the author of The New Black Politician (2012), writes: "For his part, Booker defended the veracity of this story to me, insisting that T-Bone really existed." The mayor told Esquire in 2008 that T-Bone is both "1,000 percent real" but also an "archetype" symbolic of Newark's plight. Asked whether the mayor stands by his previous statements, Booker campaign spokesman Kevin Griffis told me, "I think your questions have been answered a long time ago," but declined to specify further.

Fabricated though his story about T-Bone may be, Booker's supporters, Price among them, dismiss the mistake.

Professor Price adds that the T-Bone fiction is a stand-alone incident and praises Booker's governance. "By early-21st-century standards for cities, I think he's been a fascinating mayor," Price says. "He's drawn attention to Newark that the city would not have received had he not been there." He admits that Booker "is indeed complicated, evinced by the T-Bone story." But, he says, "when the mayor and I had our conversation, I essentially forgave him for that and we both moved on."

Read more at the National Review.

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