Cory Booker: Criticism of Him 'Overblown'

He praised Lautenberg, then told us he's only done what other potential Senate aspirants have done.

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(The Root) -- Friday was a busy day for Newark, N.J., Mayor Cory Booker. In the morning, New Jersey Sen. Frank Lautenberg announced that he would not run for re-election, and that evening NAACP President and CEO Benjamin Todd Jealous remarked at a star-studded dinner that Booker might be the one to follow in President Obama's footsteps.

"I believe he will be the next black senator, and my daughter, who has only known a black man in the White House, is pretty convinced he'll be the next black man in the White House," Jealous said at New York City's Marriott Marquis Hotel during the NAACP dinner awarding activist Harry Belafonte with the prestigious Spingarn Medal.

As The Root has previously reported, Lautenberg's move doesn't automatically mean that Booker will become the next New Jersey senator, but it has made his path a bit easier. Booker has filed paperwork for a Senate campaign committee that will allow him to start raising money for the 2014 race, should he decide to run. Many also believe that, along with New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, Booker has presidential aspirations. However, in a conversation with The Root, Booker stated that he has no plans of announcing his intentions or candidacy officially for "many, many months."

"The time right now is to recognize the contribution Sen. Lautenberg has made. This is really his moment," Booker told The Root. "We all should join in a chorus of praise for an extraordinary leader who still has work to do. God ain't finished with him yet."

And what of the detractors, like a Lautenberg aide who, according to Politico, accused Booker of being "disrespectful" by filing papers and rushing the senior senator out of his seat in January?

"The reality is we've just done what other potential aspirants have -- formed a federal account. That's all we did," Booker said. "Other congressional leaders who are seeking that seat have federal accounts already. We've just put ourselves on parity, so a lot of that is overblown.

"The reality is that shouldn't be the storyline. The storyline should be: 'Incredible leader in the United States of America [who] has been a U.S. senator since 1982, statesman, self-made man, World War II veteran, entrepreneur announced today that his Senate career will come to an end. What a great career contribution [Lautenberg has] made."

And just as Booker finished his statement praising Lautenberg, Jealous interrupted him and teased, "I was told that if I wanted to move from No. 3 to 2 on The Root 100, I'd have to run into a burning building. I said, 'You know what, I'll stay at No. 3.' "

Regardless, it appears Mayor Cory Booker will be the headline, whether he prefers the timing or not.

Hillary Crosley is The Root's New York bureau chief. Follow her on Twitter.