National Review’s Eliana Johnson has stumbled upon a story that I believe won’t go away soon. Indeed, I think there’s a significant chance that it will undo Cory Booker’s political career.
The story is about “T-Bone,” a Newark drug pusher who threatened Booker but then later became his friend. As Johnson notes:
The mayor has gone into painstaking detail about his experiences with the elusive T-Bone. “I still remember my first month on the street,” he told Stanford’s alumni magazine in 2001 about moving into a crime-ridden area of Newark in 1995. “I walked up to this charismatic black guy my age called T-Bone, who was one of the drug lords,” Booker recounted. “I just said, ‘Yo, man, wha’s up.’ And he leaped in front of me, looked me right in the eye and said, ‘Who the blank do you think you are? If you ever so much as look at me again, I’m going to put a cap in your ass.’” At Yale Law School in March 2007, he said he “used to sit there and watch [T-Bone] operate this street-level drug trade.”
Booker said he eventually befriended the street thug, who turned to him for help in a moment of desperation. On a day the mayor described to the Yale audience as one of his “most discouraging” in Newark, T-Bone asked him to “go for a ride.” It was then that T-Bone confided there were warrants out for his arrest.
I found myself in this awkward position of trying to counsel this guy to turn himself in, to actually go to prison, because I knew he would. He looks at me hard and begins to tell me about his life story. And some of what shocked me and silenced me is that he told me the exact same life story, up until the age of 12 or 13, as my father. Exactly the same. Both of them were born in extreme poverty, both of them were born to a single mother who could not take care of them. Both of them were taken in by their grandmothers, but they were both too rambunctious for their grandmothers to handle, and by the age of 10 they were turned out onto the streets.
Then, Booker said, “he looked at me with this vicious ferocity that he looked at me with when he first threatened my life, and he bit down hard on his lip and he burst into tears and he started crying and sobbing into my dashboard.” He told the New School in February 2007, “That rift between me and T-Bone was inches, we sat there, but I felt so alienated that there was a gulf as wide as the Grand Canyon between us, and I could not reach out to save this young man, and we drove back to Brick Towers, and I’ve never seen him again since that day.”
Clement Price, a professor of history at Rutgers University in Newark, who claims to be a mentor to Booker, says the story is not true, and that Booker told him that T-Bone is a composite of several people. Price said that in a 2008 Esquire article. After the article, Booker stopped mentioning T-Bone in his speeches.
The Booker campaign responded to Johnson’s article. Well, sort of. As Johnson notes:
I approached Booker campaign spokesman Kevin Griffis four times seeking comment on the issue. “I think your questions were answered a long time ago,” he told me in one message. In another, he said, “This is an attempt to revive a fake controversy. This question has been asked and answered — years ago.” When asked what the answer was, I received no response.
Johnson herself seems to think that the scandal will not prove to be major and that Booker will survive it:
Booker is, of course, not the first politician to fabricate or exaggerate experiences. Al Gore claimed to have rushed to the scene of Texas wildfires that broke out in 1998 alongside FEMA director James Lee Witt; he was, in fact, addressing a Democratic-party fundraiser in Texas at the time. Connecticut senator Richard Blumenthal repeatedly claimed to have served in Vietnam, though in reality he obtained several deferments and served in the reserves in the U.S.; and Hillary Clinton, of course, “misspoke” during the 2008 presidential primary about landing under sniper fire on a 1996 trip to Bosnia.
Booker’s behavior, however, seems more calculated and pathological than the above flaps by Gore and Hillary Clinton. To me, he seems more like the infamous journalistic fabricators Stephen Glass and Jayson Blair. This seems to be a genuine lie. Yet Booker refuses to come clean about it.
A few weeks ago, I was a fan of Booker. If you had asked me to name my favorite Democratic politicians, I definitely would have put him near the top of the list, perhaps at the very top. But this seems a little creepy. I predict that many moderate New Jersey voters will feel the same way.