Newark Mayor Cory Booker announced six weeks ago that he was “exploring” a Senate run. Despite all the attention that he has garnered since then, he is taking his time putting together a campaign infrastructure.
“We are in the very, very early stages of building a team,” Booker political strategist Mark Matzen said.
Matzen underscored that Booker has not officially announced a Senate candidacy and that he opened a Federal Election Commission account as part of exploring a run. Still, everyone in the Garden State and Washington, D.C. — including Sen. Frank R. Lautenberg — are operating under the assumption that Booker is running. Lautenberg has not yet declared whether he will seek re-election, and Booker’s eagerness to explore a Senate effort has clearly rubbed the senator the wrong way.
In calls around the state, New Jersey Democratic strategists say they are reluctant to get involved in the Senate race at this point or even speak on the record about the campaign. Several have worked for both Lautenberg and Booker in the past, making them especially reluctant to take sides.
The 2014 Senate campaign is a sideshow in New Jersey politics. The 2013 gubernatorial race is sucking much of the political oxygen, even though Gov. Chris Christie is heavily favored to win re-election. Democrats are still intent on bruising Christie, who is considered a possible 2016 GOP presidential contender.
For now, it is very much a wait-and-see game to see who ends up where in terms of top campaign talent.
Most senior staff roles in the nascent Booker campaign are vacant, but he made a recent hire in his finance director. Two of his top advisers are alumni of Rep. Rush Holt’s office.
There is speculation that high-profile operatives might head to New Jersey to join Booker’s campaign, but for now, this is his confirmed early political brain trust:
Mark Matzen, top political consultant
Matzen is a political consultant with New Jersey experience and Iowa roots. He is president of his own firm, FiftyOne Percent and has worked with Booker for about a year.
Matzen’s résumé includes serving as the deputy chief of staff for the three most recent Democratic New Jersey governors: James McGreevey, Richard Codey and Jon Corzine.
He got his political start working for Holt. He is popular among New Jersey Democratic operatives, but many wonder whether he will be able to rein in Booker’s impulses.
Modia “Mo” Butler, Newark chief of staff
Butler is Booker’s top aide when it comes to the mechanics of running the city of Newark. He is a Philadelphia native and has been Booker’s chief of staff since 2008. A 2012 Philadelphia Inquirer profile of Butler described him as “a behind-the-scenes guy who navigates the feudal world of Essex County politics.”
His relationship with Booker predates running Newark — they worked together in the local nonprofit world.
Samantha Maltzman, finance director
Maltzman has worked for a who’s who of New York and New Jersey politics. The Newark Star Ledger first broke the news of her hire last week, and it raised eyebrows because her past work includes one name in particular: Lautenberg.
She was the finance director for Sen. Robert Menendez’s 2012 re-election, the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee for the 2010 cycle, Lautenberg’s 2008 re-election and Hillary Rodham Clinton’s 2008 New Jersey presidential operation. She has also worked for Holt, McGreevey and New York Rep. Steve Israel.