Did Cory Booker Make Up a Newark Drug Dealer?

Cory Booker, the attention-loving Democratic mayor of Newark who is currently running for U.S. Senate, has repeatedly claimed he befriended a drug dealer named “T-Bone” when he first moved to Newark in 1995. Up until 2008, he told this story fairly often, wrenching the hearts of interviewers and audiences. But according to Eliana Johnson at National Review, “T-Bone” is almost certainly not a real person. Rutgers University history professor Clement Price, Johnson writes,

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.

The nickname “T-Bone,” Price tells Johnson, “pandered to a stereotype of inner-city black men. ... [It’s] a southern-inflected name. You would expect to run into something or somebody named T-Bone in Memphis, not Newark.”

Until Price upbraided Booker for inventing him, “T-Bone” frequently popped up in Booker’s speeches and interviews, along with details like his approximate age (about the same as Booker, who was born in 1969) and conversations between Booker and “T-Bone.” In a 2007 speech at Yale, Booker described when “T-Bone” admitted he had multiple warrants out for his arrest: “He bit down hard on his lip and he burst into tears and he started crying and sobbing into my dashboard.” If he’s a composite character, he’s an strikingly detailed one.

(However, it’s not true, as Price suggests, that “T-Bone” would be a completely unlikely name for someone, born in or around 1969, that Booker might have come across in Newark, or a northern city like New Jersey, who ran into trouble with the law due to drugs. A search for New Jersey prisoners who have used the alias “T-Bone” turned up three different prisoners, two of them currently incarcerated, who were born in 1972, 1974, and 1975. Two of those prisoners, Tyrone Campbell and Anthony Ross, were arrested for drug-related offenses.)

Incidentally, this isn’t the only famous anecdote to be questioned during Booker’s showy Senate run. Last year Booker told Du Jour magazine that, in order to escape critics, he patronized a 24-hour salon in order to obtain manicures and pedicures. Today Booker’s Republican opponent, Steve Lonegan, said his campaign staff looked all over Newark for such a 24-hour salon and came up empty. (When asked, a Booker campaign spokesman declined to immediately provide the name of the candidate’s salon to Gawker.)

Meanwhile, Booker’s reluctance to discuss his dating preferences seems to be helping his campaign. The aforementioned Steve Lonegan openly questioned Booker’s masculinity on a Thursday radio show by highlighting Booker’s taste for professional pedicures — “I have a more peculiar fetish. I like a good Scotch and a cigar. That’s my fetish, but we’ll just compare the two.” — prompting several prominent LGBT groups to denounce him. Not that Booker needed the boost: he’s leading Lonegan by 16 points.

[Image credit: Associated Press]