Apparently so, but don’t expect this to change the trajectory for Cory Booker in the special election for US Senate in November. National Review’s Eliana Johnson busts Booker for his fabulism, thanks to multiple sources, two of whom went on the record to reveal that Booker’s drug-dealing friend “T-Bone,” the tragic hero in Booker’s tales of capricious fortune, is a lie:
Booker’s tales of his trials and travails on the streets of Newark, the city that twice elected him mayor, are familiar, and they have helped to breed an almost mythological aura around the Stanford, Oxford, and Yale graduate. He did, after all, rescue a woman from a burning building last year, sustaining burns in the process. But sources tell National Review Online that the central character in one of Booker’s oft-repeated stories — T-Bone, the drug pusher who the mayor has said threatened his life at one turn and sobbed on his shoulder the next — is a figment of his imagination, even though Booker has talked about him in highly emotional terms and in great detail.
The tale is one Booker admits he’s told “a million” times, according to the Newark Star Ledger. Ronald Rice Jr., a Newark city councilman and Booker ally who has known the mayor since 1998, says the T-Bone story was “a fixture” of Booker’s unsuccessful 2002 mayoral bid against corrupt Newark political boss Sharpe James, perhaps for its symbolic value. In Booker’s mind, according to the city councilman, “It’s not so much the details of the story” that matter, but the principle that “these things happen, they happen to real people, they happen in the city of Newark.” Rice, a Newark native, says he doesn’t know whether T-Bone exists. But, he explains, “if Cory had to tell a story or two and mix details up for Newark to get the funding for it, I see that as something that’s taking tragedy and doing something productive for it.”
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.
T-Bone hasn’t made an appearance in a Booker speech for some time, but Booker did claim to author Andra Gillespie that T-Bone really exists recently enough for her to include the conversation in her 2012 book The New Black Politician. Eliana also outlines another person whom Booker used for his parables, Judy Diggs, who really existed — but Booker exercised a little fabulism in molding Diggs to fit a story in 2007. When her family objected to his characterization of her and the circumstances of her death, Booker immediately apologized.
Is Booker cooked? Somehow, I doubt it. America elected a plagiarist to the Vice Presidency in 2008, one who was caught red-handed lifting a speech from British politician Neil Kinnock and attributing Kinnock’s personal anecdotes as his own. Voters don’t tend to punish politicians for telling tall tales, especially not in the context of spinning political parables. While that might be frustrating, more voters probably would go along with Ronald Rice, especially those already inclined to like Booker.
Furthermore, it helps to have an opponent shooting himself in the foot, as Steve Lonegan did earlier this week:
Booker, a bachelor and currently the mayor of Newark, has faced questions in the past about his sexuality. He told the Washington Post in an interview published Monday that he thinks the speculation is “wonderful.”
“People who think I’m gay – some part of me thinks it’s wonderful, because I want to challenge people on their homophobia,” he said. “I love seeing on Twitter when someone says I’m gay, and I say, ‘So what does it matter if I am? So be it. I hope you are not voting for me because you are making the presumption that I’m straight.'”
What should a Republican do when presented with this story, especially in a state like New Jersey? The best option would be to ignore it — and if asked, shrug and say, “I’m here to talk about public policy, not private lives, so grow up, media.” What did Lonegan do? Er …
“Maybe that helps to get him the gay vote, by acting ambiguous,” the Republican told conservative website Newsmax. “It’s kind of weird. As a guy, I personally like being a guy.”
For good measure, Lonegan poked fun at Booker’s confessed penchant for manicures and pedicures.
“I don’t know if you saw the stories last year,” he said. “They’ve been out for quite a bit about how he likes to go out at three o’clock in the morning for a manicure and a pedicure.”
“I don’t like going out in the middle of the night, or any time of the day, for a manicure and pedicure. It was described as his particular fetish,” Lonegan added. “I have a more particular fetish. I like a good scotch and a cigar. That’s my fetish, but we’ll just compare the two.”
Don’t expect T-Bone to make a difference in this race, whether he exists or not.