On S. Jersey tour, Cory Booker talks technology, jobs

Newark Mayor Cory Booker , campaigning in South Jersey for U.S. Senate, speaks at a town hall meeting at the South Jersey Technology Park in Mullica Hill. APRIL SAUL / Staff Photographer
Newark Mayor Cory Booker , campaigning in South Jersey for U.S. Senate, speaks at a town hall meeting at the South Jersey Technology Park in Mullica Hill. APRIL SAUL / Staff Photographer
Posted: July 12, 2013

Calling for more public money to be spent on scientific research, Newark Mayor Cory Booker brought his U.S. Senate campaign to South Jersey on Wednesday, outlining proposals he said would foster innovation and job growth.

With declining federal investment in research and development initiatives, "America is going in the wrong direction," Booker told an invited audience of 50 during a town-hall event at Rowan University's South Jersey Technology Park in Mullica Hill.

"We cannot have a first-class economy with a second-rate commitment to the priorities that we know empower us, and empower innovations, and empower growth and new jobs," Booker said.

He announced his proposals - which included a call for permanent tax credits for private research investment and more public-private research partnerships - during a morning of campaigning that began with a tour of the Samuel H. Jones Innovation Center led by Rowan officials.

"We're very grateful for a lot of federal funding," said Shreekanth Mandayam, Rowan's associate provost for research and executive director of the technology park, as he showed Booker a room-size virtual reality system, with one screen modeling flood-control methods in Camden and another showing cross-sections of the human body.

With public money, Mandayam said, "private investment is following."

"That's an important point," Booker said.

The campaigning continued with a stop at Ponzio's, the Cherry Hill diner and political institution, where Booker greeted lunch customers.

"This is like a rock star," said Jennifer Dubrow Weiss, chief executive officer of the Jewish Federation of South Jersey, as she stood to pose for a photo with Booker, who was escorted by Cherry Hill Mayor Chuck Cahn. "I'm so excited."

Most patrons seemed familiar with Booker. "I follow him" on social media, said Chip Maylie, 54, of Marlton, sitting at the counter with his son, 13-year-old Ryan. "I watched him with Jon Stewart."

Other diner patrons said Booker seemed to have done well managing Newark.

"He seems like he's had a very progressive mind about getting things resolved," said Joe Capitanio of Mount Holly.

During the town-hall event at the technology park, Booker referred to visits to Silicon Valley - he said he recently met with "friends of mine, brilliant minds" - and his Stanford University education.

"We have boundless potential in our universities," Booker said. He told the Rowan audience that "science parks, like this one, are proven investments."

Attendees asked Booker questions on topics ranging from research investment to voting rights. Some wondered how he would carry out his plans.

"What you said makes a lot of sense," said Al Mortka, a member of the board of directors for Rowan's alumni association. But "should you be elected, OK, you're going to be dealing with a Congress that I've not seen so ideologically divided in my lifetime." How, he asked, would Booker accomplish his goals?

"You can break through ideological divides if you find points of intersection," Booker said.

Part of the problem is that citizens "aren't engaging enough" with the political process, Booker said. "We think we can just cheer for our side."

Two of Booker's Democratic opponents, Reps. Rush Holt and Frank Pallone, dismissed the mayor's proposals as old ideas.

Booker's "campaign has compiled a genuinely helpful summary of the policy ideas that Rep. Holt, as a scientist and a progressive, has been leading for more than a decade," according to a statement from Holt's campaign.

Pallone's campaign responded with a similar statement: "Each of the things introduced by the mayor this week are already part of previous proposals, bills, or actual legislation and, in most cases, have been discussed, pushed, and are being fought for by Frank Pallone."

Booker faces a third primary challenger, Assembly Speaker Sheila Oliver. A Quinnipiac poll released Tuesday showed Booker has a commanding lead in the race to fill the late Sen. Frank R. Lautenberg's seat.

On the Republican side, former Bogota Mayor Steve Lonegan leads Alieta Eck in polling by a wide margin.

The primary is Aug. 13, with a special election scheduled for October.

Contact Maddie Hanna at 856-779-3232 or mhanna@phillynews.com or follow on Twitter @maddiehanna

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