Cory Booker Says Newark <i>Is</i> America

Cory A. Booker is formally sworn in as the mayor of Newark, N.J., Saturday, July 1, 2006. Booker, 37, won a landslide victory in May and saw his supporters later win all nine seats on the Municipal Council. (AP Photo/Tim Larsen)
AP Photo
To a lot of people, Newark, N.J., is synonymous with Tony Soprano. They think of Newark as a crime-ridden, dying city you either want to escape if you live or work there — or a place you try to pass through rapidly on your commute to nearby Manhattan.

But to 37-year old Cory Booker, the city's Democratic mayor since last summer, Newark is the place to be.

"We're at the center of America right now," he told Early Show co-anchor Russ Mitchell while taking him on a tour of the city. "The problems we have … reflect the challenges of our nation. And we have a chance here in Newark to show this country what it can be and what it should, because the promise of America is still not real for everyone."

Nearly one in four of the 275,000 people who call Newark home live below the poverty line — twice the national average. There were more than 100 murders last year. Booker says Newark's desperation is his inspiration.

He first ran for mayor in 2002 against firmly entrenched incumbent Sharpe James and lost in a race that many claim was stolen from him. Booker ran again in 2006 against an opponent James handpicked. He won easily, and now many are saying he represents the future of Newark.

"My friends criticize me sometimes for having a terrible case of 'B.O.' which is 'bold optimism,' and so I — I'm not. I'm really a prisoner of hope," he said. "And believe that — when I look at, as a student of history, that I look at American history in general, it's a history of the perpetual achievement of the impossible. So I believe that we can do things that other people think are impossible. In many ways in my life, I've been blessed with some experiences of facing impossible tasks and getting them accomplished."

Learn more about Cory Booker on Sunday Morning at 9 a.m. E.T.