A day after announcing his bid for U.S. Senate, Newark Mayor Cory Booker was greeted like a rock star at North Jersey Pride in Maplewood on Sunday.
Booker had been scheduled to appear at the event long before it was clear he would be running for Senate this summer. He used his speech to make a rousing call for LGBT equality and did not directly mention his Senate contest.
"We will change New jersey," he said. "We will change our country. We will truly make this nation one of equality, one of justice, and one of love."
But the upcoming election was on the minds of his diehard fans in the progressive enclave of Maplewood. Before and after he took the stage, Booker was surrounded by crowds asking for photos and autographs and offering to volunteer and host fundraisers.
Ellen DeCaro got teary-eyed as she shook Booker's hand and introduced her wife and son. She lives in Hampton Township and is thrilled to be able to vote for him for the first time.
"Knowing that he might be representing us is filling our hearts with such joy," she said.
Democratic Congressman Rush Holt has already announced he's running for the Senate seat. Fellow Democrat, Congressman Frank Pallone, is expected to announce his bid on Monday. Pallone had a supporter collecting petition signatures at the Pride event.
In Newark on Sunday, Booker's bid for Senate was met with some skepticism from residents like Joyce Henderson, who is unmoved by the starpower the Democratic mayor has gained from celebrities like Oprah Winfrey.
"That's how he became a celebrity," she said. "Before he becomes a senator and everything, I think he needs to fix up Newark before he tries to do the whole of New Jersey."
Erica Mingo was a little more open to sending Booker to Washington. She said new leadership could be good for Newark. But she's still undecided about who she will choose at the polls.
"I don't just go because he's Cory Booker," she said.
Mingo said she voted in last week's primary for the Democrat challenging Gov. Chris Christie. She disapproves of how the governor handled this Senate vacancy, by appointing his attorney general, Jeffrey Chiesa.
"He picked his friend, long-time friend, his ex-attorney, and I was like, this is some bull, you know what I'm saying?" she said.
The Democratic Senate primary is August 13 followed by the special election on October 16.
In addition to the Democrats running, Republican Steven Lonegan has announced a run. He is the former director the New Jersey chapter of the conservative group Americans for Prosperity.
Correction: An earlier report referred to Lonegan as the director of the New Jersey chapter of Americans for Prosperity. He resigned as state director in April to become a senior fellow, and resigned from the organization completely on June 5. WNYC regrets the error.