NEWARK, N.J. – Declaring his victory a "mandate for change," 37-year-old former Rhodes scholar Cory Booker won election as Newark's first new mayor in two decades Tuesday.
"I'm very excited by the results and encouraged by what the people of Newark said today," he said after a victory party.
Booker swamped his nearest challenger, state Sen. Ronald L. Rice, taking 72 percent of the vote compared with 24 percent for the lawmaker in the nonpartisan election. He takes office July 1.
His win marks a generational shift of black leadership in a city trying to turn around decades of urban decay.
The way was cleared for Booker when Mayor Sharpe James, 70, announced in March that he would not seek a sixth term.
Booker, a former city councilman, had lost to James in 2002, falling 3,500 votes short out of about 56,000 cast in a contentious race chronicled in the Oscar-nominated documentary film "Street Fight."
During his 20 years in office, James oversaw a building boom downtown, but the renaissance has yet to reach other parts of the city that are blighted and drug-infested.
Voters rejected the legacy of James in the candidacy of Rice, a longtime Newark politician endorsed by James, said Clement Alexander Price, a professor of history at the Newark campus of Rutgers University.
"Over the last two or three years, he (James) lost some of his energy and appeal," Price said. "What you're going to see is a much more younger, dynamic leader in Cory Booker."
"Newark needs a change," Ellie Morton, a retired postal worker, said Tuesday, sharing a sentiment expressed by many Booker supporters. "Cory Booker is young and he'll bring in a change."
Booker, a Yale Law School graduate and former Stanford University football player, said his priorities will include public safety, economic development, nurturing youth and restoring high ethical standards at City Hall. The latter won't be easy in Newark, where some senior leaders went to federal prison for corruption in the 1990s.
The Rev. Reginald Jackson, executive director of the Black Ministers Council of New Jersey, called the Election Day outcome a great one for the city's future.
"Newark has the chance to turn the page and begin writing another chapter," he said.
Both Booker and James are black. But during the 2002 election, James' supporters criticized the light-skinned Booker as not sufficiently black. Some of that bitterness remained on Tuesday, as reflected by anti-Booker signs urging people to "vote black."
"Don't waste your vote on folks who will not and cannot represent you!" said the signs, which were posted on utility poles.
But Booker struck a conciliatory note at Tuesday's victory party, mentioning his old rival and asking supporters to give him their respect.