Booker to the Senate
Newark Mayor Cory Booker won election yesterday to the United States Senate seat vacated on the death of Frank Lautenberg on June 3. Booker beat conservative Republican Steve Lonegan by 11 percent of the vote – a convincing victory, if not quite the thumping win you might expect for a well-known Democrat running against a relatively unknown Republican in New Jersey.
This was a special election to fill a vacancy, so Booker doesn’t have to wait until January to be sworn in. When he gets to Washington, he will be only the ninth African-American to serve as a United States Senator, and only the fourth to be popularly elected. For only the second time in history there will be two African-American Senators serving at the same time – Booker and South Carolina Republican Tim Scott. (The first time was earlier this year – for just over five months, Scott and Massachusetts Democratic Senator Mo Cowan served together.)
Proportionately, with African-Americans constituting more than 12 percent of the American population, we should average 12 African-American Senators at any given time. It shouldn’t be a historic occasion when we get to two.
To date, only three African-Americans have served a full term. First was Blanche Kelso Bruce of Mississippi, who served one term during Reconstruction, having been elected by the state legislature. Second was Edward Brooke of Massachusetts, who was popularly elected in 1966 and served two terms, losing re-election in 1978 to Paul Tsongas. And third was Carole Moseley Braun, popularly elected from Illinois to one full term.
Only three states have ever popularly elected an African-American Senator. Or conversely, 94 percent of American states have never, in the 100-year history of popular Senate elections, voted for an African-American. Five American states (Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, Maryland, and Mississippi) are more than one-quarter African-American, but not a one of them has ever popularly elected an African-American Senator. Of course the District of Columbia, which is majority African-American, doesn’t get to elect Senators.