Cory Booker has been in the national spotlight for some time for his real-life Superman efforts, his work in Newark, New Jersey and his millions of Twitter followers. But what you may not know about America’s favorite mayor (and current U.S. Senate candidate) is that there's a woman behind the scenes who keeps his office and personal life running as smoothly as possible: Sharon Macklin.
EBONY.com caught up with one of the busiest women in the country to find out what it is about Mayor Cory Booker that made her want to uproot her life and corporate career at Goldman Sachs to become the director of Mayor Booker’s office.
EBONY: How did you get started working for the Mayor of Newark?
Sharon Macklin: I had no interest in politics and no desire to work in politics. I was doing the corporate thing. Doing the 9-5 thing living in the suburbs. And I had always lived in Patterson [New Jersey] or the Bronx and I had no intention of coming back to a city. I thought I was sold with corporate America and give to charity and help out as I can. I did not think that I was going to be in the trenches doing what I do.
I met the mayor through a mutual friend and I just kind of fell into [politics]. It was more or less his vision and what he wanted to do [in Newark] that really resonated with [me]. To have someone with a vision that actually put action behind it to make a change intrigued me and I wanted to be a part of it
EBONY: What did he say to you that made you want to change everything about your life? What was his vision?
SM: He said, “I'm not trying to sell you on taking this job, I just want to tell you what my vision is and what I believe my path is.” He wanted to take me on that journey. He started telling me about his work in Newark, from his hunger strike to living in Brick Towers. Just his vision. And he asked me, “If the answer couldn't be no, what would you ask for? What would you want?” No one had ever asked me that and I was taken aback. So I asked him the same question and he said “I would want everyone to live their passion and live their dream and that it’s feasible. That’s what I’m trying to do: help people see they can have what they want. I'm going to build parks I'm going to bring jobs to the city I'm going to create an environment in which people can grow.” And this light bulb went off for me and everything started clicking and I asked, “How do I fit into all of this? How can I help you?” And he said, “You can help me by having your own vision and passion and sharing it with someone.” And I was like OK, I want to start tomorrow. It’s been 5.5 years.
EBONY: Have you had any regrets in 5.5 years? Has it been what you’d hoped it would be that night you accepted?
SM: I have no regrets. I’ve had some really rough times, some really strong learning experiences. I came with this great energy and these expectations of the world and you think you'll be able to come in and be a leader but everybody around you has something to teach you and really I’ve been so much of a student. I've learned a lot. And when I get frustrated or discouraged [Mayor Booker] has really been there to say, “Keep going, we’re halfway there.” And that’s what keeps me going.
EBONY: What have some of those rough times been like? What was the move to Newark like?
SM: Newark is a place where everybody sort of knows everybody. Every ward has its own culture and they know an outsider when they see an outsider. So when you come in, they want to know, who's this walking in our house? Who are you? What are your intentions? Are you here to stay? They don’t let just anyone come in here; you’ve got to say what you’re going to do and then do it. I’ve never been in a city where the people are so connected to politics. They know who their block association representative is. I was really impressed with that. I really respect that. It's really a big city that is just one big neighborhood.
EBONY: What’s a typical day like for you?
SM: My day generally starts at 7:30 but it depends on his night. Every morning we say "good morning" via text message. (We still use Blackberry.) We run through the day’s schedule. I give him a list of tasks, I give him the 5 things he needs to get done that day and he gives me 5 things he needs me to do. At the office, I meet with my staff we go through his schedule. We typically have a day that's completely task oriented [not so much mapped out by the hour]. Around 10 a.m., there's a recap from the day before. I map out his day for him. Map out security detail. I coordinate with his body person, if he has one that day. Once he’s off and running or he’s not in the office, I deal with everything from the office: invitations, visitation requests, both personal and citywide, and coordinate with his political office because I control his schedule. That’s a pretty big part of my day. Then I update him on what's pressing. What does he need to sign? What happened in the capitol meeting?
By 3 or 4:00, I give him an update on what’s happening in the city. We have a check-in usually by phone unless he’s in the office. When I’m on my way out, I send him another message that says, “I’m leaving the office,” and at 9:00 p.m., we have another touch-base call to see how the schedule is looking for the next morning and it starts all over again. It’s pretty intense.
EBONY: Do you get angry with him when he’s running into burning buildings or patrolling the streets with the cops?
SM: Oh my gosh. We're constantly at battle. That's why I say we're like brother and sister. The night [he ran into a burning building and saved a woman], I was at an event in New York and I get the phone call, I come back to Newark. I get there in the emergency room and he has the oxygen mask on and I just want to take the mask off and I’m like, “What were you thinking?” And he goes, “I know, I know.” That’s why I tell him, “You're a gift to the world. You have to be safe.” Most of the time he wins the arguments, but sometimes my logic takes over.
EBONY: If Mayor Booker wins his bid for U.S. Senate, where do you fit into that?
SM: If he does, then we can help more people and I'm really happy to be a part of that. You can't have a better boss. I've seen him help so many people in Newark and be this generous person who really supports people in what they want to do. I cannot imagine not having that. Working for him has been a treat.
New Jersey’s special primary election for U.S. Senate takes place today.