Presidential candidate Cory Booker was interrupted mid-speech Sunday when the driver of a Ford Windstar plowed her van into the strip mall where he was speaking, crashing about a few dozen feet from where he stood.
The collision, which police later confirmed was an accident, was preceded by screeching tires and shook the building as the van wedged itself between two parked cars and a structural beam right outside Mo Space by Miami Soul Cafe. The owner of the venue and event organizers, worried that the building was possibly unsafe, urged everyone to exit the building as a woman wailed from inside the van and onlookers called 911.
But Booker — who has received death threats from at least two South Florida men over the last six months — remained calm. He stuck around to take pictures and talk with a group of about 30 who came to see the U.S. Senator from New Jersey speak. Most the crowd returned and spent the next hour or so asking him questions.
“I’m glad the people involved are safe and it’s an unfortunate accident that happened,” Booker said before the event for a fundraiser on Rivo Alto Island.
Booker, who was greeted with a rendition of “Happy Birthday” after turning 50 Saturday, was just getting getting into his thoughts on a constitutional amendment passed by Florida voters this fall restoring the right to vote to former felons when the crash shook the room at 16190 NW 27th Ave. The Miami Gardens event was part of his Justice for All tour the last two weeks through key primary states, and was billed as a talk on voting rights.
“I was so inspired by the leaders here in Florida who changed something that was put into place as a means of suppressing African Americans, specifically,” he said, referencing laws passed throughout the south to disenfranchise the black community. “A century later, what was going on in Florida before you all did this incredible ... statewide referendum, you literally had counties in this state where one out of every three African Americans could not vote because criminal justice wasn’t equal.”
Booker has been critical of Florida’s Legislature, calling a bill that passed in the House of Representatives requiring that former felons pay all fines, fees and restitution before regaining the right to vote a “poll tax.” The Florida Senate is expected to take up the House bill Monday.
“That’s not the law of the land yet. We saw House Republicans do something that puts up a serious obstacle for people to get their voting rights restored. This was an amazing moment in America,” Booker told reporters after the event. “Now the House is going to move to put up obstacles and barriers to that? That’s just not right. It’s wrong. I’m hoping that bill doesn’t make it in the Senate.”
Booker, who has struck a hopeful campaign message at a time when fighting President Donald Trump has been a dominant theme among a massive field of Democrats, spent most the roughly 90 minutes he spent in Miami Gardens talking about love and justice. He said people need to become more involved in government, and gave a shout-out to veteran Miami activist Mae Christian, who was in the room and among the marchers gassed on the Edmund Pettis Bridge while on their way to Selma, Alabama in the 1960s — an incident that motivated a man in New Jersey who later helped Booker’s parents fight housing discrimination in New Jersey.
Booker talked about lowering Medicare eligibility requirements to create “Medicare for all who want it,” cautioned against “fighting fire with fire” as Trump continues to use antagonistic rhetoric and personal attacks, and promised to fight for “comprehensive gun safety laws” and “bring a fight to the NRA like they’ve never seen before.” He warned that people upset with Trump’s administration can’t be satisfied with simply beating him next year.
“I’m trying in this election to make this about something entirely different than one person trying to win a one-off,” he said. “This has got to be the beginning of a movement. It’s not a movement going toward election day. It’s a movement to reclaiming the definition of America.”