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Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Cory Booker’s Silicon Valley Friendships Started at Stanford

Cory A. Booker has deep ties to Silicon Valley, ties so deep that they have raised questions about money and influence, particularly now that Mr. Booker, the mayor of Newark, is running for Senate.

Mr. Booker is an avid user of Twitter, talks about how tech can change governing and regularly taps tech billionaires for campaign donations.

But there is more. As an article that David M. Halbfinger, Raymond Hernandez and I wrote on Wednesday explains, Mr. Booker was named co-founder of an online video start-up, Waywire, with a stake valued at several million dollars. The prize comes at a time when Silicon Valley is working hard to make more friends in Washington as it deals with issues from immigration and piracy to antitrust and privacy.

So how did the mayor of Newark, a city far removed from Silicon Valley in many ways, make these friends in the first place?

The answer is Stanford University, according to interviews with Mr. Booker’s friends in tech. He went to college there in the late 1980s and early 1990s, at the same time as many people who would become some of the richest and most successful tech entrepreneurs.

“Stanford is the piece that is basically the untold story of Cory Booker’s relationship with Silicon Valley,” said Gina Bianchini, an entrepreneur who met Mr. Booker as a freshman there, when he was a senior and her peer counselor. “People who were friends with him in college, admired him in college and shared the same values he has built start-ups that have become very successful.”

She and other former classmates described him as a golden boy on campus â€" a scholar-athlete who was also student body president.

“Cory became Cory when he was at Stanford, and being a part of Stanford, you’re inherently part of Silicon Valley,” said Laura Arrillaga-Andreessen, the Silicon Valley philanthropist who also met him at Stanford and hosted a fund-raiser for him last spring. Ms. Arrillaga-Andreessen is married to the venture capitalist Marc Andreessen.

“His college friends were basically like, ‘Let’s support Cory Booker,’ so he’s kind of never left,” said Ms. Bianchini, who is now founder and chief executive of Mightybell, a Web service for online communities. “He’s done a very, very good job of maintaining these relationships.”

Take Reid Hoffman, for instance. He and Mr. Booker attended both Stanford and Oxford together. Mr. Hoffman went on to help start PayPal and LinkedIn, which have made him worth $3.1 billion, according to Forbes. Then he became an investor in start-ups â€" including Mr. Booker’s company, Waywire.