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Wayne County Sheriff Benny Napoleon is backing Democrat Cory Booker for president, giving a boost to the New Jersey U.S. senator with Detroit ties six months out from Michigan’s primary.

Napoleon is a high-profile African-American leader in vote-rich Detroit, which Democratic presidential candidates flooded late last month for their second series of debates. Booker, whose mother was born in the city, stuck around for a separate “Detroit Rise” event.

"I have known Cory Booker for years and continue to be personally inspired by his comprehensive plans to take on criminal justice reform, combat gun violence and address the rise in violence incited by white nationalism,” Napoleon said in a statement shared by Booker’s campaign.

“He understands the problems facing urban communities and communities of color, and is ready to lead with compassion and strength. I believe that the Democratic Party should nominate Cory, because he is just the candidate we need to energize voters in places like Detroit, who are essential to winning back the White House in 2020."

Napoleon, a Detroit police chief under Mayor Dennis Archer, is the latest in a small but growing list of Detroit-area officials who have endorsed in the Democratic presidential primary. Michigan voters will cast ballots on or by March 10.

Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan last month backed former Vice President Joe Biden of Delaware, and U.S. Rep. Brenda Lawrence of Southfield endorsed U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris of California a day after the Detroit debate.

Ecorse Councilman Devonte Sherord also endorsed Booker this week, saying he “will fight for communities like mine, not divide and demonize us.”

Booker has been mired in the single digits of early polls of the crowded Democratic field, but he has had notable moments in the party’s first two debates.

In Detroit, he sparred with Biden over criminal justice reforms and his record as mayor of Newark, telling the former vice president: “You’re dipping into the Kool-Aid and you don’t even know the flavor.”

In a follow-up rally at St. Andrew’s Hall, Booker acknowledged his relatives’ local roots and noted Detroit as the “city that brought my family out of poverty. I love this city because it reminds me of this defiant spirit in America.”

Booker’s grandfather worked on a Ford Motor Co. assembly line and was a union organizer in Detroit. His mother was born in the city and gave birth to him in Washington, D.C., where both his parents worked as executives at IBM.

The former Newark mayor contrasted the support for reviving Detroit and other urban areas across the country with recent controversial remarks from President Donald Trump that criticized conditions in Baltimore.

“We know that we love our communities and we’re willing to fight for them,” Booker said.

joosting@detroitnews.com

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