If you aren’t a long-time observer of New Jersey politics, you probably won’t understand all the simmering tensions between Camp Menendez and Camp Booker. Nor will you understand why, in nine cases out of ten, you probably should prefer Camp Booker. My hope is that these wary feelings are held more by their respective supporters than by the two senators themselves.

Sen. Bob Menendez is a product of the Hudson County machine, which is not a compliment, although his hard work, perseverance, and will power should be respected. Menendez is also a workhorse who has very intelligently navigated his way into a position as a powerful player. He not only landed the plum chairmanship of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, but also coveted seats on the Senate Finance and Banking committees. Some people worry that Cory Booker is too close to Wall Street, but his senior colleague already has that avenue covered. Sen. Booker needs to carve out a different niche.

After his election to the Senate last Wednesday, Booker did not say what committee assignments he wants, but he did say that two of the things he wants to work on in the Senate are prison reform and gun regulation. To do that, he is going to want to angle for a seat on the Judiciary Committee. Unfortunately for him, he is unlikely to find a seat on that committee immediately available to him.

The senator Booker is replacing, Gov. Christie-appointed Jeff Chiesa, sits on three committees, all of which could serve as short-term launching points for Booker’s Senate career. These may be the committee seats that Booker gets, at least, initially.

The most powerful of these committees is Commerce, Science & Transportation. It could be a wonderful fit for Booker for a variety of reasons. What could be more natural for a former Newark mayor than sitting on the Subcommittee on Aviation Operations, Safety, and Security? What’s a better fit for a New Jersey politician than a seat on the Subcommittee on Oceans, Atmosphere, Fisheries, and Coast Guard? Cory Booker has experience with the video-sharing start-up Waywire and close relationships with Silicon Valley, which makes a seat on the Subcommittee on Communications, Technology, and the Internet eminently sensible. And, if he wants to get some of the progressive credibility that Elizabeth Warren has earned, he could do it serving to protect vulnerable citizens on the Subcommittee on Consumer Protection, Product Safety, and Insurance.

The second committee that Sen. Chiesa was serving on is the Committee on Small Business and Entrepreneurship. It’s an out-of-the-way committee that doesn’t have much prestige, but it is also small, has high turnover, and, with luck, you can rise to the chairmanship within two terms in office. The most prominent Democrat to make a living on the Small Business Committee is John Kerry.

Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass) has been named Chairman of the Committee on Small Business and Entrepreneurship for the 110th Congress. Kerry has served on the Committee for 21 years, proving to be a tireless advocate for small businesses by working to increase access to capital, ensure small firms get their fair share of federal contracts, improve business development opportunities, and enact common sense tax proposals and small-business-friendly regulations.

Booker could use a seat on this committee to immediately begin work on improving the Small Business Administration’s Disaster Loan Program to deal with the aftermath of Superstorm Sandy, and to work on their Microloan programs, as well as programs that help women, minorities, and disabled veterans get contracts and financing. If he wants to be a workhorse, this committee offers him the chance to show his stuff.

The third committee being vacated by Sen. Chiesa is the Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs. Until this past January, this committee was the special fiefdom of Joe Lieberman. The Democrats like to populate it with some of their most moderate and politically-endangered members. Obviously, it oversees the Department of Homeland Security, which is a special concern for New Jersey residents, so many of whom were impacted by 9/11. But it also oversees the District of Columbia, the federal government and its workforce, and performs oversight of the Executive Branch.

If Cory Booker lands on this committee, I would advise him to make the District of Columbia his second constituency, and see what he can do about prison reform and guns in the nation’s capital. It will also give him an opportunity to work with centrists like Chairman Tom Carper, Claire McCaskill, Jon Tester, Mark Pryor, Mark Begich, and Heidi Heitskamp. He can learn from them what kind of pressures and difficulties they face, which will help him understand the obstacles he will encounter in crafting legislative solutions that can actually pass in the Senate.

It may be that Booker only serves on some, or none, of these committees, but I can craft career advise based on whatever committee assignments he receives. Based on his stated ambitions, he should try to get a seat on the Judiciary Committee as soon as possible, but that may not be until after the 2014 elections. In the meantime, he can begin building for the future.

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