Cory Booker graduated from Stanford and was a Rhodes Scholar. He then went on to get a law degree from Yale and returned to Newark - initially to work in the non-profit world before becoming mayor. But he certainly has brought a fresh perspective to that job. For example, he's been the subject of 2 documentaries...Street Fight was about his first failed run for mayor against incumbent Sharpe James. The second, Brick City (which was actually a 5-part series on the Sundance Channel) chronicles his work as mayor to tackle violent crime in Newark along with the stories of several city residents. Many people have described this film as a cross between "West Wing" and "The Wire." Sundance has announced that a second season is scheduled to air beginning January 30th.
Booker has also mastered the new media with his use of youtube, facebook, and twitter. In fact, Sean Gregory recently called Booker The Mayor of Twitter and Blizzard Hero.
After a blizzard started blanketing the Northeast on Dec. 26, an event that earned the Twitter hashtag #snowpocalypse, Booker turned the microblogging site into a public-service tool. Residents of the city, which has a population of around 280,000, swarmed Booker's account (@CoryBooker) with requests for help, and the mayor responded. He and his staff have bounced around Newark shoveling streets and sending plows to areas where residents said they were still snowed in. "Just doug [sic] a car out on Springfield Ave and broke the cardinal rule: 'Lift with your Knees!!' I think I left part of my back back there," he reported in one message. One person let Booker know, via Twitter, that the snowy streets were preventing his sister from buying diapers. About an hour later, Booker was at the sister's door, diapers in hand.
And then there are the examples of things like engaging Conan O'Brien in a battle of words about Newark, getting Sarah Silverman to join his Night Patrol, and inspiring Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg to donate $100 million to Newark public schools.
Some of that might sound like a typical politician's PR blitz. But as Baratunde Thurston wrote at Jack and Jill Politics, it goes much deeper than that for Booker.
So much of Booker’s attraction is that he combines a lot of what we like to hear from a politician with the added benefit of leading by example. He’s not just “tough on crime.” He’s “smart about crime.” He doesn’t just ask for more from his citizens. He gives more to his city. I’m sure it’s not all roses in Cory Booker’s world, but I also find it hard to imagine that a person can fake this much sincerity.
It’s safe to say that Cory Booker is the most credible politician I’ve ever come across, and I’ll do my part to support his work, not just by talking about him but doing more myself. I hope his example and these words help you arrive at the same conclusion, not just in Newark, but wherever you live.
When someone asked the mayor how he keeps from feeling overwhelmed by the size of the problems facing his city, especially in a deep recession, he was ready with a response I think all of us can take to heart in every part of our lives:
"We allow our inability to do everything prevent us from doing something."
Of course, Cory Booker worked hard in 2008 for the election of Barack Obama. And when those efforts were successful, the White House asked Booker to join the administration and run the new Office of Urban Affairs. He turned it down.
"That job is not playing to my strengths," says the mayor while sitting on a couch in his city-hall office. It's closing in on 8 o'clock the night before the three-day July 4 weekend. He has just wrapped up a meeting with his police director and a conference call with the local electric company, but Booker, 40, doesn't know when to quit working. Or talking. Some politicians ramble on in paragraphs; Booker pontificates in pages. Chapters, even. "That's not playing to my sense of purpose," he says of the White House position. "And right now, I do believe, as immodest as it sounds, I'm the right guy at the right time for this city."
There's a man who knows his calling. If you want to know more about where that comes from, here's video of a speech he gave at the Aspen Institute titled "What Can You Do?."
Nationally, I know that a lot of us are counting on the leadership of President Obama during these difficult times. But it takes more than one. And I'm glad Cory Booker is out there following his calling to leadership too.