Cory Booker, the Mayor Who’s Everywhere

NEW YORK, NY - NOVEMBER 10: Honoree Cory Booker, Mayor of Newark attends the 2011 Emery Awards at Cipriani, Wall Street on November 10, 2011 in New York, City. (Photo by Bennett Raglin/Getty Images for Macy’s)
Photo by Bennett Raglin/Getty Images for Macy’s

When I first heard that a mayor had run into a burning building to save a neighbor, I knew it would turn out to be Cory Booker. On July 1, 2006, Booker was sworn in as Mayor of Newark, N.J. Less than two weeks later, he and some security staff left city hall and spotted a cop, fully armed, confronting a man wielding scissors. Jennifer 8. Lee explained what happened next.

Mr. Booker, 37, who played tight end on Stanford University’s football team, said, “I took off my jacket and gave chase.”

The two officers with him, Billy Valentin and Kendrick Isaac, began running, too.

The guards overtook Mr. Booker and took the man down in front of a parking lot.

Mr. Valentin, 37, a 12-year veteran of the force, said, “He actually didn’t see it coming because he was looking at the officer with the gun, and we came from behind.’’

When Mr. Booker reached the group, he began shouting at the robber: “Not in our city anymore! These days are over!”

Booker was living up to a role that he’d spent years writing for. When he moved to Newark, he made sure to live in a housing complex in one of the city’s less-desirable neighborhoods. In 2002, when he first ran for mayor, he cooperated with a documentary crew that discovered a true underdog story – it helped, probably, that the victorious incumbent literally shoved the cameras away. After Booker was elected, and after he stopped the crime, the camera crews returned for a documentary TV series.

Does any municipal politician have a better sense of his own brand? No. Another example: Booker has used Twitter to provide yet more proof that he is living, breathing, and dreaming Newark, acting like a sort of New Jersey Jack Hawksmoor. Most politicians use their accounts for some self-promotion and to duck their heads in when a crisis needs commenting on. Booker has tweeted nearly 15,000 times, and he has 1.1 million followers. The city of Newark only has 278,000 residents. Booker seems to know every single one of them. He retweets them when they complain about a crime or a poor city service. He retweets them when they talk about how much weight they’ve lost on the Booker/Michelle Obama-endorsed “Let’s Move” campaign. Booker follows nearly 59,000 people; Newt Gingrich, to pick another example, follows less than 500 people.

So it seems like Booker is everywhere. He isn’t. Crime in Newark has actually risen since 2010, after stimulus money started to run dry and the city laid off police officers. But at the same time, Newark’s been able to reverse a population slide and add residents for the first time since the churning white flight of the 1970s. Booker has turned himself into an avatar and ambassador for a whole city. In small ways, it actually sort of works.