In the recent campaign for Senate in New Jersey, Republicans tried a completely predictable communications strategy. They blasted Newark mayor Cory Booker as a “celebrity” candidate, who was interested mostly in his own reputation, something he’d carefully built using Twitter.
It is true that Booker is the Twitter mayor, and critics have denounced his Twitter feed as narcissistic, disingenuous, and self-promotional. There may be a bit of truth in all of that – one doesn’t run for office without a bit of chutzpah and ego – but the impact of Booker’s Twitter feed is far greater than his reputation alone.
I live and work in New Jersey, so I’ve a bit of perspective not just on the race, but also on the cities in our state. I travel about quite a bit, and I have business meetings everywhere from bucolic Hunterdon county to gritty Trenton. One of the big disappointments of New Jersey is that almost all of its cities are under assault: too much crime, too much corruption in government, too much apathy, too much decay.
Newark traditionally has been one of these cities. Its reputation, for as long as I can remember, has been poor. Most people never go beyond the train station, a transition point for the trip into New York City.
But Booker’s Twitter feed has succeeded in reacquainting the rest of the state to what is our largest city. Whatever you think of Booker, he is the face of Newark. More importantly, to the city-shunning suburbans, he has introduced the people of Newark. The rest of the state must now acknowledge: There are folks who live and work in Newark, and who love it. To the many Twitter followers outside the boundaries of Newark, he shone a bright light on these residents, and gave them a megaphone.
This could become his biggest legacy, if the next mayor chooses to carry it on.
Booker was successful because he connected personally with the people of Newark. This new way of governing – of giving everyday people a real and intimate voice – was a promise extended by the Obama campaign in 2008, but never realized during the Obama presidency. It has been a huge disappointment, because the opportunity to listen to the unfiltered opinions of the electorate seems so, well, democratic.
Booker’s election reignites that hope. Maybe it’s not possible for him to answer every tweet from every Jersey Girl or Boy, but I’d sure like to see him try. Even simple analytics on his Twitter feed – measuring the sentiment of the people about the government shutdown vs. defunding Obamacare, for example – would be an amazing act of political insurgency.
My vote is always with the people. Let’s hope Booker represents it well.