When the snow of Holiday Blizzard 2010 started falling Cory Booker, the Mayor of Newark went out into the cold with a snow shovel. But not only did Booker help to dig out the streets of his beleaguered city: he used his Twitter account (@CoryBooker) to learn where people needed help to get the snow removed, to check on an elderly relative, to tell the city’s residents that the plows were on the way, to deliver diapers.
Booker’s frantic Twitter feed reads like an action novel……… The mayor was out clearing snow until 3 a.m. on Dec. 28 before heading back out three hours later after a few winks. “This is one of those times you’re just pushing,” Booker told TIME while riding around Newark early Tuesday evening, anxiously awaiting a Twitter response from a Newark resident who said her 82-year-old grandmother was shut in by snow. A few minutes earlier, Booker, who played football at Stanford, helped dig out a New Jersey transit bus. “It’s an endurance test.” This is not the first time Booker has responded to distressed citizens on Twitter. He shoveled the driveway of an elderly man last New Year’s Eve after the man’s daughter tweeted about his predicament. He also hit the streets during snowstorms last February.
Some other East Coast mayors, including New York City Michael Bloomburg (@MikeBloomberg and @NYCMayorsOffice), used Twitter to offer news updates and phone numbers. But Booker alone made the effort not only to get the white stuff off people’s front steps, but to use the tools of social media to respond quickly and with a personal touch.
But is Booker, with a snow shovel in one hand and a smartphone in the other, just trying to gain political points? He has been knocked before for his ‘online obsession’ and critics regularly wonder if Booker is simply biding his time in local Jersey politics, with an eye on something bigger.
We live in a suburb outside of Newark and are well aware of the myriad of problems the city faces. Right before Christmas, shootings left four dead and six wounded in Newark, and there’s more than a feeling of dread and worry as 167 members of the city’s police force have been laid off.
Frankly, I think it’s great that Booker’s trying to do something and that he uses his high profile to help the city—which is considered to have some of the worst problems of any in the USA—and its residents. Booker has secured a $100 million education grant from Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg.
I’m just hopeful that Booker can keep up the hard work and the good will when the snow is long gone, it’s high summer and crime is up, and the problems the mayor has to deal with require more than a shovel and a smartphone to solve.
Photo by veni markovski.