Magazine article Black Enterprise

Cory Booker: A Man of the People: With 1.4 Million Twitter Followers, the Hyperconnected Newly Elected NJ Senator Is Eager to Enact Policies at Will Shape the Nation

Magazine article Black Enterprise

Cory Booker: A Man of the People: With 1.4 Million Twitter Followers, the Hyperconnected Newly Elected NJ Senator Is Eager to Enact Policies at Will Shape the Nation

Article excerpt

It was within a week of being sworn into the U.S. Senate that former Newark Mayor Cory Booker was called upon to vote for a bill in Congress that has been heatedly debated since 1994, the Employment Non-Discrimination Act. The legislation, END.&, would make it illegal to discriminate against anyone on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity. It is already illegal to discriminate on the basis of race, sex, nationality, religion, age, or disability.

It was the first big issue for the Democratic senator representing the state of New Jersey after winning a special election in October. Just before the vote, he took to Twitter @CoryBooker. "Absolutely, unequivocally, proudly, with gusto & enthusiasm. I hope to make it my first "co-sponsor" RT @frendazoned Are u supporting ENDA?" After the Senate vote on Nov. 7, he sent a celebratory tweet from the Senate floor. "ENDA passes!!!"

Booker's Twitter habits have contributed to his high profile and popularity. He once responded to a tweet that resulted in him rescuing a dog from the cold. The 44-year-old mayor went to Washington with the backing of 1.4 million Twitter followers. in 2010, research engine Samepoint ranked him as the second most social mayor next to San Francisco's Gavin Newsom.

Booker has gained about 30 times as many constituents as a senator as he had as mayor, and about 36% more Twitter replies, according to analysis from TIME using Twitter API. He now has to measure up against social media influencers such as Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, who has more than 500,000 Facebook likes, and Arizona Sen. John McCain, who boasts 1.8 million Twitter followers.

As a public servant, "social media is a powerful tool. I can stay connected to my constituents. We can organize ourselves around real issues and get things done," says Booker, a tech investor who co-founded the Internet startup Waywire in 2012 with financing from Silicon Valley moguls and whose involvement generated controversy (he stepped down from the board of Waywire in September).

Booker is a senator with national celebrity status. He was called America's superhero for dashing into a neighbor's burning home in 2012, emerging with a woman who had been trapped in a back bedroom. He breaks bread with wealthy friends such as Oprah Winfrey, who dubbed him a "rock star," and Ivanka Trump, daughter of Republican real estate mogul Donald Trump, who both hosted fundraisers for his Senate campaign. He reportedly hauled in $11.2 million for the race, beating his Republican opponent, businessman Steve Lonegan's $1.35 million, by 8-to-1.

New Jersey's first African American senator is only the ninth African American to head to the upper House of the United States Congress in 224 years. Booker's hands-on approach to helping local citizens and working with grassroots organizations earned him a reputation as "the People's Mayor." Now he wants that same recognition as senator.

"Booker is a unique case among other statewide candidates who have been less [victorious]. There is something that can be learned from him," says Daniella Gibbs Leger, senior vice president for American Values and New Communities at the Center for American Progress, a Washington, D.C., public policy research group. While every state race has its own set of dynamics depending on whether you are in the South, East, or Midwest region, Gibbs Leger says what Booker did that worked was to build a broad base coalition, garnering support and cultivating strong relationships within and outside of the state of New Jersey.

To that affect, Sen. Booker wants to leverage private-public partnerships for New Jersey as he did in Newark, which includes the infamous $100 million donation from Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg to the city's public schools. He also seeks to strengthen small and minority businesses similar to his economic development efforts in Newark.

But Congress will pose different challenges for the junior senator. …

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