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In establishment politics, folks tend to get pretty jaded. Every word, every action, hell, every sneeze by a politician is viewed as a calculated move. If a constituent’s son is killed at war, it’s assumed that an elected official’s response is less about human emotion and more about conveying said official’s capacity for human emotion. Of course, that’s an extreme and somewhat silly example – the death of any service member is heart-wrenching, especially one in your own community. But the fact remains, we’ve all heard politicians and office holders attacked by their opponents for their “response” to tragedies, disasters, and other events in the news.
Just a few weeks ago, we were treated to the spectacle of all manner of criticism lobbed at officials at all levels for their handling of the December 26 blizzard. Mike Bloomberg only cared about Manhattan and was flippant towards the city’s residents. Chris Christie couldn’t even be bothered to skip his trip to Disney World to help New Jersey residents deal with the storm. Perhaps the most frustrating criticism was that lobbed at Cory Booker, especially in insider political circles, that his relentless updates on Twitter about his personal efforts to help residents dealing with the snow was a matter of grandstanding.
The most glaring public example of this criticism came from Governor Christie, in fact. As Jack Bohrer pointed out in an excellent article at Capital, the Governor snapped back at those pols who would “decide to be a showboat, hop on the back of a plow” and engage directly during the storm.
To my knowledge, Mayor Booker never directly responded to this criticism.
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He did, however, post just as much on Twitter about what he saw Newark residents doing their neighborhoods as he did about his own actions. In fact, one of the most poignant things he wrote on the day of the blizzard was a simple retweet, with only three words of his own:
Yes! Do this! RT @DDJTJ: hub & son spent yesterday morn helping neighbors shovel off 5 snow. we automatically clean 2 elderly neigh drives
By New Year’s Eve, it was clear that Booker’s aim was not to further his own brand as a fully accessible, sleeves-rolled-up community leader – though he certainly did that, anyway – but rather to inspire the people of Newark to get out there and get to work, to not wait for anyone else to solve their problems for them.
Weeks later, why am I writing about Cory Booker, Twitter, and the Snowpocalypse? Everyone already knows this stuff already – it’s a widely reported story, by this point. About an hour ago, a minor snow storm came to a stop here in Jersey City. Nothing compared to the blizzard of a few weeks ago, I’d say we only got two to three inches of accumulation, tops. I went outside to shovel the stairs and the sidewalk in front of my place and did something I’ve never done before. I shoveled the sidewalks for half the block. In the back of my head, I thought, if I don’t do it, who will? For all of my complaints about the city’s handling of the last storm, I can’t say I really did much about it. This time was different, if only just on my block.
I laughed to myself as I came inside the house. What I did was undeniably the sprouting of a seed planted in the back of my head by the Newark Mayor. None of us are above this. All of us can help in some way. Shoveling matters.