5 Questions with Twitter-Savvy Newark Mayor Cory Booker

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Cory Booker’s prolific tweeting during last December’s epic snowstorm turned the Newark Mayor into a social-media superhero. And yes, those tweets are all his own. Booker recently was the keynote speaker at a breakfast sponsored by Opera Solutions, a global analytics company, in New York, where he talked about technology and its potential to improve government. NewsFeed sat down with the mayor to find out which celebrity convinced him to join Twitter, how he’s used technology to improve Newark and whether a presidential bid is in his future.

(More on TIME.com: Vote for Cory Booker in our TIME 100 poll)

In your remarks, you mentioned that Ashton Kutcher got you to join Twitter.
I’d give the full credit to Sarah Ross, who worked with Ashton at Katalyst Media. She said we needed to have more local voices talking, so she and Ashton both came at me and told me to jump into this technology. My staff had been on [my] Twitter like many other politicians, but it wasn’t until May 9, 2009 that I started tweeting myself.

People called you the #Snowpocalypse superhero last December after you used Twitter to help constituents in need. Were you surprised at the reaction to your tweets?
I was blown away. The year before that, I tweeted about helping someone out during a storm and it went viral and got a lot of attention. But this was a real crisis. We all knew that the East Coast was dealing with a severe problem. I don’t think it was about me, so much as people connecting with people. What happened that really inspired and moved me in an important way was when I saw people tweeting back, not asking for help, but saying “Hey, I went out and shoveled my neighbor’s walk.” Seeing how kindness is really infectious created a good spirit amidst that crisis, and I think that spread around that country.

Your use of technology in installing city-wide cameras in Newark has certainly reduced the city’s crime rates. But how do you balance using innovation and respecting citizens’ privacy?
We all know—especially the younger you are —as soon as you leave your private spaces, there are people with cell phones and the like who can record your actions. We live in a very different world where I think people aren’t willing to trade privacy for security, but there is a presumption of public exposure when you are out and about in the community that wasn’t around about 25 years ago. And for me, I look at all this technology as a way for creating greater transparency in government and giving people more ways to access government and see what’s going on. Not vice versa.

(More on TIME.com: See pictures of Cory Booker)

I want to turn back to politics for a second. You work with NJ Governor Chris Christie, who is very much a rising star in the GOP. Which potential candidate will be the biggest challenger to President Barack Obama in 2012?
The biggest challenge is us as Democrats ourselves. I don’t necessarily look at it as a contest between two candidates. What the country is looking for is to have the president and his party present a set of ideals that are pragmatic and specific to deal with the challenges we have right now. I think Barack Obama is extraordinarily compelling and…the focus of his campaign has got to be about building our economy and expanding opportunity. The more he puts out that specific vision, it doesn’t matter who he’s running against, it will propel him back into the White House.

And is a presidential bid in your future?
Life for me is much more about purpose than a position. I love working in the urban context right now, I love the genius that is in Newark to make a difference—that’s my focus and obsession. Although I’ve learned never to say never.

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