Newark mayor Cory Booker has a storied history of inserting himself into situations many high-and-mighty politicians wouldn’t go near. He’s famed for forming a very close and transparent relationship with his constituents through his bustling Twitter account, @CoryBooker. But now it’s clear just how personal Booker’s bond is with his fellow Newark residents. He’s being praised and lauded as a hero after rescuing his next-door neighbor from a burning building Thursday evening.
What was Booker’s next thought after escaping the flames safely? To tweet about it, positively and nonchalantly, of course.
But the Internet refused to blindly accept his heroism. No, Booker was elevated to near legendary status. Because Booker’s fire-saving actions were something out of a Paul Bunyan tall tale, Twitter users created the hashtag #CoryBookerStories to create other alternate scenarios straight out of Booker’s imaginary playbook, and an enterprising blogger started collecting image memes based on Booker’s actions. Step aside, Chuck Norris – you might have been deposed as the standard model for toughness, superiority and epic manliness.
The fire became a symbol of Booker’s supposed superpowers.
Later, his heroism was fictionally spread into other fields:
And even some old jokes, once attributed to Norris, were revived:
In reality, though, his championing attitude is nothing new for the residents of New Jersey’s largest city. We take a look back at Cory Booker’s heroic actions:
Booker launched himself to social-media stardom during the Christmas blizzard of 2010 when a storm dumped more than two feet of snow on Newark. With plows slow to respond, Booker didn’t just round up the troops – he became one of them. Taking shoveling and plowing requests through Twitter, he dispatched crews to areas that Newark residents tweeted were snowed in. And naturally, he tweeted his experiences the entire time, pain included: “Just doug a car out on Springfield Ave and broke the cardinal rule: ‘Lift with your Knees!!’ I think I left part of my back back there.”
With Irene expected to bear down on the East Coast in August 2011, Booker went for the preemptive strike. Rather than dealing with a similar bailout situation if the hurricane did do some damage, he went door-to-door before the storm to alert residents of the danger and to help them evacuate if they were in low-lying areas.
In his first year as mayor, he reduced crime in Newark by 33%. And Booker himself can take credit for the reduction. Not complacent to delegate powers to his police department, he started accompanying officers on night patrols, often staying out until 4 a.m. much to the Newark police director’s utmost concern. “It was something I vehemently discouraged,” Garry McCarthy said. But the fearless Booker hit the streets in an initiative that was a two-sided success: within a year, he had helped to decrease crime and increase police productivity.
Starving for Security
In the summer of 1999, when Booker was merely a Newark city council member, he took up a crusade against open drug-dealing in Newark by going on a hunger strike. For ten days, he set up a tent in a crime-ridden section of the city that had been deserted by police to help draw attention to the area. He explained his drastic mission by saying “acting on the cause was better than taking no action at all.” And it was a success: police presence and security in the area was ramped up.
Principal for Public Schools
A not-so-secret gift was showered upon Newark in late 2010 with the big reveal coming on Oprah’s show: Mark Zuckerberg would donate $100 million to the city’s struggling public schools. It was a donation championed by Booker, who had formed a close relationship with the Facebook founder and frequently talked education improvement with Zuckerberg. As a result of the major cash influx, New Jersey governor Chris Christie agreed to cede some public-school advisory power to Booker, who said he’d work to turn around the city’s 38 chronically failing schools.
In fact, TIME labeled Booker a “social-media superhero” a few years ago as a result of his snow-plowing heroism. Looks like it’s time to drop the “social media” part and tell it like it is.