First, the bad news: Cory Booker is probably not going to help shovel your driveway. But luckily, thanks to his example, someone else just might.
When the first blizzard of the season hit the Northeast after Christmas 2010, Cory Booker made national headlines for breaking out both his snow boots and his Blackberry. While New York City government seemed both paralyzed by and indifferent to the havoc brought on by the snow and New Jersey's governor vacationed in Florida, the mayor of Newark went to work clearing the streets and using Twitter to reassure and rescue stranded residents. Following his feed was like watching a superhero in action, and while some complained that less visible, but more important planning work was ignored in favor of icy showmanship, it's safe to say that Cory Booker won the snowstorm.
Of course, Booker never claimed to be a one-man snow-removal team. His public acts of plowing, he said, were all about demonstrating the power of community and doing one's part when things get tough. Yesterday, when the most recent storm hit, Booker was not nearly as visible—his last Twitter post came at about 5 p.m. yesterday, before the bulk of the snow started, and had nothing to do with street cleaning. But even though he was offline, Booker’s presence was felt throughout Twitter and on the snow-covered streets of the Eastern Seaboard as users begged for more of Booker's style of leadership and posted their stories of helping fellow friends, neighbors, and strangers dig out.
In Newark, residents continued to use Twitter to ask Booker for help, but some also posted about what they were doing to help others. Around 1:45 a.m. on Thursday, during the worst of the snow, Melissa Silb, who tweets under the user name “cramchowder” asked Booker to send help for a bus stuck at the intersection of Newark's MLK and Central Avenues. Booker was too slow: a half hour later, Newark resident Joe Bergantino wrote, "@CoryBooker Just dug out a bus that was stuck at Mlk and central with only 1 other person. Her name was Keisha hope she got home!!” Another resident made a plea for Booker's assistance, but only after noting that he and his brother had done as much as they could to help their neighbors.
Booker’s influence extended well beyond the Crystal City. Less than 10 miles south, another New Jersey resident was trying to pay it forward. Mark Remo wrote, “@CoryBooker I just dug out a Mtnside Hospital Ambulnce stranded in GlenRidge. They're on the their way to the ER! You are my inspiration!”
In New York, Wired staff writer Sam Gustin first posted a type of @CoryBooker tweet that was common once the snow started—a semi-sardonic call for the mayor’s attention somewhere outside of Newark. “There appears to be an situation at Canal and Centre. @corybooker I know it's not your city, but if you could send someone over," he wrote. But minutes later, Gustin decided tweeting wasn’t enough, posting, “I think the lesson that @corybooker taught us is that we've got to take responsibility for own block. I''m heading out.”
The kidding-but-not-really entreaties for Booker to pack up his shovel and get out of Newark intensified further south, where D.C. and Baltimore residents were inundated with early snow and in dire need of a hero. Some merely poked fun at the mayor's notoriety at clearing out the white stuff, "It's been snowing for HOURS. Why has Cory Booker not shoveled my sidewalk??? #thatshowitworksright?" wrote one user. Others used Booker as a foil for local pols. ABC News correspondent Jake Tapper, frustrated with D.C. Mayor Vince Gray's response to the storm, wrote, ".@CoryBooker how do we draft you to be Mayor of DC? How about just during snowstorms? Can you call Mayor Gray and offer some tips?"
Other Tweeters were more earnest, imploring local government to follow Booker's example. Blogger Ben Yelin offered a warning for Baltimore Mayor Stephane Rawlings-Blake, also on Twitter. "This is your @CoryBooker moment, @MayorSRB. A lot of people's votes this fall will depend on your performance during this storm." (While the Twitterverse of Baltimore seems dismayed with the snow cleanup, MayorSRB can offer one thing Cory Booker cannot - a fire-breathing snow dragon.) A DC blogger asked point blank, "Vincent Grey: Are you going to be a @mikebloomber [sic] or a @CoryBooker?
One DC tweeter was able to shake of the shock of the city's first snow and follow Booker's example. Mike Madden, the managing editor of Washington City Paper, tweeted, "Shoveled my walk and two houses next door, inspired by @CoryBooker -- couldn't let Newark be more neighborly than D.C. (That tweet was retweeted often, and inspired a little intercity rivalry. Recent Rutgers grad Carmen Rao later posted, "I just shoveled my walk & that of my neighbors as well - couldn't let New Brunswick be outdone by Newark/DC.")
Booker's efforts also influenced the reactions people had to some do-gooders last night. When Fort Washington, Maryland, minister Akil Dickens posted that he was, "driving around in the snow helping people who are stuck," one of his followers complimented him on "being on some Cory Booker tip!" And this reporter, after watching her husband's heroic car-pushing, cab-directing, snow-navigating heroics, took to Twitter with a very favorable Mayor Booker comparison.
Of course, most of the hardworking heroes helping their neighbors dig out of the snow aren't typing about it on Twitter, and many did so well before Cory Booker's civics marathon, and continue to do so today without thinking of the mayor. But for the Twitter-literate in snowbound states, Cory Booker and his omnipresent snow-removal team loomed large, and in the very best cases, some people got off the computer, out on the streets, and brought a little Booker to their neighborhood.