How Newark Mayor Cory Booker Made All Politics Super Local With Twitter Following The Blizzard

from the one-to-one dept

I recognize that there are many people out there who simply don't understand the appeal of Twitter. Every time we mention the service, we get comments from people saying things like "why would I want to know what some random person had for lunch." Of course, the answer to that is that if all you're getting out of Twitter is what people you don't care about are having for lunch, you're not following the right people. Twitter really is what you make of it, and for many people, it's a really useful communication tool. I use it in a variety of ways, including to keep up with news, but also as a way to stay in contact with friends and family. It's also -- somewhat surprisingly -- enabled new friendships and even business opportunities, by allowing me to build stronger relationships with people I'd probably not communicate with otherwise.

However, there are certain moments when you realize just how powerful Twitter can be as a communication platform, and those tend to be cases when previously impenetrable walls are broken down. I've told the story in the past about how the first time I realized Twitter was powerful was during the Iowa Presidential caucuses in early 2008, when I started following a user who was aggregating tweets directly from within caucus rooms about what was happening in those rooms. What became fascinating to me was that the information that was coming out got me detailed (and extraordinarily accurate) information well before (as in hours) mainstream media had the results. In fact, in comparing the Twitter results with CNN's reporting, what became clear was that if you were watching Twitter you would have a much better understanding of what was happening in Iowa.

I'm getting a similar feeling after reading about Newark Mayor Cory Booker's use of Twitter in response to the big blizzard that hit the northeast this past weekend. He's been tweeting up a storm, as he travels around Newark helping to plow streets and dig out cars and help people in trouble. As you look down the thread, he's specifically responding to different people calling out for help -- either sending people to help or showing up himself, such as the case of the woman who was stuck in her home and needed diapers, which the mayor brought himself.

In another, somewhat epic, stream of tweets, one guy complained that he was stuck. Mayor Booker responded, asking for the guy's phone number, and shortly thereafter tweeted that he was there to help. At the same time, though, the original tweeter was complaining on Twitter with curses, and wondering if the mayor would really show up. In response, Mayor Booker called him out:
Wow u shud b ashamed of yourself. U tweet vulgarities & then I come out here to help & its ur mom & sis digging. Where r u?
Eventually, the guy came out and apparently they talked and worked it out, with the mayor thanking him and the guy apologizing.

Now, I'm sure that there are cynical people out there who will mock all of this as just a publicity stunt. And, to some extent, it is a publicity stunt, but it's an incredibly effective one. Paying attention to his account, you realize that even if he knows he's getting attention for all of this, he really is using Twitter to find out where there are problems and responding quickly. Some will, of course, point out that all of this provides cover for the fact that the city didn't seem to do a good job plowing in the first place -- but the storm was not an ordinary storm. Also, a key characteristic of what makes a leader is how they respond when things go wrong, and this reaction is quite interesting.

But what's more telling to me, is how this is yet another case of barriers being broken down. Traditionally, folks who were stuck in certain areas of Newark might -- at best -- call some government agency where they'd probably get a run around. The likelihood of them actually being able to contact the mayor directly and have him respond and do something was nil.

The famous saying, of course, is that all politics is local, but this story shows how Mayor Booker took that to another level, and really opened a channel for direct communication in a time when it really mattered.

Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1. icon
    Rose M. Welch (profile), Dec 29th, 2010 @ 7:12am

    News feed.

    What became fascinating to me was that the information that was coming out got me detailed (and extraordinarily accurate) information well before (as in hours) before mainstream media had the results.

    ^^This. This is why I use Twitter.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  2. identicon
    jenningsthecat, Dec 29th, 2010 @ 8:37am

    More than a publicity stunt

    I don't know anything about Booker; his actions may well have been from the heart and not politically motivated. But even if this began as a publicity stunt, I'm sure it didn't end up that way. Being on the front lines talking to people and helping them, regardless of motivation, tends to reinforce our humanity, our connections with each other, and our sense of common cause. Even a cynical politician who does this kind of thing regularly probably won't remain cynical for very long.

    As a side note, 'CwF' and 'RtB' apply to this circumstance, except in this case 'RtB' is really 'RtV'.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  3. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Dec 29th, 2010 @ 8:37am

    I don't use Twitter, but I like the story of the guy who left his mom and sis plowing the snow while he complained online.

    ps: It was a jerk move to do that, but funny that the mayor did get him red handed LoL

    People say technology would make people more distant, I think it bring us together in a way that was not possible before.

    In the end maybe we will re-learn how to trust again, because to take full advantage of what the internet has to offer we all will need to compromise on the privacy thing, and I'm speaking as a guy who really, really cares about his privacy to the point people mostly think I am paranoid.

    With that said, Twitter seems like a great tool and I can see for what it can be useful, it is almost a real time update thing if one want it to be and in the case of the mayor it was a great publicity tool, but I'm a bit on the practical so for me what it is appeling is that you can throw in there any data that can be harvested and used for something, take clinical trials for example, one could create an account like [name][disease name][symptoms][medication] and see what happens and if other people also did it, it could bring new information about something very quickly with everybody seeing what is happening, also it could be used in conjunction with other tools like Google Maps, where people could show what is happening in real time like traffic, snow, air conditions, crops, crime etc.

    Now I'm aware that for some of that better tools are available like the clinical trials that have a social network just for that with incredible tools at the finger tips of everyone.

    or like the Crowd-sourced Ushahidi Platform that was developed to track reports of violence following the 2008 elections in Kenya and it is being used to track many other things. owmageddon.php

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  4. identicon
    Michael, Dec 29th, 2010 @ 8:38am

    Mayor Booker

    I caught some of that too and wish other politicians would take some notes on this. It was like Twitter just became a big SCADA system for the city during the storm.

    In an emergency like the recent storms (or worse), someone in a dispatch center watching twitter could probably do a much better job of response management than we currently see. It's like having a problem sensor on every street. Not everyone uses Twitter (which is a shame sometimes), but having problem indicators throughout the city and someone actually watching them makes sending help to where it is needed much easier.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  5. identicon
    Logo, Dec 29th, 2010 @ 8:45am

    Does it matter if it's for publicity?

    Even if it's done for entirely selfish motivation does it even matter? Yeah, it'd be nice if stuff like this was done out of kindness, but even if it's not who cares? It's one of those situations where everyone benefits, the Mayor gets publicity and people stuck in the snow get help. That's the sort of publicity schemes we need more of.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  6. icon
    Steven (profile), Dec 29th, 2010 @ 8:55am

    Publicity Stunt?

    I don't live in the area, nor do I know about this mayor. If he is this effective in his day to day operations I wouldn't call this a publicity stunt I would call it doing his job and being good at it. Alternatively, if his general job performance is sub-par, and continues to be sub-par going forward, then this really is just a publicity stunt.

    Politicians should be visible in what their doing both good and bad.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  7. identicon
    Frank Reed, Dec 29th, 2010 @ 8:57am

    Helping people works regardless of how it's accomplished

    I am normally highly cynical of things like this but I will be honest in saying that I don't care if this was done for publicity. It is a rare occasion that someone doing something in public office actually benefited the public!

    I don't care what Mayor Booker's politics are or what his end game is because if people got help in a time of need then I am all for it. One can only hope that other mayors would have the stones that Booker did to do what he did. Sadly, because most politicians are dirty from the get go their efforts might only be seen as publicity grabbing regardless of their intent. Well, it's their bed so they can sleep in it.

    Keep it up Mayor Booker. I am a native New Jerseyan and a friend of mine described Newark best by saying it was so beautiful and so sad. Keep hoping and reaching for the beautiful!

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  8. icon
    CommonSense (profile), Dec 29th, 2010 @ 9:01am

    Re: More than a publicity stunt

    I heard Mayor Booker speak at my younger sister's Law School graduation this past spring. After hearing his speech/story, this type of thing doesn't surprise me in the least about him. He is either one of the most genuine, sincere guys in politics, or he's the best actor I've ever seen.

    My only hope is that he stays free of corruption throughout his ascent, so that I can vote for him for President one day without fearing a mistake (I'm looking at you Obama).

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  9. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Dec 29th, 2010 @ 9:01am

    Now if they could just get him to answer the phone. I know, old fashioned, but it works if you use it.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  10. icon
    Christopher Gizzi (profile), Dec 29th, 2010 @ 9:04am

    It Matters

    Booker has been tweeting for a while so while the extra ordinary actions he's taken (like personally buying diapers) might be thought of a political move, it doesn't sound outwardly as such. He's gone out of his way to help others before so this only reenforces the idea he's there to solve problems. Other neighboring cities have had similar problems and no communication and the response has been appropriately critical.

    Hoboken, for example, has had a rash of issues. Their mayor isn't in town and is leaving others to communicate a response to the people. So there is no help, no direct communication, and no expectation things will get better any time soon. And they're are a significantly smaller city. But the negative reaction is loud and far reaching.

    True, this was a unique storm. Many eateries in downtown Manhattan ( at least FiDi, anyway) were closed Monday and Tuesday because they couldn't get their deliveries in the morning. But the immediate response to not being prepared shouldn't be blame, ignorance, and inaction. Address the immediate problem and and better prepare for the future.

    It seems as if Booker is at least doing one of those two things.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  11. icon
    bosconet (profile), Dec 29th, 2010 @ 9:16am

    Anyone who wants to know more about Mayor Booker and decide for themselves is this is just for publicity or he's genuinely trying to help should watch the Academy Award nominated documentary "Street Fight" about his unsuccessful run for mayor in 2002. Then move on to "Brick City" from 2009 to see what he's faced since becoming mayor.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  12. icon
    Mike C. (profile), Dec 29th, 2010 @ 9:27am

    He's not the only mayor doing this

    The mayor of my town has been on Twitter for some time and was also online during the storm, responding to issues and even requesting plow redirection when necessary to help people out. I guess next he just needs better PR people so he can get national recognition for it too... :-)

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  13. icon
    Ron Rezendes (profile), Dec 29th, 2010 @ 9:47am

    Re: Publicity Stunt?

    "Politicians should be visible in what their doing both good and bad."

    This is the exact reason why I love Wikileaks and Julian Assange!!

    This mayor sounds like a guy who knows how to use technology for good rather than resist the inevitable - that technology can be useful in a variety of ways for purposes we may not have even considered - like helping people who need help!

    What I'd like to see next is give the homeless all Twitter devices preset to follow a specific feed that would tell them where they can get food and shelter. Just because there are homeless people in America doesn't mean they HAVE to live on the street. The governments (federal & local) could use now defunct and/or closed military hospitals/bases to house the people (who also happen to consist of a large number of veterans) and have them "earn" their keep by providing maintenance and improvement projects on the properties and possibly even produce some of their own food or provide services they could exchange with the local businesses in return for other goods and services.

    Think "Brubaker" without the jail cells and the involvement of the court system, or "workfare that includes housing".

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  14. icon
    vivaelamor (profile), Dec 29th, 2010 @ 10:15am

    Re: News feed.

    "^^This. This is why I use Twitter."

    I envy you. I still haven't got the hang of it.. But then I have only just started using a mobile phone, too.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  15. icon
    Overcast (profile), Dec 29th, 2010 @ 10:26am

    Now, I'm sure that there are cynical people out there who will mock all of this as just a publicity stunt. And, to some extent, it is a publicity stunt, but it's an incredibly effective one.

    Even if it was - it sounds like he helped out the people of his city a lot - and that's what counts.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  16. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Dec 29th, 2010 @ 10:38am

    Re: Re: News feed.

    "I envy you. I still haven't got the hang of it.. But then I have only just started using a mobile phone, too."

    It's a little overwhelming when you make a Twitter account and it's just, well, blank. What do I follow? What do I write? Please, Twitter, tell me what to do!

    I guess I'm just not built for such an enormous sandbox.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  17. icon
    Rose M. Welch (profile), Dec 29th, 2010 @ 11:03am

    Re: Re: News feed.

    I might just fall over and die without my Blackberry.

    The zombie apocalypse is going to suck for me.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  18. icon
    Ron Rezendes (profile), Dec 29th, 2010 @ 11:07am


    Phones are so 1980's - besides the cord wouldn't allow him to leave the office and actually help! ;P

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  19. identicon
    Macartisan, Dec 29th, 2010 @ 11:08am

    Phones are serial, Twitter is parallel

    If you're on the phone, you're communicating with one person, and you're NOT doing anything else that's useful.

    If you're on Twitter, many people are communicating with you, and you can respond as your workload permits.

    Which scenario works better for emergency response?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  20. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Dec 29th, 2010 @ 12:46pm

    Tweeting on the job what a shame mayor LoL

    (Just kidding)

    Still the mayor is better then the other that keep playing farmville.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  21. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Dec 30th, 2010 @ 5:38am

    Perhaps it is just me but I would rather have a mayor of a large U.S. city focus on top-end policy decisions than tap out individual responses for the world to interpret. Or at the least a single repository for requests from citizens to a mailbox where a lower priority city empgloyee takes the queue.

    As for the political 'scoop,' how was that info verified? There are thousands of examples of twitter passing on blatant false information or rumors, wasting away our day. How is it later verified? Other media.
    Mostly though it comes down to signal/noise ratios: there is ironically more noise on twitter in 140 characters than most other media.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

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