By Cathy Chen
On October 16th, 2013 the results of an election were as predicted: the Democratic Party won New Jersey’s Senate election for the 14th time in a row, continuing a trend started in 1972. New Jersey’s new senator, though, is far from standard. Cory Booker, the former Mayor of Newark, has captured the attention of the United States with his novel approaches to policy.
Booker has used media and creativity to highlight problems: he gone on a ten day hunger strike to improve security in dangerous housing complexes and lived on a food stamp budget to raise awareness for food insecurity. He has been labeled a “celebrity” by both detractors and supporters. Critics such as former candidate Lonegan criticized Booker for being a “tweeter” rather than a leader while supporters applaud the 1.4 million followers that Cory Booker has.
In Newark, Booker used his celebrity status to benefit the area. With a dearth of government support, Cory Booker successfully asked Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg to provide $100 million to the schools of Newark, increasing funding for Newark’s public school system. He has joined Newark police on 4 am raids and, during his tenure as mayor, crime in Newark decreased by 33%.
The subject of an Oscar-nominated documentary “Street Fight”, Booker had his first campaign for mayor of Newark in 2002 and faced a strongly-backed incumbent who used personal attacks and connections to thwart Booker’s first run for Mayor of Newark. Five years later, Booker was in office and the incumbent convicted of fraud and sent to prison.
As mayor, Cory Booker increased investments into Newark infrastructure. In 2013 alone, he brought $1 billion in developmental projects and millions more dollars in aid from various philanthropic sources. Bringing prosperity to poor areas, saving a neighbor from a burning building, and shoveling snow during Hurricane Sandy, Booker has highlighted the advantages of his unconventional approach.
But in addition to these tangible results, hopefully Cory Booker’s rise in political prominence will help solve the problem of political apathy.
A 2011 Newsweek study asked 1,000 US citizens to take the American Citizenship Test. The results were highlighted the depressing state of voter ignorance – 73% did not know the justification for the United States fighting the Cold War, 29% could not name America’s vice president, 44% could not define the Bill of Rights.
In addition, we have one of the lowest voter turnout rates among comparable democracies, with the nation’s youth 20% less likely to vote than older citizens.
Clearly, we have a problem. Without an informed citizenry, the entire concept of democracy fails to work well – if people do not know the facts, they have a hard time making a good decision or properly representing their views.
So how does Cory Booker come back into all of this?
With 1.4 million followers on twitter (5 times the population of Newark), Cory Booker is already in communication with a large group of interested civilians. With his connections to famous pop culture icons, he has access to a large group of people many of whom are largely disconnected from the political process. With an unconventional approach to politics, Cory Booker can capture the interest of a currently apathetic population, bringing subjects of policy and politics back into the interest of the United States.
Right now, we are in dire need of someone who can revitalize the process of politics and make people care about policy issues, someone who can make people (especially young people) feel connected to the political issues discussed in the nation’s capital. Someone like Cory Booker can help the voting public of the United States want to know more about the issues of their world.
Cory Booker is a Democrat who supports abortion rights, tax incentives to increase hiring, marriage equality, small businesses, and pro-bono legal help for ex-convicts. He has received corporate campaign donations and personally disliked (but tolerated) gays until college. He supports medical marijuana and school voucher proposals. He is unmarried and a vegetarian.