Newark Mayor Cory Booker’s name became widely known in May, 2012 when the Obama campaign asked him to appear on Meet the Press. Instead of touting President Obama’s achievements, however, Democratic Mayor Booker quickly slid into a downward spiral as a result of what he did talk about: his discomfort with the Obama campaign’s attacks on Mitt Romney’s Bain Capital record. From the New York Times:
“I have to just say, from a very personal level, I’m not about to sit here and indict private equity,” Mr. Booker said. “To me, it’s just we’re getting to a ridiculous point in America, especially that I know I live in a state where pension funds, unions and other people are investing in companies like Bain Capital. If you look at the totality of Bain Capital’s record, they’ve done a lot to support businesses, to grow businesses. And this to me, I’m very uncomfortable with.”
But to be fair, he was denouncing the vitriolic tones of both the Romney campaign and the Obama campaign.
“The last point I’ll make is this kind of stuff is nauseating to me on both sides. It’s nauseating to the American public. Enough is enough. Stop attacking private equity. Stop attacking Jeremiah Wright.”
The next day, on the MSNBC Rachel Maddow Show, he clarified his comments by saying “My outrage and really my frustration was about the cynical negative campaigning and manipulating of the truth [on both sides].”
To the dismay of Democrats, the GOP then put carefully selected clips of Mr. Booker’s controversial Meet the Press interview on the front page of their website and launched the “I stand with Cory” campaign. Mr. Booker was enraged and frustrated.
“Here they are plucking soundbytes out of that interview to manipulate them in a cynical manner, to use them for their own purposes … I’m very upset that I’m being used by the GOP this way.”
In response to questions about Mr. Booker’s statements, the Obama campaign directed reporters to the Mayor’s Twitter account, where he tweeted, “Yes, Obama must be re-elected. But we as a nation owe it to him and ourselves to reject politics as usual.” He made further amends via a YouTube video and an August meeting with the President.
The Mayor states as his political party affiliation on Facebook: “I’m a Democrat, but I will always be an American before I am a Democrat.” While the Meet the Press faux pas did not completely wipe out the Democrat party’s affection for Mr. Booker, it certainly made a dent. But there is a reason why we will always love Cory Booker. As he said in a Wall Street Journal interview, he speaks from the heart. Yes, he does, and it’s more than just “talk.” He backs up what he says with action.
In the December 2010 blizzard, Mayor Booker personally shoveled snow. Not for a photo opp. He stopped only to sleep for a few hours at a time before getting back out to continue the work. In April 2012, just a month before the big Meet the Press fiasco, he saved a woman from a burning building.
But perhaps the defining moment of who Cory Booker is and what he stands for occurred during Hurricane Sandy, when ABC newscasters called the mayor of New Jersey’s largest city a “superhero of sorts.” His minute-by-minute tweets became a source of information and inspiration as the nation watched in awe. When one tweeter suggested that Mayor Booker “hire someone who can spell” to run the Mayor’s official Twitter account, Mr. Booker responded with “Its me & spelling is farthest thing from my mind.” He personally addressed individual pleas for help and dispatched needs to first-responders and community volunteers. More often than not, he took on challenges on his own, delivering diapers and food, picking up prescriptions, responding to personal Twitter requests, and even opening his own home to storm victims who had no electricity and nowhere else to go.
So after all of this, what’s next for a Superhero Mayor who is a University of Oxford Rhodes Scholar, possesses an M.A. in Sociology and a B.A. in Political Science from Stanford University, and a Juris Doctor from Yale? Well, getting on public assistance, of course.
Today, Mayor Booker begins his life as a “food stamp recipient” for one week. The Star-Ledger reports that he has accepted the SNAP/Food Stamp Challenge after a Twitter discussion with a 39 year old North Carolina woman who is married with two children. The woman argued that “nutrition is not the responsibility of the government.” He then suggested that she and he accept the SNAP Challenge together. The Twitter exchange went as follows:
TwitWit: “Why is there a family today that is ‘too poor to afford breakfast’? are they not already receiving food stamps?”
Booker: “Let’s you and I try to live on food stamps in New Jersey (high cost of living) and feed a family for a week or month. U game?”
TwitWit: “sure, Mayor, I’m game”
Booker: “Great. Lets do this. I hope you live in New Jersey. Lets film it and see how we do”,
Booker: We will have to get a referee — DM me your number so we can see if we can work out details.”
The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, better known as food stamps, has provided Mr. Booker with $29.78 for one week of food stamps, the average amount received by an individual food stamp recipient in New Jersey. A household of “one” can receive $133.26 per month, or approximately $4.00 per day. To qualify for food stamps, the income for a household of one person can not exceed $931 per month.
A September financial hardship study from Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed (ALICE) showed that one third of New Jersey residents, a total of 1.1 million people, do not earn enough money to provide food, housing, transportation, childcare, and healthcare for their families. The SNAP Challenge gives higher-earning participants a perspective of what life is like for the millions of low-income families and individuals whose primary source of food is food stamps.
Mayor Booker begins his challenge today. From his LinkedIn account:
“My goals for the #SNAPChallenge are to raise awareness and understanding of food insecurity; reduce the stigma of SNAP participation; elevate innovative local and national food justice initiatives and food policy; and, amplify compassion for individuals and communities in need of assistance. Over the next seven days, I plan to highlight the voices of people involved in local food policy, the SNAP program, and other related initiatives. … Throughout this week, I will document my #SNAPChallenge experiences and reflections on LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook and through video on #waywire.”
The mayor is a vegetarian. He tweeted a photo of his grocery receipt that shows that he purchased primarily healthy foods, including apples, corn, broccoli, and beans. A java aficionado, Mr. Booker will be forgoing coffee, stating “it’s not in the budget.” The mayor will also be declining all breakfast, lunch, and dinner invitations for the next week. Since he took the Challenge, an avalanche of supporters have tweeted that they plan to join him.
The mayor will be chronicling his SNAP Challenge experience on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, and #waywire. To follow his progress and the progress of others who participate in the Challenge, search for hashtag #SNAPChallenge on Twitter.
The Challenge received national attention when four members of Congress took the Challenge in 2007. Representatives James McGovern (D-Mass.), Jo Ann Emerson (R-Mo.), Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.), and Tim Ryan (D-Ohio) spoke about the difficulty of buying nutritious and healthy foods while remaining within the balance of their food stamp allotments.
To invite your own representatives – local, state, and federal – to accept the SNAP Challenge or become a “Caseworker for a Day,” visit the Food Research and Action Center(FRAC Action Council) website, where a complete tool-kit is available for download.