After a week in Central America and another week relaxing and recharging in Key West (hence the lack of posts), I have returned to a snow-covered NYC to experience the aftermath of the blizzard that slammed the northeast, rendering one of the largest cities in the country nearly inoperative for days. The unfortunate truth is that the seemingly inadequate response to the storm by NYC government is hardly a rare occurrence. Whether it’s snow, wind or rain, the response by the respective city agencies tasked with handling the effects of these natural events is usually a relative comedy of errors, with no tangible indication that conditions will improve.
Even more disheartening is the cavalier attitude that Mayor Mike Bloomberg exhibited in response to the storm itself – ‘shit happens, take the day off,’ he said at a press conference. This comment alone says all you need to know about the man and the value he places on serving the people he was elected to serve. To many New Yorkers, this was more than just a ‘shit happens’ moment. To some, this was a day’s work and a day’s pay. To some, it was several day’s pay. To others, it was literally a matter life and death, as in the case of the 22-year old woman who was forced to give birth in a snowed-in Brooklyn apartment building. After, she waited over nine hours for emergency personnel to arrive, and lost the newborn. Or for the Queens woman who waited three hours for an ambulance to arrive to aid her mother who was having difficulty breathing. She wound up passing away before help arrived.
Shit does, indeed, happen. New Yorkers are definitely a tough breed, and we tend to handle situations a bit differently. But this time, Mayor Bloomberg’s apathy when it comes to maintaining a city of 8 million people actually cost lives.
In stark contrast to his nonchalance is the hard work put in by the mayor of a smaller but nearby northeastern city – Cory Booker of Newark. Mayor Booker, who has been lauded in the press the past several days for his personal handling of the storm, took to Twitter so that he could communicate directly with his constituents and attend to their individual needs. Whether it was shoveling snow, delivering items or directing resources to areas hit harder by the storm, Mayor Booker’s response time to individual concerns was nothing short of remarkable. Rarely enough does an elected official engage the populace through social media accounts that he or she personally uses (as opposed to a staffer), but almost never does one utilize the medium more religiously than Mayor Booker, who holds a major presence on Facebook and Twitter, keeping people engaged on a daily basis.
But it isn’t simply Mayor Booker’s embrace of technology that makes him such a remarkable politician. As evidenced during the blizzard, Mayor Booker is using social media to get back to basics of serving the people he works for, something so often forgotten in the political sphere. It isn’t so much that he’s using social media tools to communicate messages to the people of Newark as many politicians are now doing, but he’s using it to communicate through an open dialogue with them. This has led to a Newark that is sharply on the rise.
One of my first jobs in government was working as a community relations representative for a local official before social media really started to take off in politics. Whether it was by phone, snail mail or in person, there was a high value placed on serving the individual needs of people by local electeds. It was that personal contact that made for successful politicians as well as thriving, healthy communities. Mayor Booker is taking this same sentiment digital, and he could very well be transforming the way urban areas can be governed in the 21st century.