It's not like Newark Mayor Cory Booker to say the wrong thing to the media.
He's a media darling, who was talked about as the man likely to be the first black president before Barack Obama was elected to the White House. Since Obama has taken office, Booker has been a go-to for the president's camp.
But many say he went "off-script" during an interview on "Meet the Press" on Sunday. They say Booker swerved from the Obama campaign's script – attacking GOP presumptive nominee Mitt Romney's former private equity firm Bain Capital – when he called Democratic attacks "nauseating." Booker said he was not going "to sit here and indict private equity."
His comments caught many off guard, including the White House.
Which has led some people to this question: Was it a political gaffe or a strategic move?
Since his first remarks, Booker has been on an apology tour of sorts. He went on MSNBC to clarify, saying his comments were taken out of context and were being used for cynical political gain by Republicans seeking to portray Democrats as fractured. And he's also taken to social media to declare his support for Obama, tweeting repeatedly to clarify his support for the president along with the hashtag
Let me be clear, #IStandWithObama—
Cory Booker (@CoryBooker) May 22, 2012
It is no surprise that Booker would take to Twitter to amplify his message. He has long been a social media maestro. But in this case, has he taken it too far?
Some mocked his flurry of
#IStandWithObama posts, joking that it appeared he was in detention with Bart Simpson and stuck writing on a virtual blackboard to make up for his mistakes.
"Booker’s independence from Democrats should come as little surprise," reporter Steve Strunsky wrote. "Before Sunday’s 'Meet the Press,' the most recent of his frequent appearances on the small screen was in a video last week with Republican Gov. Chris Christie, who endorsed Romney in 2012 and is often mentioned as a possible running mate."
He is talking about a viral video in which the pair spoof Booker's heroic actions of the past and joke about Christie's potential to be a vice-presidential nominee.
"Booker's chummy relationship with Christie isn't just about doing work for the people of Newark, it's also likely a strategic move based on his own personal ambition," Zerlina Maxwell, a writer for The Grio, wrote in an article that asked if the pair were too close for comfort. "Booker's last office will certainly not be as the mayor of Newark. His bright future could be as a Senator and a bipartisan track record in a mixed bag state like New Jersey certainly enhances his credentials."
Salon took Booker to task, calling him the "surrogate from hell" and looking at what exactly Booker had to gain from his exchange on "Meet the Press."
"It wouldn’t be surprising if Booker has already heard from the White House, and surely he’s now in for a world of abuse from Obama supporters. But that hardly means he made a mistake, at least in terms of his own ambition," the article said. "Financial support from Wall Street and, more broadly speaking, the investor class has been key to Booker’s rise, and remains key to his future dreams."
Does that mean Booker is looking to switch sides? Not necessarily. A bit of distance? Perhaps. But it's also worth noting that Booker hasn't been a fan of labels when it comes to politics, often saying that he doesn't think everything should be thought of in strict terms of Republican versus Democrat.
"Truth is, though, that Booker has always been thought of as something of a 'moderate' or 'centrist' Democrat, despite being perhaps their favorite rising star," Brett LoGiurato wrote on Business Insider.
Booker has been a shining light for Democrats. A Rhodes scholar who went to Stanford, Oxford and Yale Law, Booker then swept into action to try to save the troubled city of Newark when he ran for and was elected as mayor. He's been championed as a hero for those without a voice.
"To his supporters, who include A+ listers like Oprah Winfrey, Bon Jovi and Brad Pitt, plus an élite cadre of Wall Street and Silicon Valley scions, Booker's self-sacrificial tale is heroic," Time.com wrote after he was elected. "To his critics, Booker is still a publicity-loving political opportunist, a permanent outsider using the citizens of Newark to jump-start bigger things for his career."
But as Time noted, that divide meant that Booker had to make sure to brand himself strongly in Newark and to the rest of the country.
"Now that we actually have an African-American president, some say it's natural to start scouring the country for the next one. But in another sense, Obama's election has diluted the Booker brand," the article in Time said. "The challenge for African-American stars like Booker is to separate themselves from Obama's larger-than-life persona and not seem like Barack wannabes."
In many cases, Booker has done exactly that, enjoying a steady rise in national prominence as an outspoken advocate for urban issues. His efforts to turn around a city long struggling with high crime, chronic poverty and a restrictive budget are chronicled on the Sundance Channel's series "Brick City." His reputation also contrasts with that of several previous Newark mayors, a few of whom were convicted on corruption-related charges.
He has spoken out eloquently on the debt crisis and brought positive attention to his city through his savvy with technology.
He gained widespread praise as the Northeast struggled to dig out from a horrible snow season in 2010 and New Yorkers grew frustrated with their mayor, Michael Bloomberg, and his city's slow response to helping residents.
While Bloomberg took heat, Booker used Twitter to communicate directly with residents to help get roads cleared and get assistance to people stuck in the snow. He helped dig some out, asked those complaining for their numbers and sent crews to their locations to help.
News of the rescue spread and social media users quickly dubbed him "Super Mayor." A new Tumblr blog named SuperCoryBooker was thrown together with tongue-in-cheek comments about the mayor's knack for getting things done. "Just another day, saving Newark," read one.
What comes next for Booker? He may stay a staple of the Obama camp and continue to praise the president, but it also appears he will stand by his views that some things have to change in politics.
"I will fight hard for Obama to win. But just as his '08 campaign did, I believe we must elevate and not denigrate. This is the Obama I know," Booker wrote on Twitter. "Yes I'm sick to my stomach of the politics of destruction. We now have a federal government that can't come together and solve our nation's problems. I'll always prioritize my nation over a political party. And right now crass divisive partisan politics is not serving the citizens of my city."
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