So Cory Booker is the hero mayor. Newark New Jersey Mayor Cory Booker has dominated the news cycle for the last 48 hours as stories of his amazing rescue of his neighbor from a house fire gives Americans something to smile about before realizing that our only options for president are Mitt Romney and Barack Obama.
So what's next for the hero mayor? And more importantly does a heroic rescue really do that much for a politician's image? History shows us the results are mixed.
The story that has trickled out from Thursday is as simple as it is amazing. Booker was on his way home with his mayoral protection staff, saw that his neighbor's house was on fire, ran in with his staff and rescued people. Then he heard a woman's voice crying out that she was stuck in the room. He fights off his bodyguards who demanded that he stay outside for his own safety and ran into the building to save her life. They literally collapsed outside of the house from smoke inhalation. If this were a Michael Bay movie the only thing left would've been for the house to explode in slow-motion just as Booker leapt off the front stoop with the woman in his arms.
Could something like this transform Booker into a more national figure? More importantly might it inspire him to challenge Chris Christie for the governor's mansion in 2013?
Well, those two questions have very different answers.
Heroism by public officials doesn't always translate into future national prominence, a new image or electoral success. Consider Bill Frist, former Senator from Tennessee, nicknamed "Healer on the Hill." When a preacher visiting the Capitol building collapsed from a heart attack Frist went into action, saving the man's life and probably scoring some points with Jesus, too.
But the Frist Frenzy never materialized, he retired quietly from the Senate in 2007 and played almost no role in the 2008 election or any major political issues since. Mitt Romney, who is more in need of an image makeover than any politician in the GOP right now has a hero story, too. When he and his sons saw a family of 6 trapped in a lake when their boat sprung a leak Team Romney leapt into action. They got on their personal jet-skis and ferried the family (including their dog who didn't have a life preserver) back to safety. I mean, it's heroic, but personal jet-skis? That's not going to wipe that patrician New England image off him one bit.
Realistically, Mayor Cory Booker doesn't need to improve his image at all. For a guy who entered politics a little over 10 years ago, his legend, from a critically acclaimed documentary, foiled assassination attempt, personally rooting out drug dealers, to shoveling constituent's driveways during the blizzard of 2010 while Governor Christie was on vacation, has been chronicled (and in some clear cases exaggerated) over the years to great effect.
So he's good on the image, what about the politics?
To be honest, for all of his good press, I believe Booker's next move will be to stay right where he is. He could easily be Mayor-For-Life in Newark. His predecessor Sharpe James served for over 20 years while the city went to hell and his administration was knee deep in corruption. Booker would have no problem keeping his job given that he's done a good one.
More importantly an active mayor like Booker would go crazy as a Senator or member of the House where his initiatives would be stymied by the legislative process. While Chris Christie is up for re-election in 2013 targeting him now might not be in Booker's best interest.
The day before Booker's rescue job a new poll came out showing Christie enjoying his highest approval rating (59%) since being elected in 2009. As a colleague of mine pointed out, it's very likely that many New Jersey voters who like Booker and like Christie would overlap in a state-wide race which would mean re-election for Christie. Booker will likely take all of his hero political capitol and aim for the New Jersey governor's mansion in 2017 when Chris Christie is term limited out (or 2016 in a special election if Christie got into the White House).
There's really no rush for America's new favorite mayor. 2017 isn't that far away and I'm sure there are a lot more damsels in distress and runaway trains he can save before then.