Tuesday, December 04, 2012

Newark Mayor Cory Booker Takes on the 'Food Stamp Challenge'

Newark Mayor Corey Booker
If the recent Presidential election taught us anything, maybe it was simply being reminded that one of the most important qualities of those who aspire for higher office is an ability to really connect with the people they're elected to serve.

Ronald Reagan had it. So did Bill Clinton. President Obama has it and personally I think Newark mayor Cory Booker has it too. This guy is bright, confident and well educated.

Anyone who is a Stanford graduate, Yale Law School alum and a Rhodes Scholar at Oxford could make a fortune on Wall Street; but Booker chose to be a public servant in a city facing some of the stiffest challenges in the nation. That says a lot about his character and he won his 2nd race for mayor in 2006 and has been a fixture on the national scene ever since.

Today, he began the food stamp challenge in an effort to back up his public support for effective nutrition initiatives in low income communities across the US; part of his broader vision for urban renewal.

The Food Stamp Challenge is a national effort aimed at educating Americans about the realities of food stamps in this nation by exposing people to the challenges of trying to buy nutritious food and make difficult purchasing decisions based on the current levels low-income Americans must deal with each day.

When four members of Congress, James McGovern (D-MA), Jo Ann Emerson (R-Mo), Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill), and Tim Ryan (D-Ohio) publicly took on the challenge of trying to live on a food stamp budget in 2007, it began to gain national exposure.

To date four governors, nine different mayors and 20 members of Congress, community leaders, religious leaders of all faiths and thousands of citizens have also tried the challenge. The goal is pretty simple: try and live on $30 a week in groceries. The average NJ benefit is about $4 a day or $133.26 a month.

The hope is people can learn to get past the stigma of food stamps and get past the partisan rhetoric of politicians like Republican Paul Ryan who try to paint the program as government waste. In a nation where 1 in 6 US citizens live in poverty, as recently as May 8th of this year Ryan actually defended cutting government funding for food stamps while defending tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans and subsidies for corporations.

Booker's mission began with an exchange on Twitter when a 30-something mother of two from NC said on Twitter to Cory, "Nutrtion is not the responsibility of the government." Booker fired back that he felt it was the responsibility of the government to make sure children in public schools should have the right to nourishing meals.

To his credit, Booker stayed true to the quote posted prominently on his own Website  , "Democracy is not a spectator sport", and backed up his Twitter response to the unnamed woman with action. Today he posted his first grocery bill online as he undertakes the Food Stamp Challenge in an effort to connect with the millions of low-income Americans (many of whom work full time) who must rely on government assistance to feed their families. 

If any one man could arguably be considered a superhero, it's Booker. He went on a 10-day hunger strike to focus attention on drug dealers plying their trades in the streets of Newark. He and members of his staff personally shoveled snow during the 2010 "Snowpocalypse" as the city was swamped with requests to clear streets. In April he saved a woman from a burning building. During Hurricane Sandy he personally delivered food and supplies to Newark residents trapped in buildings without power or running water.

To me that's the mark of a real leader. Don't take my word for it. The New Jersey gubernatorial elections will take place on November 5, 2013, less than a year from now. Even though incumbent Chris Christie has boosted his popularity with New Jersey voters from his hands-on response and no-nonsense attitude in dealing with the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, Cory Booker is the overwhelming favorite amongst a group of potential challengers set to challenge Christie for the NJ governor's mansion according to recent polls.

I think a man who shows the ability to reach out and connect with (and serve) all citizens regardless of the size of their wallet deserves a chance to be governor and I'm not the only one who sees Cory Booker as the kind of leader who could make it to the Senate and make a real difference in a time when this nation is so desperate for real leadership with innovative ideas for urban renewal on the local level and national level.

And no, Booker did not pay for this blog post; he earned it. If only Trenton, NJ could have that kind of visionary leadership, but alas, they're stuck with Tony Mack.

No comments: