BY: Victor Epstein
NEWARK, N.J. – Goodbye YouTube, hello ‘Tonight Show.’
Newark Mayor Cory Booker, who has garnered national attention for his passionate defense of New Jersey’s largest city, is taking his act to the ‘Tonight Show.’ Host Conan O’Brien has been engaged in a playful feud with Booker since Sept. 23 and scheduled the 40-year-old mayor as a guest on his show Friday.
The exchange began last month when O’Brien poked fun at Booker’s new health care plan for gritty Newark — long an icon for urban decay — saying it consisted of a bus ticket out of town. Booker fought back with a humorous response on YouTube in which he “banned” the 46-year-old redhead from Newark Liberty International Airport.
The back-and-forth continued until Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, the nation’s top diplomat, playfully broke up the spat Oct. 8.
“I look forward to our summit,” O’Brien said in a statement. “My apologies for bumping Brad Pitt.”
Political experts have lauded Booker’s use of new media such as YouTube, where his response to O’Brien has been viewed more than 176,000 times, and Twitter, where he has 826,000 followers.
The ‘Tonight Show’ averages about 2.6 million viewers.
“This kind of exposure is extremely rare for someone that’s not a senator, governor or presidential candidate,” said Joe Trippi, a political consultant who managed Democrat Howard Dean’s Internet-driven presidential campaign in 2004. “This shows how savvy Cory Booker is about new media and how it can be used to leverage mainstream and old media.”
Booker succeeded in reducing shootings and homicides in his first term as Newark mayor, which began in July 2006. But the city’s unemployment rate was 14.7 percent in August.
Booker said Newark has been the brunt of unfair jokes and criticism for too long.
“We’re making progress in Newark on problems that impact cities everywhere,” he said.
Steve Adubato, a political power broker in Newark who allied himself with Booker this year after a lengthy rivalry, said the young mayor gives residents hope and makes them feel like they matter in a community long overshadowed by nearby New York City. For the first time in 40 years, people are not ashamed to wear a Newark T-shirt, he said.
Booker’s predecessor, Sharpe James, is in prison for his role in the cut-rate sale of city land to a former mistress. James’ two predecessors also have been in trouble with the law.
“It’s a big thing for us to have some pride like this,” Adubato said.
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