Cory Booker: Heroic? Yes. Magic? No

The mayor’s quick action helped save a woman’s life. He’ll need more time to rescue Newark.
By Andra Gillespie (This article originally appeared on

When Cory Booker recently raced into a burning home to help save the life of a neighbor, his act of bravery turned the Newark, New Jersey, mayor into one of the lead stories of the day. News outlets from CNN to Fox News covered Booker’s heroism.

Not to be outdone, fans on Twitter conjured up #corybookerstories to reveal even more amazing feats from the mayor. Overnight, Booker’s courage transformed him from a widely admired mayor into something of a superhero.

While the feel-good stories and tweets were certainly uplifting, it is important to consider the long-term implications of the coverage of this episode. Black elected officials like Booker face a “hero paradox” when they are perceived as living legends.

As part of my research for a new book, The New Black Politician: Cory Booker, Newark, and Post-Racial America, I found that a new generation of black leaders regularly find themselves lionized, especially in contrast with the older black politicians they replace. The support that these young politicians experience is earnest and well-meaning, but it often triggers latent, class-based resentments among constituents and creates unrealistic expectations that threaten to undermine their ability to serve effectively.

When Booker was elected mayor of Newark in 2006, he took on one of the toughest jobs in America. Newark is a city that has long faced challenges. Even before the city experienced devastating riots in 1967, deindustrialization was taking jobs and residents out of the city.

Andra Gillespie is associate professor of political science at Emory University and author of The New Black Politician: Cory Booker, Newark, and Post-Racial America.
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