Well, it's official, I am now in the Senator Cory Booker fan club! It started last week when I received an email from the Booker camp inviting me to participate in a group run with the senator. My interest was immediately piqued. I do enjoy and keep up with politics and have voted in every election I am present for (and vote absentee when I have enough lead time) since I turned 18. There is something about knowing I have the right to help shape my government, especially considering that was not the case for the fairer sex just 100 years ago, that is highly motivating to me. In any case, I read the message, immediately RSVPed and forwarded the information along to others in Cape May that might have been interested. Umm, hello, group run with a senator? Yes!
The run was due to take place on July 5th at 8 am, meeting at Sunset Pavilion. Since it was to be about a mile or so, I figured I would just run from home. I had no idea what to expect or how many people would be there so it was exciting to see a nice group was forming when I showed up at 7:50 am.
From the moment I arrived and was in earshot of the senator, it became clear why this man was in public office. You know how some people just have "it"? Well, Senator Booker could be the poster child for "it". There was a buzz about him, an energy that just made you want to get closer and hear what he had to say.
He spent the pre-race minutes doing a meet-n-greet. Through my job and also just as a result of a general interest in politics, I have seen a lot of our nation's best in action. They often have that polished, disingenuous sheen so common to politicians, which I actually don't mind as it just seems to come with the territory. Unfortunately, that coating can make it hard to see the person underneath it. In shaping his political self, Cory Booker must have used a clear varnish because he presents himself as one of the most genuine, accessible politicians I have had the pleasure to meet.
After ensuring that everyone had a chance to shake his hand or snap a picture, he and his team started getting the group prepared for the run. I took a short video so you can hear his oration skills, which were fantastic. Funny, self-deprecating and yet commanding, the crowd was enthralled. By this point, there were not only the people that were running, but also just passerby that were crowded around. Apologies for the wind interference, we were still feeling the leftovers of Hurricane Arthur.
The run was very well organized. As it turned out, his campaign had started these series of runs last year and you could see this was now a well-oiled machine. We had two Cape May police in bright yellow shirts on bikes that acted as the lead (no one should pass them) and two that were the caboose (ensuring no one was left behind). We were instructed to stay between the bikes and with that we were off! We headed up the promenade to the confused stares of many people. It was here that I was reminded how odd everyday life might be for someone in the limelight. I have run the promenade many times but never with so many people stopping and staring and asking things like, "are you guys running a marathon?!?". But for people like Senator Booker, it's just part and parcel and he handled it like a seasoned vet.
He joked with us throughout and I noticed another of his skills as we ran - he made sure to not let any one person dominate his time and moved deftly through the group, chatting it up with everyone so that we all felt like we had a conversation with him. This is no small feat when you have a magnetic personality - we all wanted as much time to talk with him as possible and he did not leave any of us wanting - nor did his transition from one conversation to the next make us feel like he was abruptly moving on. So impressive. He was also able to campaign without really campaigning - there was no talk (that I heard) about promises or what his grand plans were - it was more of a "we are all out here enjoying this gorgeous day and getting to know each other" vibe, which was incredibly effective.
We wrapped the run up at Coffee Tyme, where the campaign handed out vouchers for a free drink, which I thought was an awesome touch! Senator Booker concluded the run with a few remarks and then headed inside for another round of meet-n-greets (I confess to snapping another pic with him because I wanted to say thanks for the great experience!).
Inside, I struck up a quick conversation with one of the senator's campaign staff, Emily. I would be remiss if I did not also mention what a great staff he had! It was a group of young, energetic folks who handled the morning's activities like pros. You know how you get to be a certain age and you realize the time has passed for some of life's experiences? Well, in addition to regretting that I never spent a year living in a city, I also wished that as a 20-something I had spent time on someone's campaign trail. It looks rewarding, exciting, fun and exhausting, all tied up in one! His group did a great job, particularly his staffer (did not get his name, but tall and handsome as all get out) who must have been in charge of documenting the run for social media - which entailed sprinting ahead and behind the group. He must have run at least twice the distance we did at at least twice the pace.
When I got home, I could not help but let my fandom have a spin around the internets and look into what Cory Booker is all about. I knew of his past as a mayor of Newark and that he was elected to Senator Frank Lautenberg's seat after FL passed away and that he was generally well-liked but I did not know:
1. His background as an athlete (football at Stanford and then went on to Yale Law School - brains and brawn!). He told me the "Run With Cory" idea came about because when in planning his campaign itinerary he told his manager that time for running needed to be scheduled in. They made the obvious leap to campaigning WHILE running and viola! It was done! I think he said they did 14 runs last year and there are more on tap for this summer (mid-term elections ain't no joke). I loved in his pre-run pep talk he talked about the importance of exercise as a means to reduce health care costs - it's all about prevention and I am confused how that somehow became a partisan topic (honestly, people, how can you be against the first lady trying to prevent childhood diabetes?!?!?) but was very happy to hear him pitch it in a non-political way.
He also had a great line in that pre-run chat: "People who sweat together, stick together". Love!
2. His reputation as an all-around good guy - his good nature about being labeled as gay (he's not, but not offended by people thinking it), his commitment to the people of Newark in that he lived in rougher neighborhoods and convinced Mark Zuckerberg to donate a bajillion dollars to the city's school system and he's even rescued a woman from a burning building, for Pete's sake!
I liked everything I saw Saturday morning and my internet fishing only confirmed all that goodness. I truly wish the best for him in the upcoming election and he can most definitely count on this South Jersey girl's vote. To find out if he is the candidate for you, check out his website, Facebook or Twitter!
Here's hoping Senator Booker comes back to Cape May again soon, but if not, I have plenty of great memories to stoke my fandom for some time to come!
PS If you are digging that "Run South Jersey" shirt, I got it at RunningCo. of Haddonfield.