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Tech-savvy Newark Mayor Booker: Government flunking social media

Newark, New Jersey Mayor Cory Booker speaks during day one of TechCrunch Disrupt SF 2012 event at the San Francisco Design Center Concourse
Newark, New Jersey Mayor Cory Booker speaks during day one of TechCrunch Disrupt SF 2012 event at the San Francisco Design Center Concourse

By Corrie MacLaggan

AUSTIN, Texas (Reuters) - Cory Booker, the constantly tweeting mayor of Newark, New Jersey, who intends to run for the U.S. Senate, said on Sunday that the federal government needs to reinvent the often overly formal way it uses social media.

"It's just using it as an announcement system, like you used to listen to in class: ‘The cafeteria will be serving roast beef, and I will be at this place or that place'," Booker told Reuters after an appearance at the South by Southwest Interactive Festival in Austin, Texas. "But that's not interaction, that's not collaboration."

Booker, 43, a rising star in the Democratic Party who has more than 1.3 million followers on Twitter, told the Austin audience that he can't be a mayor who sits behind a desk and waits for the world to come to him.

Last year, the Newark mayor was hailed as a hero for inviting into his home neighbors who, he learned on Twitter, lost power because of Superstorm Sandy.

He also uses Twitter to give city phone numbers to constituents, share inspirational quotes, declare his love for the TV series Star Trek and answer questions from local students while admonishing them not to tweet in class.

"On it," he replied to a resident who complained recently of a broken street light.

Booker, who made a failed run for Newark mayor in 2002 before winning the job in 2006, said he's been hooked on Twitter since actor Ashton Kutcher called and told him why he should dive into the micro-blogging site.

'TELLING YOUR TRUTH'

Booker said it was important to be himself on social media - and that this would still be true if he were in the Senate.

"Life is about telling your truth and being who you are, 100 percent," he said. "This world desperately needs authenticity, people who have the courage to tell their truth every single day, and I would not stop being who I am just because of the title that's before my name."

One of his Twitter followers, Shuronda Robinson of Austin, said she took her 12- and 13-year-old sons to his appearance at South by Southwest and made sure he shook the boys' hands.

"I was so inspired," she said after Booker's remarks to an audience that didn't fill a large auditorium. "I wanted my boys to see someone living with purpose."

Newark, eight miles from Manhattan and New Jersey's largest city, was once a thriving manufacturing center but for the last half century has battled political corruption, urban blight and high crime.

Booker, a former Rhodes Scholar, has made reducing crime a major priority. In March 2010, Newark experienced its first murder-free month since 1944.

While Booker's national profile is rising, some Newark residents have criticized him for being absent from the city as he travels around the country, appears on TV programs and meets business leaders.

Booker said that traveling has helped him secure benefits to Newark, such as a $100 million gift to its schools from Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg.

"He didn't come to Newark to say, ‘Hey, I want to give you $100 million,'" Booker said. "We were at a conference together."

Booker has filed papers to run for the Senate in 2014. Senator Frank Lautenberg, 89, a long-serving New Jersey Democrat, has said he will not seek re-election. Booker has been leading in New Jersey polls for the seat.

"It is even my intention to run, but I'm not going to come to any conclusions until after November," Booker told Reuters.

(Reporting by Corrie MacLaggan; Editing by Cynthia Johnston and Philip; Barbara)

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