Cory Booker Storms South by Southwest (SXSW): 9 Highlights from the ‘Social Mayor’ Conversation

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Waytao Shing / Getty Images for SXSW

Steven Snyder, assistant managing editor of TIME.com and Cory Booker, mayor of Newark, NJ speak onstage at the 2013 SXSW Music, Film + Interactive Festival at Long Center on Mar. 10, 2013 in Austin, TX.

We all know Cory Booker is America’s “Super Mayor,” a reputation cemented by his many acts of social-media influenced kindness: he’s been lauded for helping a man propose to his girlfriend, letting Hurricane Sandy victims crash at his house and even rescuing a neighbor from a burning building.

But did you know that he also helped start a new social media site called #WayWire? Probably not.

(READ: TIME’s Full SXSW Coverage)

Booker discussed all of these things and more in a wide-ranging chat with TIME.com Assistant Managing Editor Steven James Snyder during a SXSW panel called “Cory Booker: New Media Politician.” The conversation touched on a number of themes, ranging from his worst tweet to his ambitions beyond Newark’s mayorship (more on that soon).

  • When Ashton Met Cory. After a friend prompted Booker to join the social network , he received a unlikely call from a little-known tech entrepreneur named Ashton Kutcher. “I thought I was getting punked.”
  • Corny Cory. Booker confessed that his corny sense of humor (“Remember, ‘corny’ has just one more letter than ‘Cory’”) has gotten him in trouble on more than one occasion. Case in point: his first major social media snafu. After an unnamed governor went public after lying about his whereabouts, Booker tweeted that he, too, was on the Appalachian Trail, with his favorite cup of coffee — a “hot Colombian blend.” Needless to say, there was political fallout.
  • Tweeting To a City — and a Country. Although Booker acknowledged that he has more Twitter followers (1.3 million and counting) than Newark has residents, he thinks it’s an incredible platform to influence a bigger change. “My constituency is technically only 280,000 people, but it’s also the United States. It’s time to wake people up again, and we can do that.”
  • Disrupting Government Through Video. #Waywire, the social network he founded with Google‘s executive chairman, Eric Schmidt, uses video to give users a voice. Booker thinks the medium provides an honest way to capture how people really feel. And better yet, it encourages people to disrupt the system. “Your ability to create video in the future is going to be powerful, and allows us to take on problems we haven’t taken on before.”
  • Reclaiming the Soul of Our Politics. Booker likes to think big and he implored Americans to join him. He thinks entrepreneurship and technology provide the greatest hope for taking back America, even as “we’re losing truth, we’re losing authenticity, we’re losing the soul of our politics.”
  • Waging War With Conan. He playfully referenced his recent fight with talk show host Conan O’Brien, also known as the “Conan kerfuffle,” which ultimately required the (joking) intervention of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. The experience allowed him to defend his city on a national stage and shine a light on Newark’s recent progress. It was also an instructive exercise for the mayor, who realized he could match the power of a major broadcaster with the reach and scope of his social feed, redefining the conversation in the process.
  • Twitter as a Forum for Hope. Above all, the idea of a more open, thoughtful and friendly society clearly makes Booker tick. He’s seen it firsthand with his Twitter account, and that gives him hope for the future: “I really trust my country and the people in my feed to be great syndicators of content.”
  • Seeking National Office. Booker has hinted several times at his aspirations beyond Newark, but has refused to lay out any concrete plans: “Another thing I’m thinking about is running for Senate,” he said Sunday, to a swell of applause from the crowd. When Snyder pushed for more, he simply demurred, instead directing people to corybooker.com.

(READ: @CoryBooker on the 140 Best Twitter Feeds of 2011)

As the panel neared the end, the mayor and would-be senator made a passionate last lap through his themes, launching into a 10-minute monologue that some visitors described as “epic.” Speaking eloquently about how we should be living for our country, achieving societal victories by boosting up those around us, and using technology and entrepreneurship to change the world, the Mayor focused on the power of kind gestures and our collective capacity to shape our government.

Booker grew increasingly exuberant as he summarized his call to action, weaving together African proverbs (“If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far go together”), historical lessons from the Battle of Bunker Hill and his parents’ passion for equality, hard work and compassion. He circled back to Twitter, praising the social network for allowing him to bring his truth, hope and inspiration directly to the people every single day.

Here’s a smattering of Twitter reactions to the Booker-Snyder conversation:

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