Posted: June 11, 2012
A SHAGGY DOG SPEECH
By Celia Cohen
The famous mayor who does not know how to pronounce the name of his own city is nevertheless doing wonders for his own name.
Cory Booker. The mayor who pronounces the name of his city in New Jersey as "NEW-erk," when any self-respecting Delawarean knows it ought to be "NEW-ARK," the way it is properly said on this side of the Delaware River.
Cory Booker. The mayor who ran into a burning building in April to rescue a woman and nearly did not make it out. The mayor who played football at Stanford, landed at Oxford as a Rhodes scholar and rounded out his academic life with a law degree at Yale.
With credentials like that, it was certainly enough to overlook a little mispronunciation, and Booker got himself a hero's welcome when he spoke before 500 or so Delaware Democrats at their Jefferson-Jackson Dinner, held Saturday evening at the Dover Downs Hotel & Conference Center.
Booker gave as good as he got. After he was reminded of the right way to say Newark by Chris Coons, the Democratic senator, Booker shot back that the city over here, where Vance Funk is the mayor, could be otherwise identified.
"Now I know where Funkytown is," Booker quipped.
Booker was not above a little sweet-talking, not with applause and a bright political future at stake, as he told the crowd he liked to one-up other states, but he could not one-up Delaware, the first state. Not like Virginia, which he insisted did not deserve to use "Virginia is for lovers" as a slogan.
"That slogan really should be for New Jersey, because in New Jersey, the drive-in movie theater was invented," he cracked.
"I was conceived, according to my mom, during a double-feature with Sidney Poitier, somewhere between 'In the Heat of the Night' and 'Guess Who's Coming to Dinner.'"
By now, it was clear that if politics ever sours for Booker, he could try stand-up. He kind of did, anyway, with his speech. It was keynote as shaggy dog story.
Before Booker was the mayor, he was a city councilman who was also a member of Stanford's board of trustees. As he told the crowd, one day an aide frantically reminded him he was supposed to be catching a flight to San Francisco for a board meeting, but it was due to leave in 20 minutes. Getting on board was impossible.
"If there's one word I hate, it's that word 'impossible.' I put my hand on my hip and said what I always say when I hear that word, you know something, my mama told me, ain't no such thing as impossible," Booker said.
Booker raced for the airport, traffic laws under assault. When he got to the ticket counter, there was a long line and only six minutes before takeoff. He cut in front to get to an agent, and naturally she told him that making the flight was, yes, impossible.
"I put my hand on my hip, and I said, you know something, my mama told me, ain't no such thing as impossible," Booker said.
"Sometimes in life, you got to get ethnic with people, so I leaned in a little bit closer and said, and my grandma said, black people been having to make their own way a long time. You got to give me that ticket!"
The agent did, and Booker dashed for the gate -- "like a man in the TV commercial we don't talk about anymore" -- only to find an attendant already keying in the code to lock the door. He pleaded to be allowed onboard, but she told him there were no seats left, so it was impossible.
"I put my hand on my hip! I said, you know something, my mama told me, ain't no such thing as impossible! And my grandma, she told me, black people been having to make their own way a long time!" Booker cried out.
"But sometimes you have to go deep into the family tree, folks, you got to remember your roots, so I said, and my great-grandma -- we called her 'Big Mama' -- and she was a religious woman, and she would say all the time, Philippians 4:13."
Booker paused. He waited. He pouted.
"If I was in Newark, people would be yelling it out and saying it. I didn't know Delaware was a godless state! 'I can do all things . . . .'"
The attendant relented. She said there was one seat available. It was in first class.
Booker was on his way. He settled into his first-class seat. He was smug. Then the captain came on the public address system. He welcomed everyone to the flight to Miami. Miami?
"I was first class! But I was headed in the wrong direction!"
It was the point of the story all along. "I don't want to put somebody in the White House whose record speaks to the wrong direction," Booker said.
Booker got a standing ovation, actually several of them. How about that -- a New Jersey guy raising the roof in Delaware.
Ain't no such thing as impossible.