The relatively unknown social video sharing start-up Waywire is making headlines this week as Newark Mayor and Senate candidate Cory Booker disclosed his $1 million stake in the company. While the new business' goal to collect and organize videos (a la Pinterest) is somewhat unexceptional, its connection to a star-studded list of investors and the New Jersey politician is understandably raising some eyebrows.
Part of Booker's political success has stemmed from his connections and adaptability in the media age, and his involvement in the startup was not, it seems, anything he has tried to hide. But the mayor's involvement in the business venture is important for voters to take note of as the election approaches, and Booker should be held accountable to ensure these activities are not detracting from his responsibility to address the pressing issues facing Newark.
Booker's involvement in the tech start-up world seems to date back to a long and flourishing network of college connections. The mayor's long list of famous friends include high-flying investors from Silicon Valley, associations stemming from his time as an undergraduate at Stanford in the 1990s.
“Stanford is the piece that is basically the untold story of Cory Booker’s relationship with Silicon Valley,” fellow Stanford graduate and entrepreneur Gina Bianchini told the New York Times this week.
The Newark mayor has long been criticized for spending too much time with Hollywood and entrepreneur friends, rather than focusing on working to fix the range of pressing issues facing Newark. The mayor was reported by the Star Ledger to have spent over 20% of his time between January 2011 and July 2012 outside of the New Jersey city he runs.
Booker has milked his connections to get some notable investments for the city, for example, from Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg who made a famous $100 million donation to Newark's schools (although the results have been mixed). The news of his latest personal investment of time and money in the new video start-up only offers, it seems, more fodder for the flames for these critics.
New York-based start-up Waywire was founded last year as a platform to share and organize videos in a format for users to follow, and has raised a reported $1.75 million in start-up funding. Calling itself "pinterest for video," (a descriptor, it turns out, a number of emerging companies have attempted to coin), the platform has kept a generally low profile despite a star-studded list of supporters.
Along with Booker, backers include Oprah Winfrey, Google Chairman Eric Schmidt, former Gilt Groupe executive Nathan Richardson, and former Yahoo executive Sarah Ross. CNN's president Jeff Zucker's 15-year old son was even involved in an advisory role until recently, before mysteriously quitting yesterday.
The news is helping put Waywire on the map, but may not be the best revelation for Booker's political ambitions. The fact that an elected official with congressional ambitions is investing significant time and resources in this new business venture can suggest mixed motives in a policymaking role, aligning the mayor suspiciously close to the interests of the tech and media industry.
The specific link may become a relatively moot point as the race unfolds (Booker would, of course, be required to step down from the company's board if he wins the Senate race, and he holds a safe lead state's democratic primary). But the mayor's involvement in the start-up is valuable information for voters, who deserve to know where the interests of their elected officials lie, and should continue to pressure politicians like Booker to prioritize the issues most important to them.