Newark mayor says he’s not a hero after daring rescue of his neighbor

Posted on: 9:33 pm, April 13, 2012, by , updated on: 10:00pm, April 13, 2012

NEWARK, New Jersey (CNN) — To the family of Zina Hodge, the man who dashed into their burning home and pulled their loved one to safety through intense heat, falling embers and dense smoke could just be Superman.

But Newark Mayor Cory Booker most definitely did not feel like the Man of Steel on Friday as he recovered from smoke inhalation and second-degree burns suffered during the rescue of his 47-year-old neighbor the previous night.

“I did not feel too heroic,” Booker told reporters. “It all happened very, very quickly and I just feel very blessed that she and I got out of the building alive.”

Booker, 42, has fostered a reputation as a hands-on mayor of sorts, once spotted shoveling city streets during a 2010 blizzard and using his Twitter feed to coordinate snow plows and the delivery of supplies.

His latest feat for his constituents went viral Friday as news of the rescue spread and social media users quickly dubbed him “Super Mayor.” A new Tumblr blog named SuperCoryBooker was thrown together Friday with tongue-in-cheek memes about the mayor’s knack for getting things done. “Just another day, saving Newark,” read one.

For his part, Booker was quick to cast off the “superhero” title.

“I think that’s way over the top,” he said outside his home. “There are people who do this every day,” referring to police officers, firefighters and other first-responders.

“I’m a neighbor that did what most neighbors would do, which is to jump into action to help a friend,” Booker said.

The incident began around 9:30 p.m. Thursday as Booker was en route to his Newark residence. Two members of his security detail — already waiting outside for the mayor — noticed flames coming out of a second-story window of the neighbor’s home and called fire dispatch before banging on the door to alert the home’s occupants.

The security officers, Detectives Alex Rodriguez and Santos Duran, managed to rescue three people by the time Booker arrived.

“As the last one was coming out, I was going up the stairs and she’s screaming that her daughter is still in the building,” Booker recalled.

Flanked by the two detectives, Booker rushed toward the building, he said.

“Something exploded and sent a lot of flames over the steps, and my detail just grabbed me and started trying to drag me out of there,” he said.

Booker exchanged heated words with Rodriguez, who was pulling him by the belt to get him to safety.

“Look, this woman is going to die if we don’t continue,” Booker recalled saying.

The detective relented and let him continue on.

Once inside, Booker had what he described as his “proverbial come-to-Jesus moment” as he felt the intensity of the heat and had trouble finding Hodge.

“The reality is I didn’t feel any courage. I felt fear,” he said. “I’ve never been so almost convinced that this was it. It was time to hope that I was going up and not down.”

But just as he was “praying, thinking, hoping,” Hodge called out and Booker found her in a back room.

Hoisting her, Booker ran through the flames, embers falling from the ceiling, and made his way outside before collapsing onto the sidewalk.

“Her mother gave me a hug I’ll never forget for getting her out,” he said. “At that point, I felt this sense of gratitude. To go moments from thinking you’re dead to kissing the Newark pavement … I felt like I was delivered from the fires of hell.”

Thursday’s rescue marked Booker’s latest foray into the media spotlight.

The mayor has enjoyed a steady rise in national prominence as an outspoken advocate for urban issues since taking office in 2006. His efforts to turn around a city long struggling with high crime, chronic poverty and a restrictive budget are chronicled on the Sundance Channel’s series “Brick City.” His reputation also contrasts with that of several previous Newark mayors, a few of whom were convicted on corruption-related charges.

Hodge is being treated at Barnabas Hospital in Livingston, New Jersey, where she is in serious condition, officials said. Newark Fire Director Fateen Ziyad said the three other residents who were removed from the home “are doing well.”

“It’s like one in a million, the mayor to get your family out,” said Robert Cooper, 20, who is Hodge’s nephew.

Still, Booker said his two detectives were “the real heroes” and sought to give Rodriguez and Duran most of the credit.

As for his own super powers, Booker said the whole incident “unfolded in a way that I think that angels helped to make it so.”

CNN’s Marina Landis and Mark Norman contributed to this report.