By South Jersey Times
Newark Mayor Cory Booker is the better choice for New Jersey’s next U.S. senator, to be selected in a special election on Wednesday.
Despite a four-way summer primary, Democrats practically anointed the photogenic Booker to take over for the late U.S. Sen. Frank Lautenberg as soon as Gov. Chris Christie called the special Oct. 16 vote. (Remember, you can’t vote for U.S. Senate in regular Nov. 5 election.)
New Jersey’s Republican Party establishment basically concurred with crowning Booker by not fielding a primary opponent against Steve Lonegan, the colorful former mayor of Bogata, Bergen County. Lonegan is best known for running to the right of Christie in the 2009 gubernatorial primary; the Americans for Prosperity state chapter he directed until June was “tea party” before there was a tea party.
Booker is still the odds-on favorite, but his lead in many polls has dwindled to around 12 points, with Lonegan said to be gaining among independent voters. Hold off on that Booker coronation.
The cool-as-a-cucumber Newark mayor didn’t campaign hard enough, and didn’t show how serious he was about winning. (Neither candidate agreed to meet with our editorial board).
Booker came to life during a rollicking Rowan University debate last week, mostly in response to Lonegan’s sharp comments. (Understandably, Booker suspended campaigning this weekend because of his father’s death.)
Lonegan has been effective in painting Booker as something of a paper tiger, and poked some holes in his seven-year tenure as mayor of our largest city.
Once he woke up, Booker exposed Lonegan’s views as outside New Jersey’s mainstream. There’s something to be said for pulling yourself up by your bootstraps, but not when you have no bootstraps and need a lifeline instead. Lonegan’s campaign against the $60 billion federal aid package for Hurricane Sandy victims is the ultimate “tell” about how he’d treat New Jersey residents when they’re most in need.
Despite Lonegan’s barbs about Newark’s crime (and Booker has desperately tried to spin some bad statistics), the city’s economic improvement under its current leader is real. Booker erased a budget deficit, bringing in corporate offices by the dozen, often in bipartisan conjunction with the Republican governor.
Running Newark, or even tiny Bogata, doesn’t necessarily translate into effectiveness in the Senate, though. Either candidate will need to grow into the job. Lonegan calls Booker “Obama’s Hollywood stand-in.” With respect to most major issues, that’s an accurate assessment. It’s also where a majority of New Jersey citizens are comfortable.
Given the mess in Washington caused by hyper-partisanship, it’s best to send someone there who has demonstrated that he can work well with others. That someone is Cory Booker.