Booker Finally Appears At Debate & Draws Fire From Rivals

MONTCLAIR – After skipping a debate and a candidates’ forum due to scheduling conflicts, Newark Mayor Cory Booker finally appeared on stage with his three opponents in next week’s Democratic primary for U.S. Senate on Monday night in a debate sponsored by NJTV.

Booker said that his ability to work with Republican Gov. Chris Christie is a reason for voters to send him to Washington. “He and I have partnered together … that’s what you’ve got to do as a United States senator,” he said.

Congressman Frank Pallone countered that Christie has been “taking money away” from Newark, referring to the governor’s decision to cut millions in municipal aid to balance the state budget.

“Mayor Booker talked favorably about Gov. Christie’s economic program or something, how it benefited the city of Newark,” Pallone said. “The fact of the matter is that Gov. Christie has been doing the opposite. … I believe the federal government should help, but the governor is not doing that.”

In 2010, Booker laid off 167 police officers and hundreds of other city workers while raising property taxes 16 percent to close the gap in the city’s budget resulting from the loss of state aid.

Pallone and Congressman Rush Holt both went after Booker for his support of a school voucher program championed by Christie.

“I very much disagree with Mayor Booker on this. I do not believe that vouchers are the answer,” Pallone said. “I’m very concerned about how vouchers, which he supports, will take away funding from public schools. I believe in public schools.”

Holt added, “I’m interested that Mayor Booker was silent about vouchers that Mr. Pallone raised. I would like to know how vouchers could help the schools in Newark or any other city,” he said. “They just siphon money away.”

Holt also made a dig at Booker’s chase of celebrity. “I’ve never run into a burning building, I’m not friends with Mark Zuckerberg and I don’t have a million Twitter followers,” he said. Holt, a former professor of public policy and physics, identified himself the “true progressive” in the race.

Earlier on Monday, Holt released the first television ad critical of Booker, saying the Newark mayor was “no progressive” attacking the mayor on climate change, Wall Street banks and warrantless government spying on innocent Americans.

While Pallone talked about his efforts in getting the Affordable Care Act passed into law, both Assembly Speaker Sheila Oliver and Holt said that health care reform efforts should have gone further. “A universal single payer system is not pie in the sky. We have it. That’s what the VA is. That’s what Medicare is,” Holt said.

Oliver pointed out that New Jersey does not have a woman in its 14-member Congressional delegation. “I think it’s time to break up the old boys network,” she said.

The candidates also discussed international issues, including how the United States should deal with Russia over its decision to grant asylum to whistleblower Edward Snowden, and how the nation should handle its relationships with Syria and China, but they showed few differences in opinion.

On Tuesday, Aug. 13, Democrats will choose between Booker, Holt, Oliver and Pallone for the party’s nomination to run for the remainder of the late Sen. Frank Lautenberg’s term. The winner will face the winner of the Republican primary between former Bogota Mayor Steve Lonegan and Piscataway medical doctor Anieta Eck in a special election on Wednesday, Oct. 16.

New Jersey last elected a Republican senator in 1972.

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