by James J. Devine
STATE — The choice between Newark Mayor Cory Booker and former Bogota Mayor Republican Steve Lonegan is as plain as vanilla or chocolate, day or night, black or white.
One is a Wall Street darling who endorsed billionaire New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg’s controversial re-election to a third term after voters there outlawed the practice with term limits, called President Obama’s campaign criticism on Mitt Romney’s profiteering “disgusting” and favors the privatization of public schools — which has been termed an attack on democracy.
The other is conservative Republican Steve Lonegan, the former mayor of Bogota who challenged Chris Christie in the 2009 GOP primary for governor.
Booker is a lawyer, who continued while he was mayor of Newark to collect $700,000 from his law firm, which won $2 million in contracts from city agencies at the same time. Lonegan led an attack on the judiciary in a series called, “Courts Gone Wild.”
Lonegan is an outspoken soldier representing the Tea Party wing of the Republican Party while Booker seems more like a Rockefeller Republican, cutting insider deals with billionaires, raking in millions in income without doing any work, praising free markets that left one in six Americans in poverty.
The only thing missing for many Garden State voters is a clear and unambiguous Democrat seeking the seat of the late US Sen. Frank Lautenberg.
Booker speaks in lofty phrases but his actual stand on many issues remains unclear. Having collected millions in contributions from Wall Street and Hollywood, Booker does not show any real connection to the Garden State so it is unlikely he would represent New Jersey well in the world’s most exclusive club.
People who work closely with him in Newark are genuinely unimpressed. He laid off hundreds of city workers, allowed police to engage in unchecked brutality and enriched himself while the number of jobless Brick City residents grew.
Much of his political support is based on a thin presentation of his persona rather than a real examination of his ethos and logos.
While Lonegan can be accused of being out of touch with New Jersey’s majority, most people are unable to answer the question, “Who is Cory Booker?” with any degree of specificity. He is believed to have significantly reduced crime in Newark, but that is not true. He has more than a million followers on Twitter, a method of communication based on no more than 140 characters, and he made millions of dollars in a high-tech business start up that has done almost nothing and appears on the verge of bankruptcy.
Lonegan has links to the Koch brothers, heading their Americans for Prosperity operation in the state, and he is a leading Tea Party repre7sentative in a place that tilted heavily for Obama in and 2008 and 20012.
At a recent Democratic Party event in a blue collar city, one attendee said she is thinking of casting a write in ballot for Congressman Frank Pallone. Others said they are staying home on Oct. 16 because they distrust Booker.
There is a high probability that racial issues will be used to influence turnout and support in the special election for US Senator, but so far there is little sign of that. What there has been a lot of is smoke and mirrors, ducking and dodging, platitudes and puff.
News media concentrated entirely on the horse race character of the election has mostly ignored questions about character of the candidates.
Chris Christie has solidly placed his support behind Lonegan, while Booker has failed to use his energy to shore up the lagging campaign of Democratic gubernatorial contender, state Sen. Barbara Buono, or to enforce party discipline among Democratic defectors who have endorsed Christie.
An upset would probably mean Lonegan gets no more than 14 months in the US Senate, but Booker could be impossible to beat next year if he wins the special election. A Lonegan victory over Booker would be a Democratic wake up call significant enough to throw the gubernatorial race into question, as 700 candidates currently hoping to distance themselves from Buono suddenly realize they will sink or swim together.
Most importantly, the special election for US Senate is a test of American democracy. Will Garden State voters cast their ballot for someone they know they disagree with on most issues or one who has carefully shrouded himself in mystery while setting the stage for great expectations?
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