New Jersey’s largest city was described as both a beacon of economic development and a crime-ridden “black hole” during the final senatorial debate between Newark mayor Cory Booker and Republican challenger Steve Lonegan Wednesday night at Rowan University.
For the second-straight debate, Booker, a Democrat, named several companies that have relocated their headquarters to Newark in an effort to paint the city as a prospering business-friendly hub. Repeating a statement he has made on the campaign trail, Booker said, “The most common bird you see in Newark right now is the crane.”
“We’re going through the biggest economic development boom in the last 50 years,” Booker said. “Our first new office towers are being built in decades, our first new hotels are being built in 40 years. Companies are moving their headquarters to Newark.”
Booker was also quick to announce the arrival of a Whole Foods grocer in downtown Newark, a development that the Wall Street Journal reported just shortly before the debate began.
But Lonegan, an ex-Bogota mayor, attacked the basis of the city’s development, specifically targeting the subsidies given to large corporations under the Urban Transit Hub Tax Credit program during Booker’s tenure. Though not specifically naming but invoking the case of Prudential, Lonegan criticized the subsidy of “over one hundred million dollars for one company to move a block or two.”
Lonegan alluded to crony capitalism being the motivation for corporate subsidies in the city, later on responding to Booker’s “crane” comment by noting that, “The only birds in Newark are the vultures.”
“Hundreds and hundreds of millions of dollars of our tax dollars poured into corporate subsidies for the folks that he gets to meet when he’s out partying in Hollywood and San Francisco and making those sort of Hollywood deals,” Lonegan said of Booker.
When questioned about a recent Star-Ledger report which disclosed that Lonegan had requested and received a state bailout for Bogota when he served as mayor from then-Gov. Jon Corzine, Lonegan said that it was “absolutely” fair because taxpayers in suburban and rural parts of the state have been continuously “ripped-off” by seeing their taxes “poured into the big black hole of Newark.”
In discussing the need for federal regulatory bodies, Booker cited the example of the Environmental Protection Agency’s relevance to monitoring pollution in waterways such as the Passaic River, which flows through Newark.
Lonegan retorted by saying Booker’s vision of Newark was fabricated, adding that, “You may not be able to swim in that river but it’s probably I think because of all the bodies floating around from shooting victims in your city.”
Booker was offended by the comment.
"Oh my god," he said. "This is what he thinks of our cities – bodies floating in the river. How insulting is that?"
Booker said Lonegan’s comments on Newark and its development stem from his generally pessimistic outlook on urban areas. Booker also defended his record in fighting crime, noting that it was down and “nowhere near where the city I inherited,” referring to the tenure of ex-mayor Sharpe James.
“Steve’s vision of cities is negative,” Booker said. “He literally has said in Camden, the solution should be to level the whole city.”
When discussion turned to healthcare, Booker defended early complications associated with the Affordable Care Act.
“The challenges with Obamacare right now are just in the implementation,” he said.
Lonegan said that Obamacare is “bringing chaos into the marketplace” and is requesting that it be delayed for one year to allow for more time to work on it.
“The system is simply not ready to be implemented,” Lonegan said.
Both also blamed one another’s political parties for the ongoing federal shutdown. While Booker repeatedly attempted to paint Lonegan as a Tea Party extremist whose party was responsible for the gridlock in Washington, Lonegan associated Booker with President Barack Obama, who Lonegan gave a grade of “F” for refusing to compromise with Republicans.
When Booker said he wondered if Lonegan thought he was running against him or Obama, Lonegan snapped back by saying, “Both, because you’re one in the same.”
Throughout the night, the candidates would go on to disagree on an array of issues, ranging from background checks for gun owners to limits on abortion.
The special election for the race will be held next Wednesday, Oct. 16.