In Camden, GOP candidate Lonegan assails Booker

Republican Steve Lonegan said Camden has "become reliant on subsidies on every level . . . just to survive."
Republican Steve Lonegan said Camden has "become reliant on subsidies on every level . . . just to survive." (RON TARVER / Staff Photographer)
Posted: July 14, 2013

Republican U.S. Senate candidate Steve Lonegan came out swinging Friday at Newark Mayor Cory Booker, attacking his Democratic rival as a rubber stamp for "the failed policies" of President Obama and a champion of an unchecked welfare state.

Standing in front of Camden City Hall, Lonegan decried the condition of Camden, referring to vacant buildings and a failing school system.

Camden has "become reliant on subsidies on every level . . . just to survive," Lonegan said at a news conference.

"And yet, the very programs that have led to this city's demise are going to be expanded" if Booker or one of his Democratic opponents - U.S. Reps. Rush Holt or Frank Pallone, or Assembly Speaker Sheila Oliver - is elected, Lonegan said.

"Cory Booker is intending to put welfare on steroids and forcing cities like Camden to continue on their current path, and probably diminish even more," Lonegan said. He asked: "Why does Newark still have a 14 percent unemployment rate?"

A former mayor of Bogota, a borough of 8,000 people in Bergen County, Lonegan is a conservative activist who until recently was the New Jersey director of conservative advocacy group Americans for Prosperity.

He has run twice for governor, never advancing beyond the primary but taking more than 40 percent of the vote against Christopher J. Christie in the 2009 Republican primary.

Polls in the Senate race show Lonegan leading his Republican opponent, physician Alieta Eck, by a wide margin. A Quinnipiac poll released this week showed Lonegan with 62 percent of the vote to Eck's 5 percent leading up to the Aug. 13 primary, with a special election scheduled for Oct. 16 to fill the late Democratic Sen. Frank R. Lautenberg's seat.

Lonegan's appearance in Camden came during a three-day campaign swing through South Jersey, with a meet-and-greet Thursday in Woodstown, Salem County, and events Friday night in Millville, Cumberland County, and Saturday in Jobstown, Burlington County, and Sewell, Gloucester County. Several events were scheduled to take place at county GOP headquarters.

Lonegan said Friday that "one of the centerpiece issues" he would address in the Senate would be school vouchers, which he refused to call by the poll-tested name that supporters prefer.

"I'm not going to whitewash this and call it 'school choice' because some pollster says it's a better way to message," Lonegan said.

Children and parents "should have the right and opportunity" to leave failing schools, Lonegan said.

A voucher program would be "the initial first step we take to make Camden prosperous again," Lonegan said, also criticizing the state takeover of the Camden School District, which was backed by Christie.

Booker, who has a commanding lead in polls over the other Democrats in the race, has voiced support for school vouchers. Booker's "first priority is strengthening public education," but "in areas where schools are currently failing our children, however, he believes that parents should have options," campaign spokesman Kevin Griffis said.

Booker's policies have benefited Newark, Griffis said, citing $1 billion of development underway in the city - representing one-third of development projects statewide, Griffis said - and decreased crime rates.

"Like many cities, Newark was hit hard by the recession, but the rate of growth in unemployment has been slower in Newark from the day the mayor took office until today than it has been in New Jersey as a whole," Griffis said.

Booker, who campaigned Wednesday in Mullica Hill and Cherry Hill, this week announced policy proposals to target child poverty and increase scientific research.

Booker is trying to "put forward a vision, making smarter decisions that will ultimately save taxpayer money while making this country more economically competitive," Griffis said.

Lonegan - who has said one of his priorities would be to defund the Affordable Health Care Act - said Booker and "every one of the [Democratic] candidates is a rubber stamp for the Obama agenda."

As Lonegan attacked Booker for supporting government programs, Oliver issued a statement questioning whether Booker would cut programs such as Medicaid and Social Security.

Oliver's campaign pointed to a quote that Booker - a prolific Twitter user - tweeted Thursday: "A sense of entitlement guarantees that you will eventually see yourself as a victim."

"While my opponents in this race may feel differently, Democrats in New Jersey can be confident that I would never agree to cuts to these vital programs," Oliver said.

On his campaign website, Booker vows to "fight to protect Medicare and Social Security benefits."


Contact Maddie Hanna at 856-779-3232 or mhanna@phillynews.com, or follow on Twitter @maddiehanna

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