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Frank Lautenberg Wouldn't Have Endorsed Cory Booker, Son Says

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Newark Mayor Cory Booker is not being backed by the family of the late Sen. Frank Lautenberg in his Senate campaign.
Newark Mayor Cory Booker is not being backed by the family of the late Sen. Frank Lautenberg in his Senate campaign.

With New Jersey's special United States Senate primary days away, the family of the late Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D) is continuing to push Rep. Frank Pallone as his successor by noting that before he died, Lautenberg supported Pallone over opponent Cory Booker, the Newark mayor.

Lautenberg's family, led by his widow, Bonnie Englebardt Lautenberg, and his son, Josh, has been campaigning around New Jersey for Pallone, saying the Democratic Senate candidate would best continue his legacy.

Booker's decision to announce that he would run for Lautenberg's seat in 2014 before the 89-year-old Lautenberg announced his retirement was not a factor in the family's choice, said Josh Lautenberg, but he acknowledged a history of bad blood between his father and Booker. The senator died in June, leading to the August primary and October election to fill the seat.

"If my father was here he would have endorsed Frank Pallone 100 percent," Lautenberg told The Huffington Post. "He liked how substantive Frank Pallone was. Cory Booker and my father did not have a good relationship, but that is not why we are endorsing Frank Pallone. We are endorsing Frank Pallone on his own merits."

The family has described Pallone, who has represented the Jersey Shore in Congress for more than 20 years, as one of the late senator's biggest allies on a variety of issues, including ocean dumping prevention, Superfund funding and beach restoration. Pallone has embraced the endorsement, citing it frequently on the campaign trail.

The Lautenberg blessing has not dented Booker's 30-plus point lead over Pallone. But Lautenberg said that with the projected low turnout, likely voters will be older and interested in issues that Pallone champions, like Social Security and Medicare, rather than the younger voters who he called Booker's core demographic.

Rep. Rush Holt and state Assembly Speaker Sheila Oliver are also running in the Democratic primary.

Lautenberg said he first learned of his father's feud with Booker in 2008 at the Democratic National Convention in Denver. After the two heard Booker address New Jersey delegates, the senator instantly dismissed the mayor.

"My father said at the time it was all words and no substance; my father never liked Cory Booker," Lautenberg told HuffPost. "The reason my father was a fan of Frank Pallone was he is a man of substance. Cory Booker is out more for himself than New Jersey. He does well with talk show hosts and Twitter."

Booker's campaign referred to previous statements it made in response to the Lautenberg family's endorsement of Pallone. Booker's spokesman has previously touted projects where the mayor and Lautenberg worked together in their official capacities. Booker was endorsed by Essex County Freeholder Brendan Gill, now a Booker political adviser, who has touted Booker's experience.

Lautenberg, a Colorado resident, said if Pallone loses the nomination he does not expect to return to New Jersey to assist Booker in the general election.

UPDATE: Booker campaign spokesman Kevin Griffis told HuffPost in a statement that the campaign is not surprised by the Lautenberg family, but that the Newark mayor can continue the late senator's work.

"Senator Lautenberg and Congressman Pallone worked together for decades in Congress, so the endorsement isn’t surprising, but ultimately, Mayor Booker is best positioned to carry on Senator Lautenberg’s legacy of fighting to improve the lives of New Jerseyans," Griffis said in a statement. "He has a record of getting things done in Newark – lowering crime, strengthening public schools and creating jobs - and he’ll do the same in Washington."

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