Cory Booker and Steve Lonegan met in a cantankerous debate at Rowan University in which both candidates tried to use their opponents infamous qualities against them

(L-R) Mayor Cory Booker (D) and Steve Lonegan (R) during their first debate (YouTube)

Lonegan said he expected Booker to use "tea" and "party" together numerous times during the debate and compared it to a drinking game. “If this is a drinking game, I’m sure people are drinking at home,” he said to laughs from the crowd at Rowan University.


Lonegan, meanwhile, took to mentioning "Hollywood" to describe Booker and said that he and President Obama are "one in the same."

Sandy relief, gay marriage, Newark's crime rate and abortion were among the topics discussed during the debate inside Rowan's Pfleeger Concert Hall.

Bodies In The River

Cory Booker (L) on stage with Steve Lonegan (R) and moderator Jim Rosenfeld from WCAU TV during Senate debate (WCAU TV)

The most controversial moment of the debate was Lonegan's comment about Newark's crime rate. In a discussion about rolling back government environmental regulations, Lonegan told Booker, "you may not be able to swim in that river, but it's probably because of all the bodies floating around from shooting victims in your city." A stunned Booker replied, "Oh, my God. Oh, my God."

Lonegan defended the comment afterward, saying it illustrated the abundance of violent crime. Booker said it was insulting to people living in cities. Earlier, Lonegan claimed that too much of the state's income and sales tax revenue "gets poured into a big black hole in Newark." Booker's campaign said the remark was racially tinged.

"Magic Money Tree"

The subject of the federal government shutdown came up in which Lonegan declared his support for the shutdown and said he admires politicians who are unafraid to "advocate for liberty," like Ted Cruz, Rand Paul and Marco Rubio. Booker said of Lonegan that "sendng him to Washington would be like pouring gasoline on a fire."

He used the same reason for denying federal Superstorm Sandy relief dollars to New Jersey because the money doesn't come off a "magic money tree."

Booker circulated a petition to end the shutdown and said politicians are sent to Washington "to work together and solve our problems." Asked to give Congress a grade, Booker gave it an F, while Lonegan awarded a B.

Booker essentially called him Lonegan a  hypocrite, noting that Lonegan sought $500,000 in state aid while mayor of the Bergen County town of Bogota, and ultimately accepted $350,000. Lonegan said suburban towns pay far more in taxes than they get back.

Lonegan  further defined the differences between he and Booker over gay marriage and said he had "mixed feelings" about whether gay couples should be able to have children.

News From Both Candidates

Cory Booker and Steve Lonegan shake hands at the end of their debate at Rowan University (WCAU TV)

Both men also broke news during the debate; Booker announced that Whole Foods will open a supermarket in Newark at the Hahne’s building; the announcement will officially be made today. Lonegan’s campaign announced during the debate that Sarah Palin will appear at what they call  "largest grassroots campaign event in New Jersey history" at the New Egypt Speedway. Citing Vice President Joseph Biden's cancellation of a campaign trip to New Jersey for Booker because of the federal shutdown, Lonegan in a statement said, "I am proud to have the opportunity to stand next to a great conservative leader who should have been the Vice President as we go into the final hundred hours til victory on Wednesday, October 16th.”Talk show host Mark Levine will also be at the rally.

The two continued their discussion about abortion at the end of the debate that took up time that would have gone to closing statements.

The special election to fill the seat held by Democrat Frank Lautenberg until his death last June  takes place Wednesday, October 16. Governor Chris Christie appointed state Attorney General Jeff Chiesa to fill the seat until the special election.


Kevin McArdle and the Associated Press contributed to this report