Steve Lonegan is the former three term mayor of Bogota, NJ. He unsuccessfully ran for the United States Senate against Cory Booker in 2013. He's now running for Congress in the 5th District against incumbent Josh Gottheimer. The district had been held by a Republican Member of Congress since 1933 until Gottheimer defeated Scott Garrett in November 2017. The district favored President Trump in 2016 and Lonegan defeated Booker among district voters in 2013. All this makes for a potentially close race in the northernmost district in our state.

Given the potentially heated contest, it's no surprise that the political battle is already in the gutter. Most recently, Lonegan came under fire from Tom Moran at the Star Ledger for a comment that he was accused of making in 2006 at a Republican Club meeting. According to his accuser George Silos, a former Bogota council member, Mayor Lonegan called him a "f*ggot". If the claim were true, I can certainly understand why people would be upset. That said, it's an accusation that is denied by the accused. And considering that the context was a verbal spat between two political adversaries, it's a bit of a stretch to call this a homophobic attack even if the word were used.

Moran used the accusation as a reason to write an editorial calling for Lonegan to drop out of the race. That's right. An allegation of using a slur against a person who is not in fact gay has the Star Ledger editorial team up in arms. What's even worse is that after dismissing Lonegan's offer to discuss another matter relating to Bob Menendez (relevant as he was a statewide candidate for the United States Senate), he emailed that Lonegan had 15 minutes to respond if he wanted to add anything to the story. Gimme a break. This seems much more likely to be a hit piece based on a politically motivated attack against a rival.

I asked Steve Lonegan to join me Tuesday morning to tell his side of the story as it seemed to me that the Star Ledger was only interested in a one-sided hit piece to disparage a man who not only denies the accusation, but claims the entire incident was taken out of context. Steve did admit to cursing the accuser out and even challenging him to a fight. He said he definitely threw out some f-bombs but not the one he was accused of saying. The verbal combat started after Silos launched into an attack on Steve's mother at the meeting.

So for the benefit of the Star Ledger 'desperado' journos who will seemingly say anything to push an ideological agenda, let's review what we know:

Twelve years ago a candidate was accused of using a disparaging term. He not only denies using the word, but admits there was a verbal altercation with the accuser. The altercation started after the accuser insulted and verbally attacked the candidates mother. This would be funny if it were political satire. Unfortunately it's not. it's a real world example of how absurd the climate has become for anyone running for office. Whether you say something or not, if a detractor merely accuses you of saying something that falls into the category of offensive, you should withdraw from public life. Period.

The editorial board is shamefully disparaging a man because they disagree with his platform. I've also disagreed with Steve Lonegan in the past. It's good to have disagreements. It's not good that the minute we have ideological differences to immediately accuse opponents of bigotry. Even if Lonegan had used the word, it's a stretch to say he was being anti gay as the target person wasn't gay. That said, hasn't everyone lost their temper and said regrettable things? Those who haven't may "cast the first stone". Should everyone who has ever said anything that wouldn't pass the muster of the forces of political correctness step down from office immediately?

On a related note, just curious if anyone else sees some hypocrisy here...

Where was the Star Ledger when Jesse Jackson was disparaging Jews?

Where was the Star Ledger when Joy Reid disparaged homosexuals?

Where was the Star Ledger when Vice President Joe Biden described his then opponent Barack Obama as "the first mainstream African-American who is articulate and bright and clean and a nice-looking guy"?

Lonegan has never retreated from his strong conservative principles. He's willing to take the hits and stand up for what he believes in, regardless of the political cost. You may disagree with him. You may think his brand of conservatism wouldn't work everywhere in New Jersey. But he's not a bigot. Using an accusation from a political adversary from 12 years ago to make a case against him is a sad commentary about the state of political and political journalism.

So vote for Lonegan or not, the choice is yours. On Election Day. Not because the "Thought Police" want to eliminate candidates on accusations before voters ever have a chance to render a decision.

Bill Spadea is on the air weekdays from 6 to 10 a.m., talkin’ Jersey, taking your calls at 1-800-283-1015. Tweet him @NJ1015 or @BillSpadea. The opinions expressed here are solely those of Bill Spadea.

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