Booker, Lonegan Square Off in Final N.J. Senate Debate

Candidates grade Congress, spar over gay marriage and eliminating government agencies

By Vince Lattanzio and David Chang
|  Wednesday, Oct 9, 2013  |  Updated 8:53 PM PDT
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The two men running for U.S. Senate in NJ squared off in a debate at Rowan University in Glassboro.  NBC10's Rosemary Connors watched the war of words between Democrat Cory Booker and Republican Steve Lonegan.

NBC10.com - Rosemary Connors

The two men running for U.S. Senate in NJ squared off in a debate at Rowan University in Glassboro. NBC10's Rosemary Connors watched the war of words between Democrat Cory Booker and Republican Steve Lonegan.

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Vying to represent New Jersey in the U.S. Senate, candidates Cory Booker and Steve Lonegan quarreled over issues like the debt ceiling, gay marriage and the size of government in their second and final debate before voters go to the polls.

In the debate held on Wednesday night on the campus of Rowan University and moderated by NBC10's Jim Rosenfield, Booker, the Democratic mayor of Newark, N.J., portrayed Lonegan, a Republican businessman who served as mayor of Bogota, N.J., as an extremist who would make gridlock in Washington, D.C. worse.

Lonegan said Booker doesn't deserve to win the Senate race because he has not stemmed crime in Newark, where he is a second-term mayor.

The two candidates began their hour-long sparring by differing over Congress' handing of the partial government shutdown.

Lonegan said he supports the shutdown and sided with fellow Republicans who've called for the  postponing requirements of the Affordable Care Act.

When asked what grades he would give in the wake of the government shutdown, Lonegan claimed he would give Congress a "B" and President Obama a "big F."

"I think it is absolutely essential that we postpone the implementation of the Obama health care plan for one year," he said. "The president refuses to compromise with the Republicans and they've offered many compromises in the last week."

Booker meanwhile, called for bipartisan cooperation and gave Congress an "F."

"We send people to Washington to solve our problems," he said. "Right now we have a government in shutdown. It's only being shut down because of tea party extremists in Washington who are stopping our government."

Gay marriage, which is set to become legal in the state on Oct. 21 after a judge ruled civil unions were discriminatory, became a hot topic.

Lonegan, who is opposed to the unions, said marriage was devised for a man and a woman to raise a child, but said people should live their lives the way they choose.

Photos and Videos

Students Hold Watch Parties for Senate Debate

Not everyone got in to see the U.S. Senate debate at Rowan University. NBC10's Denise Nakano spoke with people who didn't have a ticket to the big event.

Booker and Lonegan Discuss Gay Marriage

Cory Booker and Steve Lonegan discuss gay marriage during Wednesday night's NJ Senate debate.
More Photos and Videos

"I do not want other groups forcing their values system down the throats of my Catholic church, evangelical church, Protestant churches and overriding our institutional, religious beliefs," he said.

When pressed as to whether same-sex couples should be allowed to have children through surrogacy or adopt, Lonegan said he has "mixed feelings" on the practice.

Booker supports gay marriage and accused the 57-year-old of contradicting himself on the issue.

"He says he supports liberty, but you can't be free to marry who you want," Booker said.

The inner-city was front and center in the debate as Lonegan repeatedly referenced Newark and called the 44-year-old mayor a failure.

Lonegan said the state spends too much money on the embattled city, which he described as a "big black hole." Responding, Booker said Lonegan's town was financially sound until he "ran it into a ditch" and was forced to ask the state for a bailout.

Discussing the size of government, Lonegan said he would reduce or eliminate several federal government agencies that he feels are unecessary including the Department of Education, Department of Commerce and the Environmental Protection Agency.

Booker voiced concerns about the EPA specifically and allowing pollution to further infiltrate the Passaic River, which runs through Newark. He said the pollution prevents people from swimming and fishing in the river.

"If we have the pullback of the EPA, let fracking go on like may of the frackers want to do, it could pollute our waters," he said. "So I believe in shrinking government responsibly, not pulling back the kinds of protections that protect our food, our water, our air and our safety."

Rebuking Booker's comments, Lonegan suggested the reason people can't swim in the river was because there were so many dead bodies floating in the water.

"You may not be able to swim in that river, but I think, it's probably because of all the bodies floating around from shooting victims in your city," he said.

One of the candidates will come out on top next Wednesday following the special election set to fill the seat of the late Democrat Frank Lautenberg.

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