Cory Booker's campaign said Monday that the mayor does in fact live in Newark, New Jersey, the city he has governed for seven years — a response, bolstered by property records and documentation provided by his office, to recent allegations made by his opponent and the website, the Daily Caller, with just three days to go in the New Jersey special senate election.
There is no clear evidence to support claims Booker lives elsewhere.
The Caller, a conservative news organization, published an article late Sunday night asserting that Booker, the Democratic frontrunner in the race, never lived in Newark. The piece quoted two longtime anti-Booker activists and city council regulars, Donna Jackson and Cassandra Dock, who said they haven't seen Booker — only his security detail — around either 435 Hawthorne Ave., where he formerly rented a unit, or 19 Longworth St., which he has owned since 2011.
The story's author, independent journalist Charles C. Johnson, wrote that "looking inside the windows" of both properties "confirmed" they were vacant.
"That house is always filled with officers," Dock told Johnson. "That that was a police station, so he can't possibly live in a police station."
Booker's Republican opponent, former Bogota mayor Steve Lonegan, picked up on the story, hosting a news conference Monday afternoon outside the Hawthorne Avenue apartment in the city's South Ward to discuss his opponent's "commitment to Newark and truthfulness concerning his residence." In an email to reporters announcing the event, Lonegan's campaign listed the press conference location as "Cory Booker's Purported Residence."
In a phone interview Monday afternoon, Lonegan said, "I don't believe he lives in Newark," citing city residents like the ones featured in Johnson's article.
In a statement, Booker's communications director, Kevin Griffis, called the allegations "laughable" and "desperate."
"Cory Booker has lived for 16 years in some of Newark's toughest neighborhoods, including for seven years on Hawthorne Avenue, fighting every day to make the city a better place for its residents," Griffis said. "Steve Lonegan showed up there for an hour today to pull another laughable, desperate stunt to distract people from his extreme positions, which would make everything that's wrong with Washington worse."
Booker, his office said, lived in the Hawthorne Avenue house from late 2006 to 2013, when he moved out several weeks ago to Longworth Street. The property is a multi-family home with three units, one on each floor. While the first was vacant, the second was occupied by Booker's security detail, and the third by Booker.
Newark Police Director Samuel DeMaio explained the need for 24-hour security in a statement. "There have been numerous threats on the mayor's safety during the last seven years," said DeMaio. "The mayor's apartment on Hawthorne Avenue was located in a building with multiple units. The mayor rented a unit and the police department rented a separate unit to use in their protection of the mayor."
Booker's office provided BuzzFeed with checks showing rental payments from Booker and from the Newark Police Department for the Hawthorne apartment dating back multiple years. The checks are made out to an Ife Okocha, who owns the Hawthorne building, according to state property records. (Booker's senate financial disclosure form, which he released in May when the campaign first began, also lists the Hawthorne building as his home address.)
Booker moved full-time from Hawthorne Avenue to the Longworth unit, near Newark's Lincoln Park, in late September, his office said. He has owned the building since Sept. 2011, when he purchased it for $171,000 from HSBC Bank, according to state property records and local newspaper reports from the time.
Booker moved into Brick Towers, a 20-story affordable housing complex on Newark's Martin Luther King Boulevard, shortly after becoming a city councilman in 1998. He later purchased two adjacent properties on Court Street, one of which he sold this March to Newark Now, a nonprofit he founded in 2003, for $1.
Lonegan made the property a target of his campaign last month, after the Bergen Record reported that Booker had let the building fall into disrepair, prompting neighbors to complain about squatters and the overgrown backyard.
At the time, Griffis told the paper the mayor hoped to move out of the Hawthorne apartment "soon" and live full-time on Longworth Street.
"People who live near that property say workers recently installed new exterior railings and moved furniture inside," read the Record article.
Lonegan said it would be up to reporters to "follow through" on the Daily Caller's report, but added, "I can only take what I've seen reported."
Asked about Booker's move in late September to the Longworth site, Lonegan questioned whether it had actually happened. "In the middle of a major U.S. Senate race? And preparing for a major debate against me?" he said. "It speaks for itself."
Throughout this year's race, Lonegan has focused his campaign largely on Booker, seizing on the mayor's finances, personal life, and record in Newark as material for frequent press conferences and statements. After the Bergen Record wrote about Booker's Court Street property, Lonegan held a press conference outside the building, which he called a "crack house."
According to the most recent poll out Monday morning, Lonegan is trailing Booker by 10 points in Wednesday's race to succeed the late Sen. Frank Lautenberg.
Update: The Daily Caller emailed early Monday evening to deny that it "asserted" Booker lived elsewhere, saying the sources quoted in the article, not its author, made the claim.
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this article misspelled Cassandra Dock's name in one instance. Her last name is Dock, not Block. (10/14/13)