UPDATED: Women's group calls Booker 'unresponsive,' backs Holt

Senate candidate Newark Mayor Cory Booker addresses a gathering of supporters at an event in Deptford Township, N.J. Tuesday, June 18, 2013. A Quinnipiac University poll has Booker with 53 percent of Democratic support in a four-way primary. (AP Photo/Mel Evans)

WASHINGTON -- The New Jersey chapter of the National Organization for Women issued a stinging critique of Cory Booker Saturday, questioning his work in Newark and the substance behind his popularity as the group endorsed U.S. Rep. Rush Holt in New Jersey's Senate race.

NOW-NJ PAC said Booker was “entirely unresponsive to our requests for interview, despite repeated attempts to contact his offices by phone, email, and other means.”  

UPDATED: The Booker campaign disputed that assertion and provided the Inquirer with recent e-mails which they said tried to set up an interview with the women’s group. The head of NOW-NJ said she never received those messages and accused the Booker campaign of "prevaricating."

“The campaign made a good faith effort to reach NOW-NJ, but there appears to have been an unfortunate miscommunication,” Booker spokesman Kevin Griffis wrote in an e-mail Saturday.

NOW-NJ PAC said Holt and Democratic candidates U.S. Rep. Frank Pallone and Assembly Speaker Sheila Oliver, agreed to interviews.

“Our difficulties with the Booker campaign speak plainly to the broad concerns about his bid for office and the running of his Senate campaign--that he is strong on style and ideas, but weak and unproven on the issues,” said NOW-NJ PAC Chair Jennifer Armiger. “He is unresponsive to his constituency and has produced little in terms of real outcomes that improve the lives of residents and voters in the city of Newark, most especially women and the underserved.”

Armiger called Holt “the best candidate to uphold former Sen. Frank Lautenberg’s legacy in support of women’s rights, progressive issues, and equality for all in the Garden State and at the federal level.”

The Booker campaign provided an e-mail which it said was sent to NOW-NJ Tuesday offering to set up a time for the PAC to speak to the mayor. “We would of course welcome an opportunity to set up a time for Mayor Booker to meet with you,” Booker’s scheduler wrote to Armiger.

The campaign said it shared the message to show that they had tried to reach NOW-NJ. Griffis, the Booker spokesman, said the campaign also called the PAC Tuesday, but the call was not returned.

Armiger could not be reached immediately Saturday night to verify the contact.  

UPDATED: On Sunday, she said she had received "no such communication" from the Booker campaign until she received a phone call Saturday -- after her statement had been released.

She noted that the Booker campaign Web site includes no phone numbers to reach his offices, only a general e-mail form.

"The personal communication with me is less my concern, than the wall that seems to exist around the campaign, designed to keep the constituents at bay. He must be responsive to the people whom he proposes to represent," Armiger wrote in an e-mail Sunday.

This marks the second time in recent weeks that Booker has angered a group of core Democratic supporters. On Aug. 1 he skipped an NAACP candidates’ forum in his home city to instead raise money with Oprah.

The NOW-NJ statement touches on one of the most frequent criticisms leveled at Booker: that his tangible accomplishments and day-to-day focus don’t match his popularity and fame. Booker has countered by pointing to lowered crime rates and growing development in Newark.

Combine this flap with the New York Times’ reporting on Waywire – the start-up Booker partially owns and that has received funding from friendly tech moguls – and two of his biggest vulnerabilities have been on display just days before Tuesday’s primary. Booker’s opponents have used the Waywire connections to further their argument that he is too close to big, wealthy investors.

While neither of these dust-ups is likely to change the outcome of the race this close to primary day, they fit with the most potent arguments against Booker’s candidacy.

(Similarly, Republican Steve Lonegan found a powerful criticism against him revived – that’s he’s ‘too extreme’ – when his campaign sent a racially charged, but quickly deleted, Tweet Thursday night. On Saturday Lonegan said there was “no racist” intent and accused liberals of leaping to play “the race card.” The Star-Ledger has a full story here).

Booker is still almost certain to win Tuesday’s primary, given his lead and the lateness of these developments. If so, he’ll enter the general election nursing some late wounds.

You can follow Tamari on Twitter or email him at jtamari@phillynews.com.