WASHINGTON -- While Newark Mayor Cory Booker raised money with Oprah last night, his Democratic opponents were in his home city at a forum sponsored by the NAACP.
An empty chair was left for Booker's place.
Congressman Frank Pallone's campaign said that contrast should make voters think twice as the Aug. 13 primary approaches.
"Mayor Booker has chosen time and again to skip debates and forums in favor of photo-op runs, ribbon cuttings and fundraisers with celebrities. The mayor’s decision this evening to skip the NAACP candidate’s forum in his own city in order to rake in cash with Oprah Winfrey is simply more of the same," the campaign said in a statement. "Public service demands that individuals be present and accountable and the empty chair on stage tonight should give voters pause as they consider their choice for Senate."
Pallone and fellow candidates Congressman Rush Holt and Assembly Speaker Sheila Oliver, each with less name recognition than Booker and trailing in polls, have complained that the mayor has avoided joint appearances with the rest of the field.
At a campaign stop earlier Thursday in Wayne, N.J., Booker said the compressed campaign -- which began suddenly in June after the death of Sen. Frank Lautenberg -- affected scheduling.
"This is a short campaign, we're running around doing a lot of things, I have to balance all of that with being mayor as well, which is an intense, 24-7 job," Booker said.
He pointed out that he has agreed to two debates, the same number Lautenberg participated in in 2008, when he last faced a primary challenge and had a full run-up to the election.
Asked about missing a forum in his home city, Booker said, "folks in Newark have been engaging with me for 15 years. Folks in my city know me and know me on the issues."
His campaign spokesman, Kevin Griffis, told the Star-Ledger that the fund-raiser was scheduled before the campaign received the invitation to the forum.