NEWARK, N.J. (AP) — Democratic Mayor Cory Booker on Wednesday accused his U.S. Senate race rival of making bigoted comments when asked about a newspaper article in which Booker ambiguously addressed his sexuality.
Republican Steve Lonegan said on Steve Malzberg's Newsmax talk show that it's strange Booker won't refute long-simmering rumors that he's gay.
"It's kind of weird. As a guy I personally like being a guy," said Lonegan, who referenced a 2012 interview in which Booker said he "likes to go out at 3 o'clock in the morning for a manicure and pedicure."
Lonegan's comments came after a Washington Post profile in which Booker, a rising star in the Democratic Party, said he keeps his romantic life private because it's "unfair to a young lady to put them in the spotlight" if they're not ready for it. Booker then brought up gossip, which has been swirling since he first ran for mayor in 2002, that he's gay.
"And people who think I'm gay, some part of me thinks that's wonderful. Because I want to challenge people on their homophobia," Booker told the newspaper for Monday's profile. "I love seeing on Twitter when someone says I'm gay, and I say, 'So what does it matter if I am? So be it. I hope you are not voting for me because you are making the presumption that I'm straight.'"
Lonegan, a former Bogota mayor, said he didn't read the profile and doesn't know if Booker is straight or gay.
"Maybe that helps to get him the gay vote, by acting ambiguous," Lonegan said.
Booker's team shot back Wednesday, saying Lonegan's comments were narrow-minded.
"Mr. Lonegan's comments are disappointing, bigoted and far outside the mainstream, implying that a man is not a man if he's gay," Booker's campaign said in a statement.
Lonegan was unavailable for comment Wednesday "as he continues to focus on the issues that are most affecting the people of New Jersey," a spokesman said.
Booker, who won the Democratic primary this month with the support of celebrities including Oprah Winfrey and Eva Longoria, is an ardent supporter of gay rights and same-sex marriage. He was the keynote speaker at the Human Rights Campaign's national dinner last year, when he compared the fight for same-sex marriage to the struggle for civil rights. Under his leadership last year, the Democratic Party's platform committee for the first time included support for same-sex marriage.
Booker has sharply disagreed with Republican Gov. Chris Christie over the issue. Christie opposes same-sex marriage and wanted to put the issue up for referendum in the state, where civil unions are legal. It didn't make it to the ballot.
Booker penned a column in his college newspaper, the Stanford Daily, about overcoming the "disgust and latent hostility" he once felt toward gays and lesbians.
"I still remember how my brow would often unconsciously furrow when I was with gays as thoughts would flash in my mind, 'What sinners I am amongst' or 'How unnatural these people are,'" Booker wrote.
Those views changed after Booker met a gay counselor at a peer counseling group during his freshman year.