Neighbors are accusing Newark mayor and U.S. Senate candidate Cory Booker of neglecting a townhouse he bought in 2009, causing it to attract squatters.
"This is a problem," said Betsy Smith, who's lived in a rowhouse on Court Street with her husband for 26 years. "He contributes to the problem."
When Booker bought two properties next door in 2009, Smith assumed they would be improved. But instead, she has concerns about "people using drugs on the property, about people squatting.'
For almost four years, the properties Booker owned at 130 and 132 Court St. sat abandoned as garbage piled up outside, Smith said. In 2012, a fire seriously damaged the houses, but neighbors say addicts still use the properties to do drugs.
"A lot of drug activity, you could walk down the alleyway and you can see used needles and such," said Rev. Robert Jackson of Israel Memorial AME Church.
Jackson said he asked Booker in several letters if he'd donate the two unused buildings so that his church could open a homeless shelter. There was no response, he said.
Booker did eventually donate the properties to Newark Now, a charity he has championed as mayor. While he decided not to renovate the buildings, his supporters say he advocated for a city-run community garden across the street, which creates jobs for ex-offenders and high school students.
A Booker spokeswoman said, "Efforts to cast in a negative light this act of charity, or the work the mayor has done to revitalize Newark, are unfortunate and misleading."
Steve Lonegan, Booker's Republican challenger in the Senate race, held a news conference outside Booker's former properties in Newark Tuesday afternoon, where he was repeatedly interrupted by hecklers.
"This building is a disgrace," said Lonegan. "This building demonstrates a failure of leadership and a man who takes no pride in his own property."
Booker's former neighbors are hoping the new owner of the Court Street properties will restore it and improve the neighborhood in the process.
--Jen Maxfield contributed to this report.