Well-known for throwing political barbs, U.S. Sen. Frank Lautenberg aimed most of them in the last months of his life at Newark Mayor Cory Booker, who had announced he was thinking about running for Lautenberg's seat.
Now, a month after Lautenberg's death, his family is picking up where he left off and continuing to assail Booker. The Lautenbergs endorsed another candidate Monday in the race for the late senator's seat and argued that Booker is more interested in advancing his own celebrity than helping the people of New Jersey.
Lautenberg died June 3 at age 89. A special election will be held Oct. 16 to choose a senator to fill out the remainder of Lautenberg's term, and Booker is the front-runner in the race. The Democratic and Republican primaries are Aug. 13.
Booker angered Lautenberg in December when he took his first formal steps toward running for the seat in 2014 before Lautenberg had decided whether he would seek another term. Lautenberg did not announce until February that he would be retiring.
In an interview with The Associated Press, Lautenberg's son Josh Lautenberg said that he is wary of Booker's motivations.
"It's important for New Jerseyans to understand Cory Booker's motivation," Lautenberg said. "I think Cory is more concerned with his celebrity status and his future than he is with doing the job that my father did for the state of New Jersey."
Josh Lautenberg, his three sisters and stepmother, Bonnie Englebardt Lautenberg, released a statement Monday endorsing U.S. Rep. Frank Pallone and taking numerous veiled swipes at Booker.
"Frank Pallone knows gimmicks and celebrity status won't get you very far in the real battles that Democrats face in the future," it read. The statement, which did not mention Booker by name, said Lautenberg was a "work horse, not a show horse."
With nearly 1.4 million Twitter followers, Booker has become nationally known through frequent appearances on television and actions that have reaped him publicity, including helping shovel out constituents during a snowstorm, rushing into a burning home to rescue a neighbor and living on the equivalent of food stamps for a week. Recently, he live-tweeted rescuing a dog.
"Anyone who goes on Twitter and is rescuing a wet dog or goes on food stamps, those are what my father would call stunts," Josh Lautenberg said. "And that's not best for the people of New Jersey who have economic and other issues of serious concern."
The Lautenberg announcement came as Booker was appearing in New York on ABC's "Live With Kelly & Michael," where he talked about his days in college, was asked about his rescue of the neighbor and spoke about the need to get more mentors for poor children.
Asked about the endorsement at an unrelated news conference, Booker said he was not surprised because the Lautenberg and Pallone families "go way back." He also brushed off criticism in the statement.
"I didn't see my name in there at all," Booker said.
Members of Lautenberg's last re-election campaign are working as advisers to Booker's Senate run, and his campaign is using Lautenberg's media consultants and pollster.
Josh Lautenberg said his father said before he died that Pallone was one of the people he would trust with his seat.
"He said to me, 'There are few people who I trust with the state of New Jersey and my legacy as much as Frank Pallone,'" Josh Lautenberg said. "He said, 'I would be honored to have him replace me.'"
In the months before he died, Lautenberg had accused Booker of spending too much time out of New Jersey building a national profile rather than focusing on impoverished Newark.
In an interview with the National Journal this year, Lautenberg described Newark as a "city in desperate need of attention."
"Maybe if the mayor can solidify the fact that he wants to improve Newark by being there, things would be different," Lautenberg said.