By KATIE ZEZIMA, Associated Press
NEWARK, N.J. (AP) — Sen. Frank Lautenberg of New Jersey, at age 88 the oldest sitting U.S. senator, said Tuesday that the mayor of the state's largest city is surely entitled to run next year for the seat he now holds — but he did not yet reveal his own plans.
Newark Mayor Cory Booker likely won't be the only candidate "drooling" over the job, Lautenberg noted while talking with reporters in Washington.
Lautenberg's comments on his fellow Democrat's recent announcement that he is weighing a Senate run came in interviews with The Philadelphia Inquirer and Gannett.
Lautenberg, who turns 89 on Wednesday, had not been seen publicly in weeks before Tuesday. He missed the votes on the debt ceiling and the Superstorm Sandy relief package. He said he had the flu and a severe case of bronchitis but has recovered.
According to Gannett, when the statesman was asked whether there was a chance he wouldn't run in 2014, Lautenberg said, "I don't see that. But who knows?"
When Lautenberg was asked about whether Booker was being disrespectful by speaking so publicly about his intention to run, the Inquirer said he smiled and compared the situation to disciplining children.
"I have four children; I love each one of them. I can't tell you that one of them wasn't occasionally disrespectful, so I gave them a spanking and everything was OK," the Inquirer reported.
Lautenberg's office told the AP the senator would not comment further on the matter. Booker's office didn't immediately respond to an email seeking comment.
The 43-year-old Booker has built a national profile since assuming office in Newark in 2006, and not just for his politics, which have included an experiment in which he lived on food stamps for a week. In April last year, he rushed into a burning building and rescued a neighbor.
The New Jersey Democratic Party's eye had been on Booker for months as he weighed whether to challenge popular Gov. Chris Christie in his re-election bid this year or aim for Lautenberg's seat in 2014.
Booker announced last month that he planned to explore a run for Senate and finish out his term in Newark.
"As I explore a run for the United States Senate, I look forward to consulting with Senator Frank Lautenberg," he said. "It would be a privilege, an honor, to continue his legacy of service."
Booker filed paperwork with the Federal Election Commission this month that allows him to raise money for a Senate campaign. He said on NBC's "Meet the Press" last week that he and Lautenberg had not yet met to discuss the seat.
"Right now the senator, who I support, needs to focus on the debt ceiling; he needs to focus on funding for Sandy," Booker said.
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