Today’s news from PolitickerNJ.com

North vs. south
A week after a South Jersey Democrat decided to challenge a North Jersey incumbent for the Democratic U.S. Senate nomination, an old battle is brewing anew: the division in New Jersey between North and South.

In what some worry will blow up into a political civil war over Rep. Rob Andrews‘ primary challenge to Sen. Frank Lautenberg, pledges of allegiance rooted in geography already have been made. (Angela Delli Santi, Courier-Post)

In need of man’s best friend
Harry Truman once said, “If you want a friend in Washington, get a dog.”

New Jersey Gov. Jon S. Corzine can relate.

“I’ve been out shopping for a rottweiler,” he joked.

He may need one to stave off critics of his proposed $33 billion state budget that would cut spending by $2.7 billion to try to tackle chronic state fiscal woes.

Or the Democratic governor could just hold his ground, which he has made clear he plans to do as the July 1 constitutional budget deadline nears. (Tom Hester Jr., Associated Press)

The problems with closing the Ag Department
A hugely misguided attempt to eliminate the Department of Agriculture is the spark which has lit an angry fire which took over West State street recently as an unlikely combination of farmers with goats, pigs, tractors, and horses, CWA Local 1034 union members, labor leaders and politicians joined forces at one big statehouse rally to keep the “Garden” in the ‘Garden State’. One ‘Future Farmer of America’ student held a piglet donning a t-shirt that read “Butcher me, not the Department of Agriculture.” Another held a piglet adorned with a shirt which read “Cut the Pork, not Agriculture.”

Eliminating the Department of Agriculture (NJDA) does not make sense and Governor Corzine should reverse course. The agriculture and food complex is one of New Jersey’s largest industries, and at $82 billion dollars, follows only pharmaceuticals and tourism in the economic benefits it brings to New Jersey. The Agriculture department is dominantly federally funded, with only $26.7 million of its $354 million budget coming from the state. Closing the department, which efficiently and effectively serves that industry, fails to save significant, if any, money. (Carla Katz, PolitickerNJ.com)

Beachwood Mayor charged over text messages
Two borough residents have filed charges against Mayor Ronald W. Jones Jr. in Municipal Court, claiming a text message he sent before the April 2 meeting was intended to create public alarm, according to court documents.

Robert DiBella, 41, and Joel Balazinski Sr., 46, both of 1008 Halliard Ave., filed complaints against Jones on April 7 for disorderly conduct, false public alarm, harassment and disrupting a public meeting. (Chelsea Michels, Asbury Park Press)

Back to work
Jurors in the federal corruption trial of Sharpe James return to court this morning to continue deliberating whether the former Newark mayor illegally steered city land deals to his one-time mistress.

After 2 1/2 days of deliberations, the jury of six men and six women on Friday failed to reach a verdict in the 13-count indictment against James, 72, and his co-defendant, Tamika Riley. (Star-Ledger)

Sunday, April 13

Target: Andrews
Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.) gathered his Democratic lieutenants around the dinner table inside his Ritz-Carlton condo in Washington last fall to ask their support for his Senate reelection campaign. Instead of a fancy, catered spread, the self-made multimillionaire ordered takeout Chinese food from his favorite spot, Meiwah.

A handful of the Democrats at the table, including Rep. Robert E. Andrews, had hoped that the 84-year-old Lautenberg was preparing to retire and give a younger House member a shot at one of New Jersey’s few statewide offices. But their ambition — for that night and the next six years — was set aside by the time they cracked open the fortune cookies. Two weeks later, Andrews and the six other House Democrats at the dinner publicly declared themselves co-chairmen of Lautenberg’s bid to serve in the Senate until he’s 90 years old. (Paul Kane, The Washington Post)

Zimmer keeps kosher
In less than a week, Dick Zimmer has gone from being a mere bystander in the race for United States Senator to being the front-runner for the Republican nomination. (Matt Friedman, PolitickerNJ.com)

Tuesday the moment of truth
Tuesday is Credibility Day in the 7th Congressional District.

April 15 is the federal deadline for congressional candidates to report their campaign finances. With seven Republican candidates still in the race to be the GOP standard-bearer in hopes of succeeding Rep. Mike Ferguson — the upcoming filing will be the first real glimpse of the kind of support each candidate has been able to muster, especially since four of the candidates failed to convince the party’s ultra-faithful to give them any of the four organization lines in the June primary. (Gabriel H. Gluck, Star-Ledger)

Corzine’s two shades of green
In the shadow of Giants Stadium last July, Gov. Jon Corzine stood beside Al Gore, basking in the vice president-turned-environmental crusader’s praise of New Jersey’s tough new law on global warming.

At the front of a Rutgers Law School classroom last weekend, Corzine stood at a lectern alone, fielding tough questions from local environmentalists who pressed him for greener answers on issues from nuclear power to the closure of state parks.

The two scenes show an emerging divide on Corzine’s environmental standing, more than halfway through his term in office.

Outside New Jersey, he’s recognized as a leader on climate change and clean energy who twice earned a perfect rating for his environmental votes in the U.S. Senate, and he has traveled to Portugal for the cause.

It’s a reputation that translates into appearances like one this Friday, when Corzine will play a leadership role at a pre-Earth Day governors’ climate change conference at Yale University.

But back home, many environmental leaders argue action hasn’t followed rhetoric. (Claire Heininger, Star-Ledger)

Toll plan’s real costs
Gov. Corzine has an idea to lift New Jersey from the economic doldrums: a statewide initiative to repair aging roads, bridges and mass transit that would create thousands of jobs.

But there’s one problem with that idea.

Legislators continue to balk at Corzine’s plan to increase highway tolls to pay debt and fund transportation projects, leaving the state with dwindling money for the massive construction that could bring those jobs. (Tom Hester Jr., Associated Press)

At home with the Andrews
The Andrews family had plenty on their plates these past two weeks.

First, Rep. Rob Andrews stormed into the race for U.S. Senate.

Then, Democrat leaders chose Andrews’ wife, Camille, to run in his spot.

But what was worrying the Haddon Heights couple even more was their teenage daughter’s first date. (Pete McCarthy, Gloucester County Times)

Racing a friend in Irvington
A political pragmatist who insists his insider knowledge of how government works does not diminish his closeness to the community, Council President John Sowell says an aggressive opponent in the West Ward doesn’t know enough about the process to serve.

An executive with the sheet metal workers union, Sowell originally thought he was only going to be running against 21-year old Keith White, political acolyte of North Ward Councilman David Lyons.

Now he’s also trying to stare down an old contemporary.

It’s a three-way race in Irvington’s West Ward with Sowell intending to fend off not just National Guardsman White but one-time ally turned vocal detractor, security guard Cedric Hunter. (Max Pizarro, PolitickerNJ.com)

McWilliams says she can in Plainfield
Annie McWilliams‘ decision to oppose Plainfield’s at-large Councilman Harold Gibson in the June Democratic primary wasn’t retribution for a perceived snub, she insists.

She said it has nothing to do with Council President Gibson removing from discussion a proposal at last month’s meeting for a memorial to her father, former Plainfield Mayor Albert McWilliams, who died last April.

While Annie McWilliams acknowledged that Gibson’s action was a surprise — a memorial committee had worked on the plan for a year — she has faith the proposal will eventually pass. She requested the council approve the measure before her father’s memorial service, which took place last week.

“That’s not why I ran. It’s much deeper than that,” said the 23-year-old McWilliams. “I hear horror stories coming out of the public schools, the budget cuts, there’s got to be something that can be done.” McWilliams, a longtime Plainfield resident who works in New York City as a financial analyst for Citigroup, has taken her cue from another young candidate, this one running for president. (Alexi Friedman, Star-Ledger)

The real Jersey conservative
The second-floor room at the public library is slowly filling with the type of crowd one might expect at a Wednesday evening presentation on fiscal policy — older, mostly male and imbued with a strong sense that the past was far better than the present.

“My son in the private sector hasn’t had a raise for two years,” one man grumbles to former Bogota Mayor Steve Lonegan, the featured speaker and current standard-bearer for the conservative movement in New Jersey. “But the state workers, they get raises, pensions, everything.” (Joseph Ax, The Record)

Byrne’s baseline
Call him Baseline Bob.

Democratic Fair Lawn state Sen. Robert Gordon’s name was used in the now famous (and yet to be fully disclosed) poll commissioned by former state Democratic Party Chairman Tom Byrne of Princeton, who briefly considered challenging Sen. Frank Lautenberg in the June 3 primary for the U.S. Senate.

Byrne, the son of ex-Gov. Brendan T. Byrne, had 500 likely Democratic primary voters surveyed right after Easter Sunday, to evaluate his chances. He wanted to know, for example, just how well-known he was among rank-and-file voters — a key question for any candidate plotting a challenge to an incumbent with $4.3 million in the bank, four statewide campaigns under his belt, and his name plastered on a commuter rail station in Secaucus. (Charles Stile, The Record)

Saturday, April 12

Taking out the risk
For members of the House of Representatives, running for the Senate is a gamble. Senate and House elections are both held in even-numbered years, which means that to campaign for the Senate, a House member has to give up his seat.

Or does he? That’s what people are suddenly wondering in New Jersey.

Rob Andrews, a congressman who is challenging Senator Frank Lautenberg in the Democratic primary this fall, may have come up with a weapon to beat the system. The weapon is his wife, and she just might enable him to run for the Senate but keep his House seat if he loses. (The New York Times)

Non-committal
U.S. Sen. Frank Lautenberg today said he would debate U.S. Rep. Rob Andrews (D-1) if the pair could reach agreeable terms, and in the meantime excoriated his opponent’s vigorous early support for the War in Iraq. (Pizarro, PolitickerNJ.com)

Has the revolving door finally stopped?
As former Congressman Dick Zimmer formally entered the Republican U.S. Senate race today, he essentially becomes the third candidate to fill a single candidacy.

First there was Anne Estabrook. Andy Unanue took her place after she suffered a minor stroke. Zimmer jumped in to the race after Unanue’s campaign disintegrated in less than three weeks. (Friedman, PolitickerNJ.com)

Bring it on
The other candidates in the 7th Congressional District GOP primary responded favorably to Scotch Plains Mayor Martin Marks’s challenge today for four debates. (Pizarro, PolitickerNJ.com)

Corzine’s lucrative support
New Jersey Gov. Jon Corzine gave nearly $857,000 last year to Democratic and liberal causes, a continuation of his heavy support for the party’s efforts, state and federal records show.

Corzine gave $563,000 to state Democrats, according to recently compiled contributor information from the New Jersey Election Law Enforcement Commission. He also gave $89,600 to federal Democrats in 2007, according to the Federal Election Commission, and $4,600 to ActBlue, which isn’t officially connected with any candidate or party but helps Democrats. (Tom Hester Jr., Associated Press)

Bankston says he has work to do
Vanquished by the Essex County Democratic Party machine this After failing to secure party line, Terrance Bankston said he regards the leadership’s rejection of his freeholder at-large candidacy as a direct snub of Mayor Cory Booker, and a failure to reward hard work.

But no matter, he says now that his candidacy is over – he means to return to Newark’s South Ward to labor on behalf of district leader candidates as part of an effort to provide an alternative to the machine of U.S. Rep. Donald Payne (D-12) and Payne ally Essex County Chairman Phil Thigpen. (Pizarro, PolitickerNJ.com)

Man of the people
When the six men and six women who will decide his fate broke off their deliberations for the weekend, former Newark Mayor Sharpe James wandered out of the federal courthouse to rub elbows on Broad Street.
The people he met during his six-minute jaunt greeted him enthusiastically, hugging and kissing him, shaking his hand, snapping his picture, laughing at his jokes, offering him words of encouragement. (Jeffrey C. Mays and Maryann Spoto, Star-Ledger)

Taking the show on the road
A Newark city councilman was arrested for disturbing the peace yesterday during a traffic stop outside of New Orleans.

Oscar Sydney James II, who was in Louisiana this week building homes for Habitat for Humanity, was also charged with resisting arrest and littering in St. Bernard Parish, just southeast of New Or leans. James was the front seat passenger in a van that was pulled over for speeding. (Katie Wang, Star-Ledger)

Computers never really forget
Investigators raided the home of City Councilman Richard Casamento before sunrise Friday and arrested him on charges of distributing and possessing child pornography, State Police said.

Casamento then resigned from the seat he has held since 1996. A news release said he stepped down “to focus on my family and our future,” but did not mention the arrest. Casamento did not return phone messages left at his home Friday afternoon and was not home when a reporter knocked on the door at his home Friday evening. (Martin DeAngelis, Press of Atlantic City)

Councilman’s father killed in accident
The father of Northampton County Councilman Charles Dertinger was killed Friday after he became trapped under part of a bulldozer at his Washington Township home.

Michael Dertinger, 61, was repairing his 1960 John Deere bulldozer when a 250-pound seating platform dislodged and fell on him. He died almost instantly, according to his son. (Colin Mcevoy, The Express-Times)

Today’s news from PolitickerNJ.com