Today’s news from PolitickerNJ.com

Democrats divided
When Democrats gathered around U.S. Sen. Frank Lautenberg at the Trenton Marriott on the last day of March, they thought they were starting another easy reelection campaign.

But two days later, U.S. Rep. Rob Andrews, a Camden County Democrat, leaped into the June 3 primary against Lautenberg. Ever since, the two men have been acting like a couple of street fighters, and their personal battle is becoming a party-wide rumble.

Ron Ruff, the party chairman in Atlantic County, who drove two hours to make the Lautenberg event, got on the phone with Lautenberg's campaign a few days later. He explained that with a new candidate in the race, he would be shifting his support.

Joe Ferriero, the Democratic chairman of vote-rich Bergen County, waffled but returned to Lautenberg's side.

The AFL-CIO withdrew its endorsement of Lautenberg and decided to stay neutral.

Six of the state's seven Democratic congressmen have urged Andrews to pull out of the race, saying he had broken his promise to support Lautenberg and was helping the Republicans.

All this and more is going on because Andrews broke the rule in the political party guidebook that says: Thou shalt not run against the incumbent, even if you're incapable of containing your ambition. (Cynthia Burton, The Inquirer)

The age question
Lois Forman just had the argument with one of her sons: At 81, she was thinking about rekindling her writing career.

"He said, 'Mom, do you think anybody would hire an 80-year-old writer?'" Forman said. She bristled.

"Just saying to somebody you're 80, and therefore you've just died, is the wrong approach to age in general."

It's a debate all too familiar to backers of U.S. Sen. Frank Lautenberg, who at 84 is seeking another six-year term in Washington. Polls have shown voters are worried Lautenberg's age could hamstring his ability to get the job done.

His leading challenger in the June 3 Democratic primary, U.S. Rep. Rob Andrews (D-1st Dist.) is advertising his 50-year-old vitality, hammering the incumbent over a "tired" campaign and challenging him to debates. (Claire Heininger, Star-Ledger)

What’s that aroma?
THERE ARE big fish. There are little fish.

U.S. Attorney Chris Christie is a big fish. Governor Corzine's former deputy chief of staff, Javier Inclan, is a small fish. Former Guttenberg Mayor David Delle Donna is just fishy.

Last week, all three men found themselves swimming in the same body of water. Christie scored another victory against public corruption with the conviction of Delle Donna and his wife, Anna. The couple was found guilty of conspiring to commit extortion and tax evasion. Delle Donna still protests his innocence, but was forced to resign from his office.

Inclan, a former Guttenberg councilman and Delle Donna campaign treasurer, was a key witness in the case against the mayor. Inclan testified that he handed over bags of cash to Delle Donna. The money was coming from a bar owner, Luisa Medrano of Cliffside Park, who was expecting Delle Donna to use his influence to advocate on her behalf.

In short: Inclan was a bagman. He carried bags filled with cash. He didn't deny in court that he knew what was inside the bags. It's kind of hard to see him as an innocent dupe in this story.

But Inclan is a guppy in New Jersey's sea of corruption. That may explain why Corzine, who has repudiated the politics of the past, praised Inclan last week. Rather than express disappointment that Inclan passed along the cash, Corzine applauded his former aide for cooperating with federal officials. That's an admirable quality for a father, but I'm not so sure it works for a governor.

Corzine is loyal to his staff. That's not bad. But former state Attorney General Zulima Farber was thrown under the bus after her literal rush to the side of her boyfriend crossed the ethical double-yellow line. Corzine called for an investigation, and eventually Farber was gone. (Alfred P. Doblin, The Record)

Keep an eye on Delran
Burlington County political leaders are closely watching the May 13 election in riverfront Delran, a nonpartisan municipal race in which government control is up for grabs.

The mayor and two members of the five-person council are not running for reelection, opening up a contest that both parties say will be tight. Delran politicians and candidates are typically affiliated with a party despite the township's nonpartisan status, like most municipalities that share the distinction.

Democrats want to build on the success of Councilman Ken Paris, who in 2006 broke onto the all-Republican council by defeating a longtime incumbent by a large margin.

Paris is now running for mayor against Michael Chinnici, a council member since 2000.

Both men and the members of their slates are pledging to lower taxes, but from there their platforms diverge.

The Republican-backed slate's platform calls for trimming 15 percent of the township payroll through attrition over the next few years for an estimated saving of more than $1 million. The candidates will relinquish their council salaries and full-time health benefits, emphasize the search for more development along the Route 130 corridor to bring in more tax ratables, and examine how to bring in more recreational facilities, Chinnici said. (Maya Rao, The Inquirer)

Is anyone watching?
The state agency that oversees campaign spending by 6,000 political candidates each year and enforces a growing maze of ethics laws is struggling with the prospect of an 18 percent budget cut.

The Election Law Enforcement Commission, best known for administering laws against trading political contributions for government contracts, has seen its budget shrink in recent years despite promises of greater funding.

This year, amid the state's fiscal crisis, the agency faces a $750,000 cut in its $4.9 million budget, a reduction that supporters say would hobble a watchdog group they already consider understaffed. ELEC officials say they were blindsided by the fine print of Governor Corzine's budget, released after his February budget speech.

The agency now has 69 of the 90 employees that legislators approved in 2004 as part of a sweeping ethics package that doubled its work, according to agency officials. ELEC now juggles oversight of lobbyists, government contractors under so-called pay-to-play laws, and public financing programs for state and gubernatorial candidates. (Serdar Tumgoren, The Record)

Replanting Orange
ORANGE – The city at its summit straddles a ridge in the western hill country of Essex County, where affordable housing high-rises loom over residential two and three stories and churches, the public library, the Elks Lodge and Main Street, packed into 2.2-square miles with an elevated train track cutting along the edge of the valley and Highway 280 splitting the city in half.

Orange lost its once formidable industrial base on the south side over four decades ago, and now it’s trying to shake off the after-effects of its mayor’s tumble from power.

None of Mims Hackett’s would-be successors disagrees that the Abbott District town needs redevelopment, and all six of them are willing to work with the Berg Development Corporation, its partners and other developers to see the fruition of commercial and residential projects.

Each candidate promises to equip the city’s 108-member police department with the training and tools to stem gang violence, and speaks about restoring town pride with promises of new beginnings, appeals to unity and varying evocations of the city’s past. (Max Pizarro, PolitickerNJ.com)

Vineland winner may have to go it alone
VINELAND — The city's three mayoral candidates say city business won't be stymied if they have to work with a City Council made up of members of opposing slates.

Incumbent Perry Barse and Robert Romano, a Vineland police lieutenant, are both running with council slates in the May 13 municipal election.

Nick Girone, a former city school board president, is running alone.

Depending on the results of the election, it's possible Barse or Romano could be elected with some — or even all — members of their opponent's slates. And victory for Girone would mean he'd be working with a five-member council he didn't choose in advance. (Tim Zatzariny Jr., The Daily Journal)

Island battle in Paterson
PATERSON — A battle is heating up over the City Council race in the 5th Ward that reveals a political division within the area's large Hispanic population. Although both candidates downplay the rivalry between Dominicans and Puerto Ricans, the language used by the two camps indicates a split between them in this election as each group backs its own countryman for the seat.

The harshest words come from the incumbent, Juan Torres, born in Camuy, Puerto Rico. While he said he respects the ward's Dominican community, he called his opponent, Julio Tavarez, and his Dominican supporters "evil" and "dirty" in their politics.

Torres accuses Tavarez of twisting his words out of context by using a video from a 2004 meeting of Torres telling a Dominican rival to "speak English." He said Tavarez also uses his Web site to smear him. (Alexander MacInnes, The Herald-News)

Former Bogota mayoral contender Pesce dies at 60
Fred Pesce, a candidate in the bizarre and fiercely contested Bogota mayoral race of 2003 — vividly chronicled in the prize-winning documentary "Anytown, USA" — died Friday. He was 60.

The cause was kidney failure, said his wife, Bogota Councilwoman Judy Pesce.

Fred Pesce, an amiable hospital administrator and a former Bogota councilman and school board member, was chosen by the Democrats to challenge the blustery GOP incumbent, Steve Lonegan. Dave Musikant, a motivational speaker and former Bogota High School football hero, joined the race as a write-in six weeks before Election Day.

Like Lonegan, Musikant was legally blind.

Bogota — or any town, for that matter — had never seen a race like it. (Jay Levin, The Record)

New Jersey staying blue so far
Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton both would beat John McCain in head-to-head matchups for president in New Jersey, but Obama scores higher than his Democratic rival as the top choice of likely voters in the state, according to The Record Poll.

No matter which of the three candidates wins the White House, however, a majority of New Jerseyans surveyed — 54 percent — said the country will be better off than it is now. Only 33 percent thought otherwise.

Still, that's not much comfort for Republican McCain, who registered roughly 40 percent support when voters were asked to choose between him and each of the Democrats, pollster Del Ali said. (John P. McAlpin, The Record)

Sunday, May 4

Bickering over war-time records
To hear U.S. Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.) tell it, Rep. Rob Andrews (D-1st Dist.) got the United States into Iraq.

To hear Andrews tell it, he is the one who can get America out.

And as they battle for the Democratic nomination in this year's Senate race, each accuses the other of trying to rewrite history. Lautenberg has repeatedly called on Andrews to "come clean" about his efforts to promote the war; Andrews says the senator "has chosen to distort his record."

An examination of the candidates' speeches, statements and votes in Congress shows both Lautenberg and Andrews supported the invasion of Iraq when it took place in March 2003. Both now want to bring the troops home as quickly as possible.

But along the way there were very real differences. Andrews helped write and pass the resolution that authorized the invasion of Iraq and stood behind President Bush when he signed it on Oct. 16, 2002. (Robert Schwaneberg, Star-Ledger)

Pick your battles
LIKE HIM OR NOT, no one should doubt that Governor Corzine is tenacious. The man doesn't like to easily give up and toss in the towel.

But a deeper political question now haunts Corzine: Does he know how to pick his fights? (Mike Kelly, The Record)

Explaining the lack of trust
Gov. Jon "Hold Me Accountable" Corzine came in calling it "inexcusable" that state government ranks so low in public trust. He should consider what keeps it that way.

Corzine's deputy chief of staff, Javier Inclan, testified in federal court Inclan had a "don't ask, don't tell" policy when it came to campaign contributions and that he gave Guttenberg Mayor David Delle Donna an envelope Inclan had "every reason to believe" contained $3,000 from bar owner Luisa Medrano. It was not reported as a campaign contribution.

Delle Donna and his wife were convicted of conspiracy to commit extortion and filing false tax returns. They were acquitted on two mail fraud charges. The governor's man, Inclan, who was not charged with anything, was the prosecution witness against the Delle Donna duo on the matter resulting in acquittal. Bottom line — the jury didn't believe Corzine's man. (Bob Ingle, Gannett)

Where have we heard that before?
THERE ARE few original ideas in politics, and last week was full of reminders. Washington was buzzing over the possibility of providing motorists with a break from high gas prices by suspending the 18.5-cent federal gas tax between Memorial Day and Labor Day.

The idea was first floated by likely Republican presidential nominee John McCain, and then Democratic contender Hillary Clinton responded with a similar plan. The biggest difference is that Clinton's would be paid for by a windfall profits tax on oil companies.

If that sounds familiar, it's because Clinton supporter and Democratic New Jersey Sen. Bob Menendez proposed it during the 2006 campaign. (Herb Jackson, The Record)

Stuck in gridlock
The political standoff over judgeships in the Bergen County Courthouse — now in its fourth year — shows no sign of ending. But there is one thing that court-watchers and county pols can count on: The number of vacancies will soon grow.

Longtime Judge Harold Hollenbeck, a former Republican congressman, is set to retire in July. And that will be the 13th vacancy unless an agreement is reached between Governor Corzine, who nominates judges, and Bergen County's five state senators, who can continue to use their powers of "senatorial courtesy" to block them.

It appeared a breakthrough had been reached in February when Corzine released the names of nine nominees. Subsequently, however, the nomination of Old Tappan lawyer Alexander Carver was put on hold by the governor when a controversial e-mail, purportedly written by Carver, surfaced. (Carver says the e-mail was forged.) Last month, Sen. Gerald Cardinale, a Republican from Demarest, said he would not support the nomination of Yvonne Segars, the New Jersey public defender, who lives in Ridgewood, citing concerns over Segars' 2002 firing of a deputy. (Charles Stile, The Record)

The fuse is lit
The divorce settlement talks began more than three years ago, not long after New Jersey's most famous gay American came out of the closet.

Back then, friends close to former Gov. James E. McGreevey and his estranged wife, Dina Matos McGreevey, depicted the discussions as quiet and discreet — which is pretty much the last time anything related to McGreevey vs. Matos McGreevey has been described as either of those things.

On Tuesday, after three years of failed negotiations, insults, and nonstop bickering over everything from Barnes & Noble parking lots to pony rides, the McGreevey divorce finally goes to trial. Legal analysts expect New Jersey's former first couple will approach new lows, even for divorce court.

"I'm not going to tell you this is going to be the worst case ever in the history of New Jersey divorces," said Charles Abut, a matrimonial lawyer who operates the New Jersey Family Law blog. "But I think if you asked longtime matrimonial lawyers, 'Give me the your top 10 worst,' this one is going to appear on everyone's list." (Judith Lucas and Brad Parks, Star-Ledger)

Roasted to perfection
The Boat Jumpers held their annual gathering in Lodi April 25, and well-roasted Frank Lautenberg was apparently the main course.

The group, which traces its name to Italian immigrants of the early 20th century, has blossomed into a multi-ethnic business and legal fraternity. Its yearly soirée is considered a key stop on the political calendar for local and state politicians.

With all three Republican U.S. Senate candidates in attendance, Democrat incumbent Lautenberg arrived late and made quite the entrance, causing the speechifying to grind to a halt. In front of more than 500 attendees, engineer Steve Boswell used the commotion to tease the 84-year-old senator.

"It took him 20 minutes to get from the car to the dais," Boswell said from the podium. Then, after Lautenberg shook Boswell's hand, the speaker cracked, "Wait, I have to wipe the formaldehyde off."

Lautenberg complimented Boswell for his sense of humor, but kept on referring to him as "Clifford" instead of Steve. When Lautenberg asked Boswell what he was doing the next day, Boswell, without missing a beat, shouted: "Going to look for an open courthouse to change my name to Clifford."

Boswell didn't want to discuss the evening, but Boat Jumpers Chairman Benedict Focarino said: "It was funny. It was done in good taste." Lautenberg, he said, "took it in good humor." (The Auditor, Star-Ledger)

An eclectic cast in Montclair
Peter Zorich is the son of Oscar-winner Olympia Dukakis and a newsman who once produced "The O'Reilly' Factor" for Fox News. In Montclair's closely watched nonpartisan election, he's also a registered Republican in one of New Jersey's most liberal towns.

Richard Murnick came in second in a World Series of Poker event last year, taking home a pot of $417,117. Now he's taking a gamble on winning a seat on Montclair's governing body.

"I'm a lousy golfer," he said. "It's just a hobby," he said.

K. Roger Plawker works for the legal firm that defended ex-Nets player Jayson Williams in his reckless manslaughter trial, though he notes he wasn't actually on the defense team. "Not too much," the candidate said of his role. "We're a 30-attorney firm."

This year's race in Montclair is populated by candidates with colorful pasts and pastimes. Among the 22 candidates running for an open mayoral seat, two at-large seats and four ward seats in the election May 13, there's the usual staple of lawyers, corporate executives and consultants, a doctor and a smattering of media types. But some rise to the top, not the least of which is the candidate with the family name synonymous with the Democratic Party. (Philip Read, Star-Ledger)

Saturday, May 3

Place your bets
One Republican candidate for U.S. Senate is taking the campaign-as-horse-race idea literally.

This afternoon, Ramapo College professor Murray Sabrin plans to go to Monmouth Park Racetrack with the proceeds from one hour of online fundraising and bet it all on Cowboy Cal to win the Kentucky Derby.

"At 20-1," Sabrin said in a press release posted on his website yesterday, "if we can raise just $25,000 online … and Cowboy Cal wins the Kentucky Derby, we will have enough money to win the primary." (Robert Schwaneberg, Star-Ledger)

The voters’ dirty job
WEST LONG BRANCH — A cynical and complacent public has coupled with a fragmented system of local government to make New Jersey the nation's third-most corrupt state, U.S. Attorney Christopher J. Christie said Friday.

Christie spoke to participants in a Leadership and Public Ethics seminar at Monmouth University as law officers and public officials gathered to learn better ways of dealing with the state's culture of graft. Only Illinois and Louisiana are ahead of the Garden State in the prosecution of public officials, Christie said.

The good news is that his office has garnered 126 convictions of corrupt officials in the last six years, he said. The bad news is that the problem persists.

Christie did not give specifics of ongoing investigations, but said, "I have 15 people assigned to my public corruption unit, and they're all busy." (Ed Johnson, Asbury Park Press)

Give it back
Chris Myers demanded that Jack Kelly return the $71,000 in payments in lieu of benefits he received through his former job with the South Jersey Transportation Authority while still receiving taxpayer-funded benefits as an Ocean County freeholder.

"Jack Kelly has made a conscious decision to force Ocean County families and seniors to pay for his health care so he could pocket an extra $71,000. This is pure greed on Mr. Kelly's part, plain and simple," Myers said Friday in the statement released by his campaign. "Not only is this practice unethical, but it should be illegal."

The two, along with Justin Murphy, are seeking the Republican nomination for the 3rd District seat now held by Republican U.S. Rep. Jim Saxton. The primary winner will face Democratic state Sen. John Adler on the November ballot. (Rob Spahr, Press of Atlantic City)

It’s our turn
Whenever I write about Hoboken, Shakespeare comes to mind. Is it the city's mercurial politics that are reminiscent of the Bard's twisting plots.

A quotation from "As You Like It" came to mind Tuesday evening when a group of women met at a Hoboken Regular Democratic Organization-sponsored event for women aimed at the possibility of starting a local chapter of the New Jersey Federation of Democratic Women.

It is the scene where the heroine Rosalind says: "Do you not know I am a woman? When I think, I must speak." In the play, she is an independent, strong-willed young woman who disguises herself as a young man to control her destiny.

Tuesday, there were about 24 Rosalinds in the Monroe Center for the Arts, and while not disguised, they thought and spoke in a second-floor art gallery displaying the works of local area artists. To one side was a table and on it some cheeses and crackers and a box of cabernet sauvignon. (Why must it always be white wine?)

Among those in attendance were Assemblywoman Cardidad Rodriguez of West New York, Hoboken Councilwomen Terry LaBruno and Beth Mason, county freeholder candidate Inez Garcia Keim and Michelle Russo, influential Mom of Councilman Michael Russo, and others. (Political Insider, Jersey Journal)

Will Kurkowski do?
National Democrats had pinned their hopes on recruiting state Sen. Jeff Van Drew to take out Republican incumbent Frank LoBiondo in the 2nd Congressional District. When Van Drew declined to run, Democrats settled on Cape May's only Democratic councilman as their candidate. But the national party opted out of funding his campaign.

Despite the lack of support, Kurkowski insists that he's more than just a warm body.

With little name recognition, few upfront financial resources and a base in one of the less populated areas of New Jersey's geographically largest congressional district, Kurkowski is – for now at least – a long shot. (Matt Friedman, PolitickerNJ.com)

Pulling even
VINELAND — Incumbent Mayor Perry Barse came into this year's election campaign with a hefty war chest. But his campaign's spending has allowed mayoral challenger Robert Romano to stay even with him in the amount of money on hand.

Meanwhile, the third mayoral candidate, Nick Girone, raised only a few thousand dollars, saying running without a City Council slate puts him at a disadvantage in raising campaign cash.

Both Romano and Girone say money is important, but it won't be the deciding factor in the election. (Tim Zatzariny Jr., Daily Journal)

Two more for Romano
VINELAND — Robert Romano has picked up two more endorsements in his run for the mayor's office. Announced earlier this week, the endorsements come from the city's EMTs and paramedics as well as the New Jersey Law Enforcement Commanding Officers Association.

Romano is a lieutenant in the Vineland Police Department, where is head of internal affairs. Both he and candidate Nick Girone are challenging Mayor Perry Barse in the upcoming May 13 municipal election. (Jason Laday, Bridgeton News)

Jones wants to increase accountability
BEACHWOOD — Mayor Ronald W. Jones Jr. says state government needs to become more accountable and should be required to function under the same mandates as local governments.

And in an effort to help local officials deal with the "decades of fiscal mismanagement created in Trenton," Jones is serving on the New Jersey State League of Municipalities Legislative Committee.

Jones said that as a member of the Pensions and Personnel Committee, a subgroup of the legislative committee, he hopes to help make changes that affect Beachwood and the rest of the state. (Chelsea Michels, Asbury Park Press)

Harassment suit filed against Logan mayor
WOODBURY Logan Township's former administrator claims that she was subjected to harassment and a hostile work environment prior to being fired in April 2006.

Jan Pine made the claims in a lawsuit she has filed against the township and Mayor Frank Minor.

She claims that Minor "subjected her to unwanted physical touching, offensive sexual language and other behaviors designed to prey upon her emotions." (Pete McCarthy, Gloucester County Times)

Round ‘em all up
DENVILLE — The entire town council — except for its newest member — has been subpoenaed to appear in court when Mayor Ted Hussa goes on trial on May 13 for parking in a handicapped space, Police Chief Christopher Wagner confirmed on Friday.

Wagner said the subpoenas were processed at the request of Jeannemarie Ahrens, a South Orange resident who filed the complaint against Hussa.

The trial has been moved to Dover Municipal Court to avoid a conflict in Denville. (Rob Jennings, The Daily Record)

The main event
PATERSON: City politics enthusiasts jamming the tables in the cafeteria in Passaic Valley Community College called this Fifth Ward square-off between Councilman Juan Torres and challenger Julio Tavarez the “can’t hold nothing back” contest.

Tavarez and Torres first butted heads four years ago when Torres’s pointed criticism of a political opponent unleashed a torrent of dismissive words from Tavarez.

Their younger-man versus older-man rivalry didn’t end then.

Having vanquished his other challenger in 2004, Torres now must deal directly with the feisty Tavarez, who thinks he’s built enough of a machine in the years since their public meeting showdown to unseat Torres – an ally but not an immediate relative – of Mayor Joey “Jose” Torres. (Pizarro, PolitickerNJ.com)

Family leave now the law
TRENTON – Gov. Corzine, ignoring harsh criticism and dire warnings from the state's business community, yesterday made New Jersey the third state in the nation to adopt a paid-family-leave law.

Corzine, who signed the bill to raucous applause in an early afternoon ceremony at the Statehouse, has supported paid family leave since his days as a U.S. senator.

New Jersey advocates had been fighting for the measure for more than a decade. (Adrienne Lu, Inquirer)

NY ties for new PA boss
New York Gov. David Paterson has nominated a former top official of a politically connected seaport company to be executive director of the Port Authority, just a week after the agency allowed the firm to use dredging funds to pay off $2.6 million in back rent for its waterfront operations.

Chris Ward, who formerly worked at the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, is to re join the agency later this month in the $286,702-a-year post and will be responsible for the day-to-day operations of the bistate agency. (Ron Marsico, Star-Ledger)

A pullout in Howell
HOWELL: Republican Township Council candidate Paul Schneider announced Thursday that he has officially withdrawn from the race for the 4-year seat. (Michelle Gladden, Asbury Park Press)

Monmouth freeholder director hurt in fall
Monmouth County Freeholder Director Lillian G. Burry suffered a broken right elbow, broken nose, a cracked rib and facial cuts in a fall last week. But Burry said Friday she is still tending to some freeholder duties from her Colts Neck home as she recovers.

"I'm on the phone a good part of the day, probably too much," said Burry, 72. "I'm right-handed so I guess the best part of this is I don't have to sign the county payment vouchers. Rob Clifton has to do that now." (Bob Jordan, Asbury Park Press)