Today’s news from PolitickerNJ.com

Dodge, duck, dip, dive and dodge
U.S. Sen. Frank Lautenberg ripped into U.S. Rep. Robert E. Andrews yesterday, saying he won’t take much pleasure in debating Andrews because his Democratic primary opponent’s behavior is “contemptuous.”

For weeks – including last night – Andrews has been holding news conferences challenging Lautenberg to a series of debates.

The Lautenberg camp has been saying it would oblige, but no dates or venues have been chosen. That has Andrews’ supporters wondering aloud if Lautenberg is dodging the debate issue until the June 3 primary election for Lautenberg’s Senate seat is over.

Lautenberg said in a meeting with The Inquirer’s editorial board yesterday that he’s been hesitating because “it has to do with my thoughts as to whether or not I want to sit face to face with him or whether we want to do it in some kind of a detached mode. That’s an option I have.”

Lautenberg declined to appear before the editorial board jointly with Andrews.

As for a televised debate, Lautenberg said: “I wouldn’t enjoy it because I think his behavior has been contemptuous.” (Cynthia Burton, The Inquirer)

Grin and bear it
Gov. Jon Corzine hit the campaign trail for Sen. Hillary Clinton yesterday but did not get on board with her call for a federal gas-tax holiday this summer.

In a television interview before he flew south to join former president Bill Clinton campaigning in North Carolina, Corzine praised the former first lady’s instincts in offering relief to working-class voters. He stopped short, however, of endorsing her plan to temporarily suspend the 18.4-cents-a-gallon gasoline tax and the 24.4-cent diesel tax from Memorial Day to Labor Day. (Claire Heininger, Star-Ledger)

Sticks and stones
United States Senate candidate Joe Pennacchio hit rival Republican Murray Sabrin for “religious bigotry” today.

At issue is a press release Sabrin put out yesterday, the Catholic holy day of Ascension Sunday. In the release, Sabrin bolstered his pro-life credentials by reflecting “on the millions of unborn children whose lives are destroyed each year through abortions.”

Sabrin went on to criticize his two Republican rivals: Dick Zimmer for being pro-choice, and Joe Pennacchio for having written in favor of distributing the abortion drug RU-486 in his 1991 work A Nationalist Agenda — which Sabrin referred to as a “fascist manifesto.” (Matt Friedman, PolitickerNJ.com)

And that’s a promise
WILLINGBORO — Declaring that full government funding of benefits and medical care is a requirement of the nation’s “love and respect” for military veterans, 3rd District congressional candidate, state Sen. John H. Adler, D-Camden, made his appeal to the sizable military and veterans’ vote in Burlington and Ocean counties.

“Our nation is about security and freedom, but freedom isn’t free,” Adler told about 50 veterans and other supporters at Mill Creek Park here Monday. “It also requires that sacrifices be shared by the American people.”

Adler, who is seeking the seat of retiring Rep. Jim Saxton, R-N.J., promised to support Sen. Jim Webb, D-Va. and help pass the Post-9/11 Veterans Educational Assistance Act if elected. That legislation — bills S-22 in the Senate and HR-5740 in the House — would expand educational benefits for returning servicemen and women to levels not seen since the GI Bill-funded boom in college enrollments after World War II. (Kirk Moore, Asbury Park Press)

Gag order on McGreevey testimony
Nearly four years after former Gov. James E. McGreevey announced his homosexual affair to the world, the legal dissolution of his heterosexual marriage to former first lady Dina Matos McGreevey finally begins today at Union County Courthouse in Elizabeth.

And, just as was the case on that famous day when he resigned as governor, McGreevey will do most of the talking: He is expected to testify this morning on custody arrangements for the couple’s 6-year-old daughter, Jacqueline.

The custody hearing, which likely will last into next week, is the first of what will become a three-part trial and is scheduled to fill Superior Court Judge Karen Cassidy‘s chambers for the next six weeks. (Judith Lucas and Brad Parks, Star-Ledger)

Happy Cinco de Mayo!
ATLANTIC CITY – Agents from the state Office of the Attorney General paid a visit to City Hall Monday morning, leaving with a total of 22 boxes of documents and several computers while a Cinco de Mayo festival took place outside.

The city received four subpoenas for the documents 2 weeks ago, according to Mayor Scott Evans. Evans said at least one subpoena was seeking documents ranging in dates between 2000 to 2007. Another subpoena sought documents as far back as 1995.

On Monday, Evans said the material subpoenaed has nothing to do with his administration. (Regina Schaffer, Press of Atlantic City)

Beefing up developer requirements
A bill designed to prevent fraud by developers involved in public-private projects was introduced Monday by Assemblyman Gary Schaer, D-Passaic.

Schaer said the bill offers more specifics than legislation introduced in mid-March by state Sen. Paul Sarlo, D-Wood-Ridge. That so-called EnCap law would require developers to open their books to an independent auditor if they are working on a project backed by at least $25 million in public financing.

EnCap was chosen in 1999 to clean up the southern Bergen County landfills, and build a golf course and other development. (John Brennan, The Record)

Ethics class
U.S. Attorney Christopher Christie used the recent convictions of former Newark mayor Sharpe James and Guttenberg Mayor David Delle Donna as warnings to public employees that crime doesn’t pay.

In a speech about ethics in government, Christie addressed Essex County department directors and officials yesterday, telling them that no bribe they might be offered is worth the consequences.

“There’s nothing anyone can give you that’s worth going to prison … for the risk you’ll take and the lives you’ll ruin,” he said. (Elizabeth Moore, Star-Ledger)

Competing claims
WASHINGTON TWP. Mayoral candidate Matthew Lyons disputes claims made by his opponent in the Democratic primary here that, as a lawyer for Gloucester County, he is violating a federal election law.

Lyons, who has been endorsed by the local Democrat party organization, said Monday that he still works as an assistant county counsel for Gloucester County, but no longer handles legal issues for the Division of Social Services.

Candidate Josh Aronovitch filed a complaint Saturday with the U.S. Office of Special Counsel, requesting an investigation to whether Lyons is in violation of the Hatch Act a law that prohibits federal, and some state and local employees, from running for a partisan political office, among other political activities.

Gloucester County Counsel Sam Leone said Lyons was hired full-time in January 2007 as an assistant county counsel at about $92,000 a year. He was assigned to the Division of Social Services where he handled legal issues dealing with child support and locating non-custodial parents. (Jessica Beym, Gloucester County Times)

Progress on judges
New Jersey Public Defender Yvonne Segars‘ nomination to the Bergen County Superior Court is on hold indefinitely as part of a compromise to begin filling a record 12 vacant judgeships, legislative officials said Monday.

Also as part of the agreement — brokered with Governor Corzine‘s blessing — Bergen lawmakers will let nominee Alexander Carver of Old Tappan be interviewed by the Senate Judiciary Committee, a crucial step toward securing the $157,000-a- year post.

Carver’s nomination was suspended in March after an e-mail containing disparaging remarks about Japanese people and purportedly penned by Carver in 2001 was posted on a community Web site.

Carver said it was a forgery, but Corzine officials asked the New Jersey State Police to investigate the matter.

Jim Gardner, Corzine’s press secretary, declined to comment on the investigation, but he said Corzine’s office is “satisfied with any concerns and the nomination will proceed.” (Charles Stile, The Record)

A new sheriff in town?
BELLEVILLE – All over town, the headquarters of candidates are shuttered on a Monday afternoon, with the exception of Paul “P.J.” Mac Donald’s campaign digs on Washington Avenue.

The mood is grimly combative in this roomful of politicians and former cops as Mac Donald recounts what led him to this point, eight days before the May 13 election.

“There was an empty seat and some friends asked me if I’d be interested in running,” he says. “I went down to the mayor’s office and sought his support. I called every public official and every one of them gave me his blessing.

“Then I called Caputo.”

He remembers informing Assemblyman/Freeholder Ralph Caputo (D-Belleville) of his intentions to run for council and how Caputo told him, “good, you deserve it.”

The retired sheriff’s officer grits his teeth, shifts in his chair.

For Mac Donald knows that a few blocks away, his chief competitor, Elvin Pereira, strides the neighborhoods of the Third Ward, pounding on doors, planting yard signs and shaking hands, all with the good graces of none other than Caputo. (Max Pizarro, PolitickerNJ.com)

Those must be fun meetings
It is Hillside vs. Hillside in the chancery division of Superior Court, as a three-year power struggle at town hall enters into long- threatened litigation.

The township council filed a lawsuit Friday demanding that Mayor Karen McCoy Oliver hand over legal files compiled by the former municipal counsel.

The suit, filed in Elizabeth by township special counsel Michael Simitz, alleges Oliver has retained the legal files of former township attorney Dwayne Warren since November in violation of municipal ordinances and state law. (Jason Jett, Star-Ledger)

Shooting NJ STARS
Vanessa Frost is thankful she’s not a year younger.

“I would completely be unable to go to college,” she said.

Frost attends Mercer County Community College under a state-funded scholarship program that gives free community college tuition for students who finish in the top 20 percent of their high school class.

But Gov. Jon S. Corzine has proposed making incoming freshmen from families earning more than $100,000 ineligible for the NJ STARS scholarship program.

Frost wouldn’t be affected if that happens because she’s already enrolled, but said she wouldn’t have been able to afford college even with her family earning more than $100,000. So the Ewing freshman worries about those like her who will follow and may not be eligible.

“Students that are planning to attend their community college under this program and are over the $100,000 mark will have to find another way to pay for school, if there’s even another way,” Frost said.

Amid such worry, New Jersey lawmakers on Monday questioned Corzine’s proposed income limit and the timing of it during a special hearing on the scholarship program.

Assemblyman Patrick J. Diegnan Jr., D-Middlesex, said any changes should be implemented in 2009 to give students and families time to prepare. (Tom Hester Jr., Associated Press)

Non-partisan Burlington
Voters in four Burlington County towns will soon head back to the polls.

The nonpartisan municipal election is next Tuesday, and voters in Bass River, Delran, Medford Lakes and Mount Holly will cast a ballot. Polls will be open from 6 a.m. until 8 p.m.

During nonpartisan elections, candidates run for municipal office on their own, independent of a political party.

Candidates may be registered Democrats or Republicans, but their party affiliation is not listed on the ballot during nonpartisan elections. (Lavinia DeCastro and Carol Comegno, Courier-Post)

Call the cops
VINELAND — City Councilwoman Sheena Santiago didn’t file a police report when someone stole a $500 gas grill and $300 patio set from her South Lincoln Avenue home last month.

But Santiago called police Sunday when she discovered a $25 clay pot missing.

“I should have had the police come to my home and make a report,” Santiago said Monday of the two thefts that occurred April 15 and April 16. “But I get home very late.” (James P. Quaranta, The Daily Journal)

Traffic stop
The wife of the Mount Arlington mayor has been charged with drunken driving, Roxbury authorities said.

Police said yesterday Yvonne Ondish, 40, was verbally combative in the Thursday incident on Howard Boulevard. (Star-Ledger)