Wake-Up Call: Monday, May 19, 2008

With the PolitickerNJ.com Wake-Up Call e-mailed to your inbox, phone, Blackberry or PDA first thing in the morning, you can get a rundown of New Jersey’s top political headlines. Sign up to get the Wake-Up Call delivered every morning.

The incredible shrinking Corzine
More than 60 percent of New Jersey’s likely voters disapprove of the way Governor Corzine — who made his fortune as a Wall Street executive — is handling the state’s troubled finances, The Record Poll has found.

And 61 percent believe those finances “pose a direct threat” to the quality of life here.

Corzine’s overall approval rating now stands at 38 percent — a nine-point drop from January, when 47 percent gave him grades of either “excellent” or “good.” Fifty-eight percent now rank his performance as “fair” or “poor.”

The latest poll results come as Corzine is pushing another difficult state budget and preparing to redo his plan for restructuring state finances after an unpopular push to hike tolls.

Corzine, for his part, says his mission is to focus on the long-term fiscal health of the state. That means cutting the record $32 billion debt, finding a stable source of money to pay for transportation projects and restructuring how the state funds public education. (John P. McAlpin, The Record)

Mr. Energy
Chris Myers, Burlington County’s entrant in the hard-fought Third Congressional District Republican primary, is sitting at attention at a folding table in his Mount Holly campaign office.

The view is of the busy High Street, but in the course of an hour the former Navy lieutenant never takes a glance at the traffic, never loses focus. He sips black coffee from a foam cup.

What the 42-year-old Lockheed Martin vice president is focused on most of the time these days is running for Congress, but the long days of a politician are no problem for the Medford mayor and father of two.

“I’ve always had a lot of energy,” he said. Moving to the matter at hand, he adds, “It’s important for the congressman to have a lot of energy.” (Cynthia Burton, Philadelphia Inquirer)

Cresitello says he’s the man
Morristown Mayor Donald Cresitello believes he has the experience needed to be New Jersey’s next U.S. senator, but knows much of the attention is focused on his opponents in the upcoming Democratic primary.

“Realistically, am I going to win this election?” Cresitello asked rhetorically during a meeting with the Times editorial board. “It would be the longest shot.”

Cresitello is challenging incumbent U.S. Sen. Frank Lautenberg because he feels there is a need for change. Congressman Rob Andrews has also entered the race. (Pete McCarthy, Gloucester County Times)

Budget battle in Trenton

TRENTON — Whether New Jersey legislators and Gov. Jon S. Corzine reach a timely agreement on a new state budget could boil down to just a few issues, notably plans to cut state aid for towns and cities and offer retirement incentives to state workers.

Legislators and Corzine continue to disagree on those issues and others as they work toward the July 1 constitutional deadline for a new budget.

The state missed the deadline in 2006, prompting a government shutdown.

Corzine hopes to get a budget approved by June 19. But his administration continues to propose saving $135 million by giving retirement incentives to 3,000 state workers, despite legislative opposition.

When legislators asked Treasurer David Rousseau during recent hearings for an alternative to early retirements, Rousseau refused to offer any. (Tom Hester Jr., Associated Press)

To what is Dina entitled?
The warring McGreeveys were able to hammer out a deal to share custody of their daughter, but no such compromise was possible when they started talking alimony.

In phase two of their divorce, neither seems willing to give an inch. As the proceedings resume this morning in Superior Court in Elizabeth, it will be the job of the trial judge to figure who will pay, how much, and by what standard.

Now in its second week, the McGreevey divorce trial boils down to two words — marital lifestyle.

Should former Gov. James E. McGreevey pay alimony to Dina Matos McGreevey based on the simple way they lived when the couple shared a two-bedroom condominium in Iselin, or should her support be based on their sumptuous life at the governor’s mansion in Princeton?

To answer those questions, Matos McGreevey hired accountant Kalman Barson, who put a dollar figure to the gubernatorial standard of living for half of her four-year marriage — $51,152 a month. (Judith Lucas and Brad Parks, Star-Ledger)

Andrews hits Hudson
Hudson County is deep Frank Lautenberg territory, but Democratic Senate candidate Rob Andrews came to the heart of Jersey City’s downtown today to hold a town hall meeting.

“We will expand the campaign anywhere people will have us,” said Andrews before holding court at a gazebo in the city’s Hamilton Park. “There’s one rule in the Andrews campaign – you have to be young at heart, you have to be willing to support us.”

The meeting was organized by the local councilman, Seven Fulop – a likely mayoral candidate next year and frequent critic of Jersey City Mayor/HCDO Chairman Jerramiah Healy, who supports Lautenberg. (Matt Friedman, PolitickerNJ.com)

Two Dems duke it out in Washington Twp.
The race to be the Democratic mayoral nominee in Washington Township pits a party-endorsed former council president against a first-time candidate who launched the petition drive that brought a tougher pay-to-play law to town.

The winner of that June 3 primary will be the front-runner in the fall in Gloucester County’s most populous township, where registered Democrats outnumber Republicans almost 2-1 and hold every elected position.

Matt Lyons, 42, said he wants to return to public office to fix problems that occurred after he left two years ago.

His opponent, 30-year-old Josh Aronovitch, said he wants to make local government operations more accessible and transparent for local residents.

Whoever emerges from their primary battle will take on Republican Theresa Lappe, who is running unopposed for her party’s nomination in the general election. (Jan Hefler, Philadelphia Inquirer)

That’s some party
BEACHWOOD — Chairs aren’t the only thing that are flying in this small borough.

Numerous complaints have been filed following the April 21 Democratic Club meeting in which a chair allegedly struck at least one woman.

AliceClair Calligan, who declined to give her age but described herself as a senior citizen, filed an assault complaint against club member Michael Bucca, 27, of Neptune Avenue.

The complaint stated that the “defendant strewed metal chairs aside as he attempted to attack a (Democratic Club) member who asked questions, in doing so he hit me with a metal chair.”

The questions reportedly centered on recycling in this usually quiet borough of 10,700 between Toms River and Berkeley. (Chelsea Michels, Asbury Park Press)

Sunday, May 18

The fighter
When Rob Andrews started running for U.S. Senate this year, he slammed into a harsh reality of New Jersey politics: Frank Lautenberg is one tough opponent.

Since entering politics in 1982, the snowy-haired Paterson-born senator has never lost a race, knocking off a string of foes who remember him as a shrewd strategist who thrives on campaign combat.

He won as an underdog, and after being called a “swamp dog.” He won by plunking down millions of his personal fortune and by launching attacks that forever changed how incumbents run campaigns. He won as a Democrat during a Republican revolution and as a last-minute relief candidate coming off the bench.

“He would do anything to win,” said Chuck Haytaian, the former Assembly speaker who lost to Lautenberg in 1994. “He’d probably tell you that. Winning is the whole ballgame.”

It’s a game Lautenberg helped shape and one he continues to relish as he seeks a fifth term at age 84. (Claire Heininger, Star-Ledger)

The messenger
Rob Andrews is not running a typical campaign.

The congressman from South Jersey has spent the past six weeks combing the state to drum up support for his U.S. Senate bid.

He’ll go wherever he’s invited, he says.

“This is about the next six years and who has the specificity of ideas and level of energy to solve these problems,” said Andrews, 50. “I’m out here 18 hours a day to make my case to people. We’re pouring our whole heart and soul into this race.”

Whether it’s stopping to speak with workers at a factory in Newark or attending a fund-raising event in Flemington, Andrews is there. He is even scheduling town hall-style meetings in counties across the state.

For Andrews, it has been an uphill battle since he decided last month to challenge U.S. Sen. Frank Lautenberg in the Democratic primary set for June 3. (Pete McCarthy, Gloucester County Times)

Nothing but trouble for Pennacchio
Republican Senate candidate Joseph Pennacchio held a longtime ownership interest in a dilapidated apartment building in Brooklyn, but did not report the asset as required on a mandatory financial-disclosure report.

Pennacchio, who bought the Stillwell Avenue parcel with his brother, sold the property in February for $285,000 but did not list it in the disclosure documents filed last week with the U.S. Senate. Pennacchio, a state senator from Morris County, acknowledged that the forms were mistaken and, in response to questions, filed an amendment on Friday.

In an interview, the candidate said he regrets ever getting involved with the Coney Island property because it has been nothing but trouble during the last 20 years. (Josh Margolin, Star-Ledger)

A campaign on a string
When Republicans living in the 7th Congressional District go to the polls on June 3, they will face a candidate list that looks more like a page from the Daily Racing Form than any GOP race they’re accustomed to.

Seven candidates are looking to claim the Republican nomination from the 7th District, a traditionally Republican congressional seat that opened up when Rep. Mike Ferguson decided not to seek a fifth term.

Of the seven candidates, three were able to secure the backing of the county organizations in the district. (Gabriel H. Gluck, Star-Ledger)

Still bickering in Mount Holly
MOUNT HOLLY — With just over two weeks until the primary election, two slates of Republicans running for county offices exchanged insults for the first time through news releases this week.

The criticism began with the non-party-backed slate of Lauri Sheppard for county clerk and Jon Shevelew and Debbie Sarcone for freeholder releasing a five-point plan for improving county government Thursday.

Calling itself the “Republican Reform Team,” the slate detailed the need for more accountability and transparency and also took shots at opponents Freeholder Director Aubrey Fenton and Freeholder Stacey Jordan.

Fenton, of Willingboro, and Jordan, of Moorestown, are endorsed by the Burlington County Republican Committee and running with county clerk candidate Gary Woodend of Medford Lakes.

The party-backed slate quickly issued a rebuttal calling their opponents’ plan “a ploy to hide their own tax and spend records.” (Melissa Hayes, Burlington County Times)

Just another day in Morris
When you’re in, you’re in, even when you’re out.

That’s always been the case in politics, and the tradition continues.

John Inglesino left his Morris County freeholder seat at the end of last year after losing in last June’s primary. His old mates apparently missed him so much that last week they brought him back, hiring him as a temporary special council for the county’s insurance fund commission.

The vote was unanimous, meaning that Inglesino got support from James Murray, the man who beat him in last year’s Republican primary.

No matter what spin is put on it, this is politics as usual: hiring a former colleague.

At the same time, one needs to be fair. This is not an outrage. (Fred Snowflack, The Daily Record)

Anything for you
Superior Court nominee Lisa Perez-Friscia declared herself a member of the matrimonial wing of the Republican Party last Thursday.

Perez-Friscia, 37, told the Senate Judiciary committee that she recently registered as a Republican so she can vote in the June 3 primary for her husband, Michael Friscia, who is running for a second term on the Franklin Lakes Council. Friscia and incumbent Paulette Ramsey are being challenged by Michael Tulp and Charles J.X. Kahwaty.

“I believe strongly in him,” she said of her husband, and noted that she did the same thing in his first council campaign. Her transient GOP credentials were of no concern to Republican state Sen. Gerald Cardinale of Demarest, a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, who said she was a “truly bipartisan nomination.” (Charles Stile, The Record)

Patronage scheme in Hunterdon?
Hunterdon County Freeholder George Melick said he has filed an ethics complaint against his 2007 running mate, county Sheriff Deborah Trout, over her handling of a lingering campaign bill from a printer later given a job in the sheriff’s department.

“This whole affair is political patronage,” Melick said of Trout’s dealings with John Falat Jr. of Bayonne.

But Trout said she already had paid the November bill from Falat, now a sheriff’s investigator, using her personal credit card. That arrangement was suggested by the very agency where Melick sent his complaint, the state Election Law Enforcement Commission, the sheriff said. (Joe Tyrrell, Star-Ledger)

Taking on cigarettes
CIGARETTE COMPANIES would have to stop labeling products as “light” or “low tar” under a bill (S-2685) sponsored by Sen. Frank Lautenberg that was approved by a Senate committee last week.

The Federal Trade Commission issued a warning in 2000, saying the government cannot reliably measure how much tar and nicotine people inhale. Some studies have found smokers of lights inhale more deeply than smokers of regular brands to get the nicotine they crave.

Lautenberg said if the commission cannot verify the label is valid, it should not allow the cigarette makers to use it. (Herb Jackson, The Record)

Saturday, May 17

Reporting day
Gov. Jon Corzine, a multimillionaire former chairman of Goldman Sachs, reported a portfolio that reflects his past as a Wall Street mogul, earning millions from far-flung holdings in Europe and across the United States last year, according to financial disclosure forms filed this week.

In addition to at least $325,000 in New Jersey state bonds, Corzine reported holding national bonds of Argentina worth between $30,000 and $75,000. He also reported stakes in 26 hedge funds and investment corporations, including one involved in biotechnology, one with a stake in a European life insurance company and two others that hold stakes in banks in the Netherlands and Germany.

The governor also owns a ranch in Colorado and stakes in condominium and apartment projects in Atlanta and Houston.

Among state legislators, government work at all levels was among the most prevalent sources of in come. Of the 106 lawmakers whose 2007 disclosure forms had been published on the state website by last night, 54 reported they or their spouses collected paychecks from local governments last year. Of those, 16 reported pay from more than one town hall, school board or local government agency.

There also was a smattering of unusual income in the reports. (Dunstan McNichol, Star-Ledger)

Psst… Lautenberg’s old. Pass it on.
U.S. Sen. Frank Lautenberg stood on his home turf today to show his support with the Hispanic community, as his primary opponent, Rep. Rob Andrews, was beginning a weekend incursion into Lautenberg’s north Jersey strongholds.

Hours after Andrews hit Paterson – where Lautenberg grew up – to accept the endorsement of Passaic County Terry Duffy, Lautenberg headed to Jersey City to stand with about a dozen mostly Hispanic elected officials led by U.S. Sen. Bob Menendez.

At the Andrews event, Duffy was much more explicit about Lautenberg’s senior citizen status than Andrews has been so far during the campaign. Still, it was circulated in a press release by the Andrews camp. (Friedman, PolitickerNJ.com)

Who wants a fence?
The three Republican candidates in the 3rd District U.S. House of Representatives race agree on many possible ways to curb the illegal immigration that flows into the U.S. over the Mexican border, but a major rift exists when it comes to whether a fence should be built along the border.

Justin Murphy and Jack Kelly want it. Chris Myers doesn’t.

Instead, Myers wants to use high-tech devises to patrol the border from the air and ground. (Rob Spahr, Press of Atlantic City)

Towns getting some money back
TRENTON — Small New Jersey towns can expect an average of $53,479 more state aid for the coming year than Gov. Corzine first proposed, although they could still face reductions that will create pressure for property tax hikes or service cuts.

The $14.9 million in restored aid takes some of the edge off of what had been a proposed $37 million cut to municipalities with fewer than 10,000 people, but still leaves towns across the state with less state support than last year.

Overall, Corzine had proposed a $190 million reduction for municipal aid as part of his effort to reduce state spending. While adding money back in for small towns, Corzine plans to trim $14.3 million of municipal aid from other areas. (Jonathan Tamari, Gannett)

A little friendly advice
VINELAND — Hire the very best people and learn the ins and outs of the budget. That’s the key advice to Mayor-elect Robert Romano from men who have run local governments.

The soon-to-retire police lieutenant will enter his first elective office July 1, and The Daily Journal asked some current and former mayors what advice they would offer as he prepares to take on the city’s business. (Tim Zatzariny Jr., The Daily Journal)

Questions remain
Wednesday’s column was a good read for the folks down on Grove Street in Jersey City. Actually, I never thought that the 2009 mayoral pre-emptive strike preparations by state Sen. Sandra B. Cunningham‘s camp – in case she runs for mayor (wink, wink) – would get such a reaction.

On the same day, the rank and file in Mayor Jerramiah Healy‘s administration realized they may actually face a big fight in next year’s municipal election, the phones were ringing off the hook all over the city. There were many anxious voices looking for answers for such questions like “Then why did we support Obama?” or “Why did we give her the Senate seat?” and others more personal. (Political Insider, Jersey Journal)

Seda in a vulnerable position
JACKSON – An Election Day sweep by a bipartisan ticket led by Democrat Michael Kafton propelled citizens to the microphone at a Thursday night council meeting to complain about Mayor Mark Seda’s efforts to privatize the city’s building department.

At the head of the charge was the newly victorious Kafton, who called on Attorney General Anne Milgram to investigate Seda’s efforts even as the mayor’s father faces a $30,000 building department fine.

He also chastised the council for failing to join him. (Pizarro, PolitickerNJ.com)

With the PolitickerNJ.com Wake-Up Call e-mailed to your inbox, phone, Blackberry or PDA first thing in the morning, you can get a rundown of New Jersey’s top political headlines. Sign up to get the Wake-Up Call delivered every morning.

Wake-Up Call: Monday, May 19, 2008