Today’s news from PolitickerNJ.com

He’s in
Millionaire businessman Andy Unanue says he will seek the Republican nomination for U.S. Senate in 2008. (PolitickerNJ.com)

Doubling fun continues
When Gov. Jon Corzine signed a law in September banning state lawmakers from holding other elected posts such as mayors, freeholders or municipal council seats, 17 members of the state Legislature were dual office-holders.

Since then, the number of lawmakers with another elected job has actually increased — to 19. And they can continue in both posts for as long as their constituents keep returning them to office.

The reasons: The law included a provision that “grandfathered” any lawmaker with another elected position as of Feb. 1, and more winning candidates in November’s election opted to keep their other jobs despite the much-publicized effort to ban the practice.

“It’s obvious that half-measures don’t work,” said Sen. Thomas Kean Jr. (R-Union), who wanted a tougher ban. “It shows how weak and disingenuous the final bill was that the governor signed.” (Robert Schwaneberg, Star-Ledger)

Two down, five to go in Toms River
Five people are seeking three available three-year seats representing Toms River in the April 15 election. Originally, seven people had submitted petitions, but Nels W. Luthman, 60, of New Jersey Avenue, a retired High School East social studies teacher, had been ruled ineligible to run by the state Office of Administrative Law because he has a sick-leave payout.

John J. Meehan Jr., a 37-year-old steamfitter and Arapaho Court resident, has voluntarily withdrawn his petition. (Hartriono B. Sastrowardoyo, Asbury Park Press)

Mercer not filling spots
In response to slowing revenue growth and the state cap on tax increases, Mercer County officials are leaving vacant positions unfunded in the 2008 budget and looking for more places to cut the $278 million spending plan.

Treasurer Dave Miller repeatedly mentioned the tax cap in explaining why unfilled jobs in the engineering and other departments wouldn’t be funded until they’re filled.

“We’ve run into some issues get ting under the cap,” he said. “It’s not allowing us a lot of flexibility.” (Meir Rinde, Trenton Times)

 

Doblin: Lautenberg “may not have youth on his side, but he is fortunate that he has Republicans on the other side.”

REPUBLICAN candidate for U.S. Senate Murray Sabrin has asked, “Where’s Frank?” Frank, of course, is Democrat Frank Lautenberg. The answer is: the U.S. Senate.

The 84-year-old politician may not have youth on his side, but he is fortunate that he has Republicans on the other side. The state Republican Party is so close to meltdown it might be safer to move its headquarters inside the Oyster Creek nuclear power plant.

With the exit of Anne Estabrook from the race, Murray Sabrin, a college professor from Fort Lee, and state Sen. “Jersey” Joe Pennacchio from Montville are the two remaining candidates. That may change. Alpine resident Andrew Unanue, former chief operating officer of Goya Foods, is contemplating a run.

Unanue is currently the CEO of a New York-based management and financial consulting firm. State Republicans need self-funded candidates. One who could resonate with Hispanic voters is a bigger plus. But whether this translates into a viable Senate candidacy remains to be seen. (Al Doblin, Bergen Record)

Ocean freeholders battle water hikes
Count Ocean County’s freeholders among the opponents of a 90 percent rate increase sought by United Water Toms River.

“This proposal poses far too great a financial burden for many of our residents,” said Freeholder Joseph H. Vicari.

But the water company says the rate has not gone up in 13 years, and even if the whole increase is granted, consumers will pay $1.21 a day for 164 gallons of water from their tap, less than the cost of one gallon of bottled water at the store. (Don Bennett, Asbury Park Press)

Blakely family family fund opened
Friends and associates of the late Tom Blakely, a prominent political consultant who passed away suddenly last Saturday at the age of 47, can make a contribution to custodial accounts set up for his daughters, Brielle, age 3, and Maggie, age 1, to help pay for their education and other living expenses. Checks can be made payable to Brielle and Maggie Blakely, c/o Roma Bank, 500 State Highway 33, Hamilton, NJ 08619.

A wake will be held on Monday, March 24 from 2-4PM and 6-9 PM at the Kingston and Kemp Funeral Home, 260 White Horse Avenue, Hamilton. A funeral mass will be on Tuesday, March 25 at 11AM at the Church of the Holy Angels, 1733 South Broad Street, Hamilton.

The Blakely family is inviting friends to have a “Beer for Blake” after the funeral at the Mercer Oaks Golf Course, 785 Village Road West, Princeton. (PolitickerNJ.com)

Gloucester sticking to route, despite complaints
Criticism of the proposed U.S. Route 322 bypass has not deterred Gloucester County officials from going forward with the project.

Since unveiling plans last spring to build a bypass through Mullica Hill and widen Route 322 in Richwood, the county has taken a number of steps to move both projects forward.

“Overall, we feel that we have a good solution,” said County Administrator Chad Bruner. “And, pending DEP and NJDOT and all the regulations and permits that we have to follow if they fall in line, then I think we’re on track to have that done in the next three to five years. Hopefully, sooner.” (Stephanie Brown, Gloucester County Times)

Push on to get young people voting
As the November election draws closer, young people are garnering considerable attention in terms of whether they will vote for the next president and whom they will choose.

“It’s easy to write off young voters,” said Marc Morgenstern, executive director of Declare Yourself, a national campaign to encourage every eligible 18-year-old in the U.S. to register and vot
e this year. “But, a candidate who reaches out to them can cultivate a strong base.”

During the 2006 midterm election in New Jersey, participation from people ages 18 to 29 increased 5 points from 17 percent in 2002 to 22 percent in 2006, according to the University of Maryland’s Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement. Nationwide, youth participation increased 3 points, to 25 percent of eligible voters. (Matthew McGrath, Asbury Park Press)

Just in case you missed it:

Sunday, March 23

Pay to play in Essex?
A number of companies vying for business in one of the state’s largest counties charge that publicly bid contracts appear wired to favor insiders, and several are now going to court over the matter.

While no one is alleging criminal wrongdoing, the four vendors accuse Essex County of cronyism — steering proposals through carefully worded contract language, or using scoring systems that inexplicably award the bid to companies that have done business in the county for years.

“There is a clear pattern of preferential treatment for certain vendors,” said attorney Richard Trenk of West Orange, who has filed lawsuits against the county on behalf of two companies.

County officials defended their bidding procedures.

“I have the best team in New Jersey and they are following the letter of the law when it comes to bidding,” said County Executive Joseph DiVincenzo. “Everyone is treated fairly, and that’s the absolute truth.” (Ted Sherman, Star-Ledger)

No one wants to give up
Farmingdale Mayor Jay Morgan doesn’t understand how taking $227,000 from his town is going to help Gov. Corzine balance the state’s $33 billion budget.

From his vantage point, Morgan, a resident of one of the smallest municipalities in New Jersey, thinks the state should stop sending billions of dollars in extra aid to urban school districts and, perhaps, reduce the retirement benefits for state workers. But he said he feels those ideas are off the table because of the political power of teachers and other employee unions.

“Nobody wants to give up anything,” Morgan said. “That’s unfortunate.”

Within a single generation, New Jersey has built one of the most complex, voracious and extensive tax machines in the nation to support its public spending. (Jason Method, Asbury Park Press)

Budget sparks anger, debate

Mayors may be furious over Gov. Jon S. Corzine‘s plans to cut and eliminate aid for small towns, but his proposal has at least sparked debate over the convoluted way the state sends money to towns and cities to help quell property taxes.

The Democratic Corzine is proposing a 10.5 percent cut in aid for municipalities, with the 323 towns with less than 10,000 people targeted for the heftiest deductions.

He’s still proposing giving New Jersey’s 566 municipalities $1.8 billion, or about 5.5 percent of his $33 billion plan that calls for major spending cuts to try to fix state finances plagued by annual deficit, high debt and taxes and sagging revenues.

But as mayors protest proposed cuts, many also wonder how the state even decides to begin with how much money to send to each of its 566 communities. (Tom Hester Jr., Associated Press)

Pitched battle over Ag department
John Hauser first heard the rumblings in mid-February: the Department of Agriculture, a lifeline for the Old Bridge farmer and his peers, was on the chopping block.

By the end of the month, Gov. Jon Corzine confirmed his fears. Corzine’s stripped-down budget would fold the department’s responsibilities into other agencies, leaving the Garden State in the company of Rhode Island and Alaska as the only places in the nation without an agriculture department.

The administration argues the move will save nearly $4 million and doesn’t imply any disrespect for New Jersey’s agricultural community.

Farmers beg to differ. (Claire Heininger, Star-Ledger)

Race to replace Saxton getting heated
The Republican primary contest to run for retiring U.S. Rep. Jim Saxton‘s 3rd Congressional District seat is heating up as the two leading candidates, Medford Mayor Chris Myers and Ocean County Freeholder Jack Kelly, traded barbs last week about taxes and fiscal management.

Myers, a Navy veteran and vice president for defense contractor Lockheed Martin, issued a strongly worded news release Thursday that criticized Kelly’s vote at the previous night’s Ocean County Board of Freeholders meeting to approve a $359 million county budget that increased the county tax levy by $13 million. (David Levinksy, Burlington County Times)

Sabrin making mayhem in state GOP
Mayhem Murray is on the march. And he’s not making too many friends in the process.

Fort Lee’s Murray Sabrin, the Libertarian-turned-Republican-Who-Still-Sounds-Like-a-Libertarian candidate for the U.S. Senate, declared earlier this month that he would run a renegade slate of Republicans in the June primary. But there is one detail not mentioned in Sabrin’s pledge announcement: an attempt to recruit establishment-backed candidates.

Paul Duggan, a Republican freeholder candidate from Bogota, was approached by Sabrinistas last week, urging him to abandon the Bergen Republican Organization-sponsored slate and join Sabrin’s “Constitutional Republicans Protecting the Liberty Platform” team. (Charles Stile, The Record)

New challenger rises in Somerset

Somerset County Republican officials once again have a choice of who to place on the freeholder ballot for the June primary.

Bedminster Township Committeeman Finn Caspersen Jr. has challenged incumbents Peter Palmer and Robert Zaborowski for the endorsement of the county GOP committee, which meets April 3. (Joe Tyrrell, Star-Ledger)

Objection raised to Warren courthouse upgrades
The clock on the south side of the Warren County Courthouse is frozen at 5:07.

The broken timepiece facing west is correct twice a day, at 5:28 a.m. and p.m. The clock facing east stays at 6:32 all day, while the one on the courthouse tower’s north side remains perpetually at 5:06.

Freeholders and lawyers agree the time is now to upgrade the aging building in Belvidere.

But they are not of one mind when it comes to plans to renovate the building. (Mike Frassinelli, Star-Ledger)

Romankow: Stop fighting or I’m taking over
The Union County Prosecutor’s Office is considering taking control of the Berkeley Heights Police Department as a result of a 15-month impasse between the mayor and council.

Prosecutor Theodore Romankow said that under his authority as chief law enforcement officer of the county, he may bring the department under his authority if local officials do not resolve their differences over the department. (Gabriel H. Gluck, Star-Ledger)

Annual questions on New Jersey voting machines resurface
For three years running, New Jersey’s voting-machine saga has showcased the state Attorney General’s Office, several college professors who enjoy dismantling computers, a manufacturer fiercely protective of its software and a Rutgers legal scholar who says democracy is at risk.

The arguments are about to get even more complicated. And if the sides don’t come together, New Jerseyans may leave the polls in November’s presidential election without any evidence that their choices were recorded accurately. (Elise Young, The Record)

More skeletons in McGreeveys’ closets
If Dina Matos McGreevey presses a claim that she was duped into marrying New Jersey’s gay ex-governor, she’ll likely endure a mountain of embarrassing evidence exposed at the trial.

“This week was just the tip of the iceberg,” Union County Superior Court Judge Karen Cassidy cautioned the warring former first couple at a hearing Thursday.

Matos McGreevey, 41, will try to prove in her divorce trial that she’s a wronged woman who was tricked into marriage to cover for a closeted homosexual with grand political ambitions. That constitutes fraud and entitles her to damages, she contends.

Her estranged husband, Jim McGreevey, will call witnesses like Teddy Pedersen, a young former campaign aide who says he had regular sexual trysts with the McGreeveys for about two years before McGreevey was sworn in as the Garden State’s 51st governor in 2002. (Associated Press)

The innocence man
“He didn’t do it.”

Thomas Ashley has made his living by these words.

As one of New Jersey’s most sought-after defense attorneys, Ashley has represented a roster of clients that includes an aging mobster charged with trafficking OxyContin, a Newark councilman on trial for taking bribes and a judge accused of shoplifting at Bloomingdale’s.

But earlier this month, when Ashley stood before a federal court jury in Newark once again proclaiming his client’s innocence, he was referring to his highest-profile defendant to date: Newark’s former five-term mayor, Sharpe James, involved in a messy trial awash in shady deals and infidelity. (Robin Gaby Fisher, Star-Ledger)

Saturday, March 22

Pins and needles in wait for Unanue
Several Republican leaders across the state are anxiously awaiting Goya Food heir Andy Unanue’s decision on whether or not to enter the U.S. Senate race.

State Sen. Joe Pennacchio may have won the county line for U.S. Senate in Bergen by a landslide earlier this month over hometown candidate Murray Sabrin, but if Unanue decides to run, things could change. (Matt Friedman, PolitickerNJ.com)

Sabrin: 2010 deadline for troop pullout, and me
Call him the Ron Paul of New Jersey.

Murray Sabrin, a former Libertarian candidate for governor, kicked his Republican primary campaign for the U.S. Senate into high gear in Jersey City on yesterday by demanding a timetable for withdrawal from Iraq.

Speaking at the office building 30 Montgomery St., he unveiled the “Sabrin Promise,” a vow to resign from office — assuming he’s elected — if all U.S. combat troops are not out of Iraq by September 2010. (Paul Koepp, Jersey Journal)

Riding Paul’s coattails
Rep. Ron Paul, a candidate for the Republican presidential nomination, will hold a fundraiser for GOP U.S. Senate candidate Murray Sabrin on April 28. Tickets for the event, which will be held in New York City, are between $250 and $2,300. (PolitickerNJ.com)

Evans faces Sharpton’s wrath over pillow case flap

When the Rev. Al Sharpton comes to Atlantic City next week to speak on the resort’s racial issues, he may be compelled to target a specific visitor sitting in the pews of the Second Baptist Church: Mayor Scott Evans.

Evans said Friday that he plans to attend the event so he can “tell the truth and enlighten people.”

“I’m not scared,” he said on Friday. “I’ll speak if they let me.” (Michael Clark, Press of Atlantic City)

Myers, Kelly spar on taxes
Third district Republican congressional candidates Chris Myers and Jack Kelly traded barbs today over taxes. (Friedman, PolitickerNJ.com)


Decision day coming in Freehold

Two Republican Party candidates for a seat on the Monmouth County freeholder board are wrapping up a vigorous month of campaigning for county committee votes in advance of next week’s party convention.

But the campaigns by Red Bank Borough Councilman John Curley and Holmdel Mayor Serena DiMaso have been cordial, said DiMaso, adding, “We were meeting with Howell’s county committee members, and John told them that this was the first time he didn’t feel like punching his opponent in the face.” (Bob Jordan, Asbury Park Press)

Impartiality sought in Orange race

At-large Councilman Donald Page recently received an e-mail about an upcoming mayoral candidates’ forum from one of the event’s organizers letting his campaign know where and when the event was being held.

The problem is that the woman who sent the message is also working for one of his opponents in the mayor’s race. (Max Pizarro, PolitickerNJ.com)

Hamilton told to pay its fair share
After hearing that the township school district will receive a $12 million increase in funding from the state this year, many Hamilton taxpayers might have expected to see a large cut in school taxes.

But the same formula that awarded the school district the large boost in revenue also concluded that Hamilton taxpayers pay $5 million less than their “fair share” of school taxes. (Ryan Tracy, Trenton Times)

Moriarity nixes Washington rezoning
One week after township council unanimously approved rezoning seven lots along Berlin-Cross Keys Road to make way for a large commercial business, Mayor Paul Moriarty vetoed the ordinance after dozens of residents complained about the change.

The lots, originally zoned to allow for rural, small business and residential uses, were rezoned to highway commercial, a designation that would allow for large box stores, supermarkets, and auto body shops. (Meg Huelsman, Courier-Post)

Anxiety roils Robinson
In the two months before City Councilman Eugene Robinson was secretly videotaped receiving oral sex, he says his political enemies followed him every day. In the days following the release of the blackmail tape, he was rattled by the news coverage, even hearing someone on the radio call him a child molester.

Doctors told him anxiety is what put him in the hospital for nearly three months. Robinson says his faith got him out. (Michael Clark, Press of Atlantic City)

Ruling sparks incompetence claims in Vineland
The political fallout from the city’s loss of its master plan began Friday, as the two candidates challenging incumbent Perry Barse in the city’s May mayoral race said his administration was incompetent.

Former school board President Nick Girone and police Lt. Robert Romano both seized on the ruling that the city had broken the law by convening a master plan advisory committee in secret and condemned what one described as an embarrassment for the city. (Juliet Fletcher, Press of Atlantic City)

Tax hike of, gulp, 85% proposed in Woodbine
Borough Council proposed an 85 percent tax hike this week, even after slashing the budget by $529,000 from last year.

The steep cuts – and even steeper tax hike – come in the wake of state cuts to municipal aid. Woodbine has used these state and federal grants to fund as much as 89 percent of its budget from year to year.

This year, the state has cut its allocation to Woodbine by 52 percent, which means local taxpayers will have to pay a far greater share of borough expenses.

“Come July 30, if there is no municipal aid, I’ll use more surplus. But that’s only good for one year,” Mayor William Pikolycky said. (Michael Miller, Press of Atlantic City)

Today’s news from PolitickerNJ.com