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The short, long road
Over the course of the next week, brand new U.S. Senate candidate Andy Unanue will have a chance to cement his status as the Republican favorite to take on incumbent Democrat Frank Lautenberg in a marathon series of eight conventions.

Between tomorrow and next Wednesday, there are Republican county conventions coming up in Monmouth, Mercer, Ocean, Atlantic, Cumberland, Salem, Middlesex and Somerset. County committees will decide between Unanue, a businessman who's an heir to the Goya Foods fortune and the heir apparent to the campaign of former candidate Anne Estabrook, and his two Republican competitors: state Sen. Joe Pennacchio and Ramapo College finance professor Murray Sabrin.

The person who each committee picks will be awarded a coveted spot on the party line, which typically provides a boost to the candidate whose name occupies it. (Matt Friedman,

“Work hard, play hard,” Unanue said

When Andy Unanue announced Sunday he was seeking the Republican nomination for U.S. Senate, he cited his background as former chief operating officer of Goya Foods Inc.: "I want to use my business experience to strengthen our economy and create more and better-paying jobs."

Unanue's tenure as a top executive at the company founded by his grandfather was short-lived, however. He and his father were ousted by other family members in 2004, and his management skills were sharply questioned.

During a trial on a lawsuit over the firings, a company vice president testified Unanue came to work drunk at least five times, possibly more. Unanue denied that, but admitted he had come to work hung over and drank a lot at company parties.

"Work hard, play hard. That was my motto," Unanue testified. (Robert Schwaneberg, Star-Ledger)

Steeper shortfall than expected sparks more wrangling
Small towns, farms and the environment will all suffer if the budget proposed by Gov. Corzine is adopted by the Legislature, advocates warned yesterday.

Dozens of lobbyists and residents made their pitches and pleas in the third public hearing before the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee. The hearing at Gloucester County Institute of Technology was the group's first in South Jersey.

Meanwhile, in Trenton, David Rosen, the state's nonpartisan legislative budget and finance officer, told Assembly lawmakers that the slowing economy could result in the state collecting at least $289 million less in taxes in the next fiscal year than was previously estimated by Corzine.

In response, Assembly Budget Chairman Louis Greenwald (D., Camden) suggested that the state look into the possibility of allowing municipalities to levy other types of taxes. (Adrienne Lu, Inquirer)

New houses won’t hurt environment, Corzine says

Gov. Jon Corzine said yesterday he will not weaken environmental regulations in his attempt to create 100,000 new and refurbished affordable houses and apartments.

He was responding to concerns raised by environmentalists about recommendations by builder-dominated subcommittees of the state Department of Community Affairs' Housing Policy Task Force. They recommended easing the regulations to clear the way for affordable housing in suburban and rural areas.

"We have no intention of gut ting environmental laws," Corzine said. "Most people know we have put down (bolstered) water quality and sewer rules and flood rules and we have a number of initiatives coming. People would say I am spending too much time with environmentalists and not enough time with others. We want to make sure we are thoughtful about all these issues, but we have no intention of gutting anything long-term that has an impact on the environment."

Leaders of four environmental organizations wrote Corzine, asking him to head off any attempt to soften state Department of Environmental Protection water quality and open space regulations. (Tom Hester, Star-Ledger)

Minimum approval for Somerset budget

Subdued and sparse, the Somerset County freeholders last night approved a 2008 operating budget aimed at maintaining services without creating economic hardships.

Only three of the five freeholders attended, the minimum needed to approve the $220.2 million spending plan, up about 1.5 percent from the same time last year.

The figure will rise as the county receives state and federal grants over the course of the year. County taxes already are up slightly, about 2 percent, but the economic downtown will cushion the impact on many taxpayers, according to the freeholders.

Freeholder Jack Ciattarelli pointed to a small drop in the county tax rate. In times of rising property values, that's meaningless, he said. "People don't pay the tax rate, they pay taxes," Ciattarelli said, but added that as property values drop, that should mean lower tax bills for owners. (Joe Tyrrell, Star-Ledger)

And they’re off in Washington Township

The race has started for candidates vying for mayor and two open council seats, with Democratic and Republican slates announcing their bids Tuesday.

On the Democratic side, mayoral candidate Josh Aronovitch, an attorney, and council candidates Trish Pisauro, a homemaker and mother of three, and Debbie Cherella, a stay-at-home mom and president of the Thomas Jefferson Elementary School Parent Teacher Organization, make up the Aronovitch for Mayor ticket.

On the Republican side, Theresa Lappe, clerk and business administrator in Tavistock, will head the ticket as a mayoral candidate. Running for council will be Joseph Bowe, a retired township police officer, and Nicodemo Fiorentino, a recent Rowan University graduate and marketing sales associate in Swedesboro.

The filing deadline is April 7 for the June primary. The three open positions are all four-year terms. (Meg Huelsman, Courier-Post)

Changes to A.C. butt ban
Last minute changes to an ordinance originally designed to outlaw smoking in resort casinos now would limit smoking to non-gaming lounges.

Recent discussions among City Council members and some casino officials altered plans to propose a full casino smoking ban today, instead settling with a ban on all gaming floors and the threat of a full ban if smoking lounges are not built within 90 days of the law's passage.

"Smoking ends in 90 days," Councilman Bruce Ward said confidently Tuesday. "The casinos, however, will be allowed to construct smoking lounges similar to airport smoking lounges, but they will not have personnel in them." (Michael Clark, Press of Atlantic City)

And now for the sexy part. Accountants
Tamika Riley failed to file corporate income tax returns for six years and told accountants she did not derive any income from her businesses for some of that time. She also failed to mention anything about her real estate deals in Newark, two of her accountants testified yesterday.

The tax returns the accountants eventually prepared or attempted to prepare were based on 15 pages of confusing handwritten ledgers that Riley, co-defendant in the federal corruption trial of former Newark Mayor Sharpe James, kept for her publicity business, TRI Inc., and its subsidiaries. (Maryann Spoto and Jeff Whelan, Star-Ledger)

If it smells like EnCap…

State Sen. Loretta Weinberg, D-Teaneck, said Tuesday that the private, for-profit entity that manages the publicly licensed Bergen Regional Medical Center should be required to open its books for financial scrutiny every year.

Weinberg suggested that Colorado-based Solomon Health Services, the parent company of the firm that runs the Paramus hospital, would be subject to such disclosures under the provisions of a bill now wending its way through the state Legislature.

The bill — sponsored by state Sen. Paul Sarlo, D-Wood-Ridge, and referred to as "The EnCap Law" — would force developers in projects backed by $25 million or more in public financing to disclose all public subsidies and divulge payments to investors and consultants. (Oshrat Carmiel, The Record)

Mayors take their chances against Trump

An Atlantic County municipal coalition is getting ready to roll the dice against casino owner Donald Trump.

The stakes: $5 million split 23 ways.

The money is what Trump won in property tax refunds and credits from Atlantic City in a 2007 settlement of a case in New Jersey Tax Court.

The Atlantic County Mayors Association voted Feb. 22 to challenge the settlement. (Joseph P. Smith, Daily Journal)

Flight plan causes grumbling
Three New Jersey lawmakers called on the Federal Aviation Administration on Tuesday to stop a multi-phase redesign of the congested airspace between Philadelphia and New York, citing concerns about noise and safety.

U.S. Sens. Frank Lautenberg and Robert Menendez, and Rep. Rob Andrews, all D-N.J., said they feared new flight paths implemented in December put planes at risk. Their fears were echoed by leaders of the National Air Traffic Controllers Association. (Bridget Smith, Courier-Post)

Trial too late to change voting

A trial to decide whether touch-screen voting machines are reliable or should be scrapped has been set for May, but the outcome almost certainly will be too late to change how millions of New Jerseyans vote in the presidential election.

Mercer County Superior Court Judge Linda Feinberg has been asked to decide whether the state's 10,000 electronic voting machines should still be used in elections, as the state contends, or whether New Jerseyans deserve a better system, as voting-rights advocates argue.

The court will conduct a full hearing on whether the electronic machines are scientifically reliable, Feinberg said while ruling on pretrial motions yesterday and setting a May 19 trial date.

However, as no decision is expected before September, New Jerseyans will vote electronically without a paper trail in November unless the governor or attorney general intervenes. (Angela Delli Santi, Associated Press)

Crab bill for the birds
Gov. Corzine signed legislation today imposing a long-term moratorium on horseshoe crab harvests in New Jersey, a long-sought goal of environmental activists who say it's critical to keep as many crabs as possible so their eggs can feed the dwindling numbers of western Atlantic red knot shorebirds.

"We're protecting our environment, protecting a species, protecting an ecosystem,'' Corzine said after signing the harvest ban in his office at the State House as shorebird advocates packed the seats. "This wasn't as tough (a decision) in some ways. It's pretty clear we've seen a 75 percent decline in red knots.''

While it's a political victory for them, bird advocates admit they don't know if continuing the moratorium will help red knots.
(Kirk Moore, Asbury Park Press)

What’s next for Vineland plan?

Behind closed doors, in an executive session Tuesday, City Council members discussed whether to redo or appeal a city master plan that a judge last week ruled was crafted during illegal private meetings.

Following a half-hour closed session, during which present council members were expected to consider whether to authorize a legal appeal against the decision by Superior Court Judge Michael Brooke Fisher, City Council President John Barretta said, "It won't be long before a decision will be announced." (Juliet Fletcher, Press of Atlantic City) Today’s news from