Today’s news from PolitickerNJ.com

Cumberland GOP has its slate
Cumberland County’s Republican organization has endorsed a slate of candidates it hopes can take advantage of a wide-open race in this fall’s Board of Freeholders election.

Party officials met Saturday at Merighi’s Savoy Inn and settled on Jim Swift of Millville, James Sauro of Vineland and Tom Sheppard of Lawrence as their choices for the freeholder race.

The party also selected a new chairman, former freeholder Doug Sorantino. He replaces Lawrence Pepper Jr., who stepped down from the position. (The Daily Journal)

Lyons-Etchison II heats up Irvington
North Ward Councilman David Lyons and Gene Etchison started out as friends and political allies, with Etchison drawn to the older man’s fireball activism.

As president of the local tenants association, Lyons didn’t care who he offended in his drive for better housing, and he took that attitude into a run for City Council in 1996.

“We used to go door to door together,” recalled Etchison of Lyons’ first campaign. “I was like his little brother.”

That didn’t last. (Max Pizarro, PolitickerNJ.com)

Representing the defense
His colleagues call him “the altar boy.”

At age 56, Gerald Krovatin still carries a full head of closely cropped hair and the soft facial features of a much younger man.

His youthful demeanor, coupled with the disarming ability to cross-examine even the most hostile of witnesses with ease, have made Krovatin one of the go-to lawyers in New Jersey for politicians and others mired in high-profile trouble. Those skills will be front and center this week as the defense takes over in the federal corruption trial of former Newark mayor Sharpe James and co-defendant Tamika Riley. Krovatin represents Riley. (Brian T. Murray, Star-Ledger)

Corzine gets ahead of himself
As Gov. Jon S. Corzine encourages towns to merge and share services by tightening the purse strings, a little-known commission created last year to study the financial benefits of such arrangements has yet to hold its first meeting.

The commission was formed to lay the groundwork for greater shared services and consolidations, and resulted from the Legislature’s 2006 special session held to tackle New Jersey’s highest-in-the-nation property taxes.

It was modeled after the federal Base Realignment and Closure Commission and charged with determining parameters for mergers and consolidations as well as addressing roadblocks to the process.

Within two years, the panel will recommend criteria to be used as a blueprint for consolidating services and merging municipalities mergers that will be finalized only with ballot approval by residents in those respective towns.

But Corzine, in his proposed budget, has leapt ahead of that timeline. (Trish G. Graber, The Sunbeam)

Sunday, March 30

Sticking by Lautenberg
Democratic Party leaders will stage a rally in Trenton on Monday in support of U.S. Sen. Frank Lautenberg as two potential primary challengers – Morristown Mayor Donald Cresitello and former party Chairman Tom Byrne of Princeton – continued to lay the groundwork to run against the veteran lawmaker.

“We’re going to have the Democratic congressional delegation, Gov. Corzine, Sen. Menendez – all in support of Sen. Lautenberg,” said Democratic State Chairman Joseph Cryan. (Pizarro, PolitickerNJ.com)

Lance has friends of all sizes and sides
If, on first meeting, Leonard Lance seems hopelessly formal and patrician, stick around long enough to meet his best friend, Fritz.

The 104-pound yellow lab, with a head the size of a cinder block and a proclivity for mischief, brings out a side of the Republican state legislator that one suspects very few ever see. (Robin Gaby Fisher, Star-Ledger)

Looking for another way
State lawmakers said they’ve heard the message.

“So far all we have heard from one group after another is ‘Don’t cut us,’ ” said Assembly Budget Chairman Lou Greenwald.

So the legislators debating Gov. Jon S. Corzine‘s $33 billion budget proposal have a request for anyone complaining about the $2.7 billion in planned spending cuts.

Don’t just complain, they ask. (Tom Hester Jr., Associated Press)

Moving past Hackett in Orange
Five candidates for mayor not named Mims Hackett participated in a Citizens for Responsible Government forum at the Appian Way Restaurant here today in front of a crowd of 150 people.

“For a long time these elections have been Hackett against who?” said community activist Nicole Williams, referring to the mayor who ran Orange for 12 years before opting not to pursue re-election amid an imbroglio of federal corruption charges brought against him and ten other elected officials in a statewide sting last year.

“This forum at the very least lets us know we have a choice,” Williams said.

Zoning Board Chair Janice Morrell, Planning Board Chairman Dwight Holmes, Councilwoman Tency Eason, West Orange Patrolman Eldridge Hawkins, Jr., and activist Betty Brown each tried to prove why he or she is the best choice for this Essex County city of roughly 32,000 people. (Pizarro, PolitickerNJ.com)

Go with what you know
Given the alternative of a Republican defector as their freeholder candidate, Hunterdon County Democrats decided yesterday to give another chance to a former standard bearer, Martin Siecke of Delaware Township.

Siecke, who lost a freeholder bid in 2006, edged Raritan Township Committeewoman Chris Harcar, 23-20, for the endorsement of the county committee. Last week, Harcar switched her registration from Republican, saying the county GOP is out of touch. (Joe Tyrrell, Star-Ledger)

Friends in high places
Skadden Arps, a law firm that has been paid $3.9 million for its work on Gov. Jon S. Corzine‘s toll road plan, submitted a bid that was higher than a competitor wh
ose plan was initially deemed superior by state evaluators.

A review of bid and billing documents reveals that the politically connected Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom LLP needed an extra step of evaluation to be deemed most qualified for the job, then did not use the lawyers featured in its bid proposal. The firm also represents clients likely to seek contracts with the state if Corzine’s toll road plan is enacted.

Skadden has been paid $3.9 million for its work though October. It has submitted bills for $1.6 million for November and December, which are still under review, said David Wald, a spokesman for the Office of the Attorney General. (Gregory J. Volpe, Gannett)

Saturday, March 29

Take a closer look, Sabrin urges
Rival Senate candidate Murray Sabrin on Friday seized on Andy Unanue‘s admission that he lived in New York City since 2004 while continuing to vote and register his cars using his parents’ address in Alpine.

“Voter fraud is a serious violation and if Andy Unanue committed such violations he should be held accountable,” Sabrin, a Ramapo College professor from Fort Lee, said in a news release.

He called on U.S. Attorney Christopher Christie to look into potential violations of voting laws, and on New York and New Jersey insurance regulators to look at potential fraud. (Herb Jackson, The Record)

“Jersey Joe” takes Middlesex
State Sen. Joe Pennacchio won the Middlesex County Republican convention today, getting 121 votes to rival Murray Sabrin’s 45. (Matt Friedman, PolitickerNJ.com)

Complications abound for Dem senate challengers
The entry of Morristown Mayor Donald Cresitello into the U.S. Senate primary could complicate former Democratic State Chairman Tom Byrne‘s decision making process on whether to challenge incumbent Frank Lautenberg.

Byrne analogized the situation to the gubernatorial reelection campaign of his father, Brendan Byrne, in 1977. After having passed the state’s first income tax, Byrne’s poll numbers were dismal, leading eight Democrats to challenge him in the primary. Since people voted based on pro and anti-incumbent feelings, those eight challengers split the anti-incumbent vote, allowing Byrne to squeak through the primary and eventually win re-election. (Friedman, PolitickerNJ.com)

Whitman triumphs in Middlesex
Kate Whitman won the endorsement of the Middlesex County Republican Party at its convention in Woodbridge this morning.

After some confusion that required a re-vote, Whitman won the first round of balloting, earning the 50% plus one requirement with 48 out of 85 votes cast. Former Summit Councilwoman P. Kelly Hatfield was the runner up, with 17 votes. State Sen. Leonard Lance came in next with 14 votes, followed by Scotch Plains Mayor Marty Marks with five votes and Iraq war vet Tom Roughneen with one. (Friedman, PolitickerNJ.com)

Frelinghuysen gets going
U.S. Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen is kicking off his re-election campaign for Congress today.

Family, friends and supporters are accompanying the candidate as he makes the announcement at locations across the 11th Congressional District.

Elected to the House of Representatives in November 1994, the Harding native is now serving his seventh term in Congress. The 11th Congressional District includes all of Morris County and portions of Essex, Passaic, Somerset and Sussex Counties. (Daily Record)

Christie talks up busts
U.S. Attorney Christopher J. Christie, a likely candidate for the 2009 Republican nomination for Governor, was on home turf this morning at a speaking engagement at Fairleigh Dickinson University’s Madison campus — just a short drive from his house in Mendham.

It was another stop on the corruption busting prosecutor’s public circuit: once again he rattled off his 125 convictions, recounted stories of jaw amazingly blatant corruption and fended off what he said were politically-inspired attacks on his record — without going into specifics. (Friedman, PolitickerNJ.com)

The prosecution rests
After calling 33 witnesses to the stand and introducing hundreds of pages of property records, financial documents and other evidence, federal prosecutors rested their corruption case yesterday against former Newark Mayor Sharpe James.

The government ended its case with a key investigator in the probe, FBI Special Agent Michael Doyle, who walked jurors through campaign contributions and charitable donations prosecutors say are evidence of the close relationship between James and his co-defendant, Tamika Riley. (Jeff Whelan and Maryann Spoto, Star-Ledger)

LoBiondo bullish on South Jersey
U.S. Rep. Frank LoBiondo talked hope to the crowd at Merighi’s Savoy Inn, on Landis Avenue, in his annual State of the District address Friday.

Touching on subjects from the economy to the war in Iraq, the congressman attempted to bring to his constituents a sense of optimism in the wake of the nation’s troubled economy in a speech given at the Vineland Area Chamber of Commerce’s annual luncheon. (Matt Dunn, Bridgeton News)

The costs of clean
Assembly candidates in the publicly financed 14th District race spent two-and-a-half times more per vote than the statewide average for Assembly candidates, according to a report released Friday by the state Election Law Enforcement Commission.

The report, which summarizes New Jersey’s second Clean Elections experiment in which the government provides campaign funds to candidates who don’t a
ccept special interests’ cash, offers no recommendations, as ELEC was forbidden from doing so by lawmakers.

The report offers a new perspective of how much taxpayer money was used to fund political campaigns. (Gregory J. Volpe, Gannett)

Pelios wards off “brain damage”
Elia Pelios will not pursue a sixth term as chairman of the Democratic Party in Somerset County.

“After ten years of banging my head against the wall, I’ve come to the realization that there’s only so much more time before brain damage sets in,” said the 38-year old chairman who operates in a GOP-controlled county. (Pizarro, PolitickerNJ.com)

Today’s news from PolitickerNJ.com