Chiappone and Andrews work Bayonne

BAYONNE – As part of his continuing foray onto U.S. Sen. Frank Lautenberg’s north country turf, U.S. Rep. Rob Andrews (D-1) today shook the hands of food shoppers in this blue collar maritime stronghold.

At his side was renegade councilman turned Hudson County Democratic Organization ally Assemblyman Anthony Chiappone (D-Hudson), who backed Andrews in the congressman’s 1997 run for governor and backs him again in his primary run for U.S. Senate.

“He’s a great candidate and I’m glad to have the opportunity to support him,” said Chiappone, who shepherded Andrews to one of his favorite campaign spots: the Shop Rite on Avenue C.

Chiappone’s kind words notwithstanding, Bayonne voters gave Andrews an earful of attitude in this town chopped into equal parts Italian, Irish and Polish working class neighborhoods.

The congressman stood in friendly silence, dutifully answering one woman’s in-your-face questions about the cost of food, gas and other essentials. The Jersey City teacher rebuked him for being off by a dollar on the cost of milk before she and her shopping cart cleared the area

She was more polite than Phil Ebersole.

“I think they’re all a bunch of bums,” said the gas station attendant, moments after maneuvering his cart around Andrews and Chiappone.

“The only way I’d support another one of these guys is if the guy actually did what he claimed he would do,” Ebersole said. “And that’s never going to happen, so forget it.”

“Already committed,” another shopper called over his shoulder as Andrews tried to make his pitch.

One shopper, Leo Madden, seemed receptive to Andrews and gladly gave out his contact information.

As part of his northern campaign strategy, Andrews sandwiched the campaign stop between an hour and half sit-down with the editorial board of the Jersey Journal, and a West Orange celebration in honor of Essex County Executive Joseph DiVincenzo.

At the exact time that Andrews shook hands in Bayonne, Lautenberg stood at a podium in Washington, D.C. with fellow Democratic senators on the occasion of Earth Day, projecting issues-centric solemnity.

“Global warming is the most serious environmental threat we face,” said the New Jersey senator. “Tackling global warming starts with reducing greenhouse gas emissions and by taking actions like our new energy law to improve the fuel efficiency of cars and make our nation’s federal buildings ‘green’ and more energy efficient. We need to treat every day like it’s Earth Day.”

The head-to-head Democratic primary, now eight days old following Andrews’s formal declaration of his candidacy last Monday, has assumed a familiar pattern: the challenger calls on Lautenberg to debate, and Lautenberg, usually appearing at a policy-oriented press conference, either personally or through campaign channels chastises Andrews for his co-authorship of the 2002 resolution authorizing President George W. Bush to go to war in Iraq.

Team Andrews argues that they have neutralizedIraq as an issue in the primary because Lautenberg publicly supported the war even though he wasn’t in the U.S. Senate at the time of the vote. Lautenberg’s people persist in attacking Andrews’s decision to assume a leading role in his support of America’s march to an unpopular and costly war.

While continually calling on Lautenberg to agree to debate terms, Andrews has also criticized the senator for not explicating his own plan for withdrawal from the war-torn Middle Eastern country, which Andrews did 18 months ago.

Lautenberg spokesperson Julie Roginsky today reminded Andrews that the senator was one of 13 senators who backed a withdrawal plan authored by senators John Kerry (D-MA.) and Russ Feingold (D-WI.), and she slammed the congressman’s first piece of campaign literature, which includes Andrews’s boast that he “introduced” a plan for troop withdrawal.

Roginsky objected to the rival campaign’s use of the word “introduced,” pointing out that in his role as a member of Congress, Andrews had not himself authored and advanced legislation for a troop pullout.

“There is absolutely no evidence that Rob Andrews introduced legislation to bring our troops home ever,” said Roginsky. “The only plan he can take credit for introducing is the one that got us into Iraq five long years ago.”

In between shaking hands in Bayonne today, Andrews said he voted to get U.S. forces out of Iraq 16 times. He says the House passed resolutions, while the senate’s efforts simultaneously stalled.

Complaining that the “senator wants to hide behind surrogates,” Andrews reiterated his call to Lautenberg to face him for a real debate, even as Chiappone introduced him to yet another Bayonne resident crossing the packed parking lot behind a shopping cart.

Chiappone and Andrews work Bayonne