Today’s news from PolitickerNJ.com

A surprising position
Immigrants and their advocates yesterday found an unlikely ally: the top law enforcement officer in New Jersey.

U.S. Attorney Christopher Christie surprised many at a Dover church public forum when he said sneaking into the United States is not a criminal act.

“Being in this country without proper documentation is not a crime,” Christie told more than 60 residents and town officials. “The whole phrase of ‘illegal immigrant’ connotes that the person, by just being here, is committing a crime.”

Being undocumented may be a civil wrong, but it’s not a criminal act, Christie said. (Julie O’Connor, Star-Ledger)

Tough sledding ahead
PATERSON — This much is certain in the 4th Ward City Council race: Whoever wins the seat in the May 13 municipal election faces an uphill battle in convincing residents that better days are ahead.

As its representative for the past 22 years, Vera Ames-Garnes has become synonymous with the 4th Ward. But two young challengers in this year’s race are hoping to tap into the nation’s mood for change and unseat the incumbent.

Those candidates, Kisha M. Manning and Wilkin “Wil” Santana, both 27, argue that two decades was ample time for Ames-Garnes to help improve the lives of the district’s residents. (Denisa R. Superville, Herald News)

A series of quickies
The Bergen County freeholders called their bimonthly meeting to order one recent Wednesday evening and quickly got down to business: They described their turn as judges in a local chocolate competition, reported on their fun at a Greek festival in Fort Lee and posed for photos with a departing county employee.

Then, in less than a minute, and by a single unanimous vote, the all-Democratic board approved $4.2 million in spending and called it a night.

“Took me longer to get here!” Rockleigh Mayor Nicholas Langella, a regular attendee, said of the 20-minute meeting.

Because Democrats have held all seven seats on the legislative body since January of last year, their public meetings have become swift matters of ceremony, where spending decisions are dispatched with a collective nod — no questions, comments or observations.

“It sounds more like the old Soviet Politburo than a democratically elected freeholder board,” said Todd Caliguire, a former Republican freeholder who served two terms on an all-GOP board in the 1990s.

Current freeholders say that many of their deliberations and disagreements take place before the public meetings. The board has specialized committees — such as budget, education and transportation — which discuss details of relevant spending items long before they reach the full board, they say. And members of the full board also get to raise concerns and disagreements at the freeholders’ weekly work sessions, held almost every Wednesday afternoon. (Oshrat Carmiel, The Record)

Politicians puzzled by perspective
The former mayor of Parsippany. A Hunterdon County freeholder. A longtime member of the Morristown Planning Board.

When the state’s landmark Highlands Act was drafted nearly four years ago, legislators called for such local officials to hold at least eight of the 15 spots on the Highlands Council — a move meant to make the panel more directly accountable to the public.

But the presence of such officials on the council is now drawing ethical questions about campaign contributions and decision-making, issues that have resonance as New Jersey tries to stamp out its reputation for corruption.

Environmentalists argue several of the elected representatives on the council should recuse themselves from voting on applications if they have received political contributions from the applicant or those involved in the applicant’s project.

As a result, several council members have had to recuse themselves from a key vote. And the issue is certain to arise again. Just last week, one environmentalist organization called for the council to revisit another approval, saying some who voted for it should have disqualified themselves.

It’s a perspective many council members find puzzling. (Paula Saha, Star-Ledger)

Taking it to the streets
PRINCETON – The crowds flowed onto Nassau Street for Communiversity Day and in their midst at one time or another moved two politicians, intent on making contact with voters.

Cruising through the swarm of people at the blocked-off intersection of Nassau and Witherspoon, U.S. Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ) projected the image of a relentless white-haired pavement-pounder and man of the people. Hailing him as their 84-year old wonder, the senator’s handlers say by contrast his underdog rival’s frequent public appearances belie desperate backroom and courtroom campaign machinations.

As U.S. Rep. Rob Andrews (D-1) faces a decision tomorrow in his challenge of statewide balloting procedure, Lautenberg shakes head at his younger rival’s strategy. (Max Pizarro, PolitickerNJ.com)

Sunday, April 27

Why not one of us?
It’s been more than two decades since a member of their party held a U.S. Senate seat in New Jersey, but the three candidates vying for the Republican nomination are hoping this year’s race will be different.

They’re banking on factors, from the age of 84-year-old incumbent U.S. Sen. Frank Lautenberg to Arizona Sen. John McCain‘s presidential candidacy, to help them break the Democrats’ streak.

“We have a presidential candidate running as strong as any Republican has in the last 20 years,” said former Congressman Dick Zimmer, 63, who is seeking the party’s nomination and believes he is “absolutely” electable in a race against Lautenberg or his Democratic challenger, South Jersey Congressman Rob Andrews.

But Zimmer, who lives on a 25-acre farm in Hunterdon County, will first have to face Republicans Murray Sabrin of Bergen County, 61, a Ramapo College of New Jersey finance professor who ran for governor as a Libertarian in 1997; and state Sen. Joseph Pennacchio, 52, a dentist of Morris County who has dubbed himself “Jersey Joe.”

The three vary widely on the issues, from Iraq to abortion. (Trish G. Graber, Gloucester County Times)

Does this man need help?
Murray Sabrin of Fort Lee is the first Republican U.S. Senate candidate to boldly — actually, bold-facedly — declare himself the front-runner in the June 3 primary.

Sabrin began using the “front-runner” references in darkened type in several news releases issued last week.

Spokesman George Ajjan says there is plenty of evidence to make the case that Sabrin is leading the pack: his ability to field insurgent slates in five counties (not in his home county of Bergen, though), his recruiting of six congressional candidates to run under his “Constitutional Republicans Protecting the Liberty Platform” and his mobilization of a grass-roots network of donors from 48 states (the average contribution is less than $150). That, says Ajjan, gives him a decided edge over state Sen. Joe Pennacchio, a dentist from Montville, and former U.S. Rep. Dick Zimmer of Hunterdon, who entered the race two weeks ago. (Charles Stile, The Record)

Andrews’ buffet
Rep. Rob Andrews (D-1st Dist.) brought his campaign for U.S. Senate to Middlesex County yesterday, saying he wants to provide health insurance for the 1 million New Jerseyans who lack it, boost college scholarships and create a federal government market for green technology.

To pay for it, Andrews said, he would end tax breaks for the wealthiest Americans and extricate the United States from Iraq’s “civil war.”

“Don’t waste $10 billion a month in Baghdad,” Andrews said to applause from about 40 people in the United Auto Workers union hall in Edison.

The man Andrews hopes to succeed, Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.), attended the Communiversity celebration at Princeton University yesterday morning and the annual shad festival in Lambertville in the afternoon. Lautenberg also delivered the Democrats’ reply to President Bush‘s weekly radio address yesterday.

Andrews never mentioned Lautenberg during his two-hour “town hall” meeting, the first of about 20 he plans to hold throughout the state. (Robert Schwaneberg, Star-Ledger)

Scrambling for attention
His name is Donald Cresitello.

He is the mayor of Morristown, he works for the state Schools Development Authority, he has 30 years of political experience, and he’s the Democratic Party’s other candidate for U.S. Senate.

On June 3, voters will choose party candidates for the November general election. Recently, however, all eyes have been on incumbent Frank Lautenberg and his better-known challenger, Congressman Rob Andrews, who bucked the system and announced his candidacy earlier this month. (Pete McCarthy, Gloucester County Times)

A house for the few
Some people still call the House of Representatives the “People’s House.”

The name dates back to the founding of the republic. More than 200 years later, however, the so-called “People’s House” has morphed into an institution as elite as the Senate, which was elite by design. Keep in mind that it took until the early 20th century for U.S. senators to be elected by popular vote.

If you want to see our point, go to the Internet and check out the latest campaign filings by House members, all of whom are up for re-election this year. The April 15 filing with the Federal Elections Commission covers contributions from the beginning of 2007 to the end of this March.

A random check shows that Rep. Frank Pallone, D-Long Branch, reported raising about $1.5 million. In comparison, Rep. Chris Smith, R-Hamilton, looks almost penniless; he raised a mere $402,000. As for representatives from northwest New Jersey, Rep. Scott Garrett, R-Wantage, who represents most of Sussex County and all of Warren County, raised an estimated $688,000 and Rep. Rodney P. Frelinghuysen, R-Harding, who represents all of Morris County, raised $626,000. (Fred Snowflack, The Daily Record)

The powerhouse
There’s no doubt Barbara Buono has an independent streak.

In her first four months as head of the powerful Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee, the 54-year-old Democrat criticized Gov. Jon Corzine‘s proposed aid cuts to small towns, pushed for pension reforms and called for an end to “Christmas tree” grants for her fellow lawmakers’ pet projects.

And in the midst of all this feather ruffling, Buono (D-Middlesex) rebuked Senate Majority Leader Stephen Sweeney when she thought he was out of line while tussling with a small town mayor during a hearing. The burly power broker from South Jersey abruptly stood up and left the room, only to say later she’s got his respect.

“I have probably three times her weight,” said Sweeney (D-Gloucester). “She’s strong enough to run this committee. You have a lot of strong personalities on it. Look what she did to me.”

Those who know Buono best aren’t surprised. (Claire Heininger and Joe Donohue, Star-Ledger)

The one question
Why was this seder different from all other seders? Well, there’s a heated Senate primary, for one thing, and the incumbent was told not to show up.

As they have the last two years, Gov. Jon Corzine and his girlfriend, Sharon Elghanayan, included Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.) and his wife among those invited to their annual private seder last Sunday at Drumthwacket. Though Lautenberg had attended the traditional Passover celebration both times, he declined the invite this year because he had other plans, according to two sources with direct knowledge of the events.

Then came a primary challenge by Rep. Rob Andrews (D- 1st Dist.) and a rough patch in the Lautenberg-Corzine relation ship caused by the senator’s op position to the governor’s controversial toll-hike plan. As the holiday drew closer, Lautenberg put a follow-up call into Corzine’s camp, saying his plans had changed and he and his wife, Bonnie, would love to attend and break some matzo with the Methodist governor.

Too late. The Lautenbergs were told they’d have to find their four glasses of wine elsewhere because their seats at the seder table had been taken after they originally RSVP’d with a no. (The Auditor, Star-Ledger)

Why stop now?
You’d think a six-year streak of corruption convictions by federal prosecutors would be a powerful deterrent to New Jersey officials who consider abusing their power for personal gain.

But the Garden State outpaced its neighbors in federal corruption arrests last year, and the state’s top prosecutor expects just as many officials collared this year.

Since 2002, 128 public employees in New Jersey have been convicted on federal corruption charges. About a third of those were elected officials, including state lawmakers, mayors and town council members.

Those numbers back up New Jersey’s reputation as a corruption hotbed, fueled by TV shows like “The Sopranos.” Experts say the state’s labyrinth of local boards, commissions and councils has created fiefdoms where fraud and abuse flourish. (Brad Haynes, Associated Press)

Alternative attention
SEN. BOB MENENDEZ broke out of the mainstream media and got some coverage in the entertainment world last week.

First was a Government Accountability Office study he and Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, requested. It concluded terrorists still operate freely along the border between Pakistan and Afghanistan.

In addition to coverage in the mainstream press, the report was featured in a segment on Jon Stewart‘s “The Daily Show” on Comedy Central, although Menendez was not mentioned.

Later in the week, his office distributed photos of him meeting in his office with music superstar Shakira, who was on Capitol Hill promoting the cause of education in developing countries. (Herb Jackson, The Record)

The spoils of incumbency
PATERSON — The numbers are in, or at least some of them.

All 16 candidates running for six City Council seats on May 13 were required to file their campaign finance reports, which outline how much money they’ve raised and from whom. But one-third of those candidates failed to send their reports to the state Election Law Enforcement Commission, according to officials there.

Candidates who file late may be fined by the state.

Of those up to date, 2nd Ward Councilman Aslon Goow Sr. leads the candidates, having raised $22,750 so far. His counterpart in the 5th Ward, Juan Torres, raised $18,570 as of January, but he did not send in his latest report by the April 14 deadline. (Alexander MacInnes, The Herald News)

Saturday, April 26

Attorneys to take a look
Gov. Jon Corzine yesterday assigned his attorneys to review his administration’s decision to award a youth crime prevention contract to an organization that has the governor and two close friends on its board of directors.

Corzine said he had no role in approving the $2 million agreement with the NYU Child Study Center. And he stood up for a long history of good work done by the Manhattan organization.

Because he helped establish the center and serves on its board, he acknowledged that questions could be raised about whether the state contract was proper. (Josh Margolin and Susan K. Livio, Star-Ledger)

Knives drawn
It started as just a Thursday evening meeting of the Hudson County Board of Chosen Freeholders, but after a while one had the feeling that we were all under the highway with the Jets and the Sharks.

Let’s start with the boring (but important, for you serious readers) stuff about budget and taxes, but I promise it gets better as we follow this tale.

This was the session where County Executive Tom DeGise presented the $431 million county budget to the freeholders for a vote for introduction. A public hearing would be scheduled later.

DeGise opened his remarks by saying: “Consider: just a year ago a massive, nationwide credit crunch was beginning to show up in red ink on the balance sheets of some of the largest financial institutions in the United States. That crunch on Wall Street has an impact on Main Street, and that is where budgets like ours are made.”

Right away, you know something’s coming, something big – just around the corner. (Political Insider, Jersey Journal)

Stender sets her defense
FANWOOD – Assemblywoman Linda Stender (D-Union) flexed her party muscles today as she toured a senior care facility here with chief deputy whip in the U.S. House, Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-FL), and defended herself against attacks from prospective general election rivals.

Stender, the Democrats’ nominee in the 7th District Congressional District, and Wasserman Schultz, co-chair of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee’s Red to Blue program, underscored their commitment to universal health care, Medicare and Social Security. (Pizarro, PolitickerNJ.com)

Newcomer taking on the incumbent
MIDDLE TOWNSHIP – Republican Daniel Lockwood is challenging incumbent Democratic Mayor Nathan Doughty for a seat on Township Committee in November.

For the political party filing deadline earlier this month, Lockwood filed a petition to run for Township Committee, a longtime stronghold for Democrats. Three Democrats sit on the Township Committee. Committee members, who serve three-year terms, appoint the mayor from their own ranks.

Lockwood, of Boyd Street in Cape May Court House, is the owner of ProEx Properties LLC, a landscape and home-improvement contracting company.

Previously, he was general manager and chief financial officer for Driftwood Camping Resort & RV Centers and the Sand Barrens Golf Club, according to his resume.

He said this is his first run for public office. (Brian Ianieri, Press of Atlantic City)

Let’s go to the transcripts
The jury in the federal corruption case against the mayor of Guttenberg and his wife asked for more transcripts yesterday, and went home for the weekend without reaching a verdict after its third day of deliberations.

After a quiet morning, the jurors sent the judge a note at 2:35 p.m. asking for transcripts of the testimony given by Javier Inclan, a deputy chief of staff in Gov. Jon Corzine‘s office who was the treasurer of the Guttenberg Democratic Organization at the time of allegedly illegal campaign contributions; Eduvinges Medrano, sister of the former bar owner who says she gave the cash, and the mayor himself. (Michelangelo Conte, Jersey Journal)

Voting machine review coming
Voting rights advocates are finally getting a chance to have experts examine New Jersey’s electronic voting machines under a ruling issued yesterday by a Superior Court judge, who said strict guidelines are needed to give computer scientists access, while shielding the manufacturer’s trade secrets.

Sequoia Voting System tried to persuade Judge Linda Feinberg to quash subpoenas issued in Bergen, Gloucester, Mercer, Middlesex, Ocean and Union counties instructing officials to turn over voting machines that showed discrepancies in the February presidential primary. (Diane C. Walsh, Star-Ledger)

He’s out!
Bobby J is officially a free man.

Ending his nearly three-year incarceration for extortion and tax evasion, former Hudson County Executive Robert C. Janiszewski had the electronic bracelet that’s been strapped to an ankle removed yesterday. (Ken Thorbourne, Jersey Journal)

Didn’t they see his name?
Since Eric Frenchman‘s defeat in the township school board election, the 41-year-old has turned his attention to a bigger race: He is an Internet strategist for Republican presidential candidate Sen. John McCain.

Wearing a T-shirt and jeans on most days, Frenchman reports to his second-floor home office off Flocktown Road, where he spends endless hours surfing the Internet, analyzing daily Google search trends and updating his blog on his own digital media consulting firm’s Web site, Pardon My French.

Frenchman works for Connell Donatelli, a political advertising agency that handles McCain’s digital strategy. His primary job is to figure out which words people use on Google when they are seeking information on presidential candidates and political issues.

When words are found that are associated with the Arizona senator — such as “POW,” “war in Iraq” and “economy” — ads for Web sites featuring the candidate’s take on the issues are placed so that they appear alongside the specific search results. The ads encourage people to join the campaign mailing list or make a donation.

In many ways, Frenchman’s job is like pulling needles from a giant haystack. (Meghan Van Dyk, The Daily Record)

Today’s news from PolitickerNJ.com