Today’s news from PolitickerNJ.com

Senate race turns bitter quickly
One by one, the members of New Jersey’s Democratic Congressional delegation who were seated around the dining room table explicitly pledged support to their senior United States senator, Frank R. Lautenberg — and implicitly agreed to keep their ambitions for his seat in check as he seeks his fifth term this fall.

“We were all invited there to hear Frank express to us that he was in it and going to run hard, with vigor and no doubt in his mind,” Representative Steven R. Rothman of Bergen County recalled of a dinner of takeout Chinese food and wine in October at Mr. Lautenberg’s apartment in Washington’s Foggy Bottom neighborhood. “We went around the table, and every single congressman, without equivocation or hesitation, said, ‘Senator, we’re with you all the way. Just tell me what you need me to do.’ ”

But one guest, Representative Robert E. Andrews of Camden County, unexpectedly fractured that solidarity two weeks ago by announcing that he would give up his House seat to mount a last-minute primary challenge to the 84-year-old Mr. Lautenberg, turning a humdrum coronation into a fight for the Democratic Party faithful. On Monday, accompanied by his wife, teenage daughters and other relatives at the State House here, Mr. Andrews made his candidacy official despite an outcry from many state party leaders. (David W. Chen, The New York Times)

Myers’ preferred Senate candidate?
Republican congressional candidate Chris Myers donated $500 last year to the re-election campaign of U.S. Sen. Frank R. Lautenberg, D-N.J., because of the senator’s history of support for Israel, a Myers campaign spokesman said.

Myers was attacked for the donation Monday by rival Republican John P. Kelly, the Ocean County freeholder challenging him for the Republican nomination to succeed retiring Rep. Jim Saxton, R-N.J. (Kirk Moore, Asbury Park Press)

Fitzsimmons out in freeholder race
Police Capt. James Fitzsimmons has dropped out of the race for the District 5 county freeholder seat.

“I was encouraged to run for the position and I was to receive unified support within the county,” said Fitzsimmons, a 25-year veteran of the Police Department and former City Council president.

But that support dissolved over the weekend, the police captain said. (Agustin Torres, Jersey Journal)

Conaghan wants to count the “dead and buried” in Bayonne
Pat Conaghan officially announced yesterday he is running in Bayonne’s special mayoral election in November to restore fiscal responsibility to the city.

“I truly believe if you did a forensic-type audit you would find many dead and buried bodies,” the former municipal judge said at a news conference in front of City Hall to launch his candidacy. “You have no idea of the magnitude of the financial problems and distress the city is in.”

Conaghan was flanked by Councilmen Anthony Chiappone and Gary La Pelusa at the news conference attended by about 40 supporters. (Paul Koepp, Jersey Journal)

Independents promise to shine a light on Lower
Two independents running for office in the November election say they want the sun to shine on local government operations.

Mike Beck, who is running for mayor, and his running-mate Kevin Lare, who seeks the at-large position on Township Council, say they will give the public more access to government. (Richard Degener, Press of Atlantic City)

Two of three to debate in Vineland
Candidates for mayor of Vineland will debate Monday evening at Cumberland County College, and the public is invited to attend and participate in the questioning.

Incumbent Perry Barse and challenger Nick Girone have agreed to participate. Challenger Robert Romano so far has refused two invitations to appear. (The Daily Journal)

Grace period established
When democracy shows up a little late, municipal clerks shouldn’t slam the door in its face, a state judge ruled Monday.

Superior Court Assignment Judge Robert Passero ordered clerks in Paterson and West Milford to accept the nominating petitions of two council candidates whose papers were rejected for being filed minutes after the deadline. (John Petrick, The Record)

A cheaper day at the beach?
City Council candidate Jack Wichterman supports a $10 beach tag but opposes construction of a parking garage.

Wichterman, a former council member running for office in the May election, issued a news release on the two issues recently. Wichterman also wants to institute a “talent bank” to find capable volunteers to serve and proposes to use money from the city’s 2 percent room tax to promote tourism.

Wichterman’s beach-tag position is one he promoted and instituted the last time he served on council, which was from 2002-04. He wants a $10 tag sold in January as local residents would be the main ones buying it that time of year. (Degener, Press of Atlantic City)

Beachwood mayor didn’t want a riot
Mayor Ronald W. Jones Jr. said Monday that charges filed against him by two borough residents April 7 are baseless and have no probable cause.

Robert DiBella, 41, and Joel Balazinski Sr., 46, both of 1008 Halliard Ave., filed complaints against Jones in Municipal Court, following the April 2 Borough Council meeting.

They accused Jones of disorderly conduct, false public alarm, harassment and disrupting a public meeting. They claimed a text message that he sent before the meeting was intended to cause a “riotous situation.” (Chelsea Michels, Asbury Park Press)

Did someone say questionable expenses?
Two members of the Morris County Tax Board, which is under state scrutiny for extensive travel and questionable expense filings, are being renominated, while a third member earmarked for removal has been a holdover appointment for the past year.

County Democratic Party Chairman Lewis Candura yesterday said he supports a new three-year term for Democrat Michael DiFazio of East Hanover, while Republican Chairman John Sette sent a letter of support to Gov. Jon Corzine for the reappointment of Republican Bernard Tyson of Parsippany for a new three-year term. Their terms expire May 1.

Meanwhile, Republican board member Anthony Crecco of East Hanover, who has been criticized by the Corzine administration for his traveling and does not have the support of party leaders for reappointment, has yet to be replaced, even though his term expired a year ago. (Lawrence Ragonese, Star-Ledger)

Illness could delay a decision
Jurors in the federal corruption trial of former Newark Mayor Sharpe James are scheduled to return this morning for a fourth full day of deliberations — but only if they are healthy.

U.S. District Judge William Martini excused the panel of six men and six women about an hour earlier than usual yesterday afternoon because one juror complained of illness. Martini said that the juror, whom he did not identify, said he started feeling sick, possibly from a virus, over the weekend. (John Martin and Jeff Whelan, Star-Ledger)

Bryant’s team’s had enough time, Feds say
Federal prosecutors want to begin the trial of former state Sen. Wayne Bryant and a former dean at the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey accused of fraud and conspiracy on June 2, according to court papers filed Monday.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office said in its filing that lawyers representing Bryant, the former chairman of the Senate budget committee, and Michael R. Gallagher, a former dean at UMDNJ, have had ample time to prepare their cases over the past year. (Gregory J. Volpe, Gannett)

Not guilty, your honor
Township Committeeman Kevin Walsh on Monday entered a not guilty plea in Mount Olive Municipal Court for charges of driving while intoxicated and leaving the scene of an accident last month.

Police reports said that Walsh’s blood-alcohol content was .27, more than three times the legal limit of .08, when he allegedly sideswiped another car while driving on Schooley’s Mountain Road on March 8 and continued driving. He was later stopped by police as he was parking his car in his garage on Wehrli Road. No one was injured in the accident.

Police reports said that Walsh told police he had been drinking “a little” and that he repeatedly refused a breath test, saying, “What’s the point, you got me. I’m done.” (Meghan Van Dyk)

Indictment dropped, but charges hover
A Passaic County grand jury Monday chose not to indict Paterson Councilwoman Vera Ames-Garnes on a pending charge of riot stemming from a November confrontation she had with Prospect Park police.

The grand jury’s no bill of that charge means Ames-Garnes no longer faces possible state Superior Court action. The councilwoman still, however, faces three disorderly persons offenses stemming from the November incident that await trial in Municipal Court. (Petrick, The Record)

Guns in the crosshairs
The mayors of Mercer County’s two most populated municipalities joined their colleagues from the Mayors Against Illegal Guns coalition in Washington, D.C., yesterday to demand that Congress do more curtail the interstate flow of illegal guns.

Mayor Douglas H. Palmer of Trenton and Mayor John Bencivengo of Hamilton supported the coalition’s demands that Congress close loopholes in the current system of background checks for the purchase of guns. (Ryan Tracy, Trenton Times)

Still working to strengthen Megan’s Law
Former Mayor Harold R. Morris wants people to know that his efforts to strengthen Megan’s Law haven’t ended because he is no longer in office.

On Friday, he submitted another 1,000 signatures to the office of Assemblyman Brian E. Rumpf, R-Ocean, and is urging residents of Ocean County to sign the petition online to help give the cause more voices.

In September, he had collected 10,000 signatures and presented them to Rumpf and Christopher J. Connors, who then was a Republican Assemblyman from Ocean County and now is state senator. Legislators have not addressed the petition, Morris said. (Chelsea Michels, Asbury Park Press)

Full-timers only, Buono says
The chairwoman of the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee announced yesterday she is drafting legislation that would bar part-time government workers from the state’s cash-strapped pension system and take other steps to rein in retirement costs.

“I believe the pension system is really meant for those who are career employees,” Sen. Barbara Buono (D-Middlesex) said during a hearing on the state Treasury Department’s budget yesterday. (Dunstan McNichol, Star-Ledger)

Who’s got the brains?
PolitickerNJ.com readers get to decide who the smartest member of the New Jersey Legislature is!

The PolitickerNJ.com Smartest Legislator Tournament is intended to be a contest of sheer intelligence – an online, interactive contest among readers to determine New Jersey’s most intellectually talented state legislator. This is not about political parties, vote-getting abilities, fundraising prowess, legislative achievements, or personal popularity – it’s a contest to look at the minds of the legislators. Think about their ability to reason, to solve problems, to comprehend complicated ideas, to think abstractly, to articulate their views, and to learn. Consider their personal wisdom, their knowledge, and their ability to deal with cognitive complexity. (PolitickerNJ.com)

At home, resting comfortably
Mayor Chuck Chiarello is out of the hospital and recuperating at home following his doctors’ decision not to operate on his heart a second time.

Chiarello, 53, was admitted to the hospital for the second time in two months at the beginning of April, following what he described as a blackout.

In late February, he collapsed in the state Capitol while waiting to hear the governor’s budget announcement. (Juliet Fletcher, Press of Atlantic City)

Today’s news from PolitickerNJ.com