Wake-Up Call: Thursday, May 22, 2008

With the PolitickerNJ.com Wake-Up Call e-mailed to your inbox, phone, Blackberry or PDA first thing in the morning, you can get a rundown of New Jersey’s top political headlines. Sign up to get the Wake-Up Call delivered every morning.

Pssst…Lautenberg’s really old, Andrews says
After weeks of skirting the issue, Rep. Rob Andrews (D-1st Dist.) is airing a new television commercial that directly questions whether, at 84, U.S. Sen. Frank Lautenberg is too old for a fifth six-year term.

The 30-second commercial harks back to Lautenberg’s 1982 Senate race against Republican Rep. Millicent Fenwick, calling it “a low point in New Jersey political history.”

“Frank Lautenberg bases his campaign against Millicent Fenwick on her age. She’s 72,” the announcer says as the screen shows photos of Fenwick and a then- 58-year-old Lautenberg. “Using not-so-veiled language, Lautenberg actually says it’s OK for a man to make fun of a woman’s age. Now Lautenberg will be 91 at the end of his term — 91.”

The screen shifts to a recent picture of a much older Lautenberg — who actually would be a few weeks short of his 91st birthday at the end of a fifth term.

Lautenberg’s spokeswoman, Julie Roginsky, denounced the ad as “false and desperate.” (Robert Schwaneberg, Star-Ledger)

Pennacchio looking for Reagan Dems
Joe Pennacchio is unhappy about the state of affairs in New Jersey and America. He believes liberals, Democrats — and some Republicans — have trampled on family values and traditions and failed to deal with immigration, while overspending and taxing the heck out of the average guy.

So state Sen. “Jersey Joe” Pennacchio (R-Morris) is taking his case to the voters, hoping his conservative Republican agenda, tax-cutting mantra and energy-independence message will resound with the public and propel him to a seat in the U.S. Senate.

The 52-year-old dentist and Montville resident hopes to recruit crossover voters, including “Reagan Democrats,” to a populist candidacy for his party’s nomination. (Lawrence Ragonese, Star-Ledger)

Who is Jack Kelly?
On a recent afternoon, congressional candidate Jack Kelly crashed an opponent’s news conference in front of the Ocean County building where Kelly works as a freeholder.

The opponent, Chris Myers, of Burlington County, charged that Kelly was a patronage hack, taking a job at Atlantic City’s airport to pad his pension and profit from taking waive-out fees for not using the airport’s health insurance plan.

Kelly played the class card, questioning how it could be immoral for an employee to take an earned benefit.

As the confrontation unfolded, Kelly’s campaign staff was running a video camera and is now running edited snippets in an attack ad on Myers.

Kelly is a seasoned politician, who doesn’t run from a fight. But he’s also a family man, and the kind of guy who finishes his lunch at the Lobster Shanty in Toms River and stacks the dishes so the waitress can more easily take them away.

“Jack is not afraid to speak his mind,” says longtime friend Tom Gormley. “He’s going to tell you how he feels whether he hurts your feelings or not.”

But, Gormley said, after the blunt talk, Kelly makes up.

“He’s going to come over and talk to you,” said Gormley. “You know he’s not going to hate you because you have a different opinion.”

Kelly finds himself in a bitter Republican primary race with Myers, the mayor of Medford, to take a shot at the congressional seat held by U.S. Rep. James Saxton, 65, who announced in November he would retire for health reasons. The Third District runs through Burlington and Ocean Counties and covers Cherry Hill in Camden County. It has been represented by Saxton for 24 years.

Kelly understands Saxton’s longevity in office. He has been in government almost three decades, taking his first elected office as township committeeman in Eagleswood in 1979, where he served for 17 years – 11 as mayor – before being elected freeholder in 1992.

Now, at age 56, Kelly – the son of a Philadelphia cop and a father of five – wants to go to Washington. (Cynthia Burton, Philadelphia Inquirer)

Does LoBiondo remember how to do this?
U.S. Rep. Frank LoBiondo is well financed. He controls a political machine that won him seven consecutive general elections. He hasn’t earned less than 61 percent of a general congressional election vote.

But on June 3, the 2nd District Republican has to do something he hasn’t done since he first ran in 1994 — win a primary.

LoBiondo, of Ventnor, faces a fiery Mantua resident, Donna Ward, who makes up for a lack of experience with passion and simple answers to Washington’s problems. Ward is frustrated with spending, and she’s running on a fiscally conservative message. (Joseph Gidjunis, The Daily Journal)

An underground campaign
Harry Hager appears to be running a secret campaign for Congress.

A month after announcing he had dropped his bid for the Democratic nomination in the 11th District, the Chester Township man resurfaced this week with glossy mailers and automated telephone calls to select Democratic voters, miffed party officials said yesterday. (Ragonese, Star-Ledger)

Just a few ideas for ethics reforms
Trenton’s triumvirate of Democratic leadership — Governor Corzine, Senate President Dick Codey and Assembly Speaker Joe Roberts — promised us The Great Campaign Finance and Ethics Reform Crusade for 2008.

But as we close in on the year’s halfway mark, the accomplishments have been modest, at best. Successive waves of scandals and FBI stings produced a bumper crop of proposals, but little action.

If anything, Corzine took a step backward, proposing a $750,000 cut in the Election Law Enforcement Commission’s budget. Howls of criticism led him to restore most of the money, but there seems little interest in taking any leaps forward.

The triumvirs say they want to do something. Roberts supports public financing for all legislative contests someday. Corzine has pounded his fists, vowing to modernize the campaign system. And Codey, who argues that great strides already have been taken, has kept his door open.

They need not look far for ideas. There has been a below-the-radar, bipartisan push for reform. Here are a few ideas that would not cost much, other than some political capital. (Charles Stile, The Record)

Rigolosi back in the saddle
When a Jersey Shore businessman wanted to bribe police and fix criminal charges to help out a mobster buddy, he sought advice from Vincent P. Rigolosi, a prominent lawyer who chaired the Bergen County Democratic Party.

But the scheme leaked out and Rigolosi ended up being disbarred for life.

“[Rigolosi’s] conduct reveals a flaw running so deep that he can never again be permitted to practice law,’’ the New Jersey Supreme Court wrote in a scathing 1987 opinion that detailed Rigolosi’s “dishonesty, fraud and deceit.’’

A generation later, Rigolosi has re-emerged at the helm of a key fundraising committee controlled by Democrat Frank R. Lautenberg, the 84-year-old Cliffside Park multi-millionaire who is now seeking his fifth term in the U.S. Senate.

For the past five years, Rigolosi has served as treasurer for New Jersey First, a federally registered political action committee that has raised nearly $655,000 from well-connected donors inside New Jersey and out, such as the Kushner family, the DeCotiis law firm and tobacco mogul Bennett S. Lebow. (Jeff Pillets, The Record)

Lance likes Ike
FLEMINGTON – Ask a Bush-era Republican to name an American statesman he admires and more times than not he will invoke Ronald Reagan. But State Sen. Leonard Lance (R-Hunterdon) invariably gives a different answer to the question.

“I have self-identified with Dwight Eisenhower as an ideal to which I will strive,” says the 7th Congressional District candidate. “Dwight Eisenhower brought people together. He was a uniter not a divider, who strongly believed in balancing the federal budget and not robbing our children and our grandchildren of their future.” (Max Pizarro, PolitickerNJ.com)

Washington Twp. Slate wants to ease the tensions
CHERRY HILL — A second slate of Washington Township Democrats, headed by mayoral candidate and former councilman Matt Lyons, said their top priority, if elected, would be to improve relations between the township and the school board.

“It’s about relationships,” said Ray MacDowell, a business agent and assistant business manager for the Plumbers and Pipefitters Union, Local 322. “It’s about communication.”

Lyons, 42, grew up in the township and is running with MacDowell, 49, and Scott Newman, 40, vice president of local business American Title Abstract Corp. in Turnersville.

“We all answer to the same boss, and that’s the taxpayer,” said Lyons, who said he wants to work with the school board, the fire districts and the municipal utilities authority to ensure residents are paying the least amount of taxes for the same services. “The bottom line is, that when taxpayers open their bill, it doesn’t matter if it’s the school tax, the county tax or the municipal tax. It’s all taxes.”

The three face mayoral candidate Josh Aronovitch, a Philadelphia lawyer, and his running mates for council, homemaker Trish Pisauro and Cooper University Hospital nurse Lisa Passero in the June 3 primary.

Councilwoman Anita LaPierre is also running for a second term on council. (Meg Huelsman, Courier-Post)

Disclosure time
In January 2007, then-West New York Commissioner Caridad Rodriguez, also a state assemblywoman, voted to award a contract to a company that had her on the payroll.

State Sen. Brian Stack, D-Union City, was on a marrying tear last year — hitching couples at a clip of more than seven per week in his capacity as mayor of Union City. As a result, Stack raked in more than $25,000 in extra income.

Though he earns more than $90,000 a year as an undersheriff in Hudson County — and pulls down another $49,000 as a state assemblyman — L. Harvey Smith of Jersey City doesn’t have an interest-bearing bank account.

This is some of the information The Jersey Journal unearthed from a review of 2007 financial disclosure statements Hudson County’s nine-member delegation recently filed with the state Office of Legislative Services and through follow-up interviews with the legislators and the government bodies they, and in some cases, their spouses work for.

The disclosure statements, posted on the state’s Web site last week, classifies the income of legislators in ranges. So specific amounts used in this story were garnered from either public records or the legislators themselves. (Ken Thorbourne, Jersey Journal)

Corzine wants to move 3,000 toward the exit
TRENTON — Gov. Jon S. Corzine‘s administration unveiled details of its early retirement incentives Wednesday, even though the proposal still faces skepticism from key lawmakers.

The plan is aimed at trimming roughly 3,000 workers off of the state payroll and saving $130 million in the budget year that begins July 1, with $160 million of annual savings projected for later years.

The plan is a key element to balancing Corzine’s $32.8 billion budget and is the largest item still in question as lawmakers and the administration head into the final weeks of negotiations. (Jonathan Tamari, The Daily Record)

Evans finds the loophole
ATLANTIC CITY – Mayor Scott Evans‘ administration has momentarily avoided the obstacles it faced to hire its new director of the Revenue and Finance Department. They hired him anyway.

The administration found a loophole by hiring Jody Alessandrine, a former Ocean City councilman and Dennis Township administrator, who is currently serving as finance director, not revenue and finance director.

The administration announced the hiring as director of revenue and finance May 7, replacing current director Jack Potts. The same day, City Council met and refused to approve the hire.

On May 12, Alessandrine began working for the city as finance director.

The job title was discovered by the administration as a vacant position that could be filled without consent of council. (Michael Clark, Press of Atlantic City)

More north Jersey support for Andrews
Rob Andrews today picked up the support of Assemblywoman Sheila Oliver (R-East Orange) for his Senate campaign.

Oliver, who represents parts of Essex and Passaic Counties, is one of a handful of northern legislators who have jumped on with Andrews since he decided to primary incumbent Frank Lautenberg last month.

Andrews is also backed by a few members of the Newark City Council, although Newark Mayor Cory Booker supports Lautenberg. (Matt Friedman, PolitickerNJ.com)

Delayed gratification
WEST WILDWOOD – A former borough mayor and two political newcomers won the most votes in Tuesday’s Borough Commission elections, but eight provisional ballots, which will be counted Friday, could change those totals.

According to the unofficial election results, former Mayor and Commissioner Herbert C. Frederick led the night with 176 votes.

Frederick’s running mate, Gerard P. McNamara, came in second place with 156 votes, while Scott Golden received 151 votes.

The remaining candidates received the following votes: Robert L. Kilgore, 112; Joseph L. Hickey, 139; Cornelius J. Maxwell, 144; and Dennis G. Hocker, 145. (Trudi Gilfillian, Press of Atlantic City)

With the PolitickerNJ.com Wake-Up Call e-mailed to your inbox, phone, Blackberry or PDA first thing in the morning, you can get a rundown of New Jersey’s top political headlines. Sign up to get the Wake-Up Call delivered every morning.

Wake-Up Call: Thursday, May 22, 2008