Wake-Up Call: Tuesday, May 20, 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.

Talking points
Vying to go where no New Jersey Republican has gone in 36 years – to the U.S. Senate – the three GOP candidates yesterday highlighted their differences on Iraq, immigration, diplomacy and national security.

In a televised debate in Trenton, former U.S. Rep. Dick Zimmer, State Sen. Joseph Pennacchio, and college professor Murray Sabrin each portrayed himself as a tight-fisted fiscal conservative best able to take on the Democratic nominee in November.

In the run-up to the June 3 primary, the GOP candidates are fighting not only each other, but also a lack of name recognition among voters and their party’s chronic status as also-rans in Senate races.

Zimmer, a Washington lobbyist who has the state party organization’s backing, tried to deflect attacks from Sabrin and, especially, Pennacchio, while presenting himself as the sensible choice.

Pennacchio, a Morris County dentist, repeatedly attacked Zimmer for his role as a lobbyist and for taking agricultural tax breaks on his 23-acre farm in Hunterdon County. He made energy independence and reduced spending the centerpieces of his platform.

Sabrin, a finance professor at Ramapo College, dubbed himself “Maverick Murray” and showed glimpses of his Libertarian past: He promised to visit Cuba, oppose foreign intervention, chop the size of government, and rein in the Federal Reserve.

All the candidates opposed government-provided health-care insurance. (Paul Nussbaum, Philadelphia Inquirer)

Jersey Joe a slumlord?
A little more than a year ago, a bulky package arrived at my desk. The sender was anonymous.

Inside were reams of information about a building in Brooklyn in which then Assemblyman Joseph Pennacchio, R-Montville, was said to have a financial interest. Pennacchio’s brother was also said to be involved.

The package included all sorts of reports and notices suggesting that this building in the Coney Island section of the borough had countless code violations.

It was easy to see where the anonymous sender was going: Assemblyman Pennacchio is a slumlord. (Fred Snowflack, The Daily Record)

Just in case this whole Senate thing doesn’t work out
Meet Rep. Rob Andrews, candidate for governor.

Oops, scratch that. Andrews is the declared candidate for the U.S. Senate. The Camden County Democrat is cashiering his long career in the House for a long-shot gamble for the Democratic Senate nomination on June 3.

My apologies. I’ve been making slips like this recently, a symptom of spending too much time listening to speculation about Andrews’ motives.

It started in early April, when the 50-year-old congressman launched his surprise challenge against Sen. Frank Lautenberg.

Political observers are wondering whether Andrews’ real goal this spring is to enhance his visibility and stature with voters in North and Central Jersey in preparation for a run for governor in 2009. It would require a huge set of “ifs.”

To make this theory work, it would mean Governor Corzine decides not to run for a second term (which he says he intends to do), quits for a Cabinet-level or top appointment in a Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton administration, or party leaders coalesce behind Andrews in a primary challenge against Corzine, whose poll numbers continue to plummet.

Oh, one other thing. Andrews would have to lose (narrowly) on June 3. Andrews says that’s not going to happen. (Charles Stile, The Record)

And it might not
Sen. Frank Lautenberg has a commanding lead over his challengers for the nomination for another term, and a majority of Democrats do not think he’s too old, a new poll shows.

Lautenberg led Rep. Rob Andrews 49 percent to 19 percent in the poll commissioned by The Record and the television station My9 in Secaucus. Morristown Mayor Donald Cresitello received 7 percent, and 25 percent answered not sure.

Fifth-eight percent of Democrats who said they were likely to vote in the June 3 primary said no when asked if Lautenberg, who is 84, was too old to be seeking another six-year term.

Andrews spokesman Michael Murphy said the campaign was “delighted” by the results because incumbents are vulnerable if they cannot get the support of at least half the people in their party in polls. (Herb Jackson, The Record)

A veteran of the big one
TRENTON — At a time when an increasing number of Iraq war veterans are running for Congress, Frank Lautenberg boasts a military background from an earlier era.

The U.S. Senate candidate served in the European theater in World War II. He earned an Ivy League degree on the G.I. Bill. He started a company that was not a dot-com.

White-haired Lautenberg retired from the Senate in 2000 after 18 years, then returned to the scene just five weeks before the 2002 election to replace Sen. Robert Torricelli on the ballot in a court-sanctioned “switcheroo” that still galls Republicans.

Some believed Lautenberg, now 84, would keep the Senate seat warm for Democrats, then bow out gracefully this year.

But the self-made son of Polish and Russian immigrants had enjoyed serving in the U.S. Senate as much as he had grown bored of retirement.

And rather than fade away, Lautenberg wants another campaign, one that would take him to age 90 at the end of another six-year term. Though he faces a fierce primary from U.S. Rep. Rob Andrews of Haddon Heights, Lautenberg has backing from party heavies such as Corzine, six House Democrats from the state and Mayor Cory Booker of Newark, among others. (Tom Baldwin, Courier-Post)

Andrews goes after Lautenberg’s base
DEPTFORD TWP. Congressman Rob Andrews made a special visit to a senior citizens’ luncheon at Auletto’s on Monday, calling those in attendance his “family” and thanking them for their continued support.

“I’ve spent much of my time in North Jersey which is a place where we need to be known,” said Andrews, “but it sure feels good to be back here with my family in the 856 area code.”

Andrews addressed a few issues pertinent to seniors, such as high prescription costs, and vowed that there would be change should he be elected.

“We need to focus on taking care of seniors in our community,” he said. “The question at the pharmacy counter used to be How long will my prescription take?’ and now it seems it’s always How much does it cost?’. We need to stop wasting $10 billion per month in Iraq and start spending it where it is needed here.”

Andrews told the crowd that the last time a U.S. Senator was elected from South Jersey, President Harry Truman was in office. He encouraged seniors to let their voices be heard in this election.

Andrews will challenge incumbent U.S. Sen. Frank Lautenberg in the June primary. (Jessica Driscoll, Gloucester County Times)

What’s a little work among friends?
STAFFORD — George R. Gilmore, the Ocean County Republican Party chairman, was paid more than $4.07 million in legal fees during five years when his political allies controlled the finances at the South Jersey Transportation Authority, public records show.

Some of Gilmore’s peak earnings — including $894,208 in 1999, and $872,954 in 2000 — were awarded to him while Carl Block, now seeking re-election as Ocean County’s clerk, served as an authority commissioner and voted to approve Gilmore’s bills, records show.

During this same time period, Ocean County Freeholder John P. Kelly, Gilmore’s close ally, was given patronage jobs as airport analyst and business manager for the authority’s airport. Kelly’s salary climbed from $57,304 in 1999 to $74,662 in 2004, although he lacked the college degree and prior experience required for the two positions.

In all, Gilmore was paid more than $5.43 million during eight years he served as the authority’s attorney, ending in 2002. Maverick 3rd District Republican congressional candidate Justin Murphy of Tabernacle said Monday that Gilmore’s fees were “outrageous” and that Kelly, who is also a congressional candidate running in the GOP primary June 3, and Block had the responsibility to keep the lid on costs.

Gilmore said he was “very proud” of the work he had done for the authority. (Alan Guenther, Asbury Park Press)

Who raised what?
Former Rep. Dick Zimmer appears to have the most cash of the Republican Senate candidates, although Murray Sabrin has raised the most money so far.

Since officially entering the race a little over a month ago, Zimmer has raised about $478,000 and has approximately $446,000 cash-on-hand, according to Campaign Manager Mark Duffy.

And although Zimmer doesn’t plan to self-fund the whole race, $300,000 of that total is from a personal loan. (Matt Friedman, PolitickerNJ.com)

Rodney’s got the money
11TH CONGRESSIONAL DISTRICT: Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen (R-11th Dist.) has a huge lead in campaign contributions over his Republican opponent and potential Democratic challengers, according to recent campaign finance filings.

The Harding Republican has a current political war chest of $639,399, compared to zero dollars for GOP challenger Kate Erber of Morristown. Meanwhile, Democrat Thomas Wyka of Parsippany has raised $27,150 to none for his opponent Ellen Greenberg of Mendham Township. (Star-Ledger)

Roughneen heads to the bunker
In his dogged fight to stay relevant and competitive against the reality of state Sen. Leonard Lance’s big organizational advantages heading into their 7th Congressional District primary, Thomas Roughneen tonight talked strategy with his allies in a conference call.

The former Essex County prosecutor and Iraq War veteran faces a Thursday night debate with the other competitors in this Republican Primary fight, including businesswoman Kate Whitman, former Summit Council Vice-President Kelly Hatfield, Scotch Plains Mayor Martin Marks, Seton Hall business professor A.D. Amar, Murray Sabrin-running mate Darren Young, and Lance.

The debate will be the last of the cycle with two weeks to go before Election Day. (Max Pizarro, PolitickerNJ.com)

Keep it in the family
VINELAND — Mayor-elect Robert Romano announced Monday his brother Greg Romano, who managed his campaign, will serve as chairman of his transition team.

“Who can you trust more than your own brother?” the mayor-elect said. “He ran my campaign. You see how well he did there.”

Greg Romano, assistant director of the New Jersey Conservation Foundation and a former executive director of the State Agricultural Committee, will advise his brother on staffing decisions.

Robert Romano said his brother, a resident of Crosswicks, is not tied to any local officials. He also said he does not expect to hire his brother to work in City Hall. (Joel Landau, The Daily Journal)

One-stop voting?
In a bid to boost the public’s involvement in public schools, the Assembly yesterday passed a bill that would shift the sparsely attended April school board elections to November, when voters are accustomed to going to the polls.

Lawmakers also cleared a bill that would impose a 10 percent cut in administrative expenses in some school districts.

Assembly Speaker Joseph Roberts (D-Camden), sponsor of both measures, said they are needed to restore public confidence in public school funding.

“The largest portion of any homeowner’s property tax bill goes to support public education,” said Roberts. “If we are to be successful in lowering New Jersey’s property taxes, we need to confront inefficiencies that push tax levies higher.” (Dunstan McNichol, Star-Ledger)

They say they need more
Small towns want all state aid restored to budget

Officials usually aren’t angered by being offered state aid. But in the case of Gov. Jon S. Corzine‘s proposal to restore 25 percent of municipal aid to towns with 10,000 people or fewer, that’s the unanimous reaction of local officials.

Prospect Park Mayor Mohamed Khairullah said that the state needs to restore more of the aid, if not all of it. (Heather Kays, Herald-News)

Not as big as Charles Manson
It took a full day of expert testimony in the ever-contentious McGreevey v. Matos McGreevey divorce case to establish what most people in New Jersey already knew:

The McGreevey name just isn’t worth what it used to be.

“Neither one of them have any celebrity goodwill,” said Sharyn Maggio, an accountant brought in to testify on behalf of former governor James E. McGreevey, the self-described gay American who is seeking to dissolve his marriage to Dina Matos McGreevey.

“Charles Manson was famous,” Maggio testified. “That doesn’t equate to celebrity in the financial sense. The fame or notoriety has to give rise to enhanced earning opportunities.” (Judith Lucas and Brad Parks, Star-Ledger)

New sheriff in town
Gov. Corzine nominated trial lawyer Warren W. Faulk yesterday to become the next Camden County prosecutor, potentially filling a seat that has been vacant for more than two years.

If approved by the state Senate, Faulk, 63, would become the county’s top law enforcement official, in charge of an office of more than 200 people.

The prosecutor also oversees the Camden police.

The state attorney general ordered the department’s takeover in 2003. (Troy Graham, Philadelphia Inquirer)

Time to step down
CAPE MAY POINT – A steamroller couldn’t stop Mayor Malcolm Fraser from serving the borough, but his wife, Joan, finally could.

Fraser, 78, spent his last full day in office Monday talking about finally getting to the “honey-do list” Joan had given him when he retired from Ingersoll-Rand on Dec. 31, 1990. Joan had moved to their summer home on Lake Lily six months before Fraser retired and had plenty for Malcolm to do when he arrived.

It didn’t quite work out that way.

Fraser quickly became head of the Cape May Point Taxpayers Association, and then, in 1992, won his first of four terms on Borough Commission. He has been mayor of this town for the past 16 years, but that ends at noon today. (Richard Degener, Press of Atlantic City)

Friction over energy
GLOUCESTER TWP. — Tensions between members of council and the township administration continue to hamper progress on a multi-million dollar renewable energy project at GEMS Landfill, Mayor Cindy Rau-Hatton said Monday.

The mayor’s comments came hours before a council subcommittee was to hold a closed-door meeting to discuss details and options available for various solar energy projects at the landfill.

“Publicly, (council) said we would attend all the meetings,” Rau-Hatton said. But the panel has excluded township business administrator Tom Cardis from the meeting and told the mayor she could attend but could not speak, Rau-Hatton said.

Only the mayor and one person on six-member council are Republicans. The rest are Democrats.

“I don’t see any reason to have a closed meeting,” said the mayor. “People are very interested in this and they have been coming to the meetings. We need to promote transparency in government.” (Meg Huelsman, Courier-Post)

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: Tuesday, May 20, 2008