Wake-Up Call: Wednesday, May 21, 2008

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More charges for Hackett
Already facing a federal bribery trial, Orange Mayor Mims Hackett Jr. was charged yesterday by the state attorney general with billing the city for thousands of dollars in fraudulent travel expenses.

Hackett is accused of forging receipts for 16 dinners at high-priced restaurants in Atlantic City, Indianapolis, Memphis and elsewhere and then submitting them to City Hall for reimbursement, state prosecutors said. In all, he received more than $5,700 for meals that were either paid by fellow diners or never took place, they charged. (Rick Hepp and Kevin C. Dilworth, Star-Ledger)

He’s probably very busy anyway
EAST BRUNSWICK — They danced around the question Tuesday, but Richard A. Zimmer and Murray Sabrin, competing to be the Republican nominee for U.S. Senate, agreed they won’t be asking for campaign help from President Bush or Vice President Dick Cheney.

Zimmer said he planned to campaign with U.S. Sen. John McCain of Arizona, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee.

Sabrin, who has criticized McCain on war policy, said he would campaign with anyone in sync with his conservative positions.

Both ultimately excluded the current national standard-bearers of their party.

That was one of numerous questions the pair fielded from Gannett New Jersey newspapers’ editorial board representatives at the offices of the Home News Tribune.

The third Republican in the June 3 primary, state Sen. Joseph Pennacchio, R-Morris, did not attend because of a previously scheduled family obligation.

He also has suspended his campaign for a few days due to a death in the family. (Tom Baldwin, Gannett)

That song gets in your head
TRENTON — If you listen to New Jersey radio, there’s a good chance you’ve heard the jingle.

“Jersey Joe Pennacchio.”

State Sen. Joseph Pennacchio, R-Montville, fashions himself as “just an average Joe,” which he says sets him apart in the eyes of voters from the other two Republican candidates seeking the GOP nod for U.S. Senate — Ramapo College professor Murray Sabrin, and former U.S Rep. Richard A. Zimmer.

“They like something that’s a little different,” said Pennacchio. “They want an independent thinker, someone who’s not beholden to party bosses.”

Pennacchio has won the majority of county endorsements from Republican organizations in the state but seems to lack support from the state GOP, which went through a list of potential candidates before settling on Zimmer. Pennacchio says he is not dismayed by the party’s lack of support.

Asked why does it doesn’t bother him that his party’s leadership seemingly wanted anybody but him, Pennacchio replied, “Because I kept on winning.” (Michael Rispoli, Gannett)

iFrank
RENTON — It isn’t just that Frank Lautenberg skis in the Rockies and relates to rock and rollers — a couple of oft-cited examples used to discourage skepticism about this year’s re-election bid by New Jersey’s 84-year-old United States senator.

It’s that he takes iPhone photos — and knows how to transmit them to friends and family. Lautenberg actually is kind of techie, in an era when some politicians are still uninitiated to e-mail, and a smattering won’t use a cell phone.

Even Lautenberg’s chief rival in the Democratic primary, Rep. Robert E. Andrews, says he needs help sending iPhone photos. (Tom Baldwin, Gannett)

All Cresitello wants is some attention
TRENTON — While Sen. Frank Lautenberg and Rep. Rob Andrews spend millions reminding voters who voted, or would have, for the war in Iraq and accuse each other of ducking debates or shirking congressional duties, a third candidate in the Democratic U.S. Senate primary just wants to be heard.

“People would vote for me if I had an opportunity to get my pitch out there,” Morristown Mayor Donald Cresitello said. “I was hoping we’d have two televised debates on a TV station that had more exposure, but unfortunately we’re only having one and it’s on (NJN), and not a lot of people are going to see it.

“But if people want a senator who’s not owned by the power brokers, who’s not throwing multimillions of dollars into a race, then they would want to vote for me because I’m the one walking in the shoes of the New Jersey residents,” Cresitello added.

On his Web site, Cresitello, 61, speaks of his former general and electrical contracting business but doesn’t mention his employment of recent years with the state’s New Jersey Turnpike Authority and Schools Development Authority.

Cresitello, a lifelong resident of Morristown, where he has spent most of the past 30 years in elective office, said people are not happy about the war, economy or gas prices and that his opponents — incumbent Lautenberg, of Hoboken, and Andrews, of Haddon Heights — have done nothing in Congress to solve these problems. (Gregory J. Volpe, Gannett)

It’s only going to get worse
With less than two weeks remaining before the primary, the three Republican candidates in the heated 3rd District race for the U.S. House of Representatives expect the personal attacks, which have escalated in recent weeks, to continue at their current levels until one of them wins their party’s nomination.

The two front-runners, Jack Kelly and Chris Myers, said they will continue to highlight the differences that, they said, exist between them. But both said they would not increase the amount of regular mailers and campaign advertisements they release.

Justin Murphy said his grassroots campaign would increase its mailers but would continue to remain an outsider to the verbal sparring that is going on between Kelly and Myers. (Rob Spahr, Press of Atlantic City)

A not-so surprise ending in A.C. debate
ATLANTIC CITY – For a moment, it actually seemed possible.

The city’s three Democratic primary candidates for mayor sat on the same stage and debated respectfully for almost two hours. No arguments or name-calling, no outbursts from the crowd.

But once the candidates were given the opportunity to veer from the issues in their closing statements, they did. And it caused a scene.

“When you elect Langford, I can promise you this: you won’t be spending your money on any kind of substance-abuse program or anger management for your mayor,” he said.

Langford was referring to Assistant Business Administrator Domenic Cappella‘s well-documented temper and insinuations of Mayor Scott Evans‘ drug use.

After the debate, Evans denied taking any sort of illegal drugs, insisting that the claims are part of a series of baseless attacks by his opponents.

“When I was vice president of the (firefighter’s) union, I pushed to get routine testing,” Evans said, adding that the department currently tests only with probable cause. “They don’t have any arguments to make, so they just make things up about me.”

Langford also bashed both of his opponents for not renouncing former City Council President Craig Callaway after he pleaded guilty to bribery charges. (Michael Clark, Press of Atlantic City)

Can McCain trump the numbers in Monmouth?
In Monmouth County, registered Democrats now lead Republicans by 10,000 voters, according to the County Board of Elections’ registration report, which positions the shore county once again for a likely battle come November.

And finally it’s a battle at the county level, where gleeful Democrats see an opportunity to gain control of this traditionally GOP stronghold.

But while the Democrats want to use those Board of Elections numbers to trampoline their pair of Freeholder candidates onto the board to at last seize the majority, GOP leadership feels confident that a John McCain presidential candidacy will play to their party’s root strength here. (Max Pizarro, PolitickerNJ.com)

See, he could get a job
ELIZABETH, N.J. – The nation’s first openly gay governor could have become a political talk show host, pursued a movie deal, or otherwise cashed in on his notoriety after a gay sex scandal forced him from the New Jersey chief executive’s office four years ago, according to a lawyer for his estranged wife.

John Post, who represents Dina Matos McGreevey, spent much of yesterday trying to convince a judge that former Gov. Jim McGreevey had ample opportunity to cash in on his fame. McGreevey, 50, has testified that he did not want to pursue high-profile jobs. He said he wanted to get on with his life – quietly.

Lawyers for the warring McGreeveys clashed repeatedly over money matters as the judge overseeing their messy divorce tries to untangle the couple’s assets and debts.

Post is trying to show that McGreevey is underestimating his earning potential and worth to avoid paying alimony to his soon-to-be ex-wife. (Angela Delli Santi, Associated Press)

That was fast
Two state legislators from Burlington County have introduced a bill that would repeal the state’s paid family leave act that was signed into law earlier this month.

Assemblyman Scott Rudder, R-8th of Medford, and Assemblywoman Dawn Marie Addiego, R-8th of Evesham, introduced the bill yesterday, saying the law increases taxes and threatens to drive jobs from the state.

Rudder and Addeigo are the primary sponsors of the bill. (Ed Moorhouse, Burlington County Times)

Business groups unite
A water tax that faces opposition from the business community has been shut off — at least for the moment.

The tax, which would add about $32 a year to the average household’s water bill, is designed to raise $150 million for land preservation.

But business leaders say the tax would worsen an already weak state economy.

The Trenton-based New Jersey Business and Industry Association wrote in its weekly bulletin that “New Jersey’s employers cannot afford to get hit with another increase in the cost of doing business.”

The Senate Environmental Committee did not put the bill (S-1454) on its agenda Monday. Still, committee chairman Sen. Bob Smith, D-Middlesex, believes “the bill is definitely not dead,” said Jason Butkowski, a spokesman for the Senate Democrats. (Hugh R. Morley, The Record)

Is Schundler on the comeback trail?
What was just smoke and embers is starting to flame up. Blowing on the growing fire is former Jersey City Mayor Bret Schundler, who seems to be positioning himself for another run at the Grove Street office.

On Saturday, on the big stage at the Everything Jersey City Festival on Central Avenue, there was Schundler among the elected and other dignitaries. It was Mayor Jerramiah Healy who introduced Schundler to the crowd and during exchanges with residents, the former mayor was asked about a poll and whether he is planning to run again next May. After a bit of goading and some hemming and hawing, Schundler said his running is “possible” – and the flames flickered higher.

Possible? Bret is all but waving a placard – Vote for Me.

He has paid for a poll that came down to asking people for their opinion of Healy and himself on a series of issues – crime, education, etc.

About a month back, Hudson County Executive Tom DeGise, a Schundler ally when DeGise was City Council president under Bret’s administration, said Schundler had his day and that he and the other Jersey City Democrats are firmly behind their fellow Heights Hibernian.

Back then, they could say this because they were convinced Healy had state Sen. Sandra B. Cunningham on his side. Now they are not so confident about the sincerity of her partnership with Healy and whether she covets City Hall. (Political Insider, Jersey Journal)

Will he lose his phone privileges?
River Vale Mayor Joseph Blundo has been fined $1,000 by the city of New York for repeatedly using his office phone to conduct township business.

Blundo, the executive director of human resources for the New York City Department of Education, was charged in a complaint with using city time and resources on work related to his part-time mayoral duties, a disposition released today by the New York City Conflicts of Interest Board said.

Blundo acknowledged making 76 long-distance calls related to River Vale business from his Brooklyn office phone in the three and a half months since he started working for the DOE on April 17, 2007. (Giovanna Fabiano, The Record)

That was hard
ATLANTIC CITY — Gov. Jon S. Corzine offered a glimpse Tuesday into why Camden County has gone more than two years without a permanent prosecutor.

He and the state Senate considered so many potential nominees for the job, “it was challenging to build a consensus,” he said.

Corzine made the comments in an interview during a visit to a Gaming Congress luncheon here. Under state law, the governor nominates county prosecutors, and the Senate confirms or rejects those nominations.

On Monday, Corzine announced that he had nominated Warren W. Faulk, 63, of Haddonfield, to be the Camden County prosecutor for a five-year term. He would succeed Vincent P. Sarubbi, who resigned in March 2006. (Adam Smeltz and William Sokolic, Courier-Post)

The Mancini tradition
LONG BEACH TOWNSHIP — A man with a familiar last name will head the township’s Board of Commissioners.

The newly sworn-in board members chose Joseph Mancini as their mayor for the next four years. Mancini is the son of former Mayor James J. Mancini, who led the township for nearly 30 years.

The younger Mancini, DiAnne C. Gove and Ralph Bayard were sworn in to four-year terms on the Board of Commissioners during Tuesday’s organization meeting. (Nicholas Huba, Asbury Park Press)

Why does Comegno still have a job?
Burlington County Democratic Chairman Rick Perr criticized Freeholder Director Aubrey Fenton for not forcing Burlington County Bridge Commission Chairman John Comegno to resign in the wake of his guilty plea to drunk driving.

Comegno pleaded guilty last week to driving under the influence of alcohol. A judge suspended his license for three months, ordered him to pay nearly $953 in fines and $969 in restitution for an accident he caused in January. (Matt Friedman, PolitickerNJ.com)

Then why’d he settle?
Former governor Donald DiFrancesco‘s law firm has settled a lawsuit by an attorney who claimed he sexually harassed her and that she was fired from the firm in retaliation for complaining about the conduct of a local judge.

The settlement was concluded May 9 and confirmed by both sides yesterday. The terms of the deal are confidential and the settlement includes no admission of wrongdoing. (Josh Margolin, Star-Ledger)

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: Wednesday, May 21, 2008