More drama in the overheating 5th District congressional race

There’s plenty of outrage to go around in the 5th Congressional District.

Today, the Dennis Shulman campaign decried a mailer from incumbent U.S. Rep. Scott Garrett (R-Wantage) that put a small picture of Shulman, a rabbi, in front of a much larger picture of a Hamas member carrying an AK-47.

“Should we be talking with terrorists,” it reads in large, blood red letters. “Dennis Shulman thinks so.”

Garrett also put out a commercial asking “What do we really know about Dennis Shulman, the man spearing Scott Garrett?,” and referring to him as an “extremist who believes America must negotiate with terrorists.”

In response, Garrett’s campaign manager dug up an old Democratic boogeyman, Karl Rove, and added a new one, U.S. Rep. Michelle Bachmann (R-Minn.). Her comments that the media ought to investigate members of Congress for being un-American during a television appearance have drawn outrage from Democrats, along with huge campaign contributions to her opponent. There’s a slight Bachmann/Garrett connection — two former Garrett staffers recently moved on to work for Bachmann).

"For Garrett to attack Dennis Shulman, a rabbi and esteemed community leader, as a sympathizer to terrorism against Israel and the United States, is just beyond the pale," said Shulman Campaign Manager Jeff Hauser in a statement. "These attacks not only show what kind of person Scott Garrett is, cut out of the same mold as Karl Rove and Michelle Bachmann; they also prove how desperate his campaign and the Republicans in Washington are to keep this seat in the GOP column.”

The Garrett campaign, in turn, brought up former Sen. Robert Toricelli’s endorsement of Shulman, though Hauser said that the campaign never solicited it.

“Not only does Dennis Shulman refuse to denounce indicted party boss Joe Ferriero, he has now thrown himself in the ring with Bob Torricelli, one of New Jersey's most infamous politicians in recent memory. Shulman has partnered with a man who is so crooked that he was forced to resign from the United States Senate in disgrace after a campaign finance scandal,” said Garrett Campiang Manager Amanda Gasperino.

The heated exchanges come shortly after national Democrats took a second look at the district and decided it might be worth pouring more resources into. Shulman has been raising money on pace with Garrett, though he has half cash on hand, and a recent poll showed Barack Obama and John McCain tied in Northwest New Jersey — Garrett's core constituency. A Politico report today notes that the Republican National Committee has sought extra help to man phone banks for 10 incumbents they feel are endangered, including Garrett.

Recently, Garrett has taken to merely highlighting the complaints of Jim Doherty, the administrator of Garrett’s hometown of Wantage. He’s put out two press releases on his own blasting Hauser for “abusing” local public servants.

Hauser has been pressing Garrett on his farmland tax assessment, and suggested that the Township tax assessor, Melissa Rockwell, may have allowed Garrett to qualify for it when he shouldn’t have. A Shulman press release referred to her as “Garrett Crony” who was failing to respond to his OPRA requests.

Doherty denied several of Hauser’s assertions: That Garrett’s estate could be subdivided into nine plots (Wantage has five acre zoning); that Garrett’s farm would need a woodlot management plan; and that the town hasn’t answered the Shulman campiagn’s OPRA requests.

He also said that the implication that Rockwell — a Pennsylvania resident — was somehow allied with Garrett was false.

“There’s a difference between not getting an answer, and not getting the answer you were hoping for. Hauser does not seem to understand that distinction,” said Doherty in a press release yesterday. “Stop your disgusting posturing, Mr. Hauser. If you have evidence to support your ridiculous claims, then instead of issuing lame press releases, take it to the Prosecutor. It’s time to put up or shut up,” he said.

Doherty said that Hauser’s first OPRA request was filed on October 14th, and that it was answered next day. But Hauser said that his first OPRA request relating to Garrett’s farm was filed on August 8th, and sent PolitickerNJ a receipt as evidence. Although the receipt was the type given to walk-in customers for photocopies, Shulman said they filed an OPRA request well, and that it was not completely fulfilled.

“They have repeatedly told us that they have no pictures, surveys or any other evidence to support Scott Garrett’s lie that he has five acres being farmed actively,” said Hauser.

Doherty, however, said that he has no record of any OPRA request made at all on that date or for any day in August.

“That receipt is not a receipt that we use in response to OPRA requests, and it was signed by our part-time clerk typist,” he said. “If there ever was an OPRA request form, it never got to my office,” he said.

Hauser, however, did not budge.

“There are a lot of things Doherty doesn’t have a record of, including any evidence Scott Garrett should have a farmland tax assessment,” he said.

More drama in the overheating 5th District congressional race