GOP says ‘porn and guns’ mailer is a cheap shot

Bergen County Republicans are enraged by a Democratic mailer that attacks the 38th District Republican Assembly candidates over “porn and guns.”

The mailer hits recipients with an image of the word “porn” spelled out in computer keys above “guns” spelled out in bullets.

“If you make your money on porn or guns, then you have something in common with the Bergen Republican candidates,” the front of the mailer reads. Turn it around, and the flyer says that Republican Assembly candidate Judith Fisher is a “consultant to one of the largest pornographic companies in the world” and that her running mate, Ridgefield Councilman Nick Lonzisero, rents property to a gun shop located next to an elementary school that is promoted by the National Rifle Association – “the same organization that’s been lobbying to allow assault weapons in New Jersey.”

“It is so despicable. It shows the two Democratic candidates are wallowing around in the sewers with pig manure,” said Bergen County Republican Chairman Bob Yudin. “You can quote me on that.”

The flyer’s style is fairly typical of Bergen County’s notoriously down and dirty political scene. What is unusual is that it was issued in a district that is considered a relatively safe bet for incumbents Joan Voss (D-Fort Lee) and Connie Wagner (D-Paramus) to win.

The most notable hit pieces from the legislative races two years ago showed up in races that were considered competitive, even if the results were not close.

In the 2007 Republican state Senate primary in District 40, Todd Caliguire was widely condemned by his own party for circulating a flyer that compared then-Assemblyman Kevin O’Toole (R-Cedar Grove) to Al Sharpton, saying his Korean heritage got him protection against redistricting. Later that year, state Sen. Gerald Cardinale (R-Demarest) accused Democratic challenger Joe Ariyan of having ties to a group sympathetic with middle-eastern Islamic terrorists. To make the point, a Cardinale quoted an official from the Jewish Defense League –which the FBI in 2001 described as a “right-wing terrorist group” – in support of his point. And Democrats last year insinuated that Republican freeholder candidate Paul Duggan was a socialist back in his native Ireland.

“I think it’s overkill, but this is the way that they’re used to running campaigns up there: bare knuckles, down and dirty,” said Patrick Murray, Director of the Monmouth University Polling Institute. “There’s always one race up in Bergen County that goes over the edge, and this year it’s the Democrats in the 38th.”

Murray said he does not sense the race to be competitive, and the circumstances seem to bear that out.

The political wing of the Assembly’s Republican caucus, Assembly Republican Victory (ARV), commissioned a poll for the 38th District, according to campaign finance records filed with the Election Law Enforcement Commission (ELEC). The results were never released publicly, but campaign logic dictates that significant funds would follow promising results.

Money has not exactly poured into the district. Combined, Fisher and Lonzisero have raised just over $11,000.

Republican consultant Thom Ammirato, who is working for the district’s Republicans, think the Democrats see something in their internal polling that makes them nervous. Ammirato theorized that the attack mailer could also be meant to suppress Republican turnout in the county freeholder race, which internal polling has shown to be competitive.

“This is clearly designed to keep the campaign off message,” he said. “They don’t want to talk about the $8 billion debt the state is facing. The $33 billion pension debt. The fact that we have the worst business climate in the entire nation and can’t do anything about it.”

The mailer’s premises are true, even if the way they are presented is questionable.

Fisher and her husband, Eric, own United ERP, which produces accounting software for intellectual property management. The porn company that the flyer refers to is Playboy Enterprises International, which uses the software (Playboy’s purchase of the company’s accounting program in February, 2008 is noted on the company’s Web site).

“Playboy was porn in the 1950s,” said Ammirato, who feels that the flyer intended to convey something much worse.

Lonzisero is a part owner of a building that houses Bergen Sporting Goods, which sells firearms. It is next door to Bergen Boulevard Elementary School and houses a couple other small businesses.

The store has been located next to the school since 2002 and is owned by former employee of a gun store that sat blocks away on the same street for more than three decades before the owner retired. Opening the store next to the school caused an eruption of community outrage at the time, and Ridgefield officials amended the town’s zoning rules to try to force the store out, despite previously issuing the owner a permit. In July, 2003, a superior court judge ruled that the store could remain open.

“There are no state restrictions or local ordinances. I have no reason to not rent them to him,” said Lonzisero. “The store meets all the requirements for screening and background checks. There’s never been an incident. They supply many local law enforcement authorities with equipment, including the Bergen County Sheriff and Bergen County Police.”

Elizabeth Meyers, a spokeswoman for Voss and Wagner, said that the flyer was factually accurate.

“If Playboy is a client in Judith Fisher’s firm, she is making money from Playboy, a pornographic company,” said Meyers. “Mr. Lonzisero -whether partial or wholly – owns property that sells guns near an elementary school. As a businessman, he has to make a decision about whether or not renting out that space to a company that sells guns is a safe and smart decision.”

Meyers said that the decision to send out the flyer was not based on polling data, but to respond to the Republican candidates, who she said have been “attacking us and distorting our record for close to six months now.”

“This is the first time we’ve really pushed back and made voters aware of the industries and business dealings of these two major candidates,’ she said.

GOP says ‘porn and guns’ mailer is a cheap shot