Battleship suit nipped in the bud
By CAROL COMEGNO
MOUNT HOLLY - The Governor's Office dashed an attempt Wednesday by the New Jersey Battleship Commission to sue the Navy for choosing Camden over Bayonne as the permanent home for the battleship USS New Jersey.
Pete McDonough, chief of communications for Gov. Christie Whitman, issued a strongly worded statement, calling it "one of the dumbest ideas we ever heard."
"We were told the commission was considering a vote to sue the Navy. We made it clear this was not an action that we could support financially or lend any legal support to," said McDonough.
In a private meeting Wednesday in Tinton Falls, Monmouth County, the Battleship Commission voted 8-1 to hire a lawyer to try to force the Navy to reopen the competition for the New Jersey.
Commission Chairman Assemblyman Joseph Azzolina, R-Monmouth, who has long fought for Bayonne as the site, abstained.
McDonough's statement came after Azzolina informed the Governor's Office what a commission majority had voted to do.
"It's not going to happen," Azzolina later said of a possible lawsuit. He said he abstained because he had reservations about a lawsuit.
"I told the commissioners I would be calling the governor and then would let them know what was said," said Azzolina.
"When the governor's staff told me they were vehemently opposed to any lawsuit, I called all the commissioners back and told them this had to be rescinded and they agreed. So it's rescinded and that's the end of it," he said.
Most commissioners contacted deferred questions to Azzolina.
He said most commissioners were dissatisfied with answers Navy officials gave them at a briefing on their unsuccessful application last month in Washington.
The Navy lauded the Camden application, which received the unanimous vote of a Navy executive committee and Navy Secretary Richard Danzig.
Joseph Balzano, the only South Jersey member at the commission meeting Wednesday, was the lone dissenting vote.
He is also a member of the Home Port Alliance, the nonprofit South Jersey coalition which wrote the winning application. The highly decorated 58-year-old ship is expected to open as a floating museum on the Camden Waterfront late next year.
"I tried to convince them this was not honorable and that they would be perceived as soreheads. To his credit, the chairman had reservations about it, and I think he did the right thing," Balzano said.
The Gannett State Bureau contributed to this report.