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South Jersey

May 18, 1999

Whitman now neutral on site for battleship

Courier-Post staff

MOUNT HOLLY - Gov. Christie Whitman has altered her position on a museum site for the battleship USS New Jersey and will ask the Legislature to set aside $7.7 million for towing and preparing the ship for display.

Rather than supporting the New Jersey Battleship Commission's recommendation for Bayonne - as she has since last year - Whitman said in a May 3 letter to the secretary of the Navy that she now will remain neutral.

Sen. John Matheussen, R-Gloucester, called this a "significant development" that is a boost for the movement to bring the ship to the Camden Waterfront and a blow to the state-appointed battleship commission, which recommended the ship be berthed in Bayonne.

"While I am not going to express a preference as to where the New Jersey should be sited, I know that the Navy agrees that the applicants would provide the battleship with a site that will serve as a home she so rightfully deserves," Whitman wrote to U.S. Secretary of the Navy Richard Danzig.

Also in the letter, the governor proposed an additional $7.7 million in state money for the battleship and said either applicant - Camden or Bayonne - may use this figure in its Navy submission. She said she will ask the Legislature for $1.7 million in the 1999-2000 budget to pay to tow the ship from Bremerton, Wash., and another $6 million for site and preparation work.

Other funds earmarked statewide for the battleship include a $2 million loan from the New Jersey Economic Development Authority and grants of several million dollars from the collection of battleship license plate and income tax checkoff donations.

The letter was part of the Home Port Alliance's Camden application that was hand-carried Friday to the Navy in Washington. Battleship Commission Chairman Joseph Azzolina, a Republican state assemblyman, and three other commissioners delivered their application for Bayonne on Monday, a Navy spokeswoman said.

Matheussen, a member of the Home Port Alliance - a nonprofit coalition of South Jersey elected officials, labor unions, businesses and individuals that submitted the Camden application - were seeking such a letter from the governor since last year.

"Navy officials have to make an unbiased decision, but I think it would be uncomfortable for them to oppose the wishes of the governor if she were pushing for Bayonne," he said.

Gordon Bishop, a spokesman for the battleship commission, said he attributes the governor's neutral position to the fact that she is now a candidate for the U.S. Senate.

"I don't think she wants to appear biased toward any one sector of the state," he said.

Whitman spokeswoman Wendy Patella said at the time the governor said she would support the commission's recommendation, there was only one application before the Navy.

"Now that there are two formal applications before the Navy, she believes the important thing is bring the ship to New Jersey," Patella said.

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