20, 1998 |
man on panel to move battleship
By KIM MULFORD
On a recent
Sunday afternoon, a gray plastic model of the USS New Jersey
sat on the dining room table of Joseph Dyer's home in Pennsville.
The newest member of the USS New Jersey
Battleship Commission borrowed the model from his grandson, who
had carefully assembled it.
A map of New York Harbor was spread beside
it. Five possible berth positions were indicated by inch-long
Dyer sifted through documents from the
commission and letters from politicians.
'I do my homework when I'm responsible
for something,' he said.
Dyer's appointment, confirmed by the state
Senate on March 31, makes him the only member of the commission
to live south of Princeton. The commission has 14 members and
eight vacancies chaired by Joseph Azzolina, a Republican assemblyman
from Middletown. It was created to return the most decorated
ship in Navy history to its namesake state.
The battleship is moored in Bremerton,
Wash., and a bill is moving through Congress to send it to New
The commission will recommend a site for
the ship possibly as early as next month, and Gov. Christie Whitman
has said she will approve it.
Bayonne, Camden and Jersey City are competing
to become the site. Camden claims to be the ship's genuine home,
since the New Jersey was built at the Philadelphia Naval Shipyard.
Dyer's maritime interests stem from three
years as a radarman first class on the aircraft carrier USS Philippine
Sea during the Korean War. Retired, he is in his ninth year as
president of the USS Philippine Sea Association.
He regularly visits museum ships around
the country, including the New Jersey in Bremerton.
Dyer, 69, a Salem County freeholder from
1970 to 1990, was recommended by the county Republican committee.
'I was going through the listing in the
Legislative Manual and I realized all the members were all from
up there in Hudson (County),' he recalls. 'As a Navy veteran
who's very active in my own organization, I felt someone needed
to be on there who had some affiliation with the Navy.
'One of my friends, Jay Stradley, was the
South Jersey representative, but he died about five years ago.
So, I inquired.'
Dyer said he was not advised in advance
of the commission's last meeting, in Jersey City July 8.
'I called up there and said, 'Hey, the
governor made this appointment in March. Here it is July. Aren't
you guys having any meetings?' '
He said he was told someone had 'dropped
'If I hadn't made an inquiry, I might have
missed that meeting,' he said.
At the meeting, representatives of Bayonne
and Jersey City gave cost estimates for moving the ship to each
city. Camden did not offer any figures.
Dyer regarded the estimates skeptically.
'The first (thing) I want to do is find out what the actual facts
and myths are,' he said. 'What are the real costs?
'You have to have access to deep water.
You have to have access to lots of visitors. As the chairman
mentioned, the only way this is going to become a reality is
if this can stand by itself. Will it generate enough to take
care of itself when it's there?
'I'm keeping an open mind on the whole
thing (but) my personal preference is certainly closer to us,
closer to South Jersey.'
Nevertheless, he noted, 'The bulk of the
population of the state exists above Princeton, so that's where
people's decisions are going to be looked at.'
Though Azzolina has said the issue is not
about politics, Dyer listed the politicians pulling for North
Jersey: Bayonne Mayor Joseph Doria, the Democratic Assembly minority
leader, and Jersey City Mayor Bret Schundler from Hudson County,
'one of the strongest Democratic strongholds in the whole state.'
'The chairman says this is not a political
issue, but he's also an assemblyman right now,' Dyer said, with
a wry chuckle. 'There's certainly a little bit of political pressure.'
Dyer said Bayonne and Jersey City each
had its own cheering sections at the last meeting, but there
were not many people from Camden.
Another obstacle is 'the reputation of
Camden as being a poor city,' Dyer said.
'They've got to say, 'OK, if it comes to
Camden, we will supply da-da, da-da, da-da, funds, advertising
- those are the kinds of things the Camden Economic Development
Office needs to do. They have to be out front.
'They're not going to just move down there
because the people say that.'