September 10, 1998
says Camden will not win
MIKE FRANOLICH and CAROL COMEGNO
Paris L. Gray, Courier-Post
OF SUPPORT: People gather in front of a cutout of the USS New
Jersey Wednesday in Wiggins Park.
South Jersey doesn't have a chance
to get the battleship USS New Jersey, says Joseph Azzolina, chairman
of the New Jersey Battleship Commission.
Azzolina predicted the Camden Waterfront will receive "one
or two votes, maybe three" today when the commission's 13
voting members recommend a permanent host city for the battleship.
The Waterfront is vying with Bayonne and Jersey City for the
ship, the most decorated vessel in American history. Bayonne,
Azzolina's choice, is the front-runner.
Azzolina's comments came late Wednesday as he was fending
off criticism that he has pressured commission members to vote
"I haven't pressured anybody. I hardly talk to anybody
on the commission," said Azzolina, a Republican assemblyman
from Monmouth County.
Jersey City Mayor Bret Schundler has suggested the commission
vote by secret ballot today. He believes a secret ballot would
give Jersey City and Camden a better chance to be selected over
Bayonne as the site for the planned ship museum.
Members may feel pressured to vote for Bayonne to please Azzolina,
Schundler said. The commission meeting is scheduled for noon
in the State House in Trenton.
"It has been very clear to myself and others representing
Camden and Jersey City that Azzolina has been committed to Bayonne
and that nothing anyone could say this summer could change his
position," said Schundler, who believes his city's site
overlooking the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island is the best.
"The other commissioners would be emboldened to vote
their conscience if there was a secret ballot, and there would
be a higher chance of having an impartial vote in the interest
of the state."
Schundler said he is disturbed by the longtime and close working
relationship between Azzolina and Bayonne Mayor Joseph Doria,
also a state assemblyman, but a Democrat.
It was unclear Wednesday whether the commission may take such
a secret vote or whether the meeting would come under state Sunshine
Law guidelines, even though the commission usually advertises
"From what I know about public meetings, no secret votes
are allowed. Secret or not, it'll come out the same way,"
Commissioner Joseph Dyer of Pennsville said he, too, may ask
for a secret ballot - for the same reasons cited by Schundler.
Camden officials called the secret ballot concept "interesting,"
but declined to take a position.
An internal preliminary commission report obtained by the
Courier-Post recommends the Bayonne site at the Military Ocean
Terminal. The report was prepared in late August before many
of the commission members had even visited the Bayonne site.
In recommending the ship be berthed at Bayonne, the report
extols port security there, proximity to the tourist market of
New York and its proposed landside docking. Both Camden, the
only freshwater port of the three, and Jersey City propose docking
the ship at an offshore pier.
Azzolina and other commission members insisted no decision
has been made despite the appearance of the report, which the
assemblyman called a "working document" that was not
final and was not intended to be made public.
Neil Sheridan, coordinator for the battleship at Liberty Coalition
in Jersey CIty, called the report an "outrage."
"Why are they bothering to have a vote if a decision
already has been made?" asked Sheridan, who wrote the fund-raising
plan for the nonprofit Battleship New Jersey Foundation that
is raising money for the ship. He recently took a leave of absence
as a foundation volunteer to assist Jersey City's bid.
The commission recommendation, if made today, will be forwarded
to Gov. Christie Whitman. Whitman spokeswoman Wendy Patella said
the governor has stayed out of the deliberations and will not
interfere with the vote.
However, before the Navy can consider an application from
New Jersey, Congress must finalize legislation removing the ship
from the naval reserve fleet and placing it in its ship donation
program. That action is expected in the fall.
Some commission members said they may not be ready to vote
today because they still do not have all the facts and have not
met as a group since visiting all the sites.
"We are still waiting for engineering documentation that
we are told we will get tomorrow morning," commissioner
Stuart Chalkley of Piscataway said. "We may want more time
to go over it to compare costs at the three sites," he said
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