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South Jersey

Thursday, September 10, 1998

Chairman says Camden will not win

By Paris L. Gray, Courier-Post

SHOW OF SUPPORT: People gather in front of a cutout of the USS New Jersey Wednesday in Wiggins Park.

Courier-Post staff

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 for Bayonne.

"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 meetings.

"From what I know about public meetings, no secret votes are allowed. Secret or not, it'll come out the same way," Azzolina said.

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 Wednesday.

USS New Jersey Home Page

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