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South Jersey

Saturday, September 12, 1998

S.J. group will appeal to Navy for battleship

Courier-Post staff

CAMDEN - A South Jersey coalition said Friday it will apply directly to the Navy to bring the USS New Jersey to Camden, across from the shipyard where it was built.

Although the New Jersey Battleship Commission recommended Thursday the warship be berthed at Bayonne as a floating museum, the Navy will have final say on where the ship will go.

Meanwhile, several members of the battleship commission said Chairman Joseph Azzolina intimidated commissioners to cast votes for Bayonne - even offering some members jobs on the battleship.

"People like him (Azzolina) can hurt you in financial, political and other such ways," said one member who, like others, asked not to be identified. "Many commissioners were afraid to vote their real choice."

A majority said they favored Jersey City over Bayonne, but felt pressured by Azzolina. Bayonne won the vote, 8-4. Camden received only one vote.

"It was all political between him (Azzolina) and (Bayonne Mayor Joseph) Doria,'' the commission member said. ''Joe (Azzolina) called many of us night and day, sometimes at work, and tried to intimidate us into voting for Bayonne. This was not a fair process.''

Azzolina, a Republican assemblyman from Monmouth County, admitted lobbying his colleagues on the commission, but denied exerting undue pressure or offering jobs for votes.

"Yes, I talked to a few to find out how they would vote, but I never pressured them," he said.

Despite the battleship commission's months-long mission to recommend a New Jersey home for the state's namesake warship, the local Home Port Alliance announced Friday it would venture out on its own to bring the highly decorated battleship back to the Delaware River as a floating museum.

Democratic Camden County Freeholder Patricia Jones and state Sen. John Matheussen , R-Gloucester and Camden, said the alliance will file an application with the Navy once the ship becomes available this fall, as expected. Matheussen and Jones are founding members of the alliance, a coalition of government officials, veterans, businesses and nonprofit groups that put forth a proposal this summer to place the ship along the Camden waterfront.

Matheussen said Thursday's disappointment has now turned to anger.

"I think the commission has treated the people of South Jersey poorly,'' Matheussen said. ''If it could have been judged fairly on all of the merits, Camden is the pre-eminent site for the battleship. Yesterday, we witnessed a public event that was very carefully orchestrated to present misinformation and untruths about the Camden and Jersey City proposals.''

Camden's only vote was cast by the commission's only South Jersey member, Joseph Dyer of Pennsville.

Commissioner Joseph E. Gonzales, president of the New Jersey Business and Industry Association, considered voting for Camden but abstained. As head of a lobbying group that must deal with state lawmakers like Azzolina and Doria once the Assembly reconvenes, Gonzales chose to abstain rather than cast a controversial vote.

Asked about Camden's latest move, Azzolina said: "It's a free country. Anybody can do whatever they want."

Michael Torpey, Gov. Christie Whitman's chief of staff, said Whitman likely will abide by the commission's recommendation.

Matheussen and Jones pointed to Camden's many advantages: a freshwater site preferred by the Navy because it minimizes hull corrosion and maintenance, environmental soundness, financial commitment of $6.8 million in money and land, and a shipbuilding tradition linked directly to the battleship.

"With our total, including $3.2 million for a sophisticated mooring system and the towing of the ship from Bremerton, Wash., we committed more money than any other site,'' Jones said, ''and more than the $3 million to $4 million the non-profit battleship groups have raised in the past 20 years."

She criticized the commission for choosing to put the ship on an unsightly, contaminated hazardous waste site at the Military Ocean Terminal in Bayonne, adjacent to a deepwater container port.

She called the decision an insult and criticized Azzolina for saying Camden-Philadelphia tourism could not support the ship and that the walk to the ship from the Waterfront would take too long.

At a State House meeting Thursday, most commissioners said Liberty State Park in New York Harbor at Jersey City was their first choice because of its view of the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island.

But the majority voted for Bayonne.

They said Bayonne had the only existing dock and voiced preference for a landside berth, rather than offshore docking the other two cities proposed.

The commission ignored advice given by two commissioners, a naval commander and a rear admiral whom Azzolina previously touted as experts. The two praised the applications of Jersey City and Camden, mentioning the freshwater advantage of Camden, opposing the Bayonne pier adjacent to a planned deep water channel for container ships and preferring an off-shore site for more safety.

Bayonne Mayor Joseph Doria, D-Hudson, said Friday his city is excited at the prospect of hosting the ship and will prepare for it to arrive in late 1999.

Jersey City Mayor Bret Schundler, on the other hand, declared moral victory and said he expects the ship to eventually come to Jersey City.

USS New Jersey Home Page

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