Former Bogota mayor arrested at Corzine event

Toll plan opponent arrested at Corzine event
January 19, 2008 1:35:36 PM PST
An opponent of Gov. Jon S. Corzine's toll increase plan said he and another protester were arrested Saturday minutes before the New Jersey governor was to begin the fourth of his public meetings promoting the plan.Steven Lonegan, the former mayor of Bogota, said he was outside the Middle Township High School in Cape May County with other toll plan opponents, handing out pamphlets, when they were confronted by police.

"The police officer said the governor doesn't want you handing out literature," said Lonegan, executive director of the New Jersey chapter of Americans for Prosperity. Lonegan said he did not think that Corzine was responsible for his arrest.

"We were told that this was private property," Lonegan said. "This was an all-out attack on freedom of speech."

After being handcuffed and taken to police headquarters, Lonegan said he and a supporter, radio personality Seth Grossman, were issued a summons for defiant trespass. They were given a Jan. 31 date for Municipal Court and released.

Lonegan, in a telephone interview, said he had attended the three prior Corzine events in Bergen, Essex and Morris counties, and had met with no trouble. Hundreds of people have attended each of the four meetings.

"The governor's office had absolutely nothing to do with this," Corzine spokeswoman Lilo Stainton said. "The governor has obviously been eager to hear from all members of the public and will continue to do so."

Middle Township police had no immediate comment.

A retired state judge and Lonegan supporter, Paul Porreca, said he witnessed the arrests. "It gave me a terrible feeling to think that we were confronted with armed force to prevent us from speaking against the governor's plan," Porreca said.

Corzine has promised public meetings in all 21 counties to sell his plan, which would increase tolls on some of the nation's busiest highways for decades to come to get billions of dollars to pay state debt and fund transportation work.

To reduce the $32 billion debt by half and fund transportation projects for 75 years, the governor is proposing to increase tolls 50 percent in 2010, 2014, 2018 and 2022. Those increases would include inflation adjustments, and after 2022 tolls would increase every four years until 2085 to reflect inflation.

The state's three toll roads, the Garden State Parkway, the New Jersey Turnpike, and the Atlantic City Expressway, carried 748 million vehicles in 2006.