Levine drops out of governor’s race

FRANKLIN TWP. – Mayor Brian D. Levine today formally ended his race for the Republican nomination for governor, bemoaning rival candidate Steve Lonegan's retreat from what Levine called the "battle of ideas."

Levinelast night received a fax from Secretary of State Nina Mitchell Wells informing him of her decision to accept the recommendation of an administrative law judge, which showed Levine under the threshold of 1,000 signatures he needed to remain on the ballot.

“I will take a day or two to think about endorsing a candidate for governor,” said the 50-year old Levine, who has two years remaining in his current term as mayor. “I have to decide where I will go with it, but I would like to be involved in some way.

“Even though I believe I have sufficient grounds for a successful appeal, I cannot justify more of the public money be wasted on this challenge of my candidacy,” Levine said.

Of the Lonegan campaign'sefforts to forceLevine off the ballot on a technicality, “I am sorry that some candidates feel the battle of ideas in the public forum is a frightening prospect," the mayor added."If an office-seeker is confident in himself and his message, then he is proud to put forth those ideas in the light of public scrutiny. Though recent polls have shown me in a statistical dead heat with Governor Corzine, and my campaign continued to climb, I feel it is best for the Republican Party and New Jersey to cease pursuing the office of governor presently, so the debate over issues can be heard, and not the debate over egos.”

Levine admitted it was hard to drop out of a contest where he had tried to compete in all 21 countiesyet failed to gain traction, both with county committees and in the polls.

But he resigned himself to the fax from the Secretary of State’s Office.

“In the beginning, I took it to heart when the Lonegan campaign challenged my signatures,” he said, “but it’s been going on for a couple of weeks now and I’ve had time to get some distance on the situation. I did feel that I had a rapport with the Lonegan campaign. The campaign did lie to me and told me they didn’t know what was going on, when it turned out they did know (that a paid ally had challenged Levine’s petition signatures).”

In any case, he won't endorse Lonegan.

“When the economy is bad, it is fiscal folly to force government to spend tens of thousands of dollars for personal reasons, as has been done here by the challengers to the petition,” Levine said. “As a fiscal conservative, I cannot continue this waste of taxpayer money. It is not about me; it is about bringing ideas to the people. If we further appeal, we are also holding up the entire process and increasing the costs of printing of ballots for the entire state. We cannot justify further waste of money at taxpayer expense.”

Any campaign mulling he does nowwill be over whether he backs former U.S. Attorney Chris Christie or Assemblyman RichardMerkt (R-Mendham).

Levine said his work as a certified public accountant and as mayor made it difficult to compete for governor the way he would have wanted.

“I raised a few thousand bucks, but after the petitions that was going to be the next big focus of mine – fundraising,” he said. “I would consider running (for governor) again, or running for other such offices – Assembly. I have no plans now. I got some ideas got into the mix. Some of them were picked up. On a personal level, I got to see things working around the state.”

Having defected from his campaign last month, Levine’s former campaign manager, Pastor Shannon Wright, is now an independent candidate for governor.

"He’s obviously working very, very hard at it. I mean he’s traveling all over the country as chairman of the [Republican Governors Association] and I think at this point he has as good a chance or better than anybody else. His name is household word all across the country, and I think he would make a great president."
—former U.S. Rep. Jim Saxton (R-3), on Gov. Chris Christie