- The Washington Times - Friday, December 13, 2002

SAYREVILLE, N.J. — The map says New Jersey is one state, but the people who live there know better.
New Jersey? One state? Forget it. There is north Jersey and there is south Jersey, and never do they meet, unless you count that snarling, honking, are-we-there-yet-Dad line of traffic crawling down the Garden State Parkway every summer weekend.

"We have the same license plate. After that, there's not much in common," said Frank Capece, a lawyer from the northern town of Cranford. "We root for different football teams, we root for different baseball teams, the cost of living is significantly less in south Jersey and in south Jersey, people talk softer and slower."

In north Jersey, it's about "the city" New York the wait at the Holland Tunnel today, what the Knicks will do tonight, what TV's Tony Soprano will do this season. Traffic lights? They're just suggestions, really.

In south Jersey, it's about the country a sprawling region of seaside resorts, cranberry bogs, farms and Philadelphia suburbs wrapped around the biggest wilderness area east of the Mississippi River, the 1-million-acre Pine Barrens.

The south, portions of which lie beneath the Mason-Dixon line, was settled by Quakers and evolved as a farming region. Settled by New Englanders, Scots and Dutch, the north developed as an industrial corridor and a bedroom community to New York.

Ben Franklin, legend says, once described New Jersey as "a keg tapped at both ends." South Jersey officially is delineated as the state's southernmost eight counties: Ocean, Burlington, Camden, Gloucester, Atlantic, Cape May, Cumberland and Salem.

The popular view isn't so clear.

"If you talk to someone from Newark or Morristown and say you live in Trenton, they say, 'Way down in south Jersey, huh?' But if you talk to someone from Vineland or Atlantic City, Trenton's north Jersey," said Phil Rogers of Trenton.

New Jersey is the country's most densely populated state, with 8.4 million people squeezed into the fourth-smallest state, by area. That adds up to 1,134 persons per square mile, compared with a national average of 79.6 persons per square mile.

All the population centers are located in the north: Newark, the state's largest city, has more people (273,546) than five of the eight southern counties.

"South Jerseyans think north Jerseyans look down on them, in the same way that north Jerseyans think New Yorkers look down on them," said Rutgers University professor Michael Aaron Rockland. "They feel a certain inferiority.

"The irony of that is that even if you're in north Jersey, living in the most densely populated state and in the most densely populated part of it, you think of yourself vis-a-vis New York as something agricultural and rural," said Mr. Rockland, co-author of "Looking for America on the New Jersey Turnpike" and professor of a course called "Jerseyana."

Wherever you go, you will find strong opinions about life on the other side.

"I live in Highlands, which is north Jersey," Steve Tober said as he sat in his pickup in the parking lot of a rest area on the Garden State Parkway, his tattooed arm stretched out the window, holding a cigarette.

"This is a different attitude, more New York-style. Faster, more fast-paced. Anything south of Ocean County, that's the okies down there. It's hicksville."

Joe Rodia, 28, works the counter at Vinnie's Gourmet Specialties and Deli, in the north Jersey community of Totowa, where they call them "subs," not "hoagies."

"South Jersey? I think of south Jersey and I think of down the shore, like Wildwood, Ocean County, right around there. Other than that, I don't know much about south Jersey. Do they even exist?"

Ask the question down south, and the answers can be just as caustic.

North Jersey? It's congested, smelly, pushy, rich and inevitably to blame for high auto insurance rates, New Jersey jokes and anything else that goes wrong.

"People up there are like rats in a box," said beach lover and author Christopher Gilmore, 48, of Margate, near Atlantic City. "We have more space and, therefore, more rationale."

Then there are the divided sports loyalties.

In most northern counties, the focus is all New York: the Yankees, the Mets, the Jets, the Giants, the Knicks and Rangers. Those loyalties hold sway almost all the way to Atlantic City. Then it becomes Phillies, Eagles and Flyers country.

"I'll tell you exactly where the line is," said A.J. DeAngelo, manager of Famous Photos, a sports-memorabilia kiosk in the Ocean County Mall. "Everything Atlantic City and north is Yankee territory and everything south is Philly territory."

In 1980, a group of irate south Jersey residents formed the Committee to Free South Jersey. Its goal: secession from New Jersey and formation of a 51st state, the Sovereign State of South Jersey.

"We did it because the people in south Jersey were being treated like stepchildren," remembers Joel Jacovitz, 57, a builder in Egg Harbor Township. "We were sorely lacking in returns on our tax dollars and we were getting few committee appointments or representation in Trenton. So I said, 'Why don't we just tell them we're leaving?'"

The idea tapped into a deep-seated resentment held by many who felt shortchanged by Trenton and snubbed by north Jersey.

Bumper stickers, balloons and T-shirts were printed, "Support South Jersey statehood." The group registered as a lobbyist and gave questionnaires to candidates for public office.

Not everyone liked the idea.

"Some critics of the state contend that one New Jersey is bad enough," the Press of Atlantic City wrote in an editorial. "Creating two of them would hardly improve the situation."

Still, it succeeded at the polls: Nonbinding secession referendums appeared on the Election Day ballots in six of the eight southern counties, gathering more than 180,000 votes and passing in five counties.

But the procedural obstacles to secession were too big. The state Legislature and the U.S. Congress would have had to approve it, and the idea never came to a vote in either.

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