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'Hippie museum' enters N.J. politics

A GOP candidate used the proposed Woodstock shrine to criticize Sen. Frank Lautenberg.

When Republican U.S. Senate candidate Anne Evans Estabrook wanted to make a point about wasteful government spending, she reached for an example that has popped up in several other races: a museum in Woodstock, N.Y.

Estabrook is running a primary campaign aimed at convincing Republican voters she is the best person to beat the incumbent, Frank Lautenberg (D., N.J.).

This month, she asked: "Who would spend $70 million dollars for peanut storage, $20 million for cricket eradication, and voted to use our tax dollars on a hippie museum in Woodstock? This Congress and Frank Lautenberg just did."

Lautenberg did vote to give $1 million to the Museum at Bethel Woods, N.Y., the location of the August 1969 Woodstock Music Festival and Art Fair, as well as cricket eradication. A Lautenberg staffer noted the cricket bill also included aid to New Jersey farmers and the Women, Infants and Children food program. He did not vote on peanut storage; it died before it got to the Senate.

Neither Lautenberg's Senate staff nor his campaign office would discuss the issue. His campaign spokesman, Brendan Gill, said, "We don't have an opponent right now. Once the Republicans choose a nominee, we'll be commenting on a regular basis on what they say."

The Woodstock museum, set to open next spring, never got its federal money; a coalition of Republicans and Democrats killed the proposed $1 million in mid-October. Still, that didn't stop the museum from getting mileage in the presidential campaign, a New York congressional race, and New Jersey's U.S. Senate primary.

When they were fighting earmarks in the federal budget, Republicans used the "hippie museum" to criticize U.S. Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D., N.Y.), who sponsored the spending with U.S. Sen. Chuck Schumer, (D., N.Y.).

U.S. Sen. John McCain (R., Ariz.) liked the hippie museum slap so much he made two ads about it. One depicts him saying: "A few days ago, Sen. Clinton tried to spend $1 million on the Woodstock concert museum. Now, my friends, I wasn't there. I'm sure it was a cultural and pharmaceutical event. I was tied up at the time."

His remark, made in a Republican debate, referred to his years as a prisoner during the Vietnam War.

A GOP congressional candidate campaigning in Peekskill, N.Y., a month later told the White Plains Journal News that he wanted to send his incumbent opponent, a former member of the rock band Orleans, "back to Woodstock," adding that U.S. Rep. John Hall (D., N.Y.) "wants to spend your glorious tax dollars on hippies."

But Hall didn't vote on the Bethel Woods museum. It wasn't in the House version of the bill.

As for Estabrook, she is the only one of the three most likely New Jersey Senate candidates who was about the right age to go to Woodstock. But she didn't go.

In the summer of 1969, Estabrook was 25, married, and working in her family's commercial development business. Lautenberg was 45 and making his fortune as a cofounder of Automatic Data Processing Inc., the payroll company. Republican Assemblyman Joseph Pennacchio was 14 and "working my butt off" in a Brooklyn pizza parlor for $1 an hour, he said.

"Going to Woodstock or being a flower child wasn't on my radar," Estabrook said.