Morning News Digest: December 16, 2009

Christie announces Dow as choice for NJ Attorney General

Introducing her as a tough attorney who speaks truth to power, Gov.-elect Christopher Christie today introduced Essex County Prosecutor Paula Dow, who was a federal prosecutor during his first two years as U.S. attorney, as his nominee for state Attorney General. “We have worked together now for nearly six years, and in those six years I will tell you that she has grown immeasurably – even beyond where she was when she worked in the U.S. Attorney’s Office, as a manager, as a leader and as a lawyer,” said Christie at a press conference this afternoon. Christie said that Dow was one of the first U.S. Attorney’s Office staffers he talked to upon assuming the office in 2002, when she was a line assistant with the special investigations unit. “It was and remains to this day one of the most candid conversations I’ve ever had with someone who worked for me,” said Christie. “Paula spoke very bluntly about where she thought the office was, where she thought it needed to go, and immediately questioned whether I was being credible with her or not about where I wanted to take it.” Christie also introduced his leadership team for the Department of Law and Public Safety, all of whom are either current or former staffers of the U.S. Attorney’s Office: Phillip Kwon, the current deputy chief of the U.S. Attorney’s Office’s criminal division, will be the new first assistant attorney general; Marc Ferzan, who holds the same title as Kwon, will be executive assistant; and Essex County First Assistant Prosecutor Carolyn Murray, who is also a former U.S. Attorney’s Office staffer, will serve as counsel ot the attorney general. Dow, who will take a pay cut if she is confirmed to become the state’s top prosecutor, said that she took the job because it presents a new challenge. (Friedman, PolitickerNJ)

http://www.politickernj.com/matt-friedman/35499/christie-announces-dow-his-choice-attorney-general

Sources: Christodoulou mulls 2010 challenge to Lance

Businessman and Democratic Party fundraiser Zenon Christodolou is considering a 2010 challenge to U.S. Rep. Leonard Lance (R-Clinton) in the 7th District, according to party sources. “He would be a high quality candidate,” said Peg Schaffer, chair of the Somerset County Democratic Organization. “He is a businesman and family man with a deep understanding of economics and trade and a personal committment to people and economic fairness.” “I think he would be a great candidate, to be honest with you,” affirmed Manville Democrat Joe Lukac, a former borough party chair. “He’s a very honest person with a lot of integrity. At this point, Leonard Lance doesn’t have anything to say in his defence. He promised us $1 million in aid and delivered $150,000 to Manville this year. He’s got a lot more to prove. “The way I look at it, Zenon’s a go-getter,” Lukac added. “He’s the type – like Angelo Corradino was when he was mayor of Manvillle – who if he can’t get what he wants at the state level, he’ll get on a train or plane and go to Washington D.C. to get it. Zenon’s the type who wouild make a point of fighting.” Contacted by PolitickerNJ.com, the 45-year old Christodolou issued a brief statement, saying only that he wants to do “whatever he can to help the country.” Without commenting directly on a question regarding his interest in the 7th District Congressional seat, the self-described conservative Democrat said, “I am fundamentally concerned with restoring America’s greatness in the world. (Pizarro, PolitickerNJ)

http://www.politickernj.com/max/35514/sources-christodoulou-mulls-2010-challenge-lance

Inspector General slams Angelini on pension abuse

Inspector General Mary Jane Cooper has issued a scathing report questioning Gloucester County Democratic Chairman Michael Angelini’s enrollment in the state pension system for a dozen part time jobs over the last 27 years, and has referred Angelini’s case to the state Attorney General’s office. Cooper says that Angelini, a lawyer who has represented various government entities, is an independent contractor who did not qualify for pension contributions from his payroll checks that acted as though he was an employee. “The Pension benefits associated with his enrollment are worth hundreds of thousands of state dollars,” Cooper said in a statement released today. Cooper said that her office collected evidence that Angelini assigned associates from his law firm to perform legal work “for which he was paid and gained pension credits,” and found that government entities paid legal fees to his firm through their payroll so that the veteran Democratic party leader could earn pension credits. Since 1981, Angelini has served as the Greenwich Township and Monroe Township public defender, the Clayton and Paulsboro municipal prosecutor, the Assistant Gloucester County Counsel, the solicitor for Oaklyn and Mantua, West Deptford and Paulsboro, the counsel the Gloucester County Board of Social Services, the Counsel to the South Jersey Transportation Authority, and as the lawyer for the South Jersey Port Corporation and Gloucester County Improvement Authority. (Editor, PolitickerNJ)

http://www.politickernj.com/editor/35510/inspector-general-slams-angelini-pension-abuse

Ruiz to support Dow AG nomination

State Sen. M. Teresa Ruiz (D-Newark) won’t comment on how Gov.-elect Chris Christie’s choice for attorney general impacts the state charges facing her husband, Freeholder Sammy Gonzalez, who was indicted earlier this month for ballot fraud in Ruiz’s 2007 senate campaign. But the first term senator said would “absolutely” support Essex County Prosecutor Paula Dow of Maplewood, who has worked at the county for six years, first assuming office as acting prosecutor in 2003 before Acting Gov. Richard Codey re-nominated her in 2005. “I think it’s a wonderful nomination and I look forward to officially working with her in that capacity (as attorney general),” said Ruiz, deputy chief of staff for Essex County Executive Joe DiVincenzo, who praised Dow’s “work ethic and conviction.” A graduate of Franklin Marshall who received her law degree from the University of Pennsylvania, Dow served in the U.S. Attorney’s Office-District of New Jersey from 1994 to 2003, where she first knew Christie. According to a release issue by the Essex County Prosecutor’s Office, which handles a quarter of all criminal prosecutions in the state, she served as counsel to the U.S. Attorney and previously worked in the Special Prosecutions Division and the Criminal Division. “Dow also served in the U.S. Attorney’s Office-Southern District of New York from 1987 to 1994, where she worked in the Civil Division. Prior to that, Dow was employed by the Exxon Corporation from 1980 to 1987 in Texas, New Jersey and New York, advising clients on environmental and labor matters.” (Pizarro, PolitickerNJ)

http://www.politickernj.com/max/35503/ruiz-support-dow-ag-nomination

In developing South Ward battle, Baraka fights back against Christie criticisms

South Ward Council candidate Ras Baraka said he heard Gov.-elect Chris Christie calling out his school on the gubernatorial campaign trail this year, as the Republican candidate repeatedly reference to the failing senior test scores at Newark’s Central High, where Baraka is the principal. “I think Chris Christie used urban students to further his political gain,” said Baraka, a former councilman in the Sharpe James era who was washed out of office with the Booker wave. “There are hundreds of schools with low test scores,” added the comebacking candidate. “But we have a new physical facility. Socially the school has changed. I’ve been here for just two years. Chris Christie has never been to Central High School. For him to criticize like that is not the academic thing to do. I invite him to come here. He has this concern about money. My impression is he believes the state shouldn’t spend as much money on Black and Latino students. My position is all kids deserve a state of the art high school like this one.” While most observers of the Newark political scene see Clifford Minor as a long shot against incumbent Mayor Cory Booker, they anticipate a pitched battle in the South, pop. 50,000, where Baraka hopes to build on his community base to pose a formidable challenge to Councilman Oscar James II, a Booker ally. “Whether we like the gov.-elect or not, you can’t hide the numbers,” James said of Central High School and the Christie-Baraka flap. “I need educators educating and focused on educating our kids.” (Pizarro, PolitickerNJ)

http://www.politickernj.com/max/35501/developing-south-ward-battle-baraka-fights-back-against-christie-criticisms

N.J. Gov.-elect Chris Christie opposes pension deferrals by local government

Gov.-elect Chris Christie today said he opposes legislation a member of his transition team sponsored to let local governments put off paying part of their pension contributions this year. If passed, the bill would allow towns, cities and counties to pay half their obligations to the pension system in the spring, after Christie has taken office. Sen. Sandra Cunningham (D-Hudson), who is advising Christie on municipal issues, said the legislation was a response to concerns from a constituent mayor. “This has absolutely nothing to do with Chris Christie at all, this is my role as a legislator,” Cunningham said today. The senator said she introduced the legislation after being asked to do so by Jersey City Mayor Jerramiah T. Healy, who is facing a $40 million budget deficit and will furlough city employees for 12 days before the end of the fiscal year. “I’m responding to the needs of a mayor,” she said. “I’m concerned about raising taxes in Jersey City at this time.” The legislation (S-3136) essentially would extend by a year a controversial measure — which Gov. Jon Corzine pitched and signed into law earlier this year — to allow towns to defer up to a half billion dollars in pension payments. Christie sharply criticized the move by the governor, who posed it as a means for local officials to avoid increases to property taxes during the economic recession. The incoming Republican governor today said he still does not support providing towns the option of deferring pension payments, but he did not elaborate. He added the issue does not affect his “respect” for Cunningham. “It will be shocking for you to know that I don’t agree with everything that everyone around me proposes,” Christie said. “I have great respect for Senator Cunningham. I am thrilled that she has been willing to devote as much time and energy as she has been to our transition and continues to. … This is one that we just happen to disagree on.” (Graber, Star Ledger)

http://www.nj.com/news/index.ssf/2009/12/nj_gov-elect_chris_christie_op.html

Gov.-elect Chris Christie nominates Essex County Prosecutor Dow as state attorney general

Gov.-elect Chris Christie announced Essex County Prosecutor Paula Dow as his nominee for attorney general today, plucking a former member of his U.S. attorney’s office to serve as New Jersey’s top law enforcement officer. Dow, an Ivy League-educated registered Democrat credited with revamping the Essex County prosecutor’s office, did not detail her plans but said she was humbled by the opportunity. “It’s one of the greatest challenges I’ve ever had,” she said. “I love being a prosecutor, so who could not love being considered as the next attorney general?” Today’s Statehouse press conference was the first of several cabinet appointments Christie, a Republican, will make in the coming weeks. Wednesday he will announce that Kim Guadagno, elected in November as the state’s first lieutenant governor, will also serve as secretary of state, according to three officials familiar with the decision. Guadagno will combine the secretary of state’s roles of overseeing the Division of Elections and cultural programs with assisting businesses looking to move to or expand in the state, the officials said. Dow, if confirmed by the state Senate, would be New Jersey’s first African-American female attorney general. Her nomination was first reported today on The Star-Ledger’s real-time news blog, nj.com/news. Christie, who made a name for himself as a corruption-busting U.S. attorney, pledged to be a hands-off boss.”This is going to be Paula Dow’s vision for the office,” he said. “It’s extremely important to have a strong, tough, independent attorney general.” Public officials from both political parties praised Dow. (Megerian, Star Ledger)

http://www.nj.com/news/index.ssf/2009/12/gov-elect_chris_christie_nomin.html

Former Bergen County Democratic chair convicted of corruption seeks to postpone sentencing

Joseph A. Ferriero, the former Bergen County Democratic chairman convicted of corruption in October, plans to ask a federal judge to postpone his sentencing until the U.S. Supreme Court rules on the law he was found guilty of breaking. In a Dec. 14 letter, Ferriero’s attorney told U.S. District Judge Stanley R. Chesler that he will ask for the February sentencing to be deferred until the justices issue opinions on the “honest services” statute, a controversial anti-corruption law used to convict public officials nationwide. During arguments last week, several Supreme Court justices asked whether the law was too vague, prompting legal experts to predict they may find it unconstitutional. The court is expected to issue its ruling by July. “So that there are no surprises, we intend to request that the court defer any final decisions on all honest services issues until we receive the opinions from the United States Supreme Court,” wrote the lawyer, Joseph A. Hayden Jr. Ferriero, once among New Jersey’s most powerful political kingmakers, was convicted of conspiring to profit from government grants through a consulting firm he secretly controlled. He faces up to 20 years in prison. A spokesman for the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Newark declined to comment on postponing the sentence. Enacted in 1988, the honest services statute essentially requires public and corporate officials to disclose conflicts of interest and act in the best interests of their constituents or employers. Prosecutors extol the law as a flexible tool to charge those who find ways other than bribes and kickbacks to abuse their positions for personal gain. Former Newark mayor Sharpe James and ex-state senate President Wayne Bryant were both convicted of violating the honest services statute, among other charges. (Ryan, Star Ledger)

http://www.nj.com/news/index.ssf/2009/12/former_bergen_county_democrati_1.html

N.J. Lieutenant Gov.-elect Guadagno to serve as secretary of state

Kim Guadagno, elected in November as the state’s first lieutenant governor, will also serve as secretary of state in the administration of Gov.-elect Chris Christie, according to three officials familiar with the decision. Guadagno will combine the traditional portfolio of the secretary of state — overseeing arts, tourism and cultural programs, as well as the Division of Elections — with a key economic development role. She will also head the “New Jersey Partnership for Action,” a new umbrella organization that will assist businesses looking to move to or expand in New Jersey. Christie is expected to nominate Guadagno to the secretary of state post Wednesday, making her the second cabinet pick this week following today’s announcement of Essex County Prosecutor Paula Dow for Attorney General, according to the officials. They spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the appointment in advance. Guadagno, 50, is currently the Monmouth County Sheriff. She will become New Jersey’s first lieutenant governor when she is sworn in alongside Christie on Jan. 19. The lieutenant governor post does not have any defined responsibilities, other than stepping in when the governor is out of state or unable to serve. But Christie has signaled that Guadagno will be a prominent partner in his administration, and her responsibilities in streamlining government regulations are already underway. The law detailing the new lieutenant governor position allows for the person to hold another post within the administration, with the exception of attorney general. (Heininger, Star Ledger)

http://www.nj.com/news/index.ssf/2009/12/lieutenant_gov-elect_guadagno.html

Stile: Senator’s marriage vote fires up liberals

Jeffrey Gardner introduced Democratic Sen. John Girgenti to the modern age of politics, designing and managing the Web site for Girgenti’s 2007 campaign. But Gardner, who lives several blocks from Girgenti in Hawthorne, now views Girgenti as a fossil of the political Old Guard, a forceful and reactionary foe of legalizing same-sex marriages in New Jersey. It’s not just that Girgenti voted against the bill in a Senate committee last week — it was his argument that the issue should be decided directly by voters through a referendum, a position shared by most staunch conservative opponents of gay marriage, like Bergen Republican Sen. Gerald Cardinale. This was no way for a moderate Democrat to behave. “A civil rights issue should never be put up for a vote,” said Gardner, who is vice chairman of Garden State Equality, the leading advocacy group lobbying for the same-sex marriage law. Gardner, a liberal activist and a Hawthorne Democratic committeeman, is being encouraged to challenge his old ally in the 2011 Senate primary. His job as an attorney from National Labor Relations Board prohibits him from running for office, and Gardner would not discuss whether he was willing to make the leap from activist to candidate. But he is convinced that Girgenti has harmed his own career arc. “There is a line between making threats, which I am not interested in doing, and stating the obvious, which I am happy to do, which is people are deeply invested in this issue, especially Democrats, and legislators who stand in the way of this issue should expect repercussions,” he said. (Stile, The Record)

http://www.northjersey.com/news/politics/political_stile/79325872.html

Christie’s ax aimed at taxes – local and state

Gov.-elect Chris Christie said he plans to cut expenses at every level of government and enact measures to make sure “we won’t be pushing problems downstream to local taxpayers.” In an exclusive interview with the Asbury Park Press, Christie said he will use many of the ideas that came out of the 2006 special legislative session on property taxes as well as those laid out by the Press in its “Fighting New Jersey’s Tax Crush” series published in September and October. “We need to reform the (tax) system from top to bottom,” Christie said. High on the governor-elect’s list is eliminating loopholes in the 4 percent cap on annual increases in municipal government spending. The cap has been in place for years, but allows a number of exemptions for budget items ranging from health care costs to bond payments. The result has been annual property tax increases that exceed the rate of inflation. Christie said he wants to enact reforms that will “make it a hard cap. Right now, we have a Swiss cheese cap.” Christie said he also would: Change the rules of binding interest arbitration in public employee contract negotiations to make sure arbitrators adhere to new cap standards. Put the brakes on “teacher contracts that increase salaries by 4 to 5 percent and then, on top of it, layer onto it health benefit increases and pension expenses increases.” (Clurfeld, Gannett)

http://www.app.com/article/20091215/NEWS03/912150320/1007/Christie+s+ax+aimed+at+taxes

Christie planning to cut government expenses, enact tax reforms

Gov.-elect Chris Christie said he plans to cut expenses at every level of government and enact measures to make sure “we won’t be pushing problems downstream to local taxpayers.” In an exclusive interview with the Asbury Park Press, Christie said he will use many of the ideas that came out of the 2006 special legislative session on property taxes as well as those laid out by the Press in its “Fighting New Jersey’s Tax Crush” series published in September and October. “We need to reform the (tax) system from top to bottom,” Christie said. High on the governor-elect’s list is eliminating loopholes in the 4 percent cap on annual increases in municipal government spending. The cap has been in place for years, but allows a number of exemptions for budget items ranging from health care costs to bond payments. The result has been annual property tax increases that exceed the rate of inflation. Christie said he wants to enact reforms that will “make it a hard cap. Right now, we have a Swiss cheese cap.” Christie said he also would: 1) Change the rules of binding interest arbitration in public employee contract negotiations to make sure arbitrators adhere to new cap standards. 2) Put the brakes on “teacher contracts that increase salaries by 4 to 5 percent and then, on top of it, layer on to it health benefit increases and pension expenses increases.” 3) Review mid-level management jobs at school boards statewide because “we no longer can have that plethora of mid-management … that are not necessarily bringing quality to the classroom.” Should Christie find his reforms stalled, he said he would call for a constitutional convention. The Legislature and voters would have to approve such a convention, which would give elected delegates the power to reform the state’s tax system by presenting voters with amendments to the state constitution. The last convention was held in 1966 to increase the number of lawmakers. (Clurfeld, Gannett)

http://www.mycentraljersey.com/article/20091215/NEWS/912150337/1098/POLITICS

Morning News Digest: December 16, 2009