Morning News Digest: October 31, 2011
By Missy Rebovich
Winners and Losers: Week of October 24
Campaign season is in the home stretch, voters are apathetic and Tony Mack finds himself on the wrong end of a lawsuit. This week was rife with political muck and mire, but as always, we’ve culled the best and the worst for our latest edition of Winners and Losers. (Staff, PolitickerNJ)
Sources: In a tough spot, Jasey not with Oliver
Sources tell PolitickerNJ.com that in a fight, Assemblywoman Mila Jasey (D-27) won’t back Assembly Speaker Sheila Oliver’s (D-34) re-election to the speakership, dropping by a vote the support pieces Essex County Executive Joe DiVincenzo wants in place this week to show off solid support for his Essex ally.
Absent from a delegation huddle-up last week, Assemblyman John McKeon (D-27) already appeared to be a no vote for Oliver, who’s seeking her second term as occupant of the lower house throne. (Pizarro, PolitickerNJ)
Sources say Booker stands unequivocally with Oliver
While Democrats rumble in back rooms over the speakership, Newark Mayor Cory Booker refuses to take a chest-out public stand on his party’s favorite general election recreation: fighting internally at the highest levels of leadership.
Asked if he supports the re-election of Assembly Speaker Sheila Oliver (D-34), the mayor told PolitickerNJ.com he isn’t aware of a battle and refused to commit to Oliver or anyone else.
“Tell me about it, I don’t know anything about it,” Booker told PolitickerNJ.com. (Pizarro, PolitickerNJ)
N.J. was ready for October snowstorm, Gov. Chris Christie says
It happened so fast, the governor didn’t have time to warn everybody to get the hell off the highway.
Transportation and utility crews scrambled to make roads passable and homes livable Sunday in the aftermath of a pre-Halloween nor’easter that dumped too much wet snow too soon and snapped branches like matchsticks.
Gov. Chris Christie, who famously told sun worshipers to “get the hell off the beach” as Hurricane Irene chugged toward New Jersey two months earlier, was himself without power at his Morris County home. (Frasinelli and Megerian, The Star-Ledger)
Private battle over N.J. speaker Sheila Oliver’s future about to be thrust into public eye
The shadow war over who will be Assembly speaker has been waged by phone over the past week as Democratic power brokers dial their allies and party brethren to lock down support for their chosen candidates, party sources say.
Essex County Executive Joseph N. DiVincenzo Jr. has been lighting up the phone lines to secure Sheila Oliver’s second term as speaker, while Sen. Nicholas Sacco (D-Hudson) is seeking a coalition between Hudson and Bergen counties to back the largely unknown Assemblyman Vincent Prieto (D-Hudson), according to Democrats familiar with the political maneuvering. (Megerian and Renshaw, The Star-Ledger)
Licensed N.J. workers owe state $13.8M in overdue fines
Licensed professionals such as doctors and accountants owe New Jersey $13.8 million in overdue fines for everything from lying about their education to sexually harassing a patient during a checkup, and state officials concede they haven’t done enough to collect the money.
The unpaid fines were disclosed by state officials after The Star-Ledger reviewed six years wo
rth of records from New Jersey’s 46 licensing and disciplinary boards that are charged with protecting consumers from dishonest or dangerous professionals. The review showed that, in all, 28 percent of fines leveled by these boards went uncollected. (Baxter, The Star-Ledger)
In big cities, Jerseyans feel safest in Manhattan
A new poll regarding big cities finds New Jerseyans feel safest in … Manhattan!
Atlantic City came in second place in the Fairleigh Dickinson University PublicMind poll. Faring less well were Newark, Trenton and Camden, and Philadelphia.
About 78 percent of respondents said they feel somewhat or very safe in Manhattan, while 64 percent said likewise about Atlantic City. The poll was commissioned shortly after the second fatal carjacking in little over a year at the parking garage of the Trump Taj Mahal Casino Resort in Atlantic City. (The Associated Press)
South Jersey senate race brings in big spending, heavy hitters
In the latest GOP ad in South Jersey’s closest state Senate race, Gov. Christie looks into the camera and says that he has capped property taxes, cut business taxes, and overhauled the pension system, “but we’re not done yet. Send Vince Polistina to Trenton to help me finish the job.”
The outcome of Atlantic County’s Second District campaign will not, in fact, be especially relevant in helping Christie accomplish his agenda; Democrats are expected to maintain overall control of the 120-member Legislature on Nov 8. (Rao, The Philadelphia Inquirer)
New Jersey’s residence-only law worries some schools
A new law has quietly gone into effect requiring all new public employees to live in New Jersey, and it is already spooking some in the state’s public schools who rely on out-of-state talent.
The full impact of the New Jersey First Act has yet to be felt, since the law enacted this past winter did not apply to those hired before September 1. Most schools got their new hires in the door in late August, with any hiring for next year not likely to start in earnest until spring. (Mooney, NJ Spotlight)
Legislative District 34
District 34 in Essex and Passaic counties may be one of the safer Democratic districts in the state, but its legislative election still comes with suspense to what may happen afterward to its highest-profile incumbent, Assembly Speaker Sheila Oliver.
Oliver, of East Orange, heads a Democratic ticket widely predicted to sweep to re-election against Republican and independent challengers.
But the race comes with the backdrop of internal dissension within Oliver’s Democratic membership in the Assembly over her support of the governor’s pension and health benefit reforms earlier this year. (Mooney, NJ Spotlight)
Senate Race: 35th Legislative District
High unemployment in Paterson is the dominant issue in the 35th District, where Assemblywoman Nellie Pou is poised to step up to the Senate.
Pou says she’s prepared to tackle the challenges as a state senator. If she wins, Pou would become the first Latina to represent Paterson and the rest of the heavily Democratic 35th in Trenton.
Standing in her way is Republican challenger Kenneth Pengitore. The one-time mayor of Haledon concedes, however, that his campaign is a long-shot. (Lehren, NJ Spotlight)
Last Republican elected to the State Assembly from Bayonne was in 1920
It was a simple question: Who was the last Republican elected to Bayonne in the state Assembly?
State officials said they did not know the answer in last week’s story about Michael Alonso, the Bayonne Republican who hopes to represent the 31st Legislative District after the Nov. 8 election. The New Jersey Republican State Committee did not respond to the question. (McDonald, The Jersey Journal)
Homes, not nursing homes
New Jersey is seeking federal approval for major changes to its $11 billion Medicaid program, hoping to rein in what state officials and some non-government stakeholders say is an unsustainable escalation of spending.
But saving money is only one of the goals of the 160-page Comprehensive Medicaid Waiver that New Jersey submitted to the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services in September. It also aims to keep the aged and people with disabilities out of nursing homes, which is what most patients would prefer and would be cheaper for taxpayers. But the waiver has major ramifications for how the system is managed, what services become available under Medicaid, and how healthcare is delivered. (Fitzgerald, NJ Spotlight)
Rutgers eyes stronger ties with India
New Jersey’s flagship public university wants to lead the way as American colleges and universities look to benefit from a new partnership between the U.S. and India.
Rutgers University is applying for the first round of grants that President Barack Obama’s administration will provide to help colleges and universities in the U.S. and India work together to set up joint research programs, expand dual-degree offerings and increase study-abroad opportunities. (Chebium, Ganentt)
Second attempt at stay on DePascale ruling filed by state
The state Attorney General’s Office filed another motion Thursday to stay the decision in the case of Judge Paul DePascale. The plaintiff judge successfully challenged the state’s pension and benefit reform law as it applies to members of the judicial branch, but the state wants the decision put aside until its appeal is heard. (Carroll, State Street Wire)
District 38 won’t be a sacrificial lamb of Sweeney, source maintains
Money the Democratic Party earmarked for central Bergen’s battleground 38th Legislative District will not be cut and redirected to the 2nd District in Atlantic City, where an incumbent Democrat is struggling to survive.
That is the firm view of at least one Democratic Party official close to Senate President Stephen Sweeney, who is overseeing the Democratic Party’s effort to maintain majority control of both houses of the Legislature on Nov. 8.
Paranoid-tinged speculation has rumbled through the Bergen party ranks in recent weeks. Officials wonder whether the $1.2 million promised to help stave off an expected GOP television blitz would be trimmed back and sent to shore up 2nd District Sen. Jim Whelan’s wobbling campaign in casino city. (Stile, The Record)
Why this election matters
New Jersey has an election every November on the first Tuesday after the first Monday. So it should be no surprise that voters are supposed to show up at the polls on Tuesday, Nov. 8 sometime between 6 a.m. and 8 p.m.
But there is no buzz about this year’s election and certainly no apparent excitement among the voters about the chance to choose three people to represent them in the New Jersey Legislature.
Collectively, these 120 individuals share power with a governor about big decisions on property taxes, reforming health care and pensions, same-sex marriage, school funding, as well as countless other not-so-visible decisions. (Reed for The Record)
With education reform, Chris Christie could help close N.J.’s wealth gap
The latest Census study shows that the New York Metropolitan area, which includes about half of New Jersey, has the nation’s sharpest divide between rich and poor.
Yes, that is partly a good story. We have a lot of rich people. New Jersey consistently ranks at or near the top of the nation in median income. We are rich and better educated than the rest of the nation, and that’s on top of having the best bagels and pizzas. (Moran, The Star-Ledger)
Marijuana legalization supported by those on front lines
David Nathan is a psychiatrist based in Princeton, with plenty of patients who abuse alcohol, marijuana or both.
He is the sort of person we should be listening to when it comes to the war on drugs. Because the people on the front line — cops, judges, shrinks — can see that the hard line isn’t working.
They are like the generals who have fought in war and counsel the hawkish politicians against provoking combat. (Moran, The Star-Ledger)
Two years after Codey’s ouster, wounds still raw among Essex County Democrats
Two years after a bloodless coup that dethroned state Sen. Richard Codey (D-Essex) from his position as Senate president, the wounds among Essex County Democrats remain fresh. And that could wind up harming Assembly Speaker Sheila Oliver (D-Essex) as she fights to keep her leadership job.
The latest tiff came at high noon Tuesday, when Essex County Democratic chairman Philip Thigpen held a conference call with the county’s legislative delegation that was intended to shore up support for Oliver. (The Auditor, The Star-Ledger)
It all starts with the number 7
The MTA may be coming our way if a Mike Bloomberg plan to bring the No. 7 subway line to Secaucus is more than another in a series of grand transit plans that go nowhere. The New York City mayor is expressing interest in extending the subway from the West Side of Manhattan to the Frank Lautenberg Rail Station in Secaucus.
A trial balloon on this very idea floated shortly after Governor Christie killed funding to the Access to the Region’s Core project. ARC would have brought new tunnels under the Hudson River to a station far below 34th Street. Many a pundit, myself included, referred to it as a one-seat ride to Macy’s basement. Christie killed ARC because the probable cost overruns in the billions of dollars would be borne solely by New Jersey. (Doblin, The Record)
Transportation debt puts us on the highway to hell
Readers often ask me how I determine if an idea is truly dreadful.
I have a simple test: If Jeff Tittel of the Sierra Club hates it and conservatives also hate it, then it’s a dreadful idea.
Such an idea was the ARC tunnel project. Tittel stuck it with the “Tunnel to Macy’s Basement” tag. Meanwhile Republican state Sen. Michael Doherty of Warren County got me to go along on a walking tour of the Manhattan part of its route during which an expert in rail transportation explained in detail just how big a boondoggle it would be. (Mulshine, The Star-Ledger)
In case you missed it
Christie applauds Bergen biz leaders
Governor Christie told more than 500 business leaders in Woodcliff Lake on Friday that he considers them a top priority and would never show them the disrespect he said his predecessors did.
The Christie administration, the governor told the Commerce and Industry Association of New Jersey at its annual lunch at the Hilton Woodcliff Lake, “sees you as our customers. We see you as the people who give us the revenue to permit us to exist in the first place.” (Morley, The Record)
N.J. election: Big stakes, middling interest
The economy is flaccid. Fights over pensions and benefits drew hundreds of protesters to Trenton in June, and budget cuts led an infuriated state Senate president to say he wanted to punch the governor in the head.
But New Jersey’s financial woes and acrimonious political climate don’t seem to be motivating voters.
Only 55 percent of registered voters surveyed recently realized there is an election Nov. 8 – a day they can pick all 120 of their representatives in Trenton. (Farrell, The Philadelphia Inquirer)
N.J. redistricting to produce change for lawmakers
Congressional redistricting this year is one part musical chairs and one part dominoes: a complex task with rules that might be better thought of as goals.
Except for one rule: Don’t violate the federal Voting Rights Act.
New Jersey is losing a House seat for the third time in four decades, leaving the state with 12 members in the House of Representatives for the first time since the 1920s. With none of the 13 incumbents wanting to retire, that means someone’s going to be left without a chair. (Symons, Gannett)
Christie’s education chief going to NJEA convention
Gov. Chris Christie’s education commissioner has been booked to speak at the upcoming state teachers convention, a year after the Christie administration snubbed the New Jersey Education Association at the annual meeting that draws many of the union’s 200,000 members.
Acting Education Commissioner Christopher Cerf will head a 90-minute session Nov. 11 where he “will discuss a full range of issues confronting education,” according to the program for the 157th annual NJEA Convention in Atlantic City. (Jordan, Gannett)
GOP sees potential for Senate win in Bergen County
If Republicans are to score a state Senate victory in Bergen County this November, Freeholder Chairman John Driscoll Jr. will be the candidate to do it.
Sen. Bob Gordon, the incumbent Democrat, is trying to keep the seat he’s held for three years in one of the tightest Senate races in the state. The other Senate race to watch is in Atlantic City. (The Associated Press)
32nd District weak on challengers, but strong on issues
The issues in the 32nd Legislative District are real, though the election is all but decided.
The economy is still in the hole, the population is shifting and budgets for essential services continue to strain. But good times or bad, the district, which includes Edgewater, North Bergen, Fairview and Secaucus, has not shifted parties for more than 20 years. And the Democratic delegation leader, state Sen. Nicholas Sacco, has not received less than 70 percent of the vote in recent memory, according to his campaign. No one expects an upset this time around. (Schectman, The Record)
Turner faces challenge from Cox in fight for the 15th District
State Sen. Shirley Turner is seeking her fourth term in the state Legislature’s upper house while fending off a challenge from Don Cox, a former Ewing councilman.
As property taxes and unemployment rates remain high throughout the state, both candidates agree property tax relief, job creation and ensuring a strong public school system are among the most pressing issues in New Jersey. (Duffy, The Trenton Times)
More than $200M in hurricane aid approved for N.J. businesses, residents
The federal government in two months has approved more than $200 million in aid for New Jersey residents and businesses affected by Hurricane Irene, officials said this week.
The bulk of the aid has come through the Housing Assistance program, which has approved $134 million for housing-related needs and repairs in the Garden State, the Federal Emergency Management Agency said. Through Oct. 26, FEMA also has authorized more than $57 million in low-interest disaster loans from the U.S. Small Business Administration. (Burd, NJBIZ)
A run to save horse racing in New Jersey
Anthony Perretti remembers the glory days of New Jersey’s equine industry.
The Meadowlands Racetrack in East Rutherford was the crown jewel of the nation’s harness-racing venues, and Monmouth Park Racetrack in Oceanport was the premier site for thoroughbred racing in the state. Both drew roaring crowds and offered big purses. (Colimore, The Philadelphia Inquirer)
Guadagno visits Vineland firm
New Jersey Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno stopped here Friday to chew the fat about the region’s food processing industry.
Guadagno set out in mid-February to visit 100 businesses this year. The “100 Businesses” initiative, now nearly done, took her to Cherry Hill and then Vineland on Friday.
Guadagno spent about an hour inside General Mills Inc.’s Progresso Quality Food plant on West Elmer Road. (Smith, Gannett)
Economist: N.J. employment stable, but recovery remains tepid
Decreases in unemployment insurance applications and continuing benefits, along with a positive Bureau of Labor Statistics household report, tell Patrick O’Keefe that New Jersey’s labor market is stabilizing.
There are signs of a “marginally positive bias” to the job picture, according to O’Keefe, director of economic research for Roseland-based J.H. Cohn. According to the unemployment insurance report for the week ending Oct. 15, New Jersey had the fewest number of UI claimants in any week over the past three years. (Caliendo, NJBIZ)
Blacks, Hispanics take worst hit in NJ job market
Widespread layoffs across the nation have left few families untouched. However, the prospects in an uneven recovery are especially bleak for unemployed blacks and Hispanics, who came into the recession on a lower rung in the job market.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the latest New Jersey average monthly unemployment figures from October 2010 through September 2011 show the rate at 15.4 percent for black people, 10.9 percent for Hispanics and 8.6 percent for white people, down just slightly from a year ago. (Shields and Manochio, Gannett)
Association says tort reform would encourage business growth in N.J.
If New Jersey follows states like Texas and South Carolina in reforming its tort laws, the New Jersey Law Reform Association said, thousands of jobs can be created.
According to a study funded by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s Institute for Legal Reform, if New Jersey reduced tort activity in its courts, it could reduce litigation spending up to $1.7 billion, and between 35,000 and 94,000 jobs could be created. (Caliendo, NJBIZ)
Small town endures big-time scandal
Mayor Chris Myers hasn’t said much about the sex scandal that’s been ignited by an online accusation against him by an alleged male escort.
But people here are willing to comment, and many seem eager for the mayor to step down.
“It’s horrendous,” declared local jeweler Robert Collepardi. “I don’t want him around here.”
“It’s a disgrace,” added David Sadusky, a 40-year resident and the owner of an auto body shop. “The guy should resign.” (Cooney, Gannett)
Pulse quickens around hospitals
The economic clout of New Jersey’s 72 acute care hospitals is on the rise, a lifeboat in a drowning economy.
Total expenditures statewide in 2010 reached $18.6 billion last year, an increase of $40 million compared with 2009, according to the New Jersey Hospital Association, a membership trade organization. (Stilwell, Gannett)