Seema Singh under ethics investigation, Corzine wants explanation for hold up of Rabner nomination, North Caldwell council candidate threatens to set fire to dentist’s car, Sharpe James retires from Essex County College post, testimony from Healy’s trial, Michael Russo returns to New Jersey.
WELCOME TO 2007, THE YEAR OF THE ETHICS INVESTIGATION
“The State Ethics Commission is investigating whether state Senate candidate and former Ratepayer Advocate Seema Singh acted appropriately by paying her former chief of staff as a consultant after the aide retired from her post, officials have confirmed.
A spokeswoman for the Public Advocate's Office said the commission launched the probe at the request of Advocate Ronald Chen after a former state employee filed a complaint with Chen's office.
Singh, the Democratic candidate for the 14th District, said she was not aware of any investigation. She defended the manner in which she ran the ratepayer advocate office, which represents consumers in utility increase petitions.
D. Anthony Bullett, a former chief accountant in the ratepayer advocate office, alleged that Singh rehired chief of staff Leora Mosston as a consultant at nearly double her state salary less than one month after Mosston retired from her job.
While Mosston was being paid more than $500,000 over three years as a consultant, she also was receiving her state-funded pension, the complaint alleges.” (Isherwood, Trenton Times)
DID CHRISTIE GET TO CORZINE?
“Gov. Jon Corzine said yesterday the public deserves an explanation from the state senator who is single-handedly blocking Corzine's nomination of Attorney General Stuart Rabner as the new chief justice of the New Jersey Supreme Court.
A hearing to confirm Rabner was postponed until later this week after Sen. Nia Gill (D-Essex) last week declined to endorse Corzine's nominee. Gill invoked the unwritten but long-held tradition of "senatorial courtesy," which requires senators from a nominee's home county to sign off on their nomination before it can move forward………
The snag in confirming Rabner has the governor perplexed.
"It's rather unusual to put a hold on someone and you aren't saying why," Corzine told reporters during a news conference at Drumthwacket, the governor's mansion in Princeton.
Asked if he thinks Gill owes the public an explanation, Corzine said: "I think that's reasonable; it's reasonable for the public to understand what her reasoning is." (Howlett, Star-Ledger)
HE REALLY WANTED TO BE IN THE SOCCER CLUB
“A North Caldwell council candidate has been charged with threatening to set another man's car on fire if he did not receive an appointment to the board of the local soccer club, police said yesterday.
Matthew Rollins, 47, who recently ran unopposed in the North Caldwell Democratic primary, went to the Pequannock office of dentist Richard Tell last Thursday morning to talk about being an officer with North Caldwell Soccer Club, police said.
Tell is co-president of the club, police said. Rollins, who ran unsuccessfully for mayor last year, allegedly told Tell he recently set a car fire and threatened Tell if he was not appointed a club officer, police said.
"He basically said his family is next," Pequannock Lt. Dan Dooley said.” (Alloway, Star-Ledger)
JAMES RETIRES FROM CUSHY PROFESSORSHIP
“With possible corruption charges looming, former Newark Mayor Sharpe James is retiring from his $150,000 job as head of the Urban Issues Institute at Essex County College after just one year in the position.
Essex County College President Zachary A. Yamba said today that James informed the college about a month ago he would retire June 30, exactly a year since he left office as mayor after 20 years and returned to the college after a 20-year leave of absence.
Yamba said James did not cite any reasons for the retirement and that he was not asked to leave by the college.
"It would have been a distraction," Yamba said of James' possible indictment on charges of misusing taxpayer dollars to pay for vacations and selling discounted, yet valuable, city land to his friends and associates. "When things like this happen, people are presumed innocent until proven guilty." (Mays, Star-Ledger)
SHARPE JAMES’S “HEAD-SPINNING CONTRADICTIONS”
State Sen. Sharpe James became a dual office holder the same year he says he took up a long and arduous crusade against dual office holding, one of the head-spinning contradictions emanating from the old ex-Newark mayor who is under federal investigation.
The day was ending and among his upper house colleagues, James radiated nervous eagerness in the senate chamber.
"That bill is coming up on Thursday," he said, referring to a ban on dual office holding, of which he's a co-prime sponsor. "We’re close to abolishing that practice. I’ve been trying to ban dual office holding since 1999." (Pizarro, PoliticsNJ.com)
SENATOR COLLETTI? REMEMBER JOHN SCOTT AND DICK LAROSSA?
“When Robert Colletti entered the race for the 38th district State Senate seat in April, the stories about federal subpoenas of State Sen. Joseph Coniglio weren’t much more than a blip on the political radar.
The Record published a story on Monday alleging that two biotechnology companies received $1.2 million in state grants soon after they hired Coniglio as a consultant. That report follows a federal subpoena of Coniglio’s role in helping another client, Hackensack University Medical Center, receive over $1 million in taxpayer dollars.
Suddenly, Republicans feel that Coniglio’s ethics woes could put the Democratic-leaning Bergen County Senate seat in play.
But come November, there is no guarantee that the race will still be Coniglio vs. Colletti.” (Friedman, PoliitcsNJ.com)
HE STILL HAD HIS HEADSET ON
“A prominent Hunterdon County lawyer who has served as counsel to New Jersey state government allegedly masturbated Friday outside of a minivan in a shopping outlet parking lot.
Christopher L. Daul stood nude in the commuter area of the Liberty Village parking lot about 12:30 p.m. Friday, police said. Daul was allegedly facing the vehicle of a witness who reported the incident……….
Daul, 49, of Delaware Township, is vice president for regulatory affairs with the Alman Group, a management and consulting service based in Medford, N.J………
"We only hope in this time of distress that he receives the best care and counseling that he requires and we will be providing him the time to do that," the (Alman Group) statement says.” (Eilenberger, Express-Times)
BRIBERY IN PATERSON
“Two former Paterson officials accused of arranging to dismiss housing-code violations on federally subsidized apartments were indicted yesterday on bribery charges.
Both were arrested in March, following a 14-month investigation by the U.S. Attorney's Office.
The two were part of a wider corruption case involving a real estate manager who agreed to cooperate with federal agents. Thousands of dollars in bribes were allegedly paid to city employees in Paterson and Passaic to make complaints on dozens of Section 8 subsidized apartments simply go away, according to authorities.
Others also arrested in the case have yet to be indicted.
Indicted yesterday was Princess Reaves, 47, of East Orange, a clerk for the Paterson Municipal Court who is charged with taking approximately $2,500 from one housing inspector to dismiss pending housing violations and warrants.
Victor Ortiz, 43, of Paterson, another housing inspector tied to the scheme, was indicted on charges of taking more than $5,000 in cash to arrange the dismissals of tenant complaints filed in municipal court.” (Sherman, Star-Ledger)
HEALY – MISUNDERSTOOD PEACEMAKER OR INTOXICATED TROUBLEMAKER?
“No one doubted Jersey City Mayor Jerramiah Healy was well-intentioned when he intervened in a lovers' quarrel last year outside his sister's bar in Bradley Beach.
But whether he crossed the line in a drunken stupor and interfered with official police business, or was the victim of police brutality, is now up to a municipal court judge to decide………….
"A nice guy who really didn't want any hassle at all is thrown to the ground … and hauled off by the police bleeding like a stuck pig," Healy's attorney, James Fagen, said yesterday in opening arguments in Bradley Beach municipal court. "All he tried to do was calm the situation down like any decent individual would do.”
Bradley Beach police acknowledge Healy wanted to quell an argument between Jeffrey Barnes Jr. and Jacqueline Volante in the early hours of June 17. But they claim Healy went too far by refusing to back off while they investigated that dispute outside Barry's Tavern on Main Street.
"He wasn't a very nice guy, was definitely intoxicated, was very irate," Patrolman William Major testified when asked to describe Healy's demeanor.” (Spoto, Star-Ledger)
“Corrupt former Hoboken Mayor Anthony Russo is coming home to a New Jersey halfway house from the North Carolina federal prison where he is serving time as inmate 25827-050, officials said.
"I can't wait to get him home, he's my dad," said Hoboken Councilman Michael Russo of his father. "He made a grave, grave error in decision. He made a very wrong move but he went to prison, he paid for it," Michael Russo said. "He will never do anything like that again."……………
Russo, who was Hoboken mayor from 1993 to 2001, is suffering from lung, brain and adrenal cancer. Michael Russo said a spot was found on his father's lung recently but doctors in North Carolina decided not to operate. He will be seeking a treatment plan when he is back in New Jersey, Michael Russo said.
In May 2005 Anthony Russo was sentenced to 30 months in prison after admitting accepting hundreds of thousands of dollars in bribes. He was also fined $30,000 and ordered to pay Hoboken $332,000 he took in exchange for doling out lucrative government contracts.
In court, McAlevy told U.S. District Court Judge Joel Pisano that Russo couldn't pay back the money he owed the people he represented because he blew it on sports betting.” (Conte, Jersey Journal)
MR. POTATO HEAD
“A Superior Court judge has set July 2 to hear testimony in an open courtroom on whether state Sen. Robert J. Martin improperly influenced a jury as its foreman in a slip-and-fall civil trial last year.
A state appeals court early this year ordered Judge W. Hunt Dumont to conduct the hearing, and last month ruled that it must be open to the public after Dumont initially wanted to question Martin and his fellow five jurors in private…………
Martin was the foreman of a civil jury that last June awarded Joyce Barber $876,000 as compensation for neck and back injuries she suffered in a 2002 fall at the ShopRite in Wharton. Martin's conduct as a juror was criticized by ShopRite attorney Robert Gold after the senator, who also is a Seton Hall Law School professor, wrote a 24-paragraph commentary about his jury service for the Dec. 4 edition of the New Jersey Law Journal.
Martin wrote that jurors relied on him for assistance, "especially in dealing with abstract legal concepts and procedural issues." He wrote that he believed his opinions were "extremely influential" and swayed other jurors.” (Wright, Daily Record)
NOW WITH LESS PORK
“The least controversial state budget in years is now poised for final legislative approval Thursday.
The budget committees in the Senate and Assembly, voting mostly along party lines, approved the $33.5 billion spending plan yesterday. Democrats touted the budget, saying it does not raise taxes, expands state rebates to offset the burden of local property taxes, and increases subsidies for cash-strapped hospitals………
Even Republicans in both houses acknowledged the process was more open and orderly than last year, when a fight over a sales tax increase caused an unprecedented weeklong shutdown of state government.
Senate Minority Leader Leonard Lance (R-Hunterdon) said the budget is "better than it was last year. Last year's was terrible." (Donohue, Star-Ledger)
“Saying the budget, as a whole, was fiscally irresponsible, most GOP legislators on the budget committees voted against it yesterday.
The Assembly panel passed the budget bill, 9-3, with every Republican but Francis Blee (R., Atlantic) opposing it. The Senate committee endorsed the proposal, 9-5, with one abstention, in a vote that similarly fell along party lines. The only Republican senator not to vote against the bill was Martha Bark (R., Burlington), who abstained, saying she needed more time to make up her mind on a budget that "has a lot of good things, but some things lacking." (Moroz and Ung, Philadelphia Inquirer)
“What's in the budget: Property tax rebates of up to 20 percent, totaling $2.2 billion, paid for with half of last year's 1-cent sales tax increase. For North Jersey homeowners earning less than $100,000 a year, that means an average savings of $1,080, or 20 percent. Those earning between $100,000 and $150,000 would pay an average of 15 percent less, and those earning between $150,000 and $250,000 an average of 10 percent less. Seniors will either have their tax bills reduced by 2 percent or a credit of $1,200, whichever is greater.” (Lu, Herald News)
“State Republicans had been expected to gripe about the $33.5 billion state budget. On Monday, however, Democrats spoke up about a spending plan with more than $100 million in the add-ons popularly referred to as "Christmas tree" items. "Call them what you want … there are some minor legislative initiatives that did get into the budget," said Sen. Paul Sarlo, D-Bergen, a member of the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee. "If we were going to strike them, I wish they were all stricken." (Graberm Gloucester County Times)
ZIMMER WINS IN HOBOKEN, BUT CAMPOS WON’T GIVE UP
“Dawn Zimmer was certified yesterday as the winner of the Hoboken 4th Ward City Council election.
But the man she defeated, incumbent Councilman Christopher Campos, said he will ask for a recount today. City Clerk James Farina certified that Zimmer won by six votes, 892 to 886, including absentee and provisional ballots. Campos said he also plans to question the validity of some absentee ballots, which tipped the vote in Zimmer's favor.” (Hack, Jersey Journal)
CORZINE ON MONETIZATION: TRUST ME
“The Corzine administration has told the chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee — a leading critic of the growing practice of leasing toll roads to private companies — that he will not find their plans for the New Jersey Turnpike objectionable.
U.S. Rep. Jim Oberstar (D-Minn.) wrote a letter to the governors of all 50 states last month expressing skepticism over so-called "public-private partnerships" and threatening to "work to undo any state PPP agreements that do not fully protect the public interest and the integrity of the national system."
The Corzine administration has been studying ways to lease or otherwise "monetize" the Turnpike and other state assets, but it has not yet made any specific proposal.
"They told me, 'Don't worry. We're not doing any of those things you warned about in your letter,'" said Oberstar, who was in Newark yesterday to speak to the New Jersey Alliance for Action, a group of business and labor leaders.” (Feeney, Star-Ledger)
NO CO-PAY, JUST A “WELLNESS PROGRAM”
“In a reversal of a key provision of the labor contract announced in February, Gov. Corzine has agreed to provisions that would let state employees retire with free health coverage.
The change was advanced Monday by both the Senate and Assembly budget committees and praised by labor union leaders who said it gave them equal standing with teachers, most of whom do not pay for their health coverage once they retire.
"The teachers had something that we did not, so this gives us parity," said Rae Roeder, president of Communication Workers of America Local 1033, one of the largest state worker unions.” (Tamari, Gannett)
“Instead of the co-payment, which was included as part of the settlement of a four-year state workers contract signed in late February, retired workers will now be able to continue getting free health insurance if they sign up for a "wellness program" of regular physical exams and healthy lifestyle guidance.” (McNichol, Star-Ledger)
CONGRATULATIONS TO SUSAN BASS LEVIN, WHO JUST WON LIFETIME MEDICAL BENEFITS AND A COMFY PENSION
“Taking matters into her own hands, outgoing state Community Affairs Commissioner Susan Bass Levin yesterday successfully lobbied reluctant Senate Judiciary Committee members to approve her appointment to the Local Finance Board.
Levin, 54, of Cherry Hill, has 21 years and six months of pension credit in the state Public Employees Retirement System and needs at least 25 years of credit to receive full medical benefits in retirement. Serving a five-year term on the Local Finance Board would earn her lifetime medical benefits and boost her pension $2,563 a year, to $57,681.
"I think Commissioner Levin has exceptional ability, but this is dual officeholding and pension padding," said Sen. Gerald Cardinale (R-Bergen), who voted against the nomination. "This has nothing to do with the individual. It has everything to do with principle. This is something that has come to clear public attention lately. If the job with the Port Authority is not a full-time job, it should be listed as part time."” (Hester, Star-Ledger)
SEPARATE BUT EQUAL?
“A state commission convened yesterday to study whether civil unions in New Jersey really do provide all the benefits of marriage.
A total of 1,092 same-sex couples have applied to form civil unions in New Jersey since a new law allowed them four months ago, the New Jersey Civil Union Review Commission was told yesterday…………
But its newly elected vice chairman, Steven Goldstein, who also chairs the gay rights group Garden State Equality, predicted that lawmakers will not need three years to conclude that the only way to treat same-sex couples equally is to allow them to marry.
Goldstein said his organization is rapidly gaining converts to the cause of same-sex marriage and there is a "very substantial" possibility that it could pass the Legislature next year.
"If the trends continue," Goldstein said, "we'll have marriage equality in this state before the mandate of this commission expires.” (Schwaneberg, Star-Ledger)
CONIGLIO SPEAKS, IGNORES 800 POUND GORILLA
“The state Senate approved a bill yesterday to crack down on unwanted commercial electronic messages, or "spam," by expanding the federal CAN SPAM Act of 2003.
"Spammers are constantly developing new ways to get around spam filters and blockers, often committing fraud or theft to get their messages through," said Sen. Joseph Coniglio (D-Bergen). "We need to stay ahead of the spammers in order to protect the efficiency and security of the Internet."
The bill (S-1129), known as the "New Jersey Can Spam Act," would establish both criminal and civil penalties for those activities often involved in the widespread distribution of spam e-mail messages. (Star-Ledger)
“A leading immigrants rights group in New Jersey is launching a campaign calling on federal lawmakers to reform immigration laws, and also urging state officials to draft policies addressing aspects of illegal immigration.
The New Jersey Immigration Policy Network said Monday it will place Internet and print ads that cast immigrants as a foundation of the United States, and urge residents to pressure members of the U.S. Senate who NJIPN says are obstructing efforts to revamp immigration laws.” (Llorente, Bergen Record)
CORZINE WORRIES ABOUT BLOOMBERG’S PLAN
“Gov. Corzine fears New Jersey lacks the rail and bus capacity to handle all the commuters if New York City levies a "congestion fee" on motorists who drive into parts of Manhattan.
"I'd like to find out what its real impact is going to be on New Jersey," Corzine said of a measure being pushed by New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg that's pending in the New York Legislature in Albany.” (Baldwin, Gannett)
STEM CELL RESEARCH
“A plan to borrow $450 million to fund medical breakthroughs using stem cells won preliminary approval yesterday from the Assembly Budget Committee.
"There is nothing better I can do on Earth as a person or as a legislator," said Assemblyman Neil Cohen (D-Union), sponsor of the measure (A-3186). "I can leave Earth happy knowing something has been done to help someone." (McNichol, Star-Ledger)
REPUBLICANS AND DEMOCRATS AGAINST EMBRYONIC STEM CELL RESEARCH
“Two Republican candidates for state Assembly said Monday they oppose spending public money on embryonic stem-cell research.
Republicans R. Norris Clark and Michael Donohue are running for state Assembly this fall against Democratic incumbent Nelson Albano and his running mate Matthew Milam. Clark and Donohue said Monday they oppose an Assembly proposal to ask voters this fall to approve a referendum for stem-cell research.
If the Republicans tried to distinguish themselves from the state's Democratic leadership, they found no argument in their two Democratic opponents.” (Miller, Press of Atlantic City)
VOLUNTEER TIME, NOT JUST DURING LUNCH
“U.S. Rep. Robert Andrews, D-N.J., wants to ensure that the millions of men and women who respond to nationally declared disasters are not penalized for taking time off from their jobs.
Andrews said he wants the nation to follow the example set forth by a Westville company that allows its employees ample time to volunteer for their towns.” (Huelsman, Courier-Post)
“U.S. Representative Robert Andrews is focusing his attention on how to prevent another terrorist attack. He discussed some of the measures working their way through Congress at the Gloucester County Chamber of Commerce's third annual Legislative Update Breakfast Monday. "There are a number of people who will get out of bed this morning with the mission of killing," Andrews said. "It's a sad fact these people are in our world, but it is a fact."” (Horbrook, Gloucester County Times)
A CASUALTY OF LAST YEAR’S BUDGET WARS REAPPEARS
“A measure that would more easily disclose individual lawmakers' voting records — for months, forgotten amid last year's contentious budget and government shutdown — was sent to Gov. Corzine Monday.” (Gannett)
THIS IS NOT TEXAS
“In another setback for the death penalty in New Jersey, the State Supreme Court established ground rules yesterday for how a defendant, after being convicted of a capital crime, could show mental retardation and secure a sentence of life imprisonment. In the 4-to-2 ruling in the case of a man who has yet to go on trial, the court said that if a defendant can convince just one juror during post-trial sentencing hearings that he is mentally retarded, life imprisonment would be the only alternative.” (Smothers, New York Times)
“Fireworks distributors cite a decrease in fireworks-related injuries in urging state legislators to lift New Jersey's outright ban on consumer possession of the devices.
Officials say otherwise.
"The increasing number of fireworks-related injuries proves that they are dangerous," said William Rieger, Gloucester County fire marshal. "There's too many injuries every year. If (fireworks) are there, we're going to seize them."
In 1992, fireworks-related injuries in the U.S. tallied nearly 13,000, according to the federal Consumer Products Safety Commission. That number dropped to 11,000 in 2004; however, since 2002, the number of injuries has steadily risen.” (Hartman, Gloucester County Times)
IN MORRIS COUNTY
“Former Morris County Chief Assistant Prosecutor Michael Paul Wright donned the flowing robe on Monday as the county's newest Superior Court judge — and its first African-American jurist.” (Wright, Daily Record)
IN HUDSON COUNTY
“Hudson County Prosecutor Edward DeFazio was reappointed for a second 5-year term as county prosecutor by a unanimous vote of the state Senate yesterday afternoon. ” (Conte, Jersey Journal)
IN OCEAN COUNTY
“The state Senate Judiciary Committee interviewed and approved Marlene Lynch Ford as the newest Ocean County prosecutor Monday. She now moves to the full Senate for confirmation for a five year-term. Also on Monday, the full Senate confirmed Ted Housel as the next Atlantic County prosecutor, as expected. Housel, of Egg Harbor Township, will replace Jeffrey S. Blitz, who has served in the office for 22 years.” (Press of Atlantic City)
IN STAFFORD TOWNSHIP
“A military report that could be issued today will likely blame last month's Pinelands fire on a practice flare fired by an F-16 fighter pilot near the Warren Grove Gunnery Range, according to U.S. Sen. Frank Lautenberg. Lautenberg, who would like to see the range shut down, said the military's next move will be to convene a Safety Investigations Board, which will study procedures used at Warren Grove and make recommendations for improvement.” (Urgo, Philadelphia Inquirer)
“The Trenton Board of Education was purposely kept in the dark by the district administration about the falsification of student records, a current and a former school board member said yesterday.
That was the picture painted by current school board President Joyce Kersey and former school board member Abdul Malik-Ali during a meeting of the city council's special investigative committee.
The committee is investigating the tampering of student records during the 2004-05 school year at the Sherman Avenue campus.” (Loayza, Trenton Times)
“TRENTON — The city has withdrawn its application to join the state's needle exchange program, although officials left the door open for a program in the future. The decision disappointed a leading advocate for the program, which would allow intravenous drug users to get clean needles.” (Kitchenman, Trenton Times)
“A new Hackettstown Business Improvement District board member wouldn't mind if the group he belongs to didn't exist. Pete Baglio wanted to join the board to abolish the business group…………."The first meeting we're going to have a riot. I'm going to say, 'You have to show these BID people what they're getting for their money,'" Baglio, a 30-plus years business owner said. "Because I got elected means someone in town is not happy with the BID." (Olanoff, Express-Times)
IN MONMOUTH COUNTY
“Assembly members Sean T. Kean and Jennifer Beck want to hear Monmouth County residents' comments and concerns today about Gov. Corzine's plan to sell or lease the Garden State Parkway and New Jersey Turnpike and other transportation issues. The toll road town meeting will be held at 7 p.m. at the municipal building, 2700 Allaire Road.” (Higgs, Asbury Park Press)
IN FLORENCE TOWNSHIP
“The Burlington County Clerk's Office has denied a petition filed by a candidate for Florence Township Council because the document did not have enough valid signatures.
Richard Cheesman filed the petition to run as an independent. According to the clerk's office, his petition had 99 valid signatures — one short of the number needed for Cheesman's name to be placed on the November ballot.” (Sheibley, Burlington County Times)