Steele’s congregation still has faith in him, alleged bribe-takers’ motivations, bust forces consideration of tougher ethics measures, Milgram to meet with Latino leaders over directive, New Jerseyans brace for Iraq report.
FAITH IS NOT RATIONAL
“Outside the Seminary Baptist Church, the Rev. Alfred Steele is facing disgrace as he plans to resign his Assembly seat today after being charged last week in the latest federal corruption sting targeting New Jersey.
Inside the Paterson sanctuary yesterday, Steele was exultant — and embraced.
Three days after being brought into federal court Thursday on charges he accepted $14,000 in bribes, Steele received a flood of support yesterday at the Paterson church where he serves as pastor. Worshippers in packed pews greeted him with a standing ovation, and they lined the aisles to give the 53-year-old preacher hugs and handshakes of solidarity.
While he did not mention the charges during his sermon, an animated Steele described the church as a refuge, an "oasis in the middle of the desert" that provides a "safe haven from (the) midst of a storm."
Yesterday, for him it was. Churchgoers staunchly defended the innocence of their longtime pastor, even touting his 23rd anniversary celebration at the church next Sunday.
"We love him. We're going to support him," said Debbie Thomas of Paterson, a parishioner for 45 years. "He's a great man."………….
Steele has declined to comment since he was arrested Thursday along with Hackett and nine other public officials at various levels of government. Reporters approaching Steele after the service yesterday were blocked by ushers, who said the church would have no official comment on the charges.
The congregation's sentiment, however, was clear.
Swaying and clapping to hymns sung by a gospel choir, the crowd of more than 150 hung on Steele's words, shouting "Amen" and "Hallelujah" as he delivered a half-hour sermon on the church as a "special place."” (Heininger, Star-Ledger)
Most members of the congregation did not want to speak before or after the service. But one man who shared his Bible with a reporter was willing to talk in the lobby after the service. As soon as he started to speak, however, church ushers asked him to leave the building. After arguing for several minutes with the ushers, he left without making any comment.
Following the service, Steele left the church from a side door, surrounded by men in suits. He slid into his gray Cadillac and drove out of the church parking lot on Haledon Avenue.” (Williams, Bergen Record)
IT’S FOR THE CHILDREN
“The Rev. Alfred Steele — one of two state assemblymen accused of taking bribes in an FBI sting — invoked the children of his city, Paterson, to explain his rascal behavior.
Steele's colleague and co-defendant, Assemblyman Mims Hackett Jr., tapped no such endearing cause. Hackett was direct, if more cautious. It was just about the money.
This is the picture that emerges from official criminal complaints that federal authorities presented a federal judge Thursday as Hackett, Steele and nine other current or former public officials sat morosely, cuffed at the wrists and ankles, after being collared in an FBI sweep that morning…………….
Beyond the headlines lies the banter of the moment, the very words on which the case is constructed — a window into the sort of people New Jersey taxpayers have so often trusted to mind their affairs………………….
Steele, says the FBI, agreed the brokerage would pay Steele $5,000 to make introductions to key Paterson officials and 15 percent of whatever gross revenue the firm secured.
Steele went so far as to say he would employ his "personal touch" in making "it happen" for the insurance company…………..
Steele, the FBI says, "actively supported the presentation by, among other things, describing the insurance products as a 'nice piece,' and stressing particularly that children benefited."…………..
Hackett appears to have first met with the "insurance men" May 24 at a restaurant in Orange, where he is mayor, at a meeting arranged by Steele in order for the fake company to pursue business in Orange.
Right away, the FBI said, Hackett made plain that money slipped his way had to be handled privately and only between Hackett and one of the "insurance men," always the same man……………
"Don't worry about it. I'll help you out," Passaic Mayor Samuel "Sammy" Rivera is quoted as growling to the "insurance men" when they sought contracts requiring the OK of the seven-member City Council. "I can get four votes easy, easy, easy.
Later, after accepting cash, in remarks to a Passaic official who questioned using the new brokerage, Rivera is quoted as saying: "I make the (expletive) decision. And the council. And believe me, I've got the four (expletive) votes on the council. So let's stop (expletive), and let's get this thing rolling.” (Baldwin, Gannett)
CORZINE MAY HAVE TO PUSH FOR REAL ETHICS REFORM
“Much to the pleasure of many of his fellow Democrats, Gov. Corzine had just signed into law four anticorruption bills.
But Corzine made no promises about halting corruption in a state where 108 public officials have been convicted on federal corruption charges in the last five years.
"I think that there's still much for us to do," he said. That was two days before FBI agents arrested 12 people, including 11 public officials, Thursday for alleged bribe-taking in the awarding of public contracts. ……………
The arrests come with all 120 legislative seats up for election in the fall. Democrats control the Assembly, 50-30, and the Senate, 22-18, but four Democratic legislators have been hit this year with federal corruption charges. Democrats have passed several anticorruption bills, but Thursday's arrests reignited Republican calls for tougher changes.
Senate Minority Leader Leonard Lance (R., Hunterdon) recalled how Democrats have blocked Republican efforts to further restrict campaign contributions from government contractors, bar county party organizations from sharing campaign money, and immediately make it illegal for officials to hold more than one elected office.
"It has become fashionable to say that there is little difference between the parties," Lance said. "There is a real distinction between Republicans and Democrats regarding campaign finance and ethics reform."
Among bills recently signed into law by Corzine was one making it illegal for officials elected after Feb. 1 to hold multiple elected offices. The bill allows 17 legislators – including Hackett, who is Orange mayor – to retain their multiple seats.
Sen. Anthony Bucco (R., Morris) dubbed Democratic bills "phony reforms that will do nothing to repair the massive ethical breach that has overtaken Trenton."” (Hester, AP)
“A STEAMING CUP OF SWILL”
“PEOPLE PUT great effort into how they order their coffee at a Starbucks. But when it comes to deciding who will represent them in Trenton or town hall, they willingly accept a steaming cup of swill.
Last week's arrest-fest was not an aberration. It is a common sight. Corrupt politicians are so ingrained in the culture of this state that diner operators are reserving booths and creating "No wire-tapping" sections.
How many politicians do we have to see shackled and cuffed on the steps of federal courthouses before this ends? It should end now, but it won't. U.S. Attorney Christopher Christie said as much last week when announcing the arrests of 11 public officials.
The cycle of corruption in New Jersey is unending. Old crooks are replaced by new crooks. The men hauled before cameras last week have not been convicted. They have a right to defend their innocence. But too many of their former colleagues in government have been tried and convicted or have struck plea deals to avoid the embarrassment and higher risk of a jury trial.
I don't just blame the machinery of politics. Yes, we need pay-to-play reform. We need transparent government. We need to put an end to dual-office holding. We need to codify all of these things because as an electorate we are lazy, uninvolved, pathetic excuses for responsible members of a great democracy.
We have mediocre legislators controlled by greedy political bosses, law firms and developers because we do not vote, because we do not demand a better-quality candidate, and because we are content blaming everyone but ourselves.” (Doblin, Bergen Record)
CAN’T PLEASE EITHER SIDE OF THE IMMIGRATION DEBATE
“A group of Latino leaders welcomed the chance to talk with state Attorney General Anne Milgram on Saturday concerning her recent order to local law-enforcement agencies to inquire about the immigration status of people they arrest.
The leaders, however, have some reservations about the implementation of the directive.
Members of the Latino Leadership Alliance of New Jersey met with Milgram at an East Brunswick hotel to discuss the directive, which specifies that police may only ask about someone's immigration status when they're being arrested for an indictable offense or for driving while intoxicated. Victims and witnesses are not subject to inquiries.
Alliance President Martin Perez noted some members of his alliance are concerned about the effect of Milgram's directive on the issue of domestic violence. For instance, he said, a wife might want to report her husband because there is domestic violence in the home but doesn't for fear of deportation.
Another big fear is racial profiling. Perez said sometimes people get arrested on a trumped-up charge, only to be deported before the case can be resolved.” (Sparta, Gannett)
“Whether they fervently support President Bush and the military effort in Iraq or adopt a firm anti-war stance, many Shore residents will be watching with interest as two military and political advisers on the war arrive on Capitol Hill to deliver a status report to Congress.
Gen. David Petraeus, the top U.S. commander in Iraq, and U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Ryan Crocker will appear today before the House Armed Services Committee. The two are expected to warn Congress that making any significant changes to the current war strategy will jeopardize the limited security and political progress made so far. They also are expected to recommend maintaining a U.S. troop level of nearly 170,000 through year's end, according to the Associated Press…………..
Rep. Frank J. Pallone Jr., D-N.J., who represents part of Monmouth County, voted against going to war in 2003 and against this year's troop surge. He is among those in Congress calling for a definitive withdrawal date.
"The problem is that there hasn't been any progress. The surge isn't resulting in any progress politically," he said. "American soldiers continue to die, the civil war continues."
Whether Petraeus is able to point out military progress in certain areas is inconsequential, Pallone said, because problems such as under-equipped soldiers, missing weapons and alleged war profiteering continue to plague the broader objectives of the global war on terror.
"If one particular area of Baghdad is safer, why does that matter?" he said. "I don't think there's signs of progress in terms of what we're really trying to accomplish.” (Pais, Asbury Park Press)
“Two Jersey City Municipal Court administrators have been suspended over allegations they fixed their own tickets, according to court officials.
Hudson County Prosecutor Edward DeFazio confirmed that his office is investigating the charges, which, sources say, involve approximately 65 traffic and parking tickets issued to the employees, Victor Matos and Virginia Pagan. It could not be learned whether the two are being paid during their suspension.
According to city officials, the employees were suspended on the recommendation of the chief municipal court judge, Wanda Molina, who reported the allegations to state Superior Court Assignment Judge Maurice Gallipoli and the Jersey City Corporation Counsel's office.
The actual notice to the employees was issued by the Business Administrator's office, according to sources.” (Morgan, Jersey Journal)
DOUBTFUL THAT A CHURCH WOULD GARNER SO MUCH CONTROVERSY
“Amid controversy swirling over a proposed mosque, a grass-roots organization promoting peace and interfaith dialogue sponsored a forum on Sunday afternoon for residents, to foster understanding of the project and of Islam itself.
However, the target audience — critics of the project — didn't show.
But officials for the Islamic Center of Morris County, which has applied to convert a Mannino Drive warehouse into a mosque, said the forum could be the first of many in their quest for approval.
"Whatever it takes," said Aref Assef, a spokesman for the Islamic Center of Morris County .
"Our job is to make sure that their fears are allayed and misconceptions are dispelled. We strongly believe that forums like this are necessary for us to build a mosque and to let our faithful have a place to worship."……….
Officials of the Islamic Center, which currently rents space in Budd Lake, have explained their need for a permanent facility. They are seeking variances from the borough zoning board to convert the 14,800-square-foot warehouse into a mosque.
Borough residents have turned out en masse for several hearings of the application, with some expressing concerns over an increase in traffic and parking. Others have bluntly stated — in so many terms — that a mosque isn't welcome in Rockaway.” (Schneider, Daily Record)
IN JERSEY CITY
“The chief executive officer of a Jersey City health clinic under fire for not having enough doctors to serve patients has resigned in the wake of a no-confidence vote in her leadership, an official with the clinic said.
Catherine Cuomo-Cecere, chief executive officer of the Metropolitan Family Health Network on Garfield Avenue, resigned over the Labor Day weekend after the clinic's board took a no-confidence vote on Aug. 31, Gustavo Adrianzen, chairman of federally-funded clinic's board of trustees, said Friday.
For weeks, Cuomo-Cecere had been dogged by accusations that the clinic had only two adult medical doctors left on staff, down from six several months ago.
And two weeks ago, patients complained there were no doctors available at all.
"We found that the CEO was unable to manage or control her staff, doctors' schedules, and didn't follow up on financial matters that had been outstanding," Adrianzen said. "The final piece was the failure to bring in doctors. It was an ongoing issue from March. We said, 'You're taking a long time . what is the delay?' That was the final nail in the coffin." ” (Thorbourne, Jersey Journal)
“WYCKOFF — Township Committeeman Henry J. McNamara has abandoned his reelection campaign, prompting his opponent in June's Republican primary to declare her candidacy for the spot.
McNamara, who works at the software company Oracle, said a promotion he received in July forced him to reconsider a sixth committee term.
"I am going to certainly miss it," he said. "I care a great deal about the township but, at the same time, I wouldn't do it if I can't commit 100 percent to it."
He will, however, complete his term.
Diane Sobin, who ran against McNamara in June, said Sunday that she sent her resume to the Bergen County Republican Party's Wyckoff municipal committee. That panel must submit to county Chairman Rob Ortiz a replacement for McNamara by Sept. 19.” (Van Dusen, Bergen Record)
IN CASE YOU MISSED IT, NEWS FROM THE WEEKEND
“Assemblyman Alfred Steele, one of 11 public officials arrested last week in a federal corruption sting, has told Democratic leaders he will resign his seat tomorrow, becoming the second state legislator to step down in the wake of the bribery scandal.
Steele's decision, announced yesterday afternoon by a Passaic County Democratic spokeswoman, came a day after his Assembly colleague, Mims Hackett Jr. (D-Essex), announced he was leaving his post and the same day Gov. Jon Corzine pledged to introduce a new package of ethics legislation later this year.
Hackett, 65, who is also the mayor of Orange, has not said whether he will step down from that position. He could not be reached for comment yesterday despite repeated attempts.
Both Steele, who represents Passaic County, and Hackett have been charged with accepting thousands of dollars in bribes in exchange for help securing public contracts. They were among 11 public officials arrested Thursday after an 18-month federal undercover investigation.
Responding to the arrests, Corzine said yesterday he would propose sweeping legislation on ethics and campaign finance after the November election, and make the laws a "priority" in the lame duck session at the end of the year.
"We are going to deal with it quickly, as soon as possible. And it will be a bipartisan response if I'm reading it correctly," Corzine said. ” (Howlett and Casiano, Star-Ledger)
Contenders were already lining up, a close friend and associate of Steele's said.
But the Rev. Stafford Miller said that's not what people should be focused on now. He said the community still needs to heal from Thursday's corruption sweep, which he called a "learning experience."
"We all are tempted," he said. "It's incumbent that we be rooted, that we be that tree that won't be moved."
Miller also said it was incumbent upon voters to keep a close eye on their elected leaders.
"We have to stop making people mascots and monarchs," he said. "We have to make people responsible for who they are."
THE RABNER ERA BEGINS
“The New Jersey Supreme Court begins a new era tomorrow.
Chief Justice Stuart Rabner, who was sworn in over the summer and could lead the state's highest court for nearly a quarter-century, will hear his first set of cases as the justices officially kick off their new term.
In Rabner's rookie year, the court will hear arguments on a wide range of issues, including the rights of accused criminals to confront witnesses, the treatment of farm animals, when police must read defendants their rights, and whether a fan can sue a minor league hockey team for being conked by a puck.
But court watchers will tune in to tomorrow's morning session at the Richard Hughes Justice Complex in Trenton, which they say will give the public its first glimpse at what kind of justice Rabner will be. The former federal prosecutor has no experience on the bench.
"All of us expect it to be quite a long run, so it will be very interesting to see how the tone is set here at the beginning … to see what his style is, whether he asks a lot of questions, if he is a strong leader or a quieter, more moderate leader," said Robert Williams, a professor at Rutgers Law School in Camden.” (Coscarelli, Star-Ledger)
“A DOWN-TO-EARTH, FRIENDLY MAN”
“Assemblyman Alfred E. Steele's ascent as one of Passaic County's political elites started modestly on his parents' tobacco farm in Clarkton, N.C., a rural town where traffic lights are still counted on one hand.
Today, Steele — one of 11 public officials arrested on federal bribery charges Thursday — is a minister at a successful church in Paterson and who thrived financially as a state legislator and Passaic County undersheriff.
Last year, he earned nearly $140,000 from his jobs and resides in a $385,000 home, one of two houses he owns with his wife, Carolyn, in Paterson, according to city tax records.
Steele was arrested as part of an FBI sting operation on charges that he accepted $14,000 from undercover agents posing as insurance brokers.
The federal complaint alleges that Steele took that money in exchange for attempting to use his office and contacts to steer lucrative insurance contracts to a fake company.
Though he is successful and influential, residents from his old neighborhood on Keen Street, off East 18th Street, described Steele as a down-to-earth, friendly man who never flaunted his high standing.” (MacInnes, Herald News)
“John D'Angelo insisted the FBI was not targeting him.
On April 11 – a day after the federal agency ordered the Pleasantville School District to turn over papers related to employee health benefits and insurance – the onetime district insurance broker told The Press of Atlantic City that he was not worried. "It's obvious this is not directed at us," said D'Angelo, of Egg Harbor Township.
But what he didn't reveal was what he really knew: D'Angelo was working with agents as they probed corruption within the local school district. That investigation quickly led north to other office-holders in the state, including two assemblymen and Passaic Mayor Samuel Rivera.
Eleven public officials and a Pleasantville resident who has not held office were arrested Thursday on charges of conspiracy to commit extortion. They allegedly accepted thousands of dollars in exchange for contracts from Pleasantville. They face a maximum of 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine.
But D'Angelo will not be charged.
"For a long while, I was perceived in the media as a corrupt businessman, and any actions I took in assisting the government were also perceived as if I violated the law," D'Angelo wrote in a statement faxed Saturday to The Press. "Let the record be clear that my actions and work with the government related to this case were completely on a voluntary basis."” (Cohen, Press of Atlantic City)
HOW IT WENT DOWN
Jack Surrency got the offer last year, the same one countless other New Jersey officials had received.
Surrency, the school board president in Bridgeton, Cumberland County, was invited to an all-expenses getaway at an Atlantic City casino. And, he acknowledged Friday, the offer included $2,600 in campaign donations.
There was only one catch: He would have to support a new insurance company seeking municipal contracts.
But 11 other public officials allegedly didn't, as the state's corruption-weary residents learned from prosecutors last week.
The case, dubbed Operation Broken Boards by the FBI, began in the economically depressed Atlantic County city of Pleasantville. Located just a dice throw from Atlantic City, the town of 19,000 residents may look like another suburban outpost along the Atlantic City Expressway, but it struggles with many of the same problems that beset poor urban centers.
Pleasantville receives about $65 million a year in state aid, and had been designated as one of the state's 31 underperforming Abbott districts. Low test scores, cash woes and a leadership void — more than a dozen superintendents in a decade — led the state to seize control of the school district this summer.
Now prosecutors say a majority of the school board agreed to be bought, as did the chief of staff to Newark's city council president, two one-time Passaic councilmen, the Passaic mayor, and two members of the state assembly, Alfred Steele of Paterson and Orange mayor Mims Hackett Jr. Most have declined comment or promised vindication.
In some ways the corruption charges have a same-old, same-old Jersey feel to it. Like the scores of cases that have preceded it in the last five years, this one had secretly wired informants, cash payoffs in parking lots and restaurants, and a trail that led investigators to elected officials in three counties.
But some aspects of the case are remarkable, even by Garden State corruption standards.
Some of the bribes allegedly occurred weeks after investigators had gone public with a similar pay-to-play undercover operation in neighboring Atlantic City.
And suspects allegedly continued to take the cash despite glaring signs that a sting operation was under way.” (Martin and Whelan, Star-Ledger)
CHRIS CHRISTIE: THE REAL STAR OF THE DEMOCRATIC CONVENTION
“Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton wowed the crowd. So did Gov. Jon S. Corzine. And there to cheer them on, relishing every partisan barb aimed at President Bush’s policies on Iraq, the economy and health care, were about 1,000 of the state’s most ardent Democrats.
But the person who all but upstaged the state Democratic Party’s annual convention here was a Republican who was 117 miles away in Newark: the United States attorney, Christopher J. Christie, whose office announced on Thursday the arrests of 11 current or former public officials — including two Democratic assemblymen — and another man accused of accepting thousands of dollars in bribes………
Democrats who had read all 44 pages of the supporting material accompanying the criminal complaints said they were shocked and disgusted by the accusations of cash payouts and expletive-filled boasts about vote-rigging.
“Unfortunately, it’s become the focus of the convention, and it’s a very sad day for the Democratic Party,” said State Senator Stephen M. Sweeney, a Democrat from Gloucester County. “How dare these Democrats cast a cloud over the entire Democratic Party? Is your name worth $5,000? People will talk about the corrupt Democratic Party, and you know what? That’s fair game.”
To the embarrassment and astonishment of Democrats gathered in this resort, this was the second consecutive year that Mr. Christie had managed to hog the stage in absentia.
Last year, just as the convention was getting under way, Mr. Christie’s office subpoenaed the records of a nonprofit community agency in Hudson County that had paid more than $300,000 in rent to United States Senator Robert Menendez, a Democrat, while also getting millions of dollars in federal grants with Mr. Menendez’s help. At the time, Mr. Menendez was locked in a close race with his Republican opponent, State Senator Thomas H. Kean Jr., and Democrats contended that the release of the subpoenas so close to the election was politically motivated.
Could Mr. Christie’s timing be mere coincidence two years in a row?
Yes, said most Democrats interviewed here on Friday. Hardly any Democrat was accusing Mr. Christie of playing politics. Instead, many praised him and the Federal Bureau of Investigation agents who worked on the 18-month investigation.” (Chen, New York Times)
BUSTS MAY NOT HAVE ELECTION IMPACT… UNTIL 2009
“Perception of corruption’s so rampant, political scientists say it’s unlikely yesterday’s fiasco will substantially impact Election Day.
Every time U.S. Attorney Christopher Christie puts on the cape and lands on the steps of a federal building in either Trenton or Newark, inevitably there are those who want to try to drive over a mud puddle and spatter the fearless crusader.
What Christie has had to stare down in particular over the past year is the criticism that under the guise of Captain Americanism he’s little more than a lowly spear carrier for the Bush administration, serving a subpoena to Democrat Robert Menendez in 2006, and in ‘07 going after urban and mostly African-American lawmakers who represent poor Democratic districts.
His name was on a list of U.S. attorneys the Bush administration wanted fired, and then off the list following the Menendez subpoena last year, a persistent reminder out there in the blogosphere that at the very least twists the "S" on Christie’s chest into a question mark. But the criticism of the lawman as a singularly voracious political animal when it comes to the prosecution of these corruption cases doesn’t bear scrutiny, according to those who have observed him over the last six years of his tenure.
"I don’t get a sense of this being overly political," said Seton Hall Political Science Prof. Joseph Marbach, following yesterday’s appearance in federal court of 11 public officials – 10 of them Democrats – caught in a bribery network prosecuted by the U.S. Attorney’s Office. "Christie’s made so many of these types of arrests. It doesn’t seem to hold up," Marbach said. "There doesn’t seen to be a smoking gun."” (Pizarro, PoliticsNJ.com)
A CHANCE FOR CHANGE
“As we watch the latest gang of Jersey politicians being hauled away in handcuffs, the level of despair is reaching a new peak.
Which means the governor has a rare opportunity to make real change.
Just a few days ago, he signed a bunch of weak reform bills, and admitted that they did not go far enough. The problem, he said, is that the Democratic Legislature was unwilling to do more…………………
The despair was already written all over this man's face, and maybe that's a good sign. At least he's embarrassed by what's happening.
But it won't be enough. What Corzine needs is a new political strategy, some leverage that will force Senate President Richard Codey and Assembly Speaker Joe Roberts to get on board.
Both Codey and Roberts bailed out on the governor's reform agenda earlier this year when the going got rough. Neither went to bat for the central reform that we need, a full ban on pay-to-play contributions from government contractors. And neither pushed back when their fellow Democrats rejected a real ban on dual office-holding.
So the governor may be preparing to charge into a brick wall again. And if that happens, his despair will be small consolation. ” (Moran, Star-Ledger)
“Don't look now, future statesmen of America.
Once again, New Jerseyans are asking what can be done to make politicians think twice before crossing ethical — and legal — lines, whether it means legislative reform, stronger law enforcement or cultural change.
The arrests of 11 public officials Thursday on bribery charges came as two state senators await trial on corruption charges and a third is the target of a federal investigation. Over the last five years, more than 100 public officials in the Garden State have been convicted on federal corruption charges.
Governor Corzine swept into office promising widespread ethics reforms, including an end to no-bid contracts, a comprehensive pay-to-play ban and an elected state comptroller to keep an eye on government spending, among other measures.
The Legislature has cooperated, for the most part, although some of the reform bills passed have featured glaring loopholes. The ban on dual office-holding, signed into law last week, exempts the 17 current legislators — including the two charged in the latest corruption scandal.
Speaking at the state Democratic Party's annual conference on Friday, Senate President Richard J. Codey said that in the last six years that Democrats have held the majority in Trenton, they have ushered more than 30 anti-corruption and ethics reform bills onto the books.
But if last week's allegations prove true, those measures apparently did little to curb politicians seeking to pad their own pockets. ” (Lu, Bergen Record)
THE BATTLE FOR BERGEN
“A battle over New Jersey pay-to-play laws could land in federal court later this month. But another skirmish is already planned Monday night on Main Street in Hackensack.
The 5 p.m. Bergen County Democratic Organization executive committee meeting is shaping up — again — as a showdown between Chairman Joe Ferriero and state Sen. Loretta Weinberg.
Members of Weinberg's "Bergen Grassroots" army are organizing a protest against Ferriero's "mad plan" to strike down New Jersey's pay-to-play fund-raising restrictions in federal court, according to one e-mail alert distributed last week. The committee is scheduled to discuss the planned lawsuit.
Ferriero thinks the law is unconstitutional, unnecessary and has hurt the BCDO's bottom line.
Weinberg and her "grass-roots" army are opposed to the suit and are angered that it was being planned without the consent of committee members.
Just how big a demonstration is being planned is unclear, but Tenafly Councilwoman Carol Hoernlein said she began calling and e-mailing fellow activists late last week. The meeting will be closed to all but 50 executive committee members. As a result, regular committee members and volunteers are urged to "mass outside" the building and "speak for the people."” (Stile, Bergen Record)
CARDINALE BLOCKS BOXER
“Senate Republicans yesterday ratcheted up the pressure on Gov. Jon Corzine to appoint a special prosecutor to investigate the governor's ties to the brother-in-law of union leader Carla Katz.
Sen. Gerald Cardinale (R-Bergen), a longtime member of the Judiciary Committee, called on its Democratic leadership to withhold consideration of Corzine's nominee for state comptroller until an independent investigation is opened.
The nominee is Matthew Boxer, a senior deputy counsel to Corzine. Boxer attended a meeting at which Katz's brother-in-law, Rocco Riccio, was pressured to resign from a public-sector job in the face of media scrutiny. Corzine and his business manager subsequently paid Riccio $15,000 to help him with living expenses.
Republicans, who have long questioned the financial ties between Corzine and Katz, his former girlfriend, have called for an investigation of the payments to Riccio and the circumstances of his employment. Some have called for Attorney General Anne Milgram to investigate, but others want an independent prosecutor because Milgram is a Corzine appointee.” (Margolin, Star-Ledger)
UNLEASHING THE POWER OF THE INTERNETS
“What started as a hobby for Washington Township High School graduate Juan Melli has grown into one of the largest political blogs on the Internet just in time for the upcoming 2007 elections.
Melli, 26, is a fifth-year graduate student at Princeton University, working toward a doctorate in mechanical engineering.
About two years ago, Melli decided he wanted to learn more about New Jersey state politics. His curiosity led to the creation of BlueJersey.com, an interactive stream of opinions, analysis and newspaper clippings collected on one Web site.
"I didn't know too much about the state politics and I just thought that if I was writing about it every day, I would learn really quickly," Melli said of starting the blog. "I wanted to learn more, but also, a lot of things happen at the state level before they get up to the national level. The media doesn't cover it enough, and I kinda felt there was a certain voice missing from the dialogue, in the political discussions going on about the state. I just wanted my voice out there."…………….
After PoliticsNJ.com, a political blog that features columnists that include former Gov. Christie Whitman and Rider University political science professor David Rebovich, launched in 2000, many smaller blogs have been created.
PoliticsNJ.com is run by a person who calls himself "Wally Edge," a pseudonym for the founder and editor of the site.
The two sites offer a similar format — short articles, highlights of newspaper editorials and breaking political news and analysis, while also allowing registered users to contribute their thoughts.” (Huelsman, Courier-Post)
BAD FOR STACK
“The state Joint Legislative Committee of Ethical Standards has refused to drop conflict of interest complaints against Union City Mayor and Assemblyman Brian Stack and continue to let him swing in the wind.
The first thing that came to mind is that those who voted to keep the complaint alive – and those behind the scenes – must feel pretty secure to not worry about one day becoming vulnerable to someone who is developing not just a big bark but a nasty bite in Hudson County. But, then again, state pols are probably used to a dog-eat-dog atmosphere.
What they have been forever investigating – take the notion that there is someone looking into something with a big grain of salt – is how a $100,000 grant was obtained to renovate a Union City-operated day care center and an adjacent public park. Did Stack try to enrich himself and others? The executive director of the city-owned day care center is Stack's estranged wife Katia.
The couple is on speaking terms with each other. Still, during this countywide Democratic Party civil war, members of the Hudson County Democratic Organization have tried to use her against Stack, even asking her to run in June's primary against her husband. She declined the offers.
While the assemblyman denies any wrongdoing, it probably was not very wise to name his wife to an important position, no matter how qualified, because of the perception and headaches it was bound to cause later – that is now. ” (Torres, Jersey Journal)
REPUBLICANS HIRE DESIDERIO, BUT OPPONENT SAYS PASCOE STILL CALLS THE SHOTS
“Republicans, in a fierce 1st Legislative District race, appointed a popular Cape May County freeholder Thursday to lead their campaign.
Asselta faces a challenge from Democratic Assemblyman Jeff Van Drew, D-Cape May, Cumberland, Atlantic……………….
"The guy calling the shots is Bill Pascoe. He's a very negative, hard-hitting campaign manager who has produced countless negative press releases," Van Drew said. "I don't think that will change."
Van Drew noted that Desiderio's endorsements did not help other Cape May County candidates win election in recent years, including Dennis Township Committee candidate Edward Beck in 2006 and former Cape May County Freeholder Mark Videtto in a 2000 race against Van Drew.” (Miller, Press of Atlantic City)
NOT A POSITION MOST WOULD ENVY
“Burlington County native Ed Gillespie has been a congressional aide, Republican National Committee chairman, campaign official for President Bush and a high-powered Washington lobbyist.
Now Gillespie has accepted what could be his toughest assignment yet. In his recently acquired role as White House adviser, Gillespie, 46, is helping shape political and legislative strategy for the remainder of Bush's term.
In his recently acquired role as White House adviser, Gillespie, 46, is helping shape political and legislative strategy for the remainder of Bush's term. And the road ahead isn't easy because of Bush's chronically low job-approval ratings, growing opposition to the Iraq war and continued clashes with Democrats who took control of Congress in January.
Supporters say Gillespie, who was raised as a Democrat in a working-class Irish Catholic family, is the ideal choice to help the White House through its difficulties because he's a skilled communicator who knows the political system like few others. But they also caution he can't single-handedly turn things around.
"He is as impressive and smart a strategist as I've worked with in my 40 years in this town and so I would expect that his advice would be taken to heart," said Jack Quinn, who was President Clinton's counselor and later opened a high-powered Washington lobbying firm with Gillespie.” (Chebium, Gannett)
“All but three of Paterson's public schools will reopen on Monday, state and local officials announced last night, following the systemwide shutdown of New Jersey's third largest district yesterday due to fire code violations.
State Education Commissioner Lucille Davy said virtually all of the "imminent hazards" cited in closing the district had been resolved or would be this weekend. She, along with acting Community Affairs Commissioner Charles Richman, personally intervened to help resolve the crisis.” (Ben-Ali and Mooney, Star-Ledger)
IN BURLINGTON COUNTY
“The Republican mayors who questioned the appropriateness of a legislative candidate working for a law firm assigned by the federal court to defend an alleged terrorist say they are pleased she in no longer employed there.
At least one of the mayors, North Hanover's Louis DeLorenzo, believes the letter he and the mayors of New Hanover and Wrightstown sent last month had a direct impact of Tracy Riley's decision to quit her job.” (Camilli, Burlington County Times)
“A onetime Republican committeeman from Sayreville has launched a splinter GOP group with sharp criticism of Middlesex County party leaders, though local Republican officials say they are not fazed by his efforts.
Steve Maness has dubbed himself "acting chairman" of the new Middlesex County Republican Party. He said he is trying to form a new group because the regular organization lacks leadership and vision.” (Walsh, Star-Ledger)
“Newark Mayor Cory Booker is taking a nine-day vacation that will be the first extended leave of his 14 months as mayor.
In his absence, Business Administrator Bo Kemp will serve as acting mayor. Booker's vacation started Friday at 4 p.m. and will extend through Sunday, Sept. 16. He will resume his role as mayor on Monday morning.” (Mays, Star-Ledger)
IN FRANKLIN TOWNSIHP
“Voters in Franklin Township's 3rd Ward will go to the polls Tuesday to determine whether Deputy Mayor Ellen Ritchie keeps her place on the nine-member council.
The special election is Somerset County's first recall election — the result of a petition campaign launched in December by a bipartisan citizens group seeking to remove the Democratic councilwoman from office.”
“A local businessman is seriously considering entering the race for an unexpired City Council seat.
But he'll have to hurry to meet the deadline for submitting nominating petitions, which is 4 p.m. Sept. 13. On Thursday, Adam Goldstein picked up the petitions from the City Clerk's Office.” (Zarzariny, Daily Journal)
“Bridgeton's public safety director packed up his belongings at city hall Friday afternoon and got a ride back to his home in Mercer County, according to sources at the city police department.
Public Safety Director Lanuel Ferguson, whose appointment and $70,000 salary has been the source of controversy, told co-workers he was leaving and that they may see him again in November, but that the city currently has no money to pay him, said former Lt. Dan Mourning.” (Dunn, Bridgeton News)
IN UNION COUNTY
“Union County's requirement that citizens use standardized request forms when asking to review public records has been upheld by a Superior Court, setting the stage for an appeals court battle that could set a precedent on the forms in New Jersey.
Judge Kathryn Brock in Elizabeth, in an order made public Friday, rejected challenges filed by the Union County Watchdog Association and the New Jersey Press Association by finding the request forms did not violate the intent of the state Open Public Records Act. Union County and the state Government Records Council, which was created under OPRA to review disputes over records requests, endorsed the use of standardized request forms, contending they help government agencies meet large demands for records.” (Murray, Star-Ledger)
IN SOMERSET COUNTY
“Somerset County Administrator Richard William's 2007 Toyota Highlander is history.
He gave the car back to the county. So did a few other top county officials. Moving to rein in the perk after an uproar over park commission employees who get cars, the county freeholders have established new rules cutting back on who is entitled to take-home vehicles.” (McCarron, Star-Ledger)