Today’s news from

Fran Bodine defends his other job, Bramnick too serious to joke about legislator pensions, Democrats bey that voters care more about tax rebates than corruption, Buono unhappy with comptroller position.


“Assemblyman Francis Bodine of Burlington County says he's built a strong reputation for integrity. Now he's trying to see what it's worth in the marketplace.

Two companies pay Bodine a total of $71,000 per year to "make introductions" to clients that seek government contracts. The Republican-turned-Democrat said he works about 2 1/2 days per week for the Grinspec insurance company at an annual salary of $35,000.

He also is paid $3,000 per month as a consultant for the Adams, Rehmann and Heggan engineering firm. Asked how many hours he works per week, he said, "I don't necessarily put in any."

He attends conferences and advises the firm how much it can spend to lobby lawmakers under the state's new campaign finance laws, he said.

Some weeks, attending conferences and seminars, he said he may work as many as 60 hours.

"Fran Bodine is symbolic of the culture in Trenton. Fran is trying to use his position to personally profit," said Chris Russell, director of the Burlington County Republican Party. "He's more interested in cashing in his own interests than in helping the taxpayers of New Jersey."

Bodine, 71, shrugs off criticism from his opponents and from newspaper editorial writers.

"You guys want to deprive everybody of a way of life," he said. "I mean, good Lord, can't we go out and make an honest living?"” (Guenther, Asbury Park Press)



“Assemblyman Jon M. Bramnick is a sought-after stand-up comic for charities. But he saw nothing funny in a letter he received that announced he was to get a pension for being a part-time lawmaker.

"I make $49,000 a year as a part-time state employee," said Bramnick, R-Union, in the Assembly since 2003. "If I stay for 12 years as an assemblyman, I get $18,000 a year as pension when I am 60. That is (more than) one-third of my salary. Why should I get a pension, number one? And number two, do you know any part-time employees anywhere who gets a pension? It is almost absurd."

Bramnick called the notion of a pension "an outrageous perk" that tops a list of many.

In addition to the pension, state legislators, as part-time workers, can receive the same health care package as full-time state employees, though they pay in 3 percent of their salary, while other, full-time state employees pay 5.5 percent.

Asked about the difference in the contribution toward health benefits, Albert Porroni, executive director of the Office of Legislative Services, noted that full-time state workers usually top out their careers earning more than the lawmakers' $49,000 salary.

Then there are gifts lobbyists can give to lawmakers………..

Eliminating perks in New Jersey is often a long process. Take dual office-holding, the practice that allows an elected official to hold another elected office. New Jersey will put an end to it in February — but only for lawmakers who don't hold a second post already.”

So today's dual office-holders — such as Perth Amboy Mayor and Assemblyman Joseph Vas, a Democrat, or Lakewood Committeeman and state Sen. Robert W. Singer, a Republican, among more than a dozen others — can keep enjoying multiple taxpayer-fueled salaries and consolidate power to fend off would-be rivals. (Baldwin, Gannett)



“Democrats are betting their majority in the state Legislature this year on a belief that taxpayers care more about getting beefed-up property tax rebates than they worry about lawmakers routinely getting arrested.

They aren't saying it out loud, but that's the message coming out of Trenton as the election season picks up. Recent polls indicate it's a winning strategy with all 120 seats in the Legislature on the November ballot.

Democrats from Governor Corzine to Union Assemblyman Joseph Cryan, chairman of the state Democratic Party, are emphasizing the $2.2 billion in rebate checks that are going out to property taxpayers right now, a little early thanks to their efforts — they're reminding potential voters.

"While property tax relief cannot come soon enough, we've worked hard to accelerate the timing of the second major mailing in our [rebate] program," the governor bragged during recent a news conference at the West Trenton building where the checks are drawn up.

Cryan followed with a news release that listed the average dollar amount of the rebate checks for all 40 legislative districts in the state (the average for North Jersey districts is $1,110, by the way).

Republicans, meanwhile, are offering a different kind of math as they try to sell GOP candidates to New Jersey voters in an effort to reclaim a majority. Party leaders held a State House news conference in response to the recent arrests of two Democratic lawmakers to tell reporters that the state of the state Legislature has now reached "a crisis point" because of widespread corruption.” (Reitmeyer, Bergen Record)



“Amid continued concern about government corruption in New Jersey, a North Jersey Democratic state senator is pushing for an elected government watchdog with power to investigate all public contracts.

Sen. Barbara Buono said the appointed comptroller created earlier this year by the Legislature was too weak. Buono initially sponsored the bill to create that post, but withdrew support after it was revised and the still-unfilled position lost authority to review all land deals.


After the revisions, Buono (D., Middlesex) claimed the bill had been "emasculated" and created "a paper tiger."

She wants to remake the job amid continued questions about state corruption.

"We need to give the office of the state comptroller more power to go after even the smallest cases of waste and fraud," Buono said. "In doing that, we must also make it an elected position so that he or she is only accountable to the voters."……….

Gov. Corzine demanded a comptroller be created. He initially wanted an elected comptroller, but agreed to make it appointed amid legislative opposition to creating a new statewide elected office.

Fourteen states have elected comptrollers and 31 have appointed ones, according to the National Association of State Auditors, Comptrollers and Treasurers……………….

Corzine doesn't seem ready to rework the post.

"We ended up with a very independent state comptroller," the Democratic governor said last week when discussing his ethics reform efforts. "It is a state comptroller, when combined with the inspector general's office, that has every power of any comptroller that you could ever imagine."

Corzine also said an elected comptroller can bring problems, noting questions about the New York comptroller's office, where Democrat Alan Hevesi resigned in December after pleading guilty to a felony for using state employees as drivers and companions for his wife.

"There's a lot of criticism of elected comptrollers that we now see going on in New York state," Corzine said.” (Hester, AP)



“Like many Trenton lobbying firms, the Westfield-based Alman Group offers a staff with years of government experience that can help clients shape laws and win state aid.

But the firm also boasts a seemingly unique quality: a sitting lawmaker on its marquee. Assembly Deputy Speaker Gerald B. Green, D-Union, is also vice president for local affairs at the Alman Group. In the Legislature, Green chairs the committee that oversees housing rules and sits on the Health Committee. Both panels consider laws that could affect Alman clients, which include major developers and at least 18 hospitals.

Green's job is one example of how Trenton's rules and culture allow lawmakers' public roles and private work to come tantalizingly close.

Even though many lawmakers with private jobs say they painstakingly avoid any direct conflicts, including Green, the Legislature's current financial disclosure requirements allow officials to keep their clients secret.

That gives lawmakers the ability to hide relationships with clients or partners who might have a vested interest in new laws. There is no way of telling if a lawyer or consultant who, for example, helps craft environmental regulations is also working with a major housing developer………….

While legislative rules bar lawmakers from accepting gifts, jobs or anything of value worth more than $250 from lobbyists, two ethics opinions issued by the nonpartisan Office of Legislative Services in 1998 and 2006 say Green's consulting work at Alman doesn't violate that restriction, as long as his work at the firm is unrelated to his "official duties."………..

Retired Superior Court Judge Herbert Friend, the acting chairman of the Joint Legislative Committee on Ethical Standards, is planning to set up a subcommittee to recommend the first major update to the Legislature's ethics code in 25 years.

"There are holes in the code of ethics that you could drive a truck through," Friend said.” (Tamari, Gannett)



“While calling New Jersey's reputation as a hub of political corruption well-deserved, U.S. Attorney Christopher Christie pledged yesterday "to try to make our state a more civilized place."

Christie's remarks, made during a luncheon given in his honor, followed the recent arrests of 11 public officials — including two state assemblymen — on federal corruption charges.

The 1987 graduate of Seton Hall's law school, who has largely made his reputation on rooting out corruption among elected officials, was honored at his alma mater's 23rd Annual Red Mass in Newark's Sacred Heart Cathedral. He was presented with the St. Thomas More Medal for outstanding contributions to the law, the community and the Catholic Church.

At the luncheon following the Mass, Christie, whose office has secured more than 100 corruption convictions, said the medal was "an extraordinary gift." But he said his job is truly about "those folks who are working in city halls and town halls all across the state who are put upon by public corruption." ” (O’Connor, Star-Ledger)



“Colorado voters boosted the minimum wage. Arizona voters decided against a lottery to award a voter $1 million. Massachusetts citizens decided against letting food stores sell wine. South Dakotans increased the cigarette tax.

Those were just some of the questions placed on 2006 election ballots after citizens collected enough petition signatures to propose a new law. New Jersey voters weren't among them, however, because the state doesn't allow voter initiatives.

But with all 120 New Jersey legislative seats up for election this year, Republicans who failed 15 years ago to give voters more say in proposing new laws and government spending limits are trying again.

"We're not talking about governing differently," said Tom Wilson, the state Republican Party chairman. "We're talking about a different kind of government altogether."

Unlike the last time they promised to give more power to the people, Republicans don't control the Legislature. And Democrats, who control the Assembly 50-30 and the Senate 22-18, are scoffing at the plan.

"The sudden and hasty Republican embrace of initiative and referendum shows how bankrupt their party really is," Assembly Democratic campaign spokesman Derek Roseman said.” (AP)



“Gloucester County worker William Mead understands the position he's in. "I'm running against my boss," he said.

Mead, a planning specialist, has mounted a campaign for state Senate as an independent, running with the tagline "Get a Grip," against Stephen M. Sweeney, a Democratic state senator who also serves as county freeholder director.

As often as he can, Mead, a union activist, parades alone at lunchtime in front of county office buildings with a bull's-eye taped to his buttocks to demonstrate against the slow pace of contract talks between government workers and the county government, headed by Sweeney.

n his blog and letters to local newspapers, Mead has called Sweeney a "union-busting backstabber," a "two-faced snake in the grass" and declared, "Steve 'The Rat' Sweeney makes me want to puke."

"It's a hatred of me," said Sweeney, who is a business agent for Ironworkers Union Local 399.

"He's called me so many bad things it's unreal. Normally, people who call people names are very light intellectually because they don't really have anything to add to the argument," Sweeney said. "You don't have to call somebody names to debate an issue………..

In general, Mead says people want tougher bans on vendors giving campaign money to politicians, more transparent government, progressive taxes as opposed to property and sales taxes, and more care given to spending public money.

In particular, he objects to 2006 legislation Sweeney sponsored and withdrew that would have cut back state worker benefits, as well as Sweeney's management of county services, including a plan to rebuild Route 322 in Gloucester County that Mead says does not put enough emphasis on drainage……….

Though a union activist, Mead has not been endorsed by labor organizations, even those representing public workers. His own CWA Local 1085 is staying out of the race, according to local president Rich Dan.” (Burton, Philadelphia Inquirer)



“The political landscape of Hudson County will again change thanks to some unusual events, including the long awaited nomination of Bayonne Mayor Joseph Doria to be commissioner of the state Department of Community Affairs and yesterday's (also long awaited) indictment of Guttenberg David Della Donna and his wife Anna.

In the Doria case, the vultures are circling the Peninsula City.

On Sept. 5, this column noted that Hudson County Democratic Organization leaders (as in Jersey City Mayor Jerramiah Healy, County Executive Tom DeGise, and North Bergen Mayor and Sen. Nick Sacco – can Guy and Buddy be far behind) began preparing for the abdication by Mayor Joseph Doria for the friendly confines of state government.

Some of the results came through at Wednesday's Bayonne City Council session when lo and behold, 1st Ward Councilman Ted Connolly voted with the minority faction, Anthony Chiappone and Gary LaPelusa, authorizing the city Law Department to draw up an ordinance to dissolve the Bayonne Local Redevelopment Authority.

Right away most people believe that a deal has been made to make Connolly interim mayor, once Doria officially resigns, in return for the vote. All parties deny this, saying they have no one in mind and they are just concerned about the future of the city……………..

The reaction to the federal indictment of Guttenberg Mayor David Delle Donna and his wife Anna on corruption charges is more about how they allegedly spent the ill-gotten gains. Truthfully, it seems to be more on how SHE allegedly spent the money.

First, when several North Hudson officials close to the couple were asked about what type of cosmetic surgery Anna may have received for $2,000 their response was telling.

"She got a lotta of surgery for $20,000," said one elected official.

No, the indictment reports only $2,000………….

"We didn't think it was for buying a dog and we're not certain what type they have, probably a pocket-sized one, but what we heard is that it's what she spent on the dog – you know, dog grooming, fancy leashes, and toenail paint for the pooch," said another North Hudson official. "She's a tough cookie and high maintenance – Anna."

"That's all? Must be a typo," was the response. "Well, maybe there's a discount place on Palisade Avenue – not Park Avenue. You know, $1,000 each – and I don't mean the eyes."

What about $1,000 allegedly spent for a dog? What kind of dog?

Meanwhile, there are some mayors on the HCDO side of the Democratic Party who say that there is no need for Delle Donna to resign.

This is a bold statement since U.S. Attorney Chris Christie has a track record of getting indicted pols to bow out of office.

Yet, there was Healy on television yesterday announcing that Delle Donna shouldn't have to close the door on his political career because, "I believe your innocent until proven guilty." ” (Torres, Jersey Journal)



“In the summer of 2005, Paula A. Franzese and Daniel J. O'Hern Sr. wrote an article for the Rutgers Law Review in which they made several suggestions for changes in ethics policy and laws that could restore public trust in New Jersey government. Here are highlights of their suggestions:

Create an entirely independent State Ethics Commission………Create a "plain language" ethics guide…………Impose ethics strictures on third parties…………Impose ethics laws on gubernatorial transition teams………..Provide mandatory ethics training for all state employees………..Establish a toll-free, confidential hot line to ask questions and raise concerns………..Weed out "bad seeds" through aggressive, routine ethics auditing…………Share resources, with departments such as the State Commission of Investigation, the Office of Government Integrity in the Attorney General's Office, and the Office of the State Auditor, working together to fight fraud, waste and ethical misconduct……..Citizens must remain active participants in the process.” (Gannett)



“New Jerseyans for decades sent their trash by the truckload to dumps that grew to cover hundreds of marshy acres in the Meadowlands of Bergen County.

Now, state officials are wondering if millions of dollars aimed at cleaning up the mess might have followed that same well-worn path into the dump.

Since 1999, when a North Carolina firm called EnCap was awarded development rights to 785 polluted acres in the Meadowlands, state officials have given the firm more than $350 million in public benefits and promised hundreds of millions more in tax breaks.

In return, EnCap was to transform the former landfills into a collection of golf courses, a conference hotel and luxury housing. EnCap even promised to throw in a new elementary school and soccer fields for the Bergen County towns that would host the new trash-top communities.

But work on cleaning up the land has stalled for months as the company ran short on financing. And this month, in a series of increasingly harsh letters, state officials made it clear EnCap has worn out its expensive public welcome.

Unless the firm gets back on track, the New Jersey Meadowlands Commission warned in a Sept. 19 notice, EnCap will be kicked off the Meadowlands project on Nov. 20.

"EnCap's management of the project has been fraught with significant and unexcused delays, budget increases, suspension of work, contractors and tax liens, litigation, permit and approval violations and assessed and pending penalties," the commission letter states. "Taken together, the situation EnCap has created provides overwhelming evidence that EnCap does not possess the financial resources, administrative skills or technical expertise to complete the project as required." ” (McNichol, Star-Leder)


“New Jersey wanted to build a tunnel.

But there were bridges to build first. Three years ago, New Jersey embarked on an ambitious plan to build a new rail tunnel under the Hudson River. But before NJ Transit could lift a shovel, its leaders needed to convince New York that the $7 billion project was good for them, too.

To sway public opinion in favor of the Trans-Hudson Express tunnel — and for a half-dozen other projects — NJ Transit hired well-connected lobbyists. The plan was to convert New York's civic leaders, neighborhood advocates and elected officials into cheerleaders for the project…………

Over the past four years, NJ Transit has spent more than $675,000 on lobbyists, government records show. They include New York-based Tonio Burgos, who charged the agency for thousands of dollars on dinners with local officials, luxury hotels and train and plane trips.” (Michaels, Bergen Record)


Six complaints have been filed with the state alleging civil rights violations under new civil union law. Gay rights advocates say there would be more, but many people are afraid to come forward, some fearing the loss of jobs.

The advocates say they have received hundreds of complaints from couples alleging they were denied rights afforded by the civil union law, and argue that gay marriage would help solve the problem.

Opponents of gay marriage say gay rights advocates are inflating the numbers, pointing out that for all of the complaints they claim to have received, few have been filed with state officials.

The six complaints filed with the state Division on Civil Rights include those from two couples barred from holding a civil union ceremony at an Ocean Grove pavilion owned by a Methodist group, and from two other couples who say they were denied family insurance coverage.” (Kologg, Daily Record)


“When Steven Siravo lost his job four years ago, he lost his family's health insurance along with it. As he struggled through layoffs, waiting periods and jobs without health benefits, his wife, Lori, and their daughter, Carlie, spent years without coverage…………..

New Jersey families earning up to 350 percent of the federal poverty level, $60,095 for a family of three, are eligible for SCHIP through FamilyCare, the state's health care plan for SCHIP and Medicaid recipients. New Jersey's cutoff is the highest in the nation. Most states set the cutoff at twice the poverty level.
But under new restrictions introduced by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services earlier this month, children like Carlie whose families make more than 250 percent of the federal poverty level would no longer be eligible for SCHIP.

President Bush vowed to veto a bill passed by Congress this week that doesn't include those restrictions and would increase funding for the program. The Congressional Budget Office estimates that 11 states in 2007 will require a total of $646 million in additional funds just to maintain their existing programs. Opponents contend it's a way to encourage people to transfer from the private sector to government health care plans.” (Harbatkin, Asbury Park Press)



“In his 36 years with the Mercer County Prosecutor's Office, probably the toughest situation William A. Zarling ever faced was having to insist that another human being deserved to die.

He did it three times……….

After handling three death penalty cases, and building a reputation as something of an expert on the insanity defense, not to mention an all-around "brainiac" and go-to source for information on legal matters, Zarling, 62, retired from the Prosecutor's Office on Friday.

Zarling, whose nickname is "Waz," hopes to continue moonlighting as a college professor and plans to seek another job, as well, saying he is too young and energetic to head out to pasture. Nevertheless, his colleagues in Trenton say his departure will leave a vacuum.

Zarling's piercing blue eyes project a keen intelligence and his warm smile and soft voice show the character of a born educator.

"Bill's been an institution," said Prosecutor Joseph Bocchini. "I happen to know Bill longer than probably anybody in the office. Bill and I graduated from Trenton High School together. ” (Stein, Trenton Times)



“Elected officials have further tightened restrictions on campaign donations in this growing township, now requiring officials to disclose any funds donated by a developer.

"We want to ensure in the future that the people who are making decisions in this town are making them because of the residents and not because they were paid," said Committeewoman Michelle Haenggi. "It keeps them honest."” (Vit, Gloucester County Times)





“Five years after Assembly Speaker Joseph J. Roberts Jr. closed a multimillion-dollar business deal with one of New Jersey's most powerful political bosses, key financial details of the transaction — including the profit Roberts made — remain beyond public scrutiny.

Roberts, who casts himself as a champion of government ethics reform, won't fully reveal his own business transaction with George E. Norcross III, South Jersey's Democratic political boss.

But a Gannett New Jersey investigation found that Norcross and Roberts formed two corporations together — the NOROB Group and the Kayak Acquisition Group — to execute the business deal, the acquisition of an eyewear manufacturing company called U.S. Vision. In the Kayak group, Norcross was president, and Roberts was vice president.

When the acquisition of U.S. Vision was finalized on Oct. 30, 2002, records show 78,400 shares of Roberts' stock in the eyewear company jumped in value by 77 percent.

But that's not all that Roberts owned. He also had purchased an additional 271,600 shares of the company at a price that was not required to be publicly disclosed. All totaled, his shares were worth $1.4 million on the day of the acquisition.

Roberts' business deal with Norcross, who has been caught on tapes secretly recorded by the state Attorney General's Office boasting about his influence in state government, calls into question Roberts' sincerity in pushing through good-government reforms without loopholes……………

Roberts, D-Camden, is one of the most powerful men in state government, and he can move or kill legislation at his sole discretion as Assembly speaker. He said in a recent interview that it is "preposterous" that his relationship with Norcross would blunt his zeal for ethics reform. When pressed for details about his business dealings, he said he would end the interview instead.

"What other questions do you have?" Roberts said in his Bellmawr office. "If you want to conclude now, I'm fine with that."” (Guenther, Gannett)



“In secret recordings made by the state Attorney General's office, South Jersey Democratic power broker George E. Norcross III made this assessment of his own influence with past and current governors:

"In the end, the McGreeveys, the Corzines, they're all going to be with me. Because not that they like me, but because they have no choice," Norcross said in recordings made in 2001.

The tapes were released by the Attorney General's office in 2005. No charges were filed.

In other now-public recorded comments, Norcross, 51, of Cherry Hill, talked on the recordings about how he had built South Jersey into a power to rival the political machines in North Jersey.

n other now-public recorded comments, Norcross, 51, of Cherry Hill, talked on the recordings about how he had built South Jersey into a power to rival the political machines in North Jersey.

"After the fight we had last year, no one will ever, ever again, uh, not include . or double-cross South Jersey.. Because they know we put up the gun and we pulled the trigger and we blew their brains out. We're just like Hudson County or Essex County now.

In another recording, Norcross recalled how he once had to remind Assemblyman Herbert C. Conaway, D-Burlington, not to "make nice" with Joseph V. Doria Jr., then a Democratic assemblyman from Bayonne, who was competing with South Jersey Democrats for a leadership position.

"Finally, one day I sat him down and put all his (inaudible) and said, Herb, don't ——— with me on this one," Norcross is heard saying on the tape. "Don't make nice with Joe Doria 'cause you don't want him ——— at you. 'Cause I'll tell you, if you ever do that and I catch you one more time doing it, you're gonna get your ——— cut off. He got the message."” (Guenther, Gannett)



“State worker union chief Carla Katz is asking a judge to bar her national leadership from intervening in an ongoing lawsuit over e-mails between her and her ex-boyfriend, Gov. Jon Corzine.

Katz said the Communications Workers of America officials are going after her because they don't like how famous she's become. In documents filed late Thursday, Katz criticized her union's top leaders for telling the court last week she had no business conducting secret contract talks with Corzine during union negotiations with the state last winter.

Katz's lawyers said her actions were appropriate and national leaders "seem to be directed at satisfying the personal interests of certain CWA officials who may object to Ms. Katz's prominence … The national union's internal agenda and politics will not assist this court in the resolution of the issues."

Lawyers for Corzine, Katz, the CWA and the Republican State Committee are scheduled to be in state Superior Court in Trenton Friday for a new round of hearings to determine what — if any — communications between Corzine and Katz should be released.

"It would seem that the stakes are real high here," said Republican state Chairman Tom Wilson, who filed the lawsuit after Corzine's office refused to release e-mails between the governor and Katz. ” (Margolin, Star-Ledger)




“Once again, Gov. Jon S. Corzine made his way to the backyard patio of the governor’s mansion in Princeton on a muggy day and declared himself in good physical condition. Once again, he brushed aside lingering questions about his past relationship with a woman who is president of a large state employees union.

And once again, he said that his administration was not ready to discuss in any detail a much-anticipated plan to squeeze revenue from state assets like the New Jersey Turnpike. Nor did he want to talk about the delayed initiatives on education, housing and energy that remain lodged in the government pipeline……………

To Mr. Corzine’s most ardent supporters, the delay speaks to the administration’s dedication to pursuing the best policy, regardless of political pressures. But to a growing chorus of fellow Democrats and others who share many of the administration’s goals, Mr. Corzine has taken too long to do too little.

Maybe the governor did lose some of his momentum because of the severe injuries he suffered in the accident and the intensive rehabilitation that followed, these supporters say. Maybe the administration has been politically adrift because several of his top political advisers are moving on. And maybe he has been distracted by the persistent nibbling into his political and financial dealings with the union president, Carla Katz, whom he dated several years ago and left a wealthy woman.

Words like “frustration” and “malaise” are beginning to creep into the conversations of people who work in the administration, recently left it or deal with it regularly.

“The Corzine administration is like a bad sequel to ‘Groundhog Day,’” said David Pringle, campaign director for the New Jersey Environmental Federation, which endorsed Mr. Corzine in 2005. “You keep waiting for something to happen, but it’s the same thing all over.”” (Chen, New York Times)




John A. Lynch Jr. and Charles Kushner.

State Sens. Wayne R. Bryant and Sharpe James.

Assemblymen Mims Hackett Jr., Alfred E. Steele and Anthony Impreveduto.

The parade in criminal court of New Jersey kingmakers, lawmakers and backwater politicians has become a constant sight in the last four years……………..

Gannett New Jersey reporters and editors spent the last three months measuring the progress of ethics reform in the state.

Starting today, and for the next seven days, the Press and the six other Gannett New Jersey newspapers will show you where ethics reform has worked, where it has failed, and where it needs improvement. We'll point out the leaders who have championed ethics reform, and the lawmakers who still wallow in self-enriching conflicts.

The investigative series found that:

—The most powerful lawmakers turned their public work into private gain;

—Conflicts of interest still can be hidden by lawmakers, despite improved financial disclosure rules;

—Loopholes in the new anti-pay-to-play law are being exploited to funnel hundreds of thousands of dollars from government vendors to political parties as a way to return to 2003, when campaign cash was commonly used to win no-bid government contracts;

—Clean elections, a pilot program that uses public funds to remove special-interest money from legislative campaigns, could work, but it likely will be costly — $40 million to $120 million when both houses are up for election” (D’Ambrosio, Asbury Park Press)



“When former Atlantic City Mayor James Whelan moved to unseat a Republican assemblyman two years ago, he had a powerful ally.

A political fundraising commit tee run by Assembly Speaker Joseph Roberts (D-Camden) supplied three-quarters of the $2.9 million spent by Whelan and his running mate in the most expensive state Assembly race in history.

Whelan won, and now he is tar geting another GOP incumbent, Sen. James "Sonny" McCullough (R-Atlantic) — once again with financial backing from the Democratic leaders of the Legislature.

Fundraising committees controlled by the Assembly speaker, the Senate president and the minority leaders of both houses have become a potent force in campaigns. These political action committees, or PACs, were created 14 years ago as part of a reform that drastically limited how much special interests can donate to individual legislative campaigns.

Candidates can take just $2,600 per election from individuals, and $8,200 from special interests. But the PACs can accept as much as $25,000 a year from any donor.

The leadership PACs, in turn, have become the biggest campaign contributors to legislative candidates. In the Assembly election two years ago they provided nearly one- third of all contributions to candidates, the highest percentage ever. They've banked $7 million for this fall's Senate and Assembly races.

Roberts said "without question" most of the leadership PAC money will go to races like the Whelan-McCullough contest, where one party hopes to grab a seat from the other in the Nov. 6 election.

Critics of this setup — including the two minority leaders in the Legislature — believe leadership PACs give those who run the Senate and Assembly too much sway over lawmakers who need campaign cash to stay in office.

"The Senate president and Assembly speaker are much more powerful than they were a generation ago," said Senate Minority Leader Leonard Lance (R- Hunterdon). "That power is heightened even further by leadership PACs." ” (Donohue, Star-Ledger)



“The life of Mims Hackett Jr. has played out like a made-for-Hollywood motion picture in three parts.

Part One is set in the 1970s with Hackett, a law-abiding schoolteacher and father of six, inadvertently confessing to kidnapping. He is sentenced to 30 years in prison, but then convinces "60 Minutes" he was framed and persuades the governor to commute his sentence. The conviction is overturned on a legal technicality.

Part Two, shot as a series of quick montages through the next three decades, chronicles his rise to power. He wins a seat on the Orange City Council, becomes mayor and then makes it all the way to the Statehouse as an assemblyman.

Part Three, which began just three weeks ago, is where things get complicated. Hackett is arrested in an FBI corruption sting, resigns his Assembly seat but vows to remain mayor and fight the charges.

For Luis Moro — an award-winning independent filmmaker who began developing a movie about Hackett's life even before these most recent charges — few questions are left to answer. Is this a story about a man who, once railroaded by the justice system, is being set up again by the government? Or is it about a guy who long ago manipulated his way out of the justice system and is finally getting what he deserves? And will Hackett, who would have been eligible for parole this year had he served his entire sentence for kidnapping, find himself back behind bars? Or will he be saved once again by an unforeseen plot twist?

"Whatever happens," Moro said, "it's going to make for a heck of a story." (Parks, Star-Ledger)



“To hear the former governor and current state Senate president tell it, the drive to legislate away unethical behavior among public officials in New Jersey has just about run its course.

Even though the U.S. Attorney's office has charged 108 public officials with corruption offenses since 2002, and an investigation into some members of the state Legislature is ongoing, state Senate President Richard J. Codey says the bulk of the laws and rules that needed to be passed have already been approved. The rest is up to the voters.

"The best way to stop corruption would be to elect people who would not be corrupt," Codey said in an interview.

"It's all dependent upon the individual (elected)," he said. "We can pass all the laws to try and stop corruption, but someone who is determined to be corrupt is not going to be stopped by any laws."

Some Republicans have said Codey's refusal to call for the resignation of two indicted state senators shows he is not determined to root out corruption.

"I'd be the last person to tell you that every Democrat is corrupt, but those who are not corrupt seem to be tolerant of corruption; I'll include Dick Codey," said state Sen. Gerald Cardinale, R-Bergen. "I don't think Dick Codey is financially dishonest in any way. But he facilitates the members of his caucus who are financially dishonest."

Codey, D-Essex, has seen the seedier side of the state's political culture. He succeeded then-Gov. James E. McGreevey as acting governor in 2004 when McGreevey resigned after he said he had an affair with a male aide. And, Codey has battled with the state's most powerful political bosses, notably Camden County's George E. Norcross III.



“There will not be a Ferriero factor in the 39th Legislative District race — a Mrs. Ferriero factor, that is.

Diana Ferriero is no longer a candidate for a seat on the Superior Court, according to her husband, Joe Ferriero, chairman of the Bergen County Democratic Organization.

A Workman's Compensation judge in Hackensack since 2002, she was among a pool of candidates interviewed by Corzine administration officials to fill four Bergen County vacancies set aside for Democratic nominees. But she withdrew her name last week.

"The family considerations, with our three young children, it just didn't make sense at this time," Joe Ferriero said. "Ultimately, when the children are older, she would certainly be willing to serve on the Superior Court. It was a personal family decision that this was not the appropriate time to take on additional responsibilities."

He dismissed suggestions that her candidacy for a $141,000-a-year judgeship would have complicated his uphill plan to try to dislodge longtime 39th District Republican Sen. Gerald Cardinale of Demarest and Assembly members John Rooney of Northvale and Charlotte Vandervalk of Westwood.

"The 39th District is the targeted race in Bergen County, but my wife's consideration for a judgeship had no effect on that,'' he said.

Still, Diana Ferriero's withdrawal eliminates the possibility of Republicans using her as attack fodder during the campaign. It would certainly be within the bounds of Jersey political combat for Republicans to run mailers with grainy pictures of the Ferrieros, hinting darkly that the campaign's real purpose was to benefit the Boss and his family.” (Stile, Bergen Record)



“Five years ago, the five members of the Burlington County Board of Freeholders were united in their support of allowing the Burlington County Bridge Commission to become an improvement authority to help county municipalities, school districts and private, nonprofit groups borrow millions.

At the time, the consensus was that doing so would offer cost savings to these private and public entities through use of the county's favorable bond rating and the pooled use of county professionals.

A lot has happened since then, including two federal and state investigations of bridge commission dealings. And now, at least one member of the GOP-controlled freeholder board may be rethinking his support.

Longtime Freeholder William Haines cast the lone dissenting vote Wednesday night as the county panel voted on yet another loan initiative the bridge commission is seeking to manage. The proposal, dubbed the Burlington Bank, would allow local government entities to quickly borrow money using the county's credit rating.

Freeholders Dawn Marie Addiego, Vincent Farias and Aubrey Fenton voted in favor of the program, which would be similar to the commission's existing pooled-bonds program but would not require a down payment. Individual loans could not exceed $1 million, and the total amount would not exceed $20 million.

Haines voted against the plan, saying he wasn't convinced the program would result in savings for taxpayers.

Because Freeholder Director Jim Wujcik was absent, Haines' dissenting vote scuttled the resolution, which required a two-thirds majority to pass.” (Levinsky and Hayes, Burlington County Times)



“The two front-runners in the presidential race got more good news from New Jersey as the second poll in less than a week found them maintaining sizable leads against their nearest opponents.

The Fairleigh Dickinson University-PublicMind Poll finds former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani with 48 percent support among Republicans and New York Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton with 46 percent of Democrats' support.

On the Republican side, Giuliani's closest rival is former Tennessee Sen. Fred Thompson, with 12 percent. Among Democrats, Clinton's closest competitor, Illinois Sen. Barack Obama, has 19 percent. ” (AP)


Morristown Mayor Donald Cresitello says he plans to retire from his job with the state Schools Development Authority early next year. He has worked there for less than three years but, because of his 30 years as an elected official, he's eligible for a pension.

He expects to receive an estimated $70,000 a year for the rest of his life.

Cresitello's political critics have said this is one reason to oppose a proposed $12,000 increase to the mayor's salary, saying it would give him an even more inflated pension. Critics of the pension system say the practice of elected officials taking high-paying state jobs for a few years to boost pensions is not uncommon.

And a recently signed law would do away with that practice, by placing public officials who take office starting next year in a separate pension system.

"I didn't write the (old) law; it should be changed," Cresitello said in a recent interview, adding that he had not read the new state statute regarding pensions because it doesn't apply to him.” (Koloff, Daily Record)




“Worst tough guy face: Vowing to protect the state's toll roads from the hands of the "Trenton politicians," Assembly candidate John Amodeo, left, and state Sen. James "Sonny" McCullough, center, look like two candidates ready for a fight. But the guy on the right, running mate Vince Polistina, just looks like he needs a pair of sunglasses.

Worst case of not knowing your opponent: In a letter to voters detailing the stakes of his campaign, Atlantic County Executive Dennis Levinson said Democratic bosses had handpicked his opponent, County Sheriff Ed McGettigan. Levinson's opponent is James. Ed would be the opponent's brother, the county clerk.

Overused photo idea that needs to disappear: The politician-on-the-go, suit-jacket-flung-over-the-shoulder look, sported here by state Senate candidate Assemblyman Jim Whelan.
” (McAleer, Press of Atlantic City)



“Secaucus had an orphaned bridge that was falling apart. Ramapo College wanted a new sports arena. The Bergen County Utilities Authority needed a bigger treatment plant.

To fund those projects, they all turned to politically connected Washington lobbyists. And they are not alone.

All told, more than $4 million of the taxes, tolls and tuition paid in New Jersey went to lobbyists in Washington last year, a 64 percent increase over five years earlier, an analysis by The Record found. Ironically, tight budgets are driving the growth.

More and more lobbyists are convincing cash-strapped mayors, freeholders and college presidents they just aren't doing their jobs if they don't have someone — usually a former congressional aide, but it could be a congressman's son — to help them navigate the federal funding maze.

Every state college and university now has at least one lobbyist in Washington, and the number of local governments with hired guns is shooting up.” (Jackson, Bergen Record)



“They came from neighboring counties, served together in the state Senate for 10 years and, as fellow Republicans, sat next to one another in the upper house.

But Sens. Peter Inverso, of Mercer County, and Martha Bark, of Burlington County, represent opposite views when it comes to ethics in Trenton. Inverso, saying that some public officials seem to be "seeking finances that go beyond the need of their district," argues that the Legislature needs to focus on reform.

Inverso, saying that some public officials seem to be "seeking finances that go beyond the need of their district," argues that the Legislature needs to focus on reform.

"There has to be an improvement in the overall ethical standards and ethical conduct in the Legislature as a whole," Inverso, the 68-year-old president of Roma Bank, said in a recent interview.

Bark, on the other hand, said ethics issues are low on the public's agenda.

"They're far more concerned about property taxes and issues of finances than they are of ethics," said Bark, 79, a member of the Legislature since 1995 who has held several government jobs. "Anyone that's in the Legislature ought to be dealing with the issues that the public is most concerned with."

The lawmakers' responses broadly capture the differing attitudes among 12 lawmakers who discussed their views on reform as they prepare to leave office in January” (Tamari, Gannett)



“Voters will be asked in the Nov. 6 election to amend the New Jersey Constitution to delete a phrase that bars an “idiot or insane person” from voting.

Hope Finley, a 24-year-old Burlington Township woman with a cognitive disability, says that just knowing such language exists in a document that is supposed to guarantee equal rights for all New Jersey citizens is an insult too great to bear.

“For people with disabilities, we find those words extremely offensive,” she said Friday. “I was appalled when I found out about it.”

Finley is part of the Monday Morning Project, an arm of the state Council on Developmental Disabilities that is campaigning on behalf of Public Question No. 4 on the ballot for the general election.

The question would eliminate the phrase from the constitution. Finley compared the terms “idiot” and “insane” to racial slurs that would never be tolerated in society, let alone the state's governing document.

“You wouldn't have those words in the constitution,” said project coordinator Luke Koppisch. “It's definitely a change that's long overdue. It's a shameful thing that we live in a state with those words in the constitution.”” (Harris, Burlington County Times)



“Federal prosecutors are examining real estate transactions in Parsippany by board of education member John Montefusco Jr. as part of a wider probe of dealings between his father and developer Edward Mosberg, the son's attorney confirmed.

The new details of the investigation by U.S. Attorney Chris Christie follow disclosures that at least three subpoenas delivered to town hall have demanded hundreds of documents, including payment records to attorneys dating to 1996.

Planning board records involving Mosberg, who has been building in Parsippany since 1965, were also subpoenaed and board members have been interviewed by federal investigators.

Township attorney Alfred DeCotiis has said prosecutors have told him the investigation has nothing to do with the township's mayor or council but "some issues relating to past development in Parsippany."

The younger Montefusco has also voluntarily answered questions and provided records of the $1.02 million he and his wife, Linda, were paid four years ago for selling three townhouses in Mosberg's Glenmont Commons.

His attorney, Gerard Hanlon, said the sales — known in real estate as "flips" — were similar to what "a lot of people did" during a robust market. ” (Frank, Star-Ledger)

“Monmouth County will spend up to $722,000 on a two-year contract to print and deliver election ballots, despite receiving another bid that was lower by $148,000. The successful bidder is Reliance Graphics, of Verona, which has an extensive history of donating to political campaigns. The company gave $1,200 to the Monmouth County Republican Committee in 2002 when the committee was supporting County Clerk M. Claire French's re-election bid.French won that election and is running for another five-year term in the Nov. 6 election. Her opponent is Democrat Amod Choudhary. Choudhary said he was not familiar with the details of the contract but said the difference in bid quotes is "pretty big." (Jordan, Asbury Park Press)



“While running for office, legislative candidates in the 16th District are also running from elements of their own parties.

For the Democratic challengers — state Senate candidate Wayne Fox and Assembly hopefuls Michael Fedun and William Kole — that means not saying the words "Gov. Jon Corzine" unless they are followed by expressions of disapproval or regret.

Established Republicans Christopher Bateman, an assemblyman trying to move up to the senate, Assemblyman Peter Biondi and Denise Coyle, a Somerset freeholder bidding for Assembly, also face a tongue-tying task.

Entrenched in a district that includes most of Somerset County plus Mendham in Morris County, the Republicans try not to mention President George W. Bush or ever connect the phrases "Somerset County" and "park commission."

The settings of two debates last week, a Bridgewater senior citizen complex and a Hillsborough synagogue, gave a liberal cast to the questions and showed the candidates agree on many issues.

Kole, 21, a Fairleigh Dickinson University student trying to extend his political science major into political office, was the most outspo ken in support of programs for veterans, the elderly and disabled, the homeless and working poor.

"I would support any bill that would expand affordable housing," Kole said, adding his widowed grandmother would not have been able to remain in Hillsborough without government support.

While the other candidates also supported increasing New Jersey's minimum "tip" wage of $2.13 an hour, Kole was able to reference his own recent experience as a waiter.

Even Fedun, 48, who misses no opportunity to call himself a "very conservative" Democrat, made common cause with the working poor. An auto mechanic turned lawyer, Fedun called for a statewide plan to combat homelessness. ” (Tyrrel, Star-Ledger)



Matt Barrett, a retail clerk from Glen Gardner, concedes he didn't even know all 120 seats of the Legislature are up for election this year.

After three years of fierce campaigns for president, governor and U.S. Senate, autumn in New Jersey this year features legislative races that are placid in all but a handful of districts. That means for most voters, all is ho-hum.

"I'm relieved," said Barrett. "Next year is the presidential election, and you'll see the ads in the paper and on TV constantly. You are kind of bombarded." W

hen the state Legislature tops the ticket, campaigns get less respect than Rodney Dangerfield. New Jersey's three lowest voter turnouts since 1924 have all come during Legislature-only election years. Apathy hit its apex in 1999, when only 31 percent voted.” (Donohue and Hester, Star-Ledger)



“Gov. Jon Corzine made an unscheduled visit to Cooper University Hospital in Camden yesterday morning after fluid leaked from his left leg, on which doctors recently operated.

The minor oozing was "not uncommon at all," said surgeon Robert Ostrum, who spent about 15 minutes examining the wound shortly after 9 a.m. He estimated "a teaspoon" of "drainage" had entered the dressing on the governor's left thigh.

"I checked it, it was fine, I wrapped it up and told him to go …," Ostrum said in a statement released by the governor's office.

The leg had been broken in Corzine's April car crash, and doctors operated on it again two weeks ago.

Corzine press secretary Lilo Stainton said the unscheduled trip to the hospital forced the governor to cancel an appearance at the Congressional Black Caucus prayer breakfast in Washington. But, she said, Corzine went ahead with other events on his schedule, including visits to the multicultural festival in Trenton and the Rutgers football game in Piscataway.

Ostrum said the governor was not in any pain and there were no restrictions on his activities and recovery going forward. ” (Howlett, Star-Ledger)



“The 9th District's two candidates for state Senate agree on so many issues that the Nov. 6 vote could hinge on whether voters prefer an experienced state legislator or a fresh voice.

Assemblyman Christopher J. Connors and Pine Beach Mayor Russell K. Corby agree on these things: There should be a cap on the state's spending. The size of the executive branch should be decreased through attrition. Laws to improve the water quality of Barnegat Bay should be enacted………

The candidates do, however, disagree on how some of those ideas should be implemented and whether or not the successful candidate should quit his day job if elected.” (Sphar, Press of Atlantic City)



ATLANTIC CITYMayor Bob Levy's sudden disappearance this week has added new wrinkles to what already was expected to be a busy City Council election season, with seven of the nine seats up for grabs.

In addition to the six ward seats, Councilman George Tibbitt is seeking to hold onto the seat council appointed him to last year following Ramon Rosario's resignation amid a bribery conviction.

But if the ongoing federal probe into Levy's military records proves enough to force Levy from office, council members are among the list of people said to be queuing up for a shot at City Hall's seventh-floor office.” (Harper, Press of Atlantic City)



“Only three of 23 polling sites in Mercer County inspected by state investigators this summer met federal requirements for accessibility to people with disabilities, according to a report by the state Public Advocate.

The report issued last week is based on the inspection of 121 of the state's 3,500 polling sites in nine counties on Primary Election Day, June 5. Inspectors found 24 of 121 sites met the law's requirements by having properly pitched ramps, wide doorways, accessible parking and proper signs.

Of the 97 sites, 71 had physical barriers preventing access, such as narrow doorways or steps without ramps. The rest failed for other reasons, such as the lack of adequate parking.” (Loayza, Trenton Times)



“Will the Democrats succeed for the second consecutive year in getting one of their own elected to the Township Committee?

They think they have a pretty good chance. But the Republicans think otherwise.

"I'm hopeful that we'll do fine," said Mayor Gerard P. Scharfenberger, who is seeking his second term on the governing body. His running mate is Tristan M. Nelsen, whom he had worked with in preservation efforts for the McLeod-Rice House, a township historical site.” (Herger, Asbury Park Press)



“FAIR LAWN — An independent candidate for council has enlisted the help of some top Democratic Party officials in a bid to drop off the November ballot.

Republicans say Allan Caan's request is motivated by Democrats who don't want him siphoning votes away from their candidates.

Caan, a former Democratic councilman, is being represented by Dennis Oury, the Bergen County Democratic Organization's lawyer.

Caan's Sept. 17 letter to the Bergen County clerk asking that his name be withdrawn is notarized by Daniel Ortega, executive director of the BCDO.

Caan, a former aide to Democratic Freeholder David Ganz, is employed by the county as program analyst, according to payroll documents.” (Fallon, Bergen Record)


“She spent half of each week in the smallest town in New Jersey and half in the biggest city in America.

She eschewed appointments, preferring to show up unannounced when the mood struck her.

Her litany of activities included ballet and Tango classes and French and Swedish lessons.

The late Jean Zipser, the last mayor of Pahaquarry Township, pop. 6, was nothing if not unique.” (Frassinelli, Star-Ledger)

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