Ocean wants a piece of 3rd CD seat, Doblin on Corzine, next Atlantic City mayor faces serious hurdles, legislative leaders want to end death penalty and RCAs.
PRIMARY LIKELY IN BURLINGTON COUNTY
“Republican leaders in Burlington and Ocean Counties have begun offering candidates to replace retiring Rep. Jim Saxton (R., N.J.), rekindling a rivalry between the counties and setting the stage for a tough GOP primary.
Saxton, who stunned political insiders Nov. 9 when he announced his retirement, has held the seat since 1984. The current battle to find a successor resembles the one Saxton survived on his way to Congress.
"It is not often that a congressional seat is open," said Ocean County GOP chairman George Gilmore. "Ocean County has to play a role."
In increasingly Democratic-leaning New Jersey, Saxton's district is one of the few where Republicans believe they have a good shot at winning, making it all the more enticing to potential GOP candidates.
So far, a former lottery director and three freeholders from Ocean County say they're considering a run for the seat.
On the west side of the state in Burlington County, a state senator, a freeholder, and a former state party chairman say they're thinking about it, as well.
Long-reigning former Burlington County Chairman Garfield DeMarco said "a primary is highly likely." A player in the 1984 race, he recalled it as "quite a spirited primary – not nasty – but spirited."
He touted Burlington County's David Norcross, who said he was considering a run, as a possible field-clearer. Norcross, a national Republican committeeman, former state GOP chairman, and formidable fund-raiser, spends most of his time in Washington, working for the Philadelphia law firm Blank, Rome.
Still, there are those voices from Ocean County.
"We would love to have a congressperson from Ocean County," said Virginia Haines of Toms River, who is one of the potential candidates. But, of course, she said, she would support the best candidate for the entire district.” (Burton, Philadelphia Inquirer)
GOV IS A GRINCH STORY GOES NATIONAL
States like Louisiana that shut down for the day known as "Black Friday," one of the biggest shopping days of the year, cite factors such as family time and saving energy. Those that don't point to the options of taking personal days or vacation time. Policies on the day vary across the USA.
New Jersey state employees have made more than 5,500 phone calls this month to Gov. Jon Corzine's office after protesting his executive order revoking the Friday after Thanksgiving as a state holiday. None of them has gotten the answer they wanted.
That contrasts to the approach Louisiana is taking this year. In October, Gov. Kathleen Blanco signed executive orders granting state workers three four-day weekends: Thanksgiving Friday, Christmas Eve (a Monday) and New Year's Eve (also a Monday)………
Corzine, who, according to spokeswoman Lilo Stainton, received only a half-dozen calls in support of his decision, is not backing down. She said the governor, who will be working on Friday, warned state employees last year that the annual tradition of granting the extra paid holiday was ending.
"We, as a state, are here to serve the citizens," Stainton said. "They can use a vacation day if they want, they have some 20 vacation days."
New Jersey state workers get 13 paid holidays. Carla Katz, president of the Communications Workers of America, Local 1034, said the day after Thanksgiving has been "a family-friendly tradition for decades."
Katz said that every New Jersey governor since at least Brendan Byrne, who served from 1974 to 1982, has given workers off that day.
"Workers are referring to the governor as the Thanksgiving Grinch," she said of Corzine." (Bruno, USA Today)
“ON WALL STREET, CORZINE CHALLENGED GOLDMAN SACHS. ON STATE STREET, TRENTON, HE FACES TOO MANY SORRY SACKS.”
“ATLANTIC CITY was an apt backdrop for Governor Corzine's speech to the League of Municipalities last week. Where else to deliver a speech about out-of-the-box governance but in a city whose mayor went missing for weeks?
If people were expecting the governor to drop more than a glove in the slow striptease called asset monetization, they were disappointed. Corzine made clear his "secret" monetization plan involves raising tolls. But the mechanism behind the hikes is still not clear. We have to wait until his State of the State address in January.
It is disappointing the governor's plan was not revealed before Election Day. The absence of the plan allowed candidates of both parties to avoid going on the record about toll increases. While the monetization plan still remains under wraps, it's clear that Corzine finally understands voters want only one thing from him: Fix state finances.
The fact that he acknowledged in his speech that he may lose his job in the process is heartening. Because the only way any New Jersey governor can effect radical change is, to borrow from Atlantic City lore, to dive off the Steel Pier.
Corzine's frustration with Trenton comes down to this: At Goldman Sachs, he was successful in persuading fellow partners to take a private company public. The key was that even if the partners went public, kicking and screaming, in the end they would be placated by multimillion-dollar pacifiers. Going public made them incredibly rich.
In Trenton, Corzine has to take 120 State House partners and persuade them to change a culture of governance that will result in the partners having less money and influence. Not so easy. On Wall Street, Corzine challenged Goldman Sachs. On State Street, Trenton, he faces too many sorry sacks.” (Doblin, Bergen Record)
“SPEEDY” MARSH WAS TRUE TO HIS NAME
“ATLANTIC CITY – The resort will get a new mayor by Thanksgiving. But you might want to check back in a year to see how thankful the person really is.
Whoever is picked will serve 12 months that will include a controversial tax revaluation and painful budget decisions, while working with a City Council that expects to run the show. He or she will take office as a lame duck forced to immediately consider mounting an expensive mayoral campaign while facing the perception of illegitimacy because of the way the Atlantic City Democratic Committee made its selection.
The person will take over for acting Mayor William Marsh, whose mark will be the remarkable number of contracts signed and deals inked in his seven-week term. Marsh has said he will run for mayor next year.
"I think this is a really tough time for whomever is to assume the mayoral leadership because I think with so much chaos that has gripped the city for so long, whoever is coming in will be playing catch up from the get-go," said Brigid C. Harrison, an area resident and associate professor of political science at Montclair State University. "There are so many issues that will be on the front burner that the person will not have a chance to get a handle on the leadership with all these pressing problems breathing down their neck."” (Harper, Press of Atlantic City)
KILLING THE DEATH PENALTY
“The eight men confined to the Capital Sentences Unit of 3 Wing in the New Jersey State Prison, ranging in age from 77 to 30, have a better chance of dying of old age than they do of lethal injection on an executioner’s gurney.
For one thing, the state has not executed anyone since 1963.
But in a move that is being closely watched by both sides of the capital punishment debate, New Jersey is on track to become the first state to repeal the death penalty since the United States Supreme Court allowed executions to resume in 1976.
A bill that would abolish New Jersey’s death penalty was approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee this spring and is now on a fast track to be considered by both houses within weeks. The Senate president, Richard J. Codey, who supports the measure, said this month that he planned to bring the bill to a vote before the full chamber by the end of the year.
In the Assembly, the speaker, Joseph J. Roberts Jr., has set a committee hearing on Dec. 6 for a nearly identical bill, and he said he expected a floor vote the following week.
Gov. Jon S. Corzine, who is opposed to the death penalty, has said that he will sign the measure into law if it reaches his desk.
There has been a growing call for states to take another look at their death penalty laws in recent years as more inmates on death row are exonerated. In addition, questions about whether executions amount to cruel and unusual punishment have prompted several states, including New Jersey, to review their methods of capital punishment.
But supporters of the death penalty have as ammunition a number of recent academic studies backing one of their principal arguments: that executions do have a deterrent effect on the murder rate.” (Peters, New York Times)
ROBERTS HAS A TOUGH FIGHT AHEAD OF HIM ON RCAS
“To Assembly Speaker Joseph J. Roberts Jr., the arrangement that lets wealthy towns pay other, often cash-strapped, ones to handle their affordable-housing requirements is an "awful" policy that separates rich and poor.
He has proposed eliminating the deals, called regional contribution agreements, or RCAs, making their demise the centerpiece of a 12-point affordable-housing program pitched last week.
But some municipal officials say doing away with the agreements would conflict with the state's goal to fight sprawl by concentrating development in certain "smart growth" areas.
"We can't have a system where those regulations overlap and conflict without creating total gridlock," said Stuart Koenig, an attorney who works with the New Jersey State League of Municipalities. "I think Assemblyman Roberts is dead wrong on RCAs."
Noting that the state has tried to encourage building in areas with public transportation and job centers, Koenig said RCAs help keep housing growth in areas that already have dense development.
Sussex County planning director Eric Snyder said people with low and moderate incomes are more likely to need public transportation and that building for their needs should focus on places with rail or bus lines.
"If I put them out there in the middle of nowhere . . . I'm doing those people a disservice," Snyder said.” (Tamari, Gannett)
Housing advocates in Morris County sounded optimistic last week about the affordable-housing reform plan put forth by Assembly Speaker Joseph J. Roberts, D-Camden.
Dan McGuire, director of Homeless Solutions Headquarters Development Corp. and advocacy and communication chairman for the Morris County Housing Alliance, said that while there are some concerns about the general outline of the plan, at least the subject had been raised in a manner that can foster discussion.
Paul Chrystie, executive director of the Coalition for Affordable Housing and the Environment, of which Homeless Solutions is a member, said, "We will finally talk about this, that is doing something."
It is key that Roberts, a powerful Trenton politician, announced the plan, he said. Roberts, as speaker, can schedule the necessary hearings and get bills filed with committees to move the plans along.” (Daigle, Daily Record)
WITH THE HELP OF NJ REFUGEES, PEOPLE MAY SOON OUTNUMBER HOGS IN NORTH CAROLINA
“Property taxes on Chris and Danny Wielandt's Egg Harbor City home increased tenfold to $5,300 since they purchased their Buffalo Avenue home in 1976. And so, in what has become a classic New Jersey tale, they moved.
They left in May for a house in Concord, N.C., which is twice the size of their old one – with about one-fourth the property taxes. They regret nothing.
"New Jersey has made it very difficult for you to live there, especially if you're on a fixed income," said Chris Wielandt, 62, who, with her husband, Danny, receives Social Security income and two pensions.
It is an anecdote that is a standard feature in gripes about New Jersey, and it has become the subject of one real estate firm's amusing pitch to do more business.
"Who is the next person you know who would like to sell their home and leave the high expenses, taxes and congestion of N.J.?" reads the postcard, citing the Wielandts' story. The Keller Williams Realty Jersey Shore recently sent these postcards out to about 800 homes.
I hear it from a lot from people," said Richard Haviland, a broker salesperson at the Absecon office. They mainly are retiring empty-nesters who have lived here for decades, he explained, and, "unfortunately, many of them they feel like they're just fed up with the New Jersey taxes, the real estate taxes."” (Rao, Press of Atlantic City)
“Hoboken's top cop has now been accused of having police officers do manual labor at his home on the city's dime.
Police officers, who declined to be identified because they said they feared retaliation, said they removed debris and building materials from the basement of Chief Carmen LaBruno's home in Clinton in September 2006 when they should have been doing police work.
According to the officers, three of the plaintiffs who now have a suit pending against the former SWAT team commander, Lt. Angelo Andriani, said Andriani supervised the cleanup operation.
LaBruno could not be reached yesterday, but told The New York Times he has all the canceled checks to prove he paid contractors for renovations to his home. LaBruno said he had donated the materials to the SWAT team to build "whatever."
LaBruno added that all the officers who came to his house were there of their own volition.
Andriani said yesterday that the materials were to be used to build a new headquarters for the SWAT team near Hoboken University Medical Center. He said the plans had been delayed and the materials were to be used when a new site could be found.
"We went to the chief's house to pick up materials that he donated to us to put in the building that we were going to be getting," Andriani said. "This is all fluff to get the media's attention."
The officers showed photos of some of the materials being stored at the Hoboken Municipal Garage. But some of it was discarded, they said.
The three officers who carried out the work were Detectives George Fonseca, James Perez, and Cesar Olavarria. They are joined by Detective Mario Novo and Sgt. Edwin Pantoja in a lawsuit that accuses Andriani of being a "white supremacist." ” (Hack, Jersey Journal)
THE DANGERS LURKING ON THE INTERNETS
“In another move by state lawmakers to try to boost Internet safety, online dating sites would have to notify New Jersey residents whether they do criminal background checks under a proposal set to be considered this week.
The bill is opposed by Internet companies such as Yahoo!, AOL, eHarmony and Match.com.
But Senate President Richard J. Codey, a bill sponsor, said it's needed to help protect online dating users from predators and force online dating Web sites to take more responsibility for fostering safe practices.
"Let's face it — the Internet is not going the way of the 8-track tape anytime soon," said Codey, D-Essex.”
The bill, modeled after a 2006 Florida law, was approved by the Senate in March and is scheduled for consideration by an Assembly committee today. The Assembly must pass it and the governor must sign it by Jan. 8 for this version to become law. The new Legislature convenes on Jan. 8 and all unpassed bills will expire.
The law would require Internet dating services to notify customers whether criminal background screenings have been performed as well as detail other safety measures.
If an Internet dating service doesn't conduct criminal background screenings, it would be required to disclose that clearly and conspicuously to all New Jersey members in bold and large capital letters.” (AP)
EASIER TO FIND PARKING AT THE MALL ON BLACK FRIDAY
“State employees made more than 5,500 calls over three days this month to Gov. Jon Corzine's office, protesting his recent order revoking the Friday after Thanksgiving as a state holiday, but to no avail.
Corzine is not budging.
The Garden State's workers won't be alone in grumbling their way to work on Friday. This year, New Jersey became one of 18 states that will keep state offices open that day, also known as Black Friday — one of the biggest shopping days of the year. New York and Connecticut also deny state workers the holiday, as well as the likes of Alaska, Hawaii and Wyoming
Corzine, who received only half-a-dozen calls in support of his decision, is not backing down. The former Goldman Sachs executive warned state employees last year that the decades-long tradition was coming to an end. State holidays should be negotiated by the union or set by law — not granted annually by the governor, he said.
"We, as a state, are here to serve the citizens," Corzine spokeswoman Lilo Stainton said. "They can use a vacation day if they want. They have some 20 vacation days.” (Bruno, Daily Record)
THEY'RE SO CUTE BEFORE THEY GET CYNICAL
“GALLOWAY TOWNSHIP – Dan DiOrio, of Egg Harbor Township, has already chosen his presidential candidate, and sports a "Mitt Romney for President" long-sleeved T-shirt to prove it. "I've liked him since he entered (the race)," the Richard Stockton College student said as he signed up to be a Romney volunteer at the college. "I need a pro-life candidate."
That led to spirited debate with a group of Barack Obama supporters over whether Romney really was a pro-life candidate and whether Republican candidates really want to ban abortion or just want to control the issue.
Event organizers Martha McGinnis and Claudine Keenan watched the impromptu debate, thrilled to see students taking part in the political process. "We really were a bit worried whether supporters would show up," McGinnis said of the college's candidate-awareness event Tuesday, co-hosted by the William J. Hughes Public Policy Center and the college provost's office as part of the national American Democracy Project.
Lines of students tended to form in front of tables for Democrats Obama and Hillary Rodham Clinton and Republican Rudy Giuliani, although students also took information from tables for Republicans Romney and John McCain and Democrats John Edwards and Bill Richardson.
"I think a lot of students are still keeping an open mind," McGinnis said. "They walk by and pick up information for every candidate."
The Obama team in particular had a list of students sign up either to get more information or to volunteer. Most names on one sheet were female.
"The people who support him are very enthusiastic," said Brian Andrews, an Obama campaign worker who came to Stockton to recruit campus support. "They want to get involved."” (D’Amico, Press of Atlantic City)
IN CASE YOU MISSED IT – NEWS FROM THE WEEKEND
“The two driving forces of his long political career were set from the moment he went to Washington more than two decades ago.
In his first interview since announcing his retirement because of health concerns, U.S. Rep. Jim Saxton of New Jersey recalled how those issues came up when he was invited to the White House with other freshmen Republican congressmen to meet with President Ronald Reagan.
"You have all been through a campaign and won election," Reagan said, according to Saxton. "Tell me what's on the minds of your constituents."
Each of the rookies answered, mentioning Social Security, Medicare, transportation, the environment.
"Then," Saxton recalled, "Ronald Reagan leaned forward in his chair and said, 'All of those things are important, but if we don't have a system to provide for national security, none of it really means much.' "
Saxton said he spoke up and told the president: "If we don't have a clean, sustainable environment, none of the things we talked about mean much, either. It's just as important as a national defense."………..
Though often criticized by Democrats as being out of touch with voters and too close to the Bush administration, Saxton has unapologetically battled to shield Fort Dix, McGuire Air Force Base, and the Naval Air Engineering Station in Lakehurst, N.J., from Pentagon cuts and to transform them into a mega-base.
He also has worked – through the passage of several bills – to protect the environment by preserving open space, tracking medical waste dumped off the Jersey Shore, and conserving marine sanctuaries and wildlife.
"The two biggest industries in Burlington and Ocean Counties are the defense of the country and tourism," he said. "The biggest single employer is the Department of Defense and related industries.” (Colimore, Philadelphia Inquirer)
STILL NO MONETIZATION REPRORT
Details of a report that investigates how New Jersey could earn money by increasing tolls on some of the nation's busiest highways will likely remain a secret until Gov. Corzine reveals his plan in January.
Superior Court Judge Linda Feinberg said yesterday that she was inclined to let Corzine's administration keep the report private because it was incomplete.
"I think, quite frankly, that the release of the draft report has potential to greatly confuse the public," Feinberg said.
The judge did not make a ruling. She said she would issue a written deci
sion after Thanksgiving on the lawsuit filed against Corzine's administration by Assembly Republicans seeking to force it to release the report.
Corzine's administration claimed that the $800,000 report should remain private because it is incomplete, but the Republicans argued that it is public information that will shed light on Corzine's plans to hike highway tolls to cut mounting state debt.
Corzine has refused to say how much he might raise tolls.
Robert Gilson, law director for the Attorney General's Office, said keeping the report private was the proper move. He said the state has asked its consultant, Steer Davies Gleave, to update its findings with additional information.
"This is still an ongoing process," Gilson said.” (Hester, AP)
SOMERSET COUNTY PARK COMMISSION FIASCO
“A Somerset County Park Commission employee on trial for taking kickbacks from contractors was found guilty yesterday of official misconduct, a verdict his lawyer has vowed to appeal.
Branchburg resident Joseph Lucas Jr., 40, showed little expression when the panel returned with a single guilty verdict. But his wife, Corie, who attended the entire trial with family and friends, covered her face and wept.
Lucas was charged with second-degree official misconduct, bribery and acceptance of unlawful benefits by a public servant for official behavior, and a fourth-degree charge of falsifying records.
The bribery charge stemmed from allegedly taking a $3,000 bribe from Thomas Riccardo, 63, of Hillsborough-based Star Contracting Inc. Ricardo pleaded guilty in 2005 to theft by deception for his actions and agreed to testify against Lucas.
However, Riccardo testified he was unable to identify Lucas in court by face or last name. He said he just knew he left a paper bag of cash beneath a tree for a man named "Joe" from parks.
The prosecution also accused Lucas of repeatedly hitting contractors up for money, changing figures in paperwork and giving one contractor, Joseph Pietraszewski, 43, inside information on a roofing and siding job.
Jurors deliberated for two days after sitting through the three-week trial before Superior Court Judge Edward Coleman in Somerville and cleared Lucas of all the other charges. When they emerged with a guilty verdict for official misconduct, they failed to specify the conduct. Coleman told them to discuss it, and they returned minutes later, saying he disclosed bidding information to ensure specific contractors were awarded specific jobs.
Assistant Prosecutor Robert Hawkes promptly asked Coleman to revoke Lucas' $25,000 bail, particularly since the second-degree charge carries the presumption of up to 10 years in state prison. ” (Golson, Star-Ledger)
THEY’RE STILL SQUABBLING ABOUT THIS?
“State lawyers certified Friday that proper computer forensic searches of Gov. Corzine's public and private e-mail systems were conducted after Republicans requested e-mails exchanged between the governor or his staff and labor leader Carla Katz.
As part of the lawsuit filed by Republican Party state chairman Tom Wilson after he was denied a public-records request for the e-mails, the state had to submit certifications stating how the searches of the governor's official state e-mail and private campaign accounts were searched and who conducted them.
According to the filing, William C. Brown, senior associate governor's counsel, said a private computer forensics company searched Corzine's campaign e-mail accounts.
Cheri D. Carr, who used to work for the federal Department of Defense and helped recover and analyze electronic data from Linda Tripp's computer system as part of the Monica Lewinsky investigation of President Clinton, said she was "given unfettered access to those servers, inactive servers, back-up tapes, and disk" for all e-mails containing the word "Katz" or her e-mail addresses.
Two state information technology staffers conducted similar searches of e-mail accounts and computers of Corzine and 22 other administration staffers for state e-mail accounts
Republicans contended that since the filings don't overtly state that no new e-mails were found, and that the state may have found something new, bucking previous claims that thorough searches were conducted.
"Where does it say that they didn't find any additional communications as a result of this search?" Wilson said via e-mail. "Wouldn't you think that if that was the case, they'd have stated it plainly and clearly?” (Volpe, Gannett)
THE GRINCH WHO STOLE BLACK FRIDAY
“In the eyes of many New Jersey state workers, the governor is, well, the Grinch who stole the day after Thanksgiving.
New Jersey used to be among at least 24 states who let their workers take the day after Thanksgiving as a paid holiday. But this year, Gov. Corzine said the decades-long tradition would stop, and that state workers who want off would have to use a vacation or personal day.
Corzine's office says it has received some 5,000 calls and e-mails protesting the governor's decision. "I'm all jammed up and I don't understand why the governor would do this," said Shawn Ludwig, a state child abuse investigator now scrambling to find child care that day for his two young children.
Corzine, a no-nonsense businessman who's former chairman of investment firm Goldman Sachs, insists he's not out to ruin anyone's day-after holiday plans. He says he just wants state offices open on a business day to serve taxpayers.
His office also emphasized that Corzine had warned the state's nearly 80,000 workers last year that it would be the first and only time he granted them the day after Thanksgiving off.
"Gov. Corzine firmly believes state offices should be open to serve the citizens the day after Thanksgiving," Corzine spokesman Anthony Coley said. "State employees have had a year to plan for this eventuality, and if an employee wants the day off, he or she can use vacation time or an administrative leave day."” (AP)
“The woman bailed out of jail by Gov. Corzine has pleaded guilty to stalking the state Democratic Party chairman's girlfriend. The Star-Ledger of Newark reported Karen Golding made the plea in Morris County.
Golding was arrested in 2006 for allegedly breaking into Joseph Cryan's car.
The former Prudential Financial lobbyist got out of jail after her initial arrest by borrowing $5,000 from Corzine. Golding's staking charge will be dropped if she completes a probationary program.” (AP)
Susan Berkowitz of Parsippany has been on the street in front of the Morristown Green every Friday evening for six years, protesting war in the Middle East.
As part of her activist efforts, she attends nearly every area march or action. In Lincoln Park this summer she made cranes for peace for little Newark girls and walked after the 2004 presidential election from Pedro Francisco Park to the southern end of Broad Street to place shoes on the steps of City Hall in honor of the American dead.
"Where are you from," she's asked.
"Brooklyn," she says.
"And I moved to Newark when I was 11," she adds.
That also figures. Going back to Payne, Whitman and Crane, almost every Jersey radical has some kind of ties to Newark or Brooklyn and it turns out Berkowitz has ties to both…………..
Looking at the crowd, it's hard not to notice that most are either old or almost old. In an assembly of over 200, you could count the under 30-year olds on two hands……..
The longtime Dennis Kucinich supporter has been at this for six years straight. But it's coming to an end, she says. Not the peace vigil. It will go on, she insists, albeit in other hands. But she and Schwartz have to face the reality of getting older in their beloved New Jersey.
"I'm 64 and I can't afford to live here anymore," says Berkowitz, who's been folding pieces of orange construction paper to designate the different homemade soups she will now help serve to the crowd………….
One of the three 70-something men sitting on the other side of the table, says, "Pork."
"Pork, that's why they don't impeach him," says Tom "One Eye on Paterson” Fuscaldo. "When a bill is passed – a bill to replace an old bridge, let's say – they put 50 amendments on there, pork projects without which they can't the votes of those particular representatives on the main bill, which is the bridge. Bush isn't vetoing those pork barrel bills, as he should, and the Congress isn't impeaching him, as they should."
"They got a deal worked out," says Juan Sanchez, M.D., of Hackensack.
"Exactly," says Fuscaldo. "They got a deal and they're going to ride it all the way to the next ‘election' when the corporations install Hillary."
The last comment sends the woman in the Bush-Cheney shirt harrumphing and running for cover, now doubly infuriated.
"We're Ron Paul supporters," Fuscaldo announces. "He's the only candidate who's patriotic, and who supports the Constitution."
NEW JERSEY PEACE RALLIES
“Speaking to an audience of New Jersey Peace Action activists who on Saturday celebrated their organization’s 50th anniversary, former National Guard squad leader Camillo Mejia of Miami called for an end to the war in Iraq.
"My initial reaction (in 2002) was we had not justified an invasion of that country… I was afraid to protest a war that had not begun yet, and I did not want to be the one dissenting voice," said Mejia, who went anyway in 2003 on orders from his company commander and out of a sense of duty.”
Among other responsibilities, he helped run a jet bunker that had been converted into a POW camp.
"This was our first mission in Iraq,’ the solider recalled, "and so obviously a change begins to take place, because I go from being politically opposed to the war, from reading about it in the newspapers and Time Magazine… to actually being there, doing these things: carrying out torture, and degrading human beings. But at the same time, we’re in this really intense environment where you’re at war." (Pizarro, PoliticsNJ.com)
PARTY OF THE YEAR
“The Bergen Democrats' Bacchanal-at-the-Borgata last Wednesday night attracted a strange-bedfellows cross section of New Jersey's public officials. But the cost will remain private.
"You won't be finding it on any [campaign finance] report," Bergen County Democratic Organization Chairman Joseph Ferriero said Wednesday.
Ferriero said that he was personally paying for the open bar bash at Borgata's mur.mur club, though he declined to specify whether that meant he was drawing down from his personal bank account or had secured some third-party backing.
"It's a check from me, period," Ferriero said, adding that: "It's not being paid for by the BCDO."
Though Ferriero claims to be the party patron, he also said he had no idea — not even a ballpark figure — of how much the bash would cost…………
"If Gerry Cardinale drinks a lot, then it will be more expensive than it was last year," Ferriero said.” (Stile, Bergen Record)
OH LOOK, CHRIS CHRISTIE HAD ANOTHER SPEAKING ENGAGEMENT
“If you don't like this column, "Up yours."
Excuse the language, but if you stay with us here, it will all make sense.
Chris Christie, the U.S. attorney for New Jersey, a former Morris County freeholder and a resident of Mendham Township, was the guest speaker at last Thursday night's meeting of the Morris County School Boards Association.
Christie seldom disappoints as a speaker, and this was no exception. He began by telling school board members that they were really the only elected officials in New Jersey still respected by voters. That's a pretty good point when you think about it.
School board members are not seen as politicians, primarily because they do not run as Republicans or Democrats. Moreover, overseeing the education of school children is a noble mission.
Of course, great responsibility goes along with the exalted status of being the only honest officials (by group) in New Jersey.
"If you screw up, they'll be nobody left," Christie said.” (Snowflack, Daily Record)
LIKE NAILS ON A CHALKBOARD
“This week's League of Municipalities Convention in Atlantic City ended with a whimper, but at least bacchanalian uncivilized behavior was the norm in the evening.
Torture is listening to an elected official sing "My Way" at what has become an annual tradition – the karaoke, that is – at the Hudson County Fellini fest at the convention. The three Jersey City Irish tenors, Mayor Jerramiah Healy and
Councilmen Bill Gaughan and Peter Brennan, were at their full-throated best – well, let's just say they were loud.
Last year, there was early morning belligerent shouting, torso bumping and pushing among members of the Jersey City administration, just before they were tossed from a bar in the Borgata Hotel Casino and Spa. It made for a great column.
This year, other than the usual fraternity party atmosphere and the cocktail lounge atmosphere of the karaoke at the party thrown by County Executive Tom DeGise and Jersey City Mayor Jerramiah Healy, there were no contusions or bleeding.
How peaceful was the event? Hudson County Democratic Organization members like to point out that Weehawken Mayor Richard Turner, a founder of the Democrats for Hudson County, showed up and made the rounds and everyone was warm and fuzzy. Turner seemed to be the confirmation factor that both sides could socialize, like the old days.
Still, others at the function said that whenever Turner was speaking to someone from HCDO, it appeared that an HCDO leader would quickly join the conversation – almost as if to make certain that the conversation was not too private. ” (Torres, Jersey Journal)
APPARENTLY FRENLINGHUYSEN ISN’T THANKFUL
“Thanksgiving may still lie ahead on the calendar, but with Congress out of town this week, it has already been marked on Capitol Hill.
For example, the restaurants in Senate office buildings — with the nowhere-but-in-government names of North Servery and South Buffet — were serving roast turkey with giblet gravy and sage dressing or baked ham Madeira on Thursday. The cost, which included a choice of veggies and starches, 12-ounce soda and apple, mincemeat or pumpkin pie: $14.25 at the buffet, which has linen tablecloths, and $10.25 at the servery, which doesn't.
The menu prompted me to send a one-sentence e-mail inquiry to the press secretaries of the North Jersey delegation asking what their bosses are thankful for this year. One spokesman wrote back warning me to expect the longest sentence I've ever seen. Another asked if I wanted "a sincere or pithy" quote.
Here are the responses, in order of their arrival in my in-box.
Rep. Albio Sires, D-West New York: "I am grateful to be able to live in this country, and I feel lucky to have had the opportunity to achieve the American Dream."
Sen. Frank Lautenberg: "I am thankful for the love of my wonderful family and the remarkable opportunity I have to serve my country."
Sen. Bob Menendez: "I am thankful for the love of my children, the life of my mother and the ability to live in the greatest country in the world.
Rep. Scott Garrett, R-Wantage: "During this time of Thanksgiving, I couldn't be more grateful for my family. They love and support me through all the travails of my work and they endure my long and unusual work hours and weekly travel."
Rep. Steve Rothman, D-Fair Lawn: "I am thankful for the health of my family and the love we share."
Rep. Bill Pascrell Jr., D-Paterson : "I'm thankful that I still have my mother with me at the age of 94, and will do everything to make her and my family proud."
Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen, R-Harding: (Did not respond.)” (Jackson, Bergen Record)
CRACKS IN MIDDLESEX DEMOCRATIC FACADE
“The latest election tallies showed there are cracks in the Middlesex County Democratic Organization's power base.
Nine of the county's 25 towns favored the Republican candidates in countywide races on Election Day, resulting in the smallest margin of victory for Democrats in at least four years.
County Democratic Chairman Joseph Spicuzzo said he is calling together all of the Democrat mayors, local party chairs and elected officials for a special meeting to figure out what went wrong.
The tallies created a somber mood among Democrats at the usually high-spirited election night celebration at the Pines Manor in Edison, party workers said. Democrats were upset that Republicans made inroads in many small towns, like Milltown, the hometown of Democratic Freeholder Director David Crabiel. Republicans now control the mayor's office there and most of the council.
The GOP also dominates the council in South Plainfield, where Democratic Freeholder John Pulomena and Assemblyman Patrick Diegnan live. Democratic Freeholder Christopher Rafano was re-elected this year, but the voters in his hometown of South River ousted the incumbent Democrat mayor by electing Republican Raymond Eppinger.
The Republicans' victories in the local election could have created an "up-ticket surge" that boosted the GOP county candidates, said Ingrid Reed, director of the New Jersey project at Rutgers University's Eagleton Institute of Politics. She said GOP wins could indicate there is a new generation of Republicans in Middlesex County, who are better at organizing and connecting with voters” (Walsh, Star-Ledger)
UNFINISHED CONGRESSIONAL BUSINESS
“WASHINGTON Lawmakers have left the nation's capital for a two-week Thanksgiving recess without tackling many of the issues that they have flagged as top priorities.
The break will allow incumbents to enjoy the November holiday without providing the $196.4 billion that President Bush has requested for combat operations in Iraq and Afghanistan; without boosting spending for the treatment of sick and wounded veterans; and without making any changes to federal immigration laws, the Alternative Minimum Tax or federal energy guidelines.
A huge farm subsidy plan will still be pending in the Senate. U.S. Sen. Frank Lautenberg, D-N.J., and U.S. Sen. Trent Lott, R-Miss., still will be waiting for the House to take up their $11.4 billion plan to revitalize Amtrak.” (Cahir, Express-Times)
“In the first test of sweeping property tax reform enacted after a seven-month special legislative session, homeowner taxes rose 5.5 percent this year, the smallest increase in six years but still higher than a 4 percent goal set by Gov. Jon Corzine.
A Star-Ledger analysis of property tax bills in every municipality found they averaged $6,504 in 2007, up $339 from last year. For many moderate-income homeowners, the increase in pro
perty taxes was more than offset by fatter rebate checks that typically gave them $700 more.
This year's 5.5 percent increase was the smallest since 2001, when the average property tax bill went up by 5 percent. Property taxes rose 6.8 percent in 2006.
The figures were a relief to Democratic leaders who this spring enacted reforms designed to stem New Jersey's highest-in-the nation property taxes.
"Any reduction in the rate is indicative of the fact that we've made significant inroads in reducing the property tax burden in New Jersey and, when combined with the increased rebate checks delivered this year, is extremely good news to Garden State residents," Corzine said. "This is only a start. Thanks to the reforms we've enacted with legislative partners, we should continue to see the property tax growth rate slow in years to come." ” (Donohue and Gebeloff, Star-Ledger)
“A report released yesterday painted a surprisingly rosy picture of the state's immediate budget outlook even as state legislators are debating the best way to whittle down the state's heavy debt burden.
With the economy still reeling from a downturn in housing, high oil prices, and other factors, revenues are slumping in many states. California officials said this week they face a $10 billion deficit over the next two years due to lagging revenues, including a $2 billion hole in their current budget.
New Jersey officials are projecting a potential shortfall of up to $3 billion next year, and Gov. Jon Corzine has asked departments to find potential cuts equal to about 9 percent of the total budget to help close the gap.” (Donohue, Star-Ledger)
“New Jersey's lawmakers are poised to impose new pollution penalties on power companies — the first step in determining who pays for contributing to global warming and who profits from preventing it.
By year's end, the Legislature is expected to approve a plan requiring the companies to pay for the greenhouse gases they produce, a charge that could amount to $70 million or more each year.
The system is designed to give companies an incentive to cut emissions. But in the short run, at least, the price of polluting is likely to be passed on to consumers. And that could test New Jersey politicians' newfound commitment to fighting climate change.
"We think that it's very important to avoid climate change sticker shock," said Rick Thigpen, a vice president at Public Service Electric and Gas, the state's biggest generator of both electricity and heat-trapping emissions. "If this is seen as just raising electric prices, then there's going to be a major potential backlash."” (Nussbaum, Bergen Record)
“An Abbott lawyer has not given up on getting the state education commissioner to change the city's Board of Education. David Sciarra, whose Education Law Center represented the students in the Abbott v. Burke case, twice wrote to Education Commissioner Lucille Davy asking for her to step in concerning board members who were arrested on federal corruption charges in September.
On Thursday, he sent another letter to the commissioner. In it, he asks that Davy immediately remove board President James Pressley, the only current board member charged Sept. 6. Sciarra notes that at Tuesday's board meeting, Pressley indicated he would step down but did not give a timeframe.
"If things like this continue, that date may never come," Pressley said after reading the letter Friday.
"There is no law that will allow anyone to remove me at this point," he said. "If there's any such action taken, I will seek legal recourse.” (Cohen, Press of Atlantic City)
HOW MANY MORE MAYORS CAN ATLANTIC CITY TAKE?
“ATLANTIC CITY: This gambling resort could have a new mayor before
A Superior Court judge on Friday gave the City Council until next Wednesday to choose a new mayor from among three nominees submitted by the local Democratic Party.
Earlier this week, Judge Valerie Armstrong refused to intervene in a dispute between city and state Democrats over the choices made by the local party to replace Bob Levy who resigned last month.
Levy dropped out of sight for two weeks, later admitting he had been treated at a clinic for dependence on pain pills, and that the U.S. Attorney's Office was investigating his Vietnam War service.” (AP)
“The first order the city's new Public Safety director issued after being sworn in yesterday was to disband the Police Department's SWAT team, after photos surfaced of some of its members cavorting with Hooters waitresses and allowing them to hold their weapons during a Hurricane Katrina relief mission in 2006.
"The unit itself has been disbanded permanently," said Public Safety Director Bill Bergin.
He added that while the SWAT team is dissolved, its members will continue their normal duties.
Bergin said his second order was to call the SWAT team commander Lt. Angelo Andriani – who is featured prominently in the racy photos and who is also seen in a photo wearing a napkin over his head meant to look like a Ku Klux Klan hood – back from vacation and to assign him to desk duty.
Andriani is the subject of a federal lawsuit by five Latino cops accusing him of being an "unabashed white supremacist."
There may be more disciplinary measures coming, said Bergin, 68, a 31-year veteran of the Hoboken Fire Department who retired at the rank of deputy chief and will oversee both the Police and Fire departments in his new role.
"Even a rookie on the job knows better than to shoot from the hip," Bergi
n said. "Anything I do without proper investigation could cause problems down the road."” (Judd, Jersey Journal)
“Former Bayonne City Council and County Executive candidate Melba Walsh was arrested along with her husband on drug charges early Thursday morning, Police Director Mark Smith said yesterday.
Walsh, 50, ran unsuccessfully for council in 2006 and for the Democratic nomination for county executive in 2003.
Police said that during surveillance on Rose Avenue in Jersey City, a Bayonne cop working with Jersey City police and members of a Hudson County Prosecutor's Office task force spotted Melba and Kieran Walsh, 49, waiting for an unidentified male in a parked car. The male parked across the street from them, had a hand-to-hand transaction with the Walshes, got back in his car and took off, police said.
Later, the Bayonne cop followed the Walshes back to the Peninsula City along Route 440 and stopped them near the former Military Ocean Terminal to confront them with what had been observed, police said. Both denied the transaction, but gave conflicting accounts of what they had been doing, police said.
Police said a search of their vehicle yielded 3 packages of cocaine.
Kieran Walsh, who reports said cops knew from prior arrests, was released on $10,000 bail. Melba Walsh was released on $5,000 cash bail, police said. ” (Jersey Journal)
WHISTLEBLOWERS AREN’T CHEAP
“Legal bills to defend the state Board of Public Utilities and three top officials against a whistle-blower lawsuit could reach $1 million before the case begins trial.
The trial was supposed to begin last week but has been adjourned until Jan. 28. In the lawsuit, BPU fiscal chief Joseph Potena claims his supervisors became critical of his job performance, threatened insubordination charges and usurped his responsibilities after he alerted the state Treasury Department that the board had set up an $80 million to $100 million Clean Energy account in a private bank without Treasury approval.
Several factors contributed to the latest delay: an addition of a medical expert to testify about Potena's 2005 heart attack, an unrelated trial before Superior Court Judge Paul T. Koenig Jr. and the possibility of a settlement.
One lawyer, William F. Maderer, who represents then-chief of staff Lance R. Miller, wrote to the judge last month that a settlement offer to transfer Potena to a similar position and salary outside the BPU "unexpectedly faltered."
"Nevertheless," Maderer wrote on Oct. 23, "co-defendants remain hopeful that this matter will be brought to a resolution, and respectfully submit that an adjournment may obviate the need for a trial of this matter."
Maderer wouldn't comment Friday on settlement prospects and cautioned against jumping to conclusions from his letter.
"You should not read too much into it," Maderer said.
Joseph R. Lang, lawyer for Potena, said his client pitched a settlement offer in April that yielded no response.
"We made a demand in April, and we've yet to receive any offer," said Lang, declining to say what Potena sought.” (Volpe, Gannett)
“With the state Legislature preparing to tackle the issue of gay marriage, the pastor of a local church urged City Council to pass a resolution reinforcing the traditional definition of marriage.
The Rev. Ralph Snook, pastor of Chestnut Assembly of God on East Chestnut Avenue, appeared before City Council on Tuesday with a sample resolution that states in part, "it is a time-honored tradition that marriage has been recognized as a union between a man and a woman."
Last year, New Jersey enacted legislation allowing civil unions for gays and lesbians, giving same-sex couples the same rights as married couples.
Gay-rights advocates have pushed for the state Legislature to revisit the issue and allow same-sex couples to have marriages instead of civil unions.
If the council approves a resolution similar to the one presented by Snook, it would support "the goal of preserving, protecting and defending the institution of marriage as being between one man and one woman.” (Zatzariny, Daily Journal)
“A proposed ordinance that would cut off current and future officials from the municipal health benefits plan is up for adoption next month. But controversy continues as some council members question how it was drafted. "Frankly, I'm more upset with the process than the result," said Councilman Stephen Cobell.
The Borough Council voted, 6-0, Thursday night to introduce an ordinance that would eliminate benefits for elected officials, namely the mayor and council. It will go to a public hearing and an adoption vote Dec. 20.” (Yoo, Bergen Record)
IN FAIRFIELD TOWNSHIP
“Mayor Marion Kennedy Jr. just got "Hatched," but he's not going anywhere just yet.
Kennedy plans to remain in office for the remaining two years of his term, despite the fact that he now holds a federal job.
The federal Hatch Act prohibits most federal employees from engaging in partisan political activity such as running for office. Fortunately for Kennedy, he's already in office, so he may not have to resign. He just can't run for re-election.
"While the act prohibits covered employees from becoming candidates in partisan elections, it does not prohibit them from holding public office," U.S. Office of Special Counsel attorney Karen Dalheim wrote in an advisory on Dec. 30, 1998.” (Walsh, Press of Atlantic City)