Corzine’s approval ratings dip, Ocean County GOP picks John Kelly as their congressional candidate, Adler calls for AG investigation of Riccio, abolishment of death penalty passes narrowly in Senate.
Gov. Jon Corzine's job approval ratings continue to go down and voters are split, 44%-43%, on whether he should be re-elected in 2009, according to a new Quinnipiac University poll released this morning. Corzine has a 46%-43% approval rating, down from 49%-40% in September, and 48%-39% in July. Among New Jersey voters, 41% say they would vote for Corzine, and 31% say they would back an unnamed Republican candidate.
“Midway in his first term, voters are lukewarm about Gov. Jon Corzine and give his performance a mediocre rating. Most just think things have stayed about the same since he took over in Trenton,” said Clay Richards, the Assistant Director of the Quinnipiac polling institute.
Voters in New Jersey oppose the elimination of the death penalty by a 53%-39% margin, but prefer life without parole rather than the death penalty for people convicted of first-degree murder by a 52%-39% margin.
And by a 59%-29% margin, voters oppose the sale or lease of the New Jersey Turnpike and the Garden State Parkway as a way of reducing the state’s debt and possibly funding tax relief. By a 74%-24% margin, New Jerseyans oppose a gas tax increase to finance road and mass transit improvements.
“Without knowing the details of the Governor’s plan to pay off the state debt, voters oppose 55 – 41 percent any plan that involves doubling tolls on the New Jersey Turnpike or Garden State Parkway. And they reject 3 – 1 any alternative that involves a gas tax hike. But if forced to pick, they would prefer almost 4 – 1 paying higher tolls than paying more for gas," Richards said. (Editor, PolitickerNJ.com)
CAPO DI TUTTI CAPI
Shortly after accepting the support of the Ocean County Republican Organization in his bid for U.S. Congress in the 3rd district, Freeholder Director Jack Kelly welcomed an unassuming man onto the platform to stand beside him in a display of GOP unity.
The man was Chris Myers, Kelly's primary election adversary from Burlington, who attended the event along with a small contingent of party operatives from across the county line.
"Despite any attempt of the press to make this a county versus county primary battle, I will do all in my power to make sure any primary challenge will be the one that seeks to elect the very best Republican countywide… because that is our common goal," said Kelly, a 56-year old former mayor of Eagleswood for 11 years and 15-year veteran of the freeholder board……….
The Republicans from two different counties embraced, and the crowd at the Holiday Inn in Toms River cheered and there was good feeling and the overriding sense that this would undoutedly be a gentleman's contest between men who disagreed on little and harbored a common delight in inflicting loss on Democrats.
But few political functions in New Jersey escape the shadow of a party boss, and Ocean and Burlington are no exceptions. On this occasion in part it was the powerful Ocean County Republican Chairman George Gilmore whose grip on the event was palpable as he stood to one side of the podium and occasionally addressed the delegates………..
Gilmore denied the long-serving freeholder is a face-saving prop designed to give Ocean County delegates the assurance that they have a man in the race, but who is in reality a no-hoper against the well-connected Myers from Burlington.
"Lets' wait and see how much money each candidate has raised after the first filing deadline," said Gilmore. "There have been millionaires and multimillionaires who have run before – that Huffington out there in California comes to mind – who didn't do well. It's not just about spending a lot of money." (Pizarro, PolitickerNJ.com)
Americans don't want universal health care, Ocean County Freeholder Director John P. Kelly said Monday night after his county Republican party unanimously nominated him to run for Congress in the 3rd District.
"I believe that this country was built on the fact that we create opportunity, and that employers should be granted incentives to provide employees with those health benefits," Kelly said in an interview with the Asbury Park Press.
ROCCO RICCIO JUST WON’T GO AWAY
The chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee yesterday called for the attorney general to investigate whether the brother-in-law of Gov. Jon Corzine's ex-girlfriend broke the law while working for the state.
The announcement by Sen. John Adler (D-Camden), backed by Senate President Richard Codey, made for a surprise opening to a hearing at which the committee approved Corzine's nominee to become the state's first comptroller.
The nomination of Matthew Boxer had been held up for 10 days because of questions about whether he played any role in payments by the governor to Rocco Riccio, brother-in-law of union leader and former Corzine girlfriend Carla Katz.
While Boxer is expected to be confirmed easily when the full Senate takes up the nomination Monday, the Judiciary Committee's request for a criminal investigation is a highly unusual development that once again shines a spotlight on Corzine's biggest political problem: his former romance with Katz.
The Star-Ledger reported in September that Riccio received $15,000 this year — two installments of $5,000 each from Corzine and another from his personal business manager — after Riccio left his job at the Turnpike Authority. Riccio said the governor's top staffers forced him to resign amid questions about whether Riccio had improperly accessed state tax records while working at the Department of Human Services. (Margolin, Star-Ledger)
DEATH PENTALTY LAST RITES
State lawmakers are now one vote away from repealing the death penalty in New Jersey.
The Senate yesterday, by the narrowest of margins, passed a bill to abolish the state's capital punishment law. The 21-16 vote — a bare majority in the 40-member Senate — sets the stage for a historic floor vote Thursday in the Assembly.
If the Assembly approves the bill, Gov. Jon Corzine is
prepared to act swiftly and sign the legislation, according to aides, perhaps as soon as Friday. That would make New Jersey the first state to legislatively abolish the death penalty.
"I'm pretty confident this will pass into law," said Sen. Ray Lesniak (D-Union), the Senate sponsor of the bill. "It's just become clear it doesn't make any sense to keep this as a public policy."
The vote came after more than 90 minutes of impassioned debate in front of a standing-room-only crowd that filled the Senate balcony. (Howlett, Star-Ledger)
The New Jersey Senate voted to abolish the death penalty Monday, moving the state a step closer to replacing the punishment with life in prison without parole.
But for the senators, who voted 21-16 to repeal it, the vote didn't come easy.
They had to consider killers like Jesse Timmendequas, a convicted sex offender who raped and strangled 7-year-old Megan Kanka in 1994. That crime led to the state's Megan's Law, and the little girl's father still wishes to see him put to death.
"There are some cases … where the most heinous act against a human being should be carried out to the maximum allowable by law," Kanka said Monday. (Graber, Gloucester County Times)
BUT HE SAID HE WAS INNOCENT
Pleasantville Board of Education President James Pressley pleaded guilty Monday to taking $40,800 in exchange for his support of contracts.
Pressley, 23, was among 11 public officials and a private citizen arrested Sept. 6 and charged with accepting money in exchange for supporting contracts. He is expected to resign his seat at tonight's board meeting, where he plans to address the public.
"I'm not going to resign on the steps of the federal courthouse in Camden," Pressley said Monday. "I'm going to go back to Pleasantville and give the citizens of Pleasantville a chance to address me. They are the true victims of what happened in court today."
Pressley spoke softly as he answered U.S. District Judge Jerome B. Simandle's questions during the 45-minute hearing. He admitted that on several occasions between May and September 2006 he accepted payments totaling $40,800 in exchange for his support of an insurance broker and roofing company. The insurance brokerage actually was run by the FBI, and the roofing company was cooperating with investigators……..
"He's a young man who made a mistake," said Pressley's lawyer, Edward Crisonino. "He wants to try to correct that, which begins with his guilty plea and his resignation from…….
"There are a number of things I didn't know going in," Pressley said of his involvement in the corruption scheme. "If you associate with certain people who do things, and if you don't step up and do something, you pay. The students in Pleasantville can learn something from this: If you break the law, there are consequences." (Cohen, Press of Atlantic City)
FEW PEOPLE ARE LINING UP FOR THIS FIGHT
You can’t get anyone on the record about it, but some prominent Republicans aren’t exactly happy about their U.S. Senate choices
“Ambivalent is probably the most charitable word you can use for what people say about the choices,” said one Republican elected official who wished to remain anonymous.
Although two factions of the Republican Party are represented in the upcoming U.S. Senate race – Anne Evans Estabrook as the moneyed moderate and Dr. Joseph Pennacchio as the risen-through-the-ranks former Reagan Democrat who will run on the right – some in the party feel that neither has the combination of deep pockets, name recognition and charisma that it will take to beat U.S. Sen. Frank Lautenberg in 2008.
Multiple Republican sources also say that some county chairs are continuing the search and calling around to find new candidates.
The combination of weariness (from not winning a Senate race in 35 years), skepticism (at the prospect of having to raise millions of dollars), pain (from watching the promising Tom Kean, Jr. get bloodied last year by U.S. Sen. Bob Menendez) and the fact that next year is a presidential race – usually bad for Republicans in this blue state – have left few candidates lining up for a chance at the coveted six-year term. (Friedman, PolitickerNJ.com)
“I’M NOT SAYING ANYTHING RIGHT NOW”
Soon-to-be state Sen. Jeff Van Drew has not decided whether he wants to run against U.S. Rep. Frank LoBiondo in 2008.
Van Drew said Monday he has been approached about running next year against the long-time Republican congressman by everyone from "local leaders to (Cumberland County Democratic Committee Chairman) Lou Magazzu to just individual residents.
"I've been approached both before I was elected to the state Senate and after," said the Democratic legislator, who won his first state Senate seat in November. "I'm not saying anything right now."
Van Drew, of Cape May County, unseated popular Republican state Sen. Nick Asselta in a competitive First District state Senate race this year.
The Dennis Township dentist will be sworn in as a state senator early next year.
Just as rumors about Van Drew challenging Asselta for his Senate seat were common prior to 2007, speculation surrounding Van Drew taking a run at LoBiondo's seat in Congress are nothing new. (Dunn, Bridgeton News)
DID YOU KNOW THAT ELLEN KARCHER WORE A WIRE? SHE SHOULD HAVE MENTIONED THAT IN HER CAMPAIGN.
When the FBI asks Marlboro Councilwoman Ellen Karcher to wear a hidden listening device in October 2002, she is reluctant.
"I was afraid for the safety of myself and my family," Karcher said recently.
Karcher contacted the FBI after she felt she was threatened over her opposition to zoning changes in Marlboro that would allow developer Tony Spalliero to build senior housing on land in and around Marlboro Airport, a small airfield popular with local pilots.
She also feels pressured by Richie Vuola, chairman of the Marlboro Township Municipal Utilities Authority and a personal friend of Spalliero's, to approve the zoning change. Vuola declined to be interviewed for this story.
Vuola, who is 71, has a criminal record and carries himself "like a little wiseguy," FBI agent Jim DiOrio recalls, all of which makes Karcher jittery.
"It took some convincing to get (Karcher) to make recordings," recalls FBI agent Bob Cooke, who is DiOrio's partner.
But the FBI and the U.S. Attorney's Office appeal to her sense of public service, and Karcher agrees. (Cullinane, Asbury Park Press)
ONLY FOR BERGEN COUNTY REPUBLICANS IS A $38,000 DEBT GOOD NEWS
They didn't pay income taxes, forgot to disconnect a phone bank after Election Day and stopped making contractual payments on a postage machine.
All told the Bergen County GOP owes about $38,000 to creditors, according to a recent audit. And that's a good thing.
Because the rank and file expected the audit to put the debt tally much higher.
"It's peanuts," said Paul Duggan, a Republican candidate for freeholder in November. "Thirty-eight thousand dollars is nothing in the grand scheme of things."
Bergen County GOP Chairman Rob Ortiz commissioned the audit in July, days after he took the reigns of the destitute county party, which earlier this year was nearly evicted from its headquarters for failing to pay its rent.
"When I walked in, I said, 'I need to know what I'm walking into,'" Ortiz said about hiring the auditor. "Before we could move forward, I needed to know what I'm standing on."
The audit turned out to be the easy part.
Finding financial documents for the auditor involved a scavenger hunt through boxes, private garages and forgotten filing cabinets — some of them locked and keyless. A closet at party headquarters on Main Street was stuffed to bursting with old bank statements, phone bills and notices of delinquent payments, Ortiz said.
Barring the discovery of debts the party doesn't know about, the auditors summed up the GOP's financial situation like this: assets, $0; liabilities, $38,176. (Carmiel, Bergen Record)
ANOTHER TAX. YAY.
Legislation that would impose a new 5 percent tax on tickets for events at the Prudential Center in Newark won quick approval from a state Senate committee yesterday, while a separate measure to tax parking at the arena got sidetracked.
The bills, designed to make arena patrons offset the estimated $5 million to $7 million a year Newark is projected to spend on security, traffic control and maintenance for events at the arena, were introduced just last month and will die unless passed by the end of the lame-duck Legislature on Jan. 8.
"We have to provide the security we need without impacting the community we live in," said Sen. Ronald Rice (D-Essex) a former Newark deputy mayor and sponsor of the measures.
Members of the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee approved the 5 percent ticket surcharge (S-2971) but were unable to muster the eight votes needed to advance a second bill (S-2891) that would have let Newark impose a 7 percent surcharge on parking fees.
That measure is scheduled to be considered again when the committee reconvenes Jan. 3. (McNichol and Mays, Star-Ledger)
The shortage of judges on the New Jersey trial bench may be easing a bit soon.
Gov. Jon Corzine yesterday nominated eight lawyers from across the state to fill judgeships on the state Superior Court. In addition, a deputy Attorney General was named to fill a vacancy on the state tax court. And earlier this month, two others were nominated to take positions on the Superior Court bench.
Around the state there are 36 judicial vacancies in the ranks. The shortage have created a host of problems including low morale in courts struggling to keep dockets moving. There are 10 vacancies in Bergen County and at least three in Camden, Middlesex, Ocean, Passaic and Union counties.
"We are very pleased that the governor has made these nominations and look forward to these positions being filled," said Winnie Comfort, a spokeswoman for the Administrative Office of the Courts.
Whether the judges are appointed to the bench is now up to the state Senate.
The judges who have been nominated for Superior Court posts are: Robert Becker of Mickleton; Gwendolyn Blue of Cherry Hill; Rachel Davidson of Livingston; Rudolph Filko of Wayne; Marquis Jones of Jackson; John Kelley of Haddon field; Anthony Pugliese of Audubon; Deborah Silverman Katz of Cherry Hill; David Ironson of Randolph; Stuart Minkowitz of East Hanover. Patrick DeAlmeida of Princeton was nominated for the tax court. (Star-Ledger)
Every school district can expect some aid increase under Gov. Jon S. Corzine's new school funding plan, a key Democrat said yesterday.
"There will be a limited increase for every district," Assembly Speaker Joseph J. Roberts Jr., D-Camden, said. He declined to discuss specific figures, saying he would leave that to Corzine.
Roberts, one of the few lawmakers to see the district-by-district aid figures under Corzine's new plan, said the proposal will generally help working-class areas, suburban schools, those that have seen enrollment booms and "rim" districts bordering the 31 urban "Abbott" districts.
The funding formula is expected to include an overall aid increase of 5 percent to 6 percent, with state support largely directed to schools with low-income or special-needs students.
But with most lawmakers still waiting to see the specific aid figures attached to Corzine's plan, Republicans urged the administration to slow down, saying they won't have enough time to review the formula if they have to vote by Jan. 7, the last meeting before the current legislative session ends at noon Jan. 8.
Republicans also worried that the new formula will take special education money away from wealthy districts by tying aid to community prosperity.
"Just as the governor has with his monetization plan, he has made a conscious decision to keep the Legislature and the public in the dark. It's pretty much unfair," said Assembly Minority Leader Alex DeCroce, RMorris. (Tamari, Gannett)
A WONDERFUL FIRST PUBLIC HEARING
A panel formed by Gov. Jon Corzine to address immigration-related problems got an earful from frustrated New Jerseyans on all sides of the issue at its first public hearing last night.
A long line of speakers — from an undocumented high school student to a woman who decried illegal immigrants as "evil" — addressed a crowd of more than 200 who packed into an auditorium at the Rutgers University Labor Education Center in New Brunswick.
Several speakers urged the panel to back a bill that would allow undocumented students to pay the in-state resident tuition at state colleges and universities.
Others called for tougher enforcement of labor laws to protect immigrants. And some blasted the panel for not taking a stand against illegal immigration.
Assemblyman Upendra Chivukula (D-7th Dist.), sponsor of the tuition bill, said thousands of students brought here as young children spend years in New Jersey schools, but are unable to attend college because their illegal status means they must pay the higher tuition rates charged to out-of-state residents.
Chivukula's bill would allow those who spend at least three years in New Jersey high schools and graduate to pay the in-state rate for college. "They are here to stay," said Chivukula. "It is an investment in human capital." (Donohue, Star-Ledger)
Support for Police Director Joseph Santiago to remain in the department, even though he doesn't live in the city, is mounting as a group of Latino community leaders is encouraging others to rally behind the director.
The public debate over Santiago's residency, and whether Mayor Douglas H. Palmer had the right to waive the residency requirement for him, has raged for the last six weeks. While early public opinion called on Santiago to move to the city or leave, more residents have been coming forward lately to say his performance outweighs where he lives.
In an e-mail being circulated by Juan Martinez, president of PROS (People for the Revitalization of the South Ward), Martinez and others are enlisting people who support the director and his work in the police department.
Martinez said organizers will publicize the responses received in a letter or petition to the council and mayor.
According to the e-mail, the coalition of people rallying behind Santiago supports the residency mandate for city employees, but accepts "the mayor's decision to waive such requirement for Director Santiago and oppose any efforts to oust him." They want the council to work on a compromise with the mayor and the director "as expeditiously as possible, and to prioritize the many urgent problems facing the city," according to the e-mail. (Loayza, Trenton Times)
BURZICHELLI’S CRUSADE… TO SAVE A REST AREA
Suppose you heard about a state-run highway rest area where the staff dispenses tourist information, talks motorists through road crises and once saved a life.
Where the grounds – on I-295 North in Carneys Point, Salem County – are as meticulously well-tended as a corporate campus………
The budget-cutters at the New Jersey Department of Transportation, though, have a different plan: They're shutting the place down. "It's just a stupid, embarrassing idea," said Democratic Assemblyman John J. Burzichelli, in whose district the stop is located. "This is not a wise way to save money."
The little Eden known as the Deepwater Rest Area, open from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m., sits between Exits 2 and 4. There is no Exit 3 – you can't blame NJDOT for that one.
It's near the Delaware Memorial Bridge, and serves as an unofficial welcome center to road warriors barreling northbound into New Jersey.
The place has tourism brochures, snack machines, pay phones (a rarity these days), truly stunning restrooms and, most important, Deborah Wolfe, guardian angel and human Fodor's guide to the delights and mysteries of the Garden State.
"We're an open door," said Wolfe, 52, of nearby Pilesgrove, as snow flew and dazed motorists trooped into her clean, well-lighted place. "The road is lonely and scary, and I'm here to help." (Lubrano, Philadelphia Inquirer)
IN PASSAIC COUNTY
County Prosecutor James F. Avigliano is gearing up to sue Passaic County over budget cuts that he says will reduce his work force by 25 percent.
Avigliano is scheduled to meet today with members of the attorney general's staff in Trenton to seek approval to file suit under the state's so-called "Bigley" law.
The 1969 statute allows an assignment judge to order a county to spend whatever is needed to run the prosecutor's office.
Avigliano said in his office on Monday that if he gets the green light from state authorities, he'll seek a court injunction that will stop the layoffs in his department until a court decision is issued.
The prosecutor had requested $18.3 million to run his 200-person department in 2008. Now the county has directed him to cut more than $2.7 million from that total. (Brubaker, Herald News)
IN SOMERSET COUNTY
With the November election safely past, the Somerset County freeholders today are scheduled to resume consideration of the fate of the scandal-plagued county park commission.
On this evening's freeholder agenda is a pitch from parks officials not to eliminate the commission, but to give it a second chance after changes in its operations over the past five months.
The session follows the conviction of a mid-level parks official, fo
rmer construction manager Joseph Lucas, for supplying inside information to contractors. Despite a raft of allegations that his actions represented business as usual at the commission, Lucas is the only person who has been charged with a crime.
While the state Attorney General's Office issued two sweeping subpoenas for park records this summer, park employees said "boxes and boxes" of the documents are still sitting at commission headquarters in Bridgewater. Yesterday, a spokesman for the at torney general decline to say whether the investigation is continuing.
Action has been more obvious on the county level, as four commissioners resigned in the wake of the harsh report by an outside law firm that prompted the subpoenas. Since then, though, replacement commissioners have charted a zig zag course toward and away from reforms. (Tyrell, Star-Ledger)
NEXT STOP CITY HALL?
Assemblyman Lou Manzo's latest – and possibly last – crime-fighting bill is intended to "provide more police presence" for municipalities at a lower cost.
In a bill introduced Nov. 19, Manzo proposed to change how municipalities create auxiliary police forces. He touts his bill as an alternative to the current patchwork system, in which he says auxiliary police and "special officers," like the ones that help out in Shore towns during summer months, have different powers and training requirements from city to city.
Under Manzo's bill, joining the auxiliary police force would be an "audition" for regular police work, he said. Auxiliary cops would take Civil Service exams and go through a police academy approved by the Police Training Commission. They would be qualified to do everything regular cops do – even carry guns.
However, municipalities would choose how much responsibility to give their auxiliary force, and whether or not they should carry guns, Manzo said. A municipality's auxiliary police force could bolster regular ranks by an additional 25 percent, but his bill requires municipalities to keep at least as many regular cops after creating an auxiliary force as they had before. (Judd, Jersey Journal)
A planner is raising questions about the Highlands Council hiring a consultant who is not licensed to practice in New Jersey.
Charles Siemon, who is listed as a "plan consultant" on the most recent draft of the council's regional master plan, is not licensed to practice law or planning in the state, said Stuart Meck, a Trenton resident and professional planner.
But Highlands Council Executive Director Eileen Swan said Siemon was hired for his national expertise, and noted that the Highlands Council staff had four licensed planners and three attorneys on staff.
"Nothing is taken from a consultant and put into the plan," she said. "Every single piece of information … is never seen by less than two professional planners."
In June, the Highlands Council voted to hire Siemon to give them an "independent perspective on development and implementation of the Regional Master Plan," according to their resolution. His firm is to be paid no more than $245,000. (Saha, Star-Ledger)
Donald Cresitello will find out tonight if his dogged quest for a raise for his part-time job as town mayor has been successful.
Town council is scheduled to hold a public hearing and vote on a salary ordinance that would hike Cresitello's salary by $6,000. He now earns $26,042 yearly as mayor. By day, he works as a director of school construction for the state that nets him more than $100,000 each year. He has told the Daily Record he intends to leave that job some time next year.
Council voted 5-1 two weeks ago to introduce the mayoral pay raise ordinance. Only Councilwoman Michelle Harris-King voted against it, calling the effort by the mayor an example of "double-dipping."
The other councilmember who had regularly opposed the raise, First Ward Councilman Tim Jackson, was not present at the meeting, and he said he probably won't be at tonight's hearing, either, due to a business commitment.
The other council members have long supported the raise. Councilman Dick Tighe, who will be sitting in his last meeting, said he has long supported giving a raise to the mayor, even previous ones. Councilman at-large Anthony Cattano has described Cresitello as a hard worker.
Cresitello said he's optimistic he will have the votes for the salary hike.(Daigle, Daily Record)
GOOD THING THE VINELAND CITY COUNCIL IS FOCUSING ON ISSUES THAT ARE IMPORTANT THE MUNICIPALITY
City Council tonight will decide its position in the debate over gay marriage in New Jersey.
Council is set to vote on a resolution reinforcing the traditional definition of marriage as "a union between a man and a woman."
The resolution is largely a symbolic statement in the debate over same-sex marriage, which the state Legislature is expected to take up in January.
f adopted, the resolution will be forwarded to the state legislators representing Vineland.
Over the past month, residents and the pastors of several local churches have urged City Council to pass the resolution, while others have said city government shouldn't be involved in the issue. (Zatzariny, Daily Journal)