Bill Clinton comes to New Brunswick, what Rothman stands to gain with Barack Obama, school funding plan released, Bencivengo clears house in Hamilton .
TONY BENNETT COMES TO NEW JERSEY
Former President Bill Clinton chewed on the inside of his mouth as his face conveyed the act of pondering a profound idea. He spoke after several seconds of silence, his playful, conversational delivery diminishing not at all the grim business of what could only be called damage control.
His fellow party members in the darkness of the State Theatre were looking up at him again, where he stood beneath an enormous picture of his wife, Sen. Hillary Clinton, that was suspended high above the stage.
"I want that photographer to take a picture of me," said a woman in the crowd, for indeed the smiling face of the presidential candidate on that flat surface appeared bathed in an ether of iconic wonder.
And the image clashed not a little with the public comments that were out there with five weeks to go before the Iowa caucus.
"She’s in a lull right now," N.J. Democratic Party Chairman Joseph Cryan said of his candidate last week, in what amounted to an airbrushing of off-the-record remarks made by others expressing not a sense of campaign free-fall exactly but concern.
Unhelpful in New Jersey was the increasingly apparent structure of Sen. Clinton’s presidential campaign: top down and absent any significant grassroots organization, in silent cash collection mode, where even the state campaign director Karen Kominsky is not permitted to speak to the press.
Bill Clinton picked up on the undercurrent of mood, reached beyond the hearty waves of laughter offered up irrespective of circumstance to the baby boomers’ eternal prince, and acknowledged the chilling discomfiture of his wife’s neck and neck efforts in Iowa, and New Hampshire. (Pizarro, PolitickerNJ.com)
Tony Bennett put his song stylings to the service of Sen. Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign last night, performing for a crowd of about 1,000 of her supporters — including her husband — at the State Theater in New Brunswick.
Former President Bill Clinton filled in for his wife, who was campaigning in Iowa. Campaign chairman Terry McAuliffe told the audience the candidate had to cancel her plan to attend the New Jersey event to ensure she would be in Iowa today for the final debate before that state's Jan. 3 caucuses.
"But who is here tonight?" McAuliffe said to applause. "The former president of the United States. We need to make sure she's on that stage tomorrow. She's there for us, and he's here tonight for you."
McAuliffe said the event raised more than $1 million for a campaign fund that has already topped $100 million.
Before the show the former president greeted major donors and posed for photos in a VIP reception across the street from the theater.
The 81-year-old Bennett, who first achieved success in the 1950s, staged a comeback in the late 1980s, attracting a new, younger audience with the help of appearances on late-night talk shows and MTV.
But his forte remains the classic American songbook, and his numbers last night included George and Ira Gershwin's "I Got Rhythm."
U.S. Rep. Steve Rothman says that he's endorsing Barack Obama for a simple reason: he thinks he's the best candidate with the best shot of beating a Republican in the general election.
"I think he is an authentic agent for change, but not only that – he brings to that his extraordinary life experience, his brilliance, his vast knowledge of American and world history and his years as a community organizer as a legislator on both the state and federal level," said Rothman.
But there's another important aspect to the endorsement: it makes Rothman unique.
Out of the five New Jersey Democratic congressmen who have endorsed a presidential candidate, four have gone for Clinton. Three of those four – Frank Pallone, Rob Andrews and Bill Pascrell – are, like Rothman, hopefuls to succeed 83-year-old Senator Frank Lautenberg in the unlikely event that he chooses not to seek another term. Or, for that matter, if Lautenberg wins another term and leaves office part way through it.
Had Rothman endorsed Clinton, he would been another name in a long line of congressmen – at least two of whom, Pallone and Andrews, would be the favorites to be tapped for a Senate seat anyway.
Instead, Rothman has rolled the dice – and if they come up Obama (which seems like less of a stretch than it looked one month ago), he'll be in a good position to either become the next U.S. Senator or at least improve his standing in Congress. (Friedman, PolitickerNJ.com)
THE LOOOOOOONG-ANTICIPATED SCHOOL FUNDING PLAN
Gov. Jon Corzine yesterday proposed spending an additional $532 million, mostly to struggling middle- and working-class districts, in his new plan to revamp how New Jersey pays for its public schools.
The long-anticipated plan — titled "A New Formula For Success: All Children, All Communities" — drew praise, but also raised questions about how the complex formulas will play out in the coming years.
"Some will find fault with some part of this, but we believe if you look at all of our children, we'll be a lot better off," Corzine said at the announcement, held at a Burlington Township elementary school.
Under the proposal:
· More than 140 districts would receive 20 percent more in state aid next year, the maximum increase allowed under the plan. The big winners were in communities as wide-ranging as Bridgewater-Raritan, Rahway, North Brunswick and Rockaway, where enrollments or tax burdens — or both — ballooned in recent years as state-aid increases slowed to a trickle.
· Another 200 districts would see increases of 10 percent or more, including some of the state's wealthiest communities.
· No district would see less than a 2 percent increase in the coming year, a clear but expensive nod to the Legislature that in the coming weeks will review and, perhaps, vote on the plan.(Mooney and McNichol, Star-Ledger)
Whether they came in at the low end, with a projected 2 percent state aid increase, or were looking at a 20 percent hike, school districts around the region yesterday were trying to assess the impact of Gov. Corzine's new education funding formula.
Even those districts that could be in line for double-digit increases had questions about how the new formula would affect special-education aid, among other areas.
"We're being very cautious," said Pennsauken
Superintendent James Chapman, whose district is one of those projected to get a 20 percent funding increase under the proposed formula.
"We've felt for years that we have urban issues that we've been unable to address because of budget constraints," Chapman said. "If we get money to address that, we're thrilled."
BENCIVENGO SENDS OUT THE PINK SLIPS
HAMILTON — The incoming Republican administration has begun sweeping house in anticipation of next month's transition, telling more than a dozen employees this week they will not be part of the new government when it organizes on Jan. 1.
Mayor-elect John Bencivengo yesterday notified 13 employees, including all of the township's department heads, that their services would no longer be needed come Dec. 31.
Among the employees notified were Business Administrator John Mason and Township Attorney Paul Adezio, Bencivengo said yesterday.
"I believe this is in the best interest of the township," Bencivengo said.
All of the employees notified are appointees of outgoing Democratic Mayor Glen D. Gilmore who lost by just 500 votes in last month's election. Gilmore is at the end of his second four-year term as mayor.
Also included in the purge were Director of Public Works Rich Balgowan, Director of Health Kathy Fitzgerald, Township Engineer Thomas Dunn, Director of Planning, Engineering and Inspections Lloyd Jacobs, Director of Technology Hal English and the township's municipal prosecutors and the assistant township attorney. (Isherwood, Trenton Times)
NO DISCLOSURE NECESSARY
The scarlet red of Rutgers is the hot fashion statement of Trenton's dress-to-impress power set.
Now that Governor Corzine is spearheading a private $30 million fund drive for Rutgers University's planned stadium expansion, lobbyists are certain to show up at his State House meetings in bold red hoodies, stamped with the wide-bodied R logo — and clutching a checkbook.
It's a no-brainer. New Jersey's philanthropist-in-chief will need deep-pocketed donors, despite the reach of his Fortune 500 Rolodex. Lobbyists and special interests will need his help. So what better way to fulfill both needs than fund raising for football? It makes a red-blooded New Jerseyan just want to burst into a few bars of the Rutgers fight song — "R-U, Rah, Rah!
And here's the kicker: There's a good chance that no one ever has to know about it — not those annoying good-government advocates, nosy reporters or those by-the-book election law regulators. A tax write-off without any public scrutiny."
This scenario may strike you as a little extreme — lobbyists might tack a Rutgers pin to their lapels at most. But Corzine's decision to team up with Sen. Ray Lesniak — a Union County power broker with statewide clout — does have the potential of creating a private new pipeline of political access, a Big-Bucks-for-Box-Seats method of currying favor with those in power. (Stile, Bergen Record)
A final showdown over continued federal oversight of the state's medical university is expected to play out behind closed doors today, as university trustees decide whether to seek full control of the long-troubled institution for the first time in two years.
In a hastily called emergency meeting, the trustees of the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey are scheduled to vote whether to extend the agreement that gave unprecedented oversight to a federal monitor, or to regain the authority ceded after the school was charged with Medicaid fraud in 2005, according to two sources familiar with discussions between the federal prosecutors and the university.
Those sources said U.S. Attorney Christopher Christie will likely move to terminate the monitorship should the board decide it wants to take control of — and responsibility for — the school's finances and administration. The sources requested anonymity because they are not authorized to speak publicly about the situation.
Christie has said he would not continue the monitorship without a formal request from the university or the Corzine administration. Reached by phone yesterday, Christie declined to comment on the board meeting or his intentions.
"I have no idea of what's going to happen," he said. (Margolin and Sherman, Star-Ledger)
NEW JERSEY COULD DROP OUT OF ELECTORAL COLLEGE – WILL STAY IN PARENTS’ BASEMENT
New Jersey could find itself dropping out of the Electoral College by the end of the year.
The state Assembly is expected to vote on a measure today that would place New Jersey in an interstate agreement requiring the state's electors to cast their vote for president and vice president based on the national popular vote winner — effectively circumventing the Constitution by changing the way presidents are elected without an amendment.
Questions about the Electoral College have grown as presidential candidates focus more on swing states — where no political party has a clear advantage — and ignore others.
Bill sponsor Assemblyman Joseph Cryan, D-Union, said the agreement would encourage candidates to travel to all the states.
"It makes elections competitive, and it makes candidates come in and have to work," Cryan said. (Rispoli, Gannett)
THE HISTORY OF OPERATION BID RIG
Matt Scannapieco is going to be late for work today. Instead of driving to his job as a commissioner on the New Jersey Victims of Crime Compensation Board in Trenton, Scannapieco is pulling his state-issued Pontiac to the shoulder of Route 18 in Old Bridge.
He's following an unmarked police cruiser operated by FBI agents Jim DiOrio and Bob Cooke as it exits Route 18 for Route 9 north. It is Monday morning, March 29, 2004, and Scannapieco has agreed to speak with the agents about their investigation of public officials in Marlboro.
It is Monday morning, March 29, 2004, and Scannapieco has agreed to speak with the agents about their investigation of public officials in Marlboro.
Scannapieco, the former mayor of Marlboro, has been out of office only three months after serving as mayor for 12 years.
He is also one of the targets of the FBI investigation.
Agents probing Scannapieco's background have discovered that, over the past six years, he has spent about $350,0
00 more that he earned.
He's spent it on a big home in a new housing development, jewelry and expensive trips.
The FBI suspects the extra money came from a developer who gained Scannapieco's help in winning municipal approval for his projects. (Cullinane, Asbury Park Press)
THIS COULD BE BIG
At least five of the seven troopers suspended while officials investigate their possible role in an alleged sexual assault of a college student are veteran officers with positions of authority in the State Police, according to law enforcement officials.
Three of the seven are sergeants and two are detectives, while the other two are troopers, including one who is an academy instructor, according to officials who spoke on the condition they not be identified because of the sensitive nature of the investigation.
The officials said not all of the seven troopers are believed to have participated in the alleged assault, but were at the home where it took place, which belongs to one of the seven. The officers were suspended with pay on Tuesday.
Information about the troopers began to surface yesterday as the Mercer County Prosecutor's Office investigated claims by a 25-year-old Rider University student that one or more of the men sexually assaulted her last week.
"The investigation is still continuing," said Assistant Prosecutor Angelo Onofri, a spokesman for the office. "There's nothing new that we can say." (Hepp, Star-Ledger)
WILL THIS RESULT IN A PUBLC TRUMP-DILASCIO FIGHT LIKE WITH ROSIE O’DONNEL?
A Trump Organization executive said Wednesday that he was "taken by surprise" when the Lyndhurst Township Council voted Tuesday night to terminate its EnCap deal.
The 5-0 vote came after local officials said that EnCap had failed to fulfill promises to build ballfields and a recreation center, voiding the agreement. Developer Donald Trump took control of the development from EnCap Golf Holdings last month, with Cherokee Investment Partners remaining a key player in the project.
"Mr. Trump had reached out and spoken to Mayor [Richard] DiLascio, and we have tried to be open and receptive to everybody," said Michael Cohen, a vice president in the Trump Organization. "We were unaware of any immediate issues that concerned the town. A phone call to Mr. Trump or myself might have been more beneficial in seeing this project move forward."
Cohen, who said he called DiLascio on Wednesday, added that he "apologizes" if an impression was left that Lyndhurst's needs were not a priority for his company.
"Mr. Trump wants to assure the town that the children of Lyndhurst will have a place to play," Cohen said. (Brennan, Bergen Record)
SUCH A STRAIGHT-LACED MAYOR WOULD NEVER DO SUCH A THING
PASSAIC — Two officers in the Passaic Police Department are suing the city, alleging Mayor Samuel Rivera bypassed them for promotions because they did not contribute to his re-election campaign.
Sgts. Isabellino Pellot and Piyush Patel filed suit in federal court on Nov. 30 claiming their careers were "intentionally impeded" as a result of their refusal to make contributions to Rivera's campaigns when he ran for office in 2001 and 2005. The officers also claimed they were intentionally assigned to dangerous patrol shifts.
The mayor on Wednesday called the lawsuit "ridiculous."
He said promotions are not made on the basis of campaign donations. "That's absolutely a lie," the mayor said, adding the assignments given to Pellot and Patel were the "cream of the crop."(Mandell, Herald News)
GETTING OUT OF MILGRAM’S WAY
While deciding the fate of their park commissioners, the Somerset County freeholders have put off action on the future of top park employees.
A "forensic audit" to search for violations of public bidding laws, and the potential to recoup misspent funds, also remains on hold pending a state investigation of the embattled agency, county Administrator Richard Williams said yesterday.
"We'd like to do it, but we don't want to step into the attorney general's way," Williams said.
Four commissioners resigned this summer following a harsh report by an outside law firm, which found a "systematic failure" of parks management. It accused the commission of breaking the bidding laws, maintaining cozy relationships with some vendors and providing lavish perks to some employees.
The Wolff and Samson report also prompted sweeping subpoenas from the state Attorney General's Office for park records. (Tyrell, Star-Ledger)
HURLEY AND CAPELLA MAKE UP
Accusations against Atlantic City's business administrator of harassing a local activist who is a former resort police officer were "resolved amicably" Wednesday, according to an attorney.
Business Administrator Domenic Cappella and complainant Don Hurley held separate conferences before entering court Wednesday afternoon for trial and eventually came to an agreement "to the satisfaction of both parties," according to city attorney James Leonard Jr., who was advising Hurley in the matter. Leonard refused to provide further details of the resolution.
Hurley had claimed Cappella made a "tirade of threats" at him after a June 13 Atlantic City Council meeting, including claims that Cappella said he would ruin Hurley when he became the city's next mayor. Cappella has said they talked, but no threats were made.
Attorney John Donnelly, who represented Cappella on Wednesday, waived a probable cause hearing scheduled in August, leading to a trial date originally scheduled in October. The
trial began Wednesday afternoon, but Leonard would not clarify whether the resolution between both sides was made in or out of the Buena Vista Township courtroom. The case was moved to Buena Vista Township because Cappella is an Atlantic City employee. (Clark, Press of Atlantic City)
IN ATLANTIC CITY
Atlantic County Executive Dennis Levinson made no headway in his efforts to obtain documents detailing a $34 million tax appeal settlement between the resort and the Trump casinos Wednesday, as city officials continued to deem the information private.
The two sides met for about two hours in the Mayor's Office on the seventh floor of City Hall on Wednesday afternoon to discuss the release of the documents after weeks of demands by Levinson, who says the county is on the hook to pay $5 million of the settlement, which will likely increase the county tax rate by one cent.
The settlement – approved Nov. 1 by City Council – called for a $12 million cash payment in December 2007 and $22 million in tax credits over a six-year period beginning in 2009. But newly sworn-in Mayor Scott Evans halted the initial payment, questioning whether Atlantic City had made the deal too quickly and overpaid. The payment, however, was made last week after a Tax Court judge told city officials it would face daily interest fees and potential sanctions if it did not pay up. (Clark, Press of Atlantic City)
THE BATTLE FOR FORT MONMOUTH
WASHINGTON — Supporters of Fort Monmouth went before a congressional committee yesterday to restate their arguments and vent their frustration about plans to close the New Jersey Army base and move its communications research operations to Maryland by 2011.
But New Jersey lawmakers and community advocates got a clear message from the Pentagon and from the House Armed Services Committee: The 2005 decision by the Base Realignment and Closure Commission to close Fort Monmouth was ratified by Congress, is now law and will not be changed.
"It's a question of how the (Fort Monmouth) move will occur, not whether it will occur," Philip Grone, a deputy undersecretary of defense for installations, told a House Armed Services subcommit tee on readiness. "Our obligation is to carry out the statute, and that is what we intend to do."
Rep. Solomon Ortiz (D-Texas), chairman of the subcommittee, said the purpose of the hearing was to look at how the Defense Department was implementing the full range of 2005 base closing decisions, not to overturn the conclusions that have been ratified.
"We are not doing anything today that could — or would — re verse the 2005 BRAC decisions … although I wish we could do that," Ortiz said. (Cohen, Star-Ledger)
IN WARREN GROVE
Sandy Smolski was among about 6,000 people routed from their homes in May when a practice flare dropped during a military flight exercise sparked a fire that scorched 17,000 acres of the Pinelands.
"To be told that we had to get out immediately, and that we could lose everything, was the scariest thing anyone ever said to me," Smolski, 43, recalled this week.
The Little Egg Harbor mother of two takes little comfort in a defense authorization bill passed yesterday by the U.S. Senate that contains a measure to increase safety and military accountability at Warren Grove Gunnery Range, from where the plane had taken off. (Urgo, Star-Ledger)
THAT WAS COLD
Sen. Frank Lautenberg's bid to overhaul the farm bill was rebuffed Tuesday, when his colleagues voted 58-37 to reject his proposal to replace most agricultural subsidies with beefed up crop-loss insurance policies.
Co-sponsored by Sen. Richard Lugar, R-Ind., the proposal had the support of New Jersey's agriculture secretary, Charles Kuperus, and a coalition of groups that seeks to increase federal support for locally grown fruits and vegetables and organic agriculture.
The measure was controversial because it sought to eliminate most subsidies for commodity crops like corn, soybeans, cotton and wheat over the next five years. Most of those crops are grown in the Midwest, South and California.
Instead, it proposed a crop-loss insurance program for all farmers to allow them to recoup up to 85 percent of their lost harvests. (Chebium, Gannett)
The city council president wants the council to consider amending the residency ordinance with regards to the mayor's authority to grant waivers.
Paul Pintella said that after the holidays he plans to bring proposals to the council for discussion that would amend the residency ordinance by "watering down" the mayor's power to give exemptions.
Mayor Douglas H. Palmer has said he was within his rights, under the ordinance, to honor Police Director Joseph Santiago's request for an exemption. Santiago's non-residency has angered many, who accuse Palmer of using, and abusing the law, at his whim. But others have stood up for the mayor, saying Santiago's performance transcends his home address.
Pintella said his proposals include adding language that would require the council's advice and consent in order for the mayor to grant a waiver. (Trenton Times)
Ted Mattox, the at-large Montclair councilor who has spent the better part of his freshman tenure at logge
rheads with his colleagues, announced yesterday that he will run for mayor, becoming the first candidate to officially enter the race.
In a four-page release, Mattox — more than four months ahead of an election where the entire governing body is in play — said he had also enlisted three others to run with him on a slate called "Thrive Montclair … Your Voice, Your Money, Our Future."
"Our residents can't expect significant change if we continue to approach issues with the same tired career politicians who promote ideas that continually deliver failed results," Mattox said in his announcement.
The barb was typical of Mattox, who swept to victory on Mayor Ed Remsen's "Leadership Montclair" slate only to become its most vocal adversary. (Read, Star-Ledger)
IN SADDLE RIVER
SADDLE RIVER — The former home of Richard M. Nixon, once the hub of his post-presidential life but mold-riddled and dilapidated in recent years, was leveled by demolition workers Wednesday.
The eight-bedroom, wood-frame house on Charlden Drive will give way to a new home on the four-acre property.
Ted Preusch, who served as a special deputy federal marshal for Nixon for nine years, walked the grounds he knew so well just after sunrise to take one last look at the place.
"It's in terrible condition," Preusch, a former police chief in Upper Saddle River, said sadly of the home where Nixon and his wife, Pat, lived from 1981-90. "When the Nixons were here, it was extremely well-maintained." (Coutros, Bergen Record)