Today’s news from PolitickerNJ.com

Corzine to sign death penalty abolishment today, Clinton supporters hope to keep New Jersey locked up, Cumberland County Dems endorse Clinton, Gusciora not happy about super primary.

DEATH PENALTY ABOUT TO BE HISTORY

Gov. Jon Corzine plans to sign legislation abolishing New Jersey’s death penalty in a ceremony in his Statehouse office this morning.

On the books for 25 years but never implemented, the death penalty will be replaced by life imprisonment without parole under the bill approved by both houses of the Legislature last week.

New Jersey will join 13 other states that have no death penalty. Corzine, who has long opposed capital punishment, has called repeal “a painful but necessary step.”

The repeal movement picked up momentum this year after a special state commission concluded that it would cost less money and sufficiently protect the public to keep convicted murders in prison for life rather than sentencing them to death and litigating numerous appeals. The commission also cited evolving standards of decency, the emotional toll of endless court challenges on victims’ families and “the risk of making an irreversible mistake.” (Star-Ledger)

http://www.nj.com/news/ledger/jersey/index.ssf?/base/news-9/1197870347306150.xml&coll=1

Governor Corzine is scheduled to sign legislation this morning to abolish the death penalty, making New Jersey the first state to eliminate capital punishment legislatively.

On death row: The eight men facing execution would be sentenced to life in prison without parole.

In the Legislature: The Assembly approved the bill, 44-36, on Thursday. The state Senate approved the measure, 21-16, with three abstentions last Monday.

In favor: “We would be better served as a society by having a clear and certain outcome for individuals that carry out heinous crimes. That’s what I think we’re doing, making certain that individuals would be imprisoned without any possibility of parole.” — Governor Corzine

Opposed: “This bill is an insult to grieving families. This bill is not about justice, this bill is about defying the will of the vast majority of New Jerseyans [who favor the death penalty].” — Assemblyman Richard Merkt, R-Morris

History: The U.S. Supreme Court suspended the death penalty in 1972 and reinstated it in 1976 under new sentencing guidelines. New Jersey has not executed anyone since 1963.

http://www.northjersey.com/page.php?qstr=eXJpcnk3ZjczN2Y3dnFlZUVFeXk2MDcmZmdiZWw3Zjd2cWVlRUV5eTcyMzQ3NDcmeXJpcnk3ZjcxN2Y3dnFlZUVFeXky

HOPING FOR THE OBAMA SCREAM

Hillary Clinton’s supporters have a dream. They see current Iowa frontrunner Barack Obama limping into a shocking third place finish in the Jan. 3rd caucus and then standing before a crowd of youthful campaign volunteers with a hand-held microphone.

On a live television feed with the emotion in the room otherwise subdued by news station sound systems, they see Obama morphing into Howard Dean, and all of the coffee klatch support and Internet excitement and field director organizing for Obama in other subsequent primary states burning out like dried up prairie rush.

They see Clinton following up her victory in Iowa with wins in New Hampshire and South Carolina and Florida and locking up the Democratic Party nomination. Beyond its classic ATM machine status for political campaigns, New Jersey won’t be relevant in such a scenario, as Clinton collects what her campaign supporters see as an inevitable victory here on the way to Denver.

But assuming Obama fails to deliver a gift Iowa implosion to Clinton, the question remains whether strong party backing and fundraising muscle in New Jersey can contribute to a victory for Clinton even under the worst of circumstances for the New York senator when she heads into the Garden State’s Feb. 5th primary.

A Quinnipiac University poll released this past week still shows Clinton blowing out Obama among registered Democratic voters in New Jersey: 52% to 17%, with Edwards in third place at 7%, and 12% of the voters in the undecided column. Some political experts believe given her geographical proximity and current standing in the polls, Clinton will be safe here regardless of what happens in the early primaries.

“I think it was a nice idea to move us up in the primary process (along with more than 20 states also holding primaries on the same date),” said Dr. Joseph Marbach, professor of political science at Seton Hall University. “But we have a favorite son and a favorite daughter here in Giuliani and Clinton. They’re going to win the state. My sense is they’ve developed the infrastructure within the counties. Clinton’s polling numbers put her up by 30-40 points.”(Pizarro, PolitickerNJ.com)

http://politickernj.com/clinton-and-new-jersey-inevitability-question-14742

 

WHO’S WITH WHO

Some prominent Essex County Democrats will do battle on the Feb. 5th primary ballot to represent their presidential candidates at the 2008 Democratic Convention in Denver. But their names won’t be at the top of the ticket, and outright victory or loss hinges on three people named Clinton, Edwards or Obama.

In the 14th delegate district, which is composed of the 26th and 27th legislative districts, Sen. Hillary Clinton’s team of candidates consists of Orange Rev. (and Clinton Campaign fundraising Co-Chair) Reginald Jackson, Essex County Freeholder Pat Sebold, Essex County Executive Chief of Staff Phil Alagia, and South Orange Councilwoman Stacey Jennings.

Sen. John Edwards’ full team in the 14th is made up of Sen. President (and former Gov.) Richard Codey, his fellow 14th district legislators, Assemblyman (and West Orange Mayor) John McKeon and Assemblyman Mila Jasey; and Elaine Britcher of Morris Plains.

Orange Councilman Donald Page leads the lower key Barack Obama delegate candidates, including Glyniss Forbes of South Orange, Melvin F. Williams of South Orange, and Naomi A. Michaelis of West Orange.(Pizarro, PolitickerNJ.com)

http://politickernj.com/big-names-square-essex-county-dem-primary-14741

 

BETTER LATE THAN NEVER

The Cumberland County Democratic Executive Committee voted Saturday to endorse Sen. Hillary Clinton in February’s upcoming presidential primary, according to Freeholder Lou Magazzu, chairman of the committee.

As such, Magazzu stated the former first lady and senator from New York will have top billing on the county primary ballot, with her name bracketed with a recognition of the endorsement.

“It means, at least in Cumberland County, that Hillary Clinton is the candidate officially supported by county Democrats,” said Magazzu. “She will get the support of the Democratic Party organization here.”

The committee, meeting at the Ramada Inn, had to choose from a pool of eight candidates who have or intend to file a presidential candidate petition with the F
ederal Elections Commission, including Sen. Barack Obama and former Sen. John Edwards. (Laday, Bridgeton News)

http://www.nj.com/news/bridgeton/local/index.ssf?/base/news-13/1197877297227070.xml&coll=10

 

“IS IT GOING TO TIP THE BALANCE? I DON’T KNOW ABOUT THAT”

Two months from now, when voters in New Jersey make their presidential picks, it is possible that Gloucester County’s two major political parties will not have chosen candidates.

The Republicans have already decided to leave it up to the municipal organizations.

Democrats are considering a convention to choose a favorite, but county Chairman Michael Angelini said he has not yet scheduled such an event. “It’s important from the standpoint of making your voice heard,” Angelini said. “Is it going to tip the balance? I don’t know about that.”

Separately, the party chairs say they have already made personal endorsements for Republican Rudy Giuliani and Democrat Hillary Clinton, respectively.

GOP Chairwoman Loran Oglesby said it would be a “waste” to hold a convention because Giuliani is “up 40 percentage points” in the Garden State.

“I don’t think there is another candidate who would help county and municipal Republicans get elected,” Oglesby said. “I’m hoping he will get a lot of unaffiliated voters who want to come out and vote for Rudy.” (McCarthy, Gloucester County Times)

http://www.nj.com/news/gloucester/index.ssf?/base/news-3/1197868878254820.xml&coll=8

 

KEEP WAITING, REED

Assemblyman Reed Gusciora’s early legwork to get former vice president Al Gore into the 2008 presidential race ran amok when Gore flatly said he wasn’t going to run.

The left Gusciora, a prime co-sponsor of the state’s Global Warming Response Act, without his optimum green candidate.

And although he likes the Democratic field, including both senators Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, the state lawmaker from the 16th legislative district said he believes Feb. 5th is too early for a presidential primary, and remains uncommitted to any of the official candidates.

In an effort to harness other voters who may have similar misgivings about locking up a presidential pick six months before the convention, Gusciora has submitted his name to appear on the presidential primary ballot along with six others in his district as an uncommitted delegate candidate.

“It’s not good for democracy to have super primary on one day,” said Gusciora.(Pizarro, PolitickerNJ.com)

http://politickernj.com/without-first-choice-gore-gusciora-runs-uncommitted-slate-14744

OBAMA MEET UP

TRENTON — They arrive alone or in pairs, ducking out of the cold, wet night. Most are black, but not all, and nearly all are from Trenton. But nobody seems to care either way as each new face receives a hearty handshake and a welcome.

They are business people, laborers, teachers, coaches and retired folks. Some are veteran politicos, having run for elected office or worked for campaigns of candidates past. Others are tentative about the political process, saying while they don’t always lend their support, this time is different.

The backgrounds of the 30 or so people who wedged into the back section of Gilmore’s Cafe on South Warren Street last Wednesday were diverse, but all shared one belief: Democratic Illinois Sen. Barack Obama should be the next president of the United States.

“If I were to sit down and design a candidate for the 21st century, I could not do a better job than Barack Obama,” said Hamilton resident Bill Cox.

Cox is not the only one who espouses lofty ideals and glowing praise. Nearly all in attendance echo similar thoughts as event organizers go around the room, allowing each a moment to give voice to their support.

“He is part of the next generation of leaders in this country,” said Algernon Ward, a former city council candidate. (Isherwood, Trenton Times)

http://www.nj.com/news/times/index.ssf?/base/news-3/1197869360242410.xml&coll=5

NOBODY EVER SAYS “WHEN I GROW UP I WANT TO BE INDICTED”

PLEASANTVILLE – The eighth-grader wanted the school board to know his superintendent was not a bad person, despite a recent shoplifting charge that caused the members to vote for her suspension. Odete Silva “is the best thing that ever happened to the town of Pleasantville,” wrote James Pressley, then 14. Stealing was out of character for her, the teen said.

Nine years and 10 superintendents later, Pressley is the one in trouble.

Last week, he resigned his seat as the board’s president a day after pleading guilty to taking bribes in exchange for his vote on contracts awarded within the district.

The federal charge carries a maximum of 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine. Although, according to the judge’s preliminary estimate, less than five years in federal prison is more likely for someone without a criminal record. Pressley also must repay the $40,800 he admitted to accepting. (Cohen, Press of Atlantic City)

http://www.pressofatlanticcity.com/top_three/story/7523078p-7423569c.html


CRIME, GANGS AND GUNS

New Jersey legislators are pushing tougher laws on guns and combating crimes amid increasing worry over violent gang crimes.

A Senate committee is scheduled today to weigh several anti-crime bills, including some already approved by the Assembly.

The focus comes with the legislative session ending on Jan. 8. All bills not passed by then expire. It also comes with Gov. Corzine pushing an anti-crime plan unveiled in October.

t also comes with Gov. Corzine pushing an anti-crime plan unveiled in October.

Corzine said overall arrests and reported crimes have decreased from 2000 to 2005, but statewide arrests for murder and weapons increased among both adults and juveniles. He said analysis found most crime tied to a heavier gang presence.

One bill would require handgun owners to immediately report the loss or theft of a firearm to authorities.

Sponsors said the measure would help curtail people who buy weapons in bulk and illegally resell them.

“When it comes to stopping gun crimes, law enforcement needs all the hel
p it can get,” said Assemblyman Louis Manzo, D-Hudson. “Mandating immediate reporting of gun thefts will help discourage straw purchasers from running guns on the black market.”(AP)

http://www.app.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20071217/NEWS03/712170342/-1/NEWS10

WHY WOULDN’T STUDENTS LOVE A PRINCIPAL WHO INFLATED THEIR GRADES?

TRENTON — Staff and alumni from the district’s Daylight-Twilight High School are expected to rally at tonight’s board meeting to show support for the school’s re cently suspended principal.

William Tracy, the principal of the alternative high school, is being probed by district administrators for possibly giving students credits they didn’t earn, among other problems at the school.

In light of the allegations — made anonymously by staff to the superintendent and state Department of Education — the board placed Tracy on paid suspension last month. However, other employees from Daylight-Twilight contend the accusations are false, and say they will demand the board rescind Tracy’s suspension at tonight’s meeting.

The Daylight/Twilight High School is an alternative program for students 16 years and older, many of whom have previously dropped out of the district. Headquartered at 720 Bellevue Ave., the program houses approximately 600 students at its seven locations across the city.

Tracy has been the principal there since it opened in 1999. (Rich, Trenton Times)

http://www.nj.com/news/times/regional/index.ssf?/base/news-11/1197867935242410.xml&coll=5

 

IN CARNEYS POINT/PENNS GROVE

Dr. Joseph Massare, Superintendent of Carneys Point-Penns Grove School District was outraged when a report called one of his schools a “dropout factory.”

“The parents, teachers, and others directly associated with the school just don’t believe it’s true,” said Massare. “Some of the teachers were concerned with the bad light the article has cast on the school because other factors were not considered.”

Penns Grove High School was among several schools nationwide referred to as a “dropout factory” in an Associated Press article that appeared this fall. The article focused on a Johns Hopkins University study of high school dropout rates.

According to Massare, since 2003, less than 3 percent of the student body population has “dropped out” of Penns Grove High School. (Simione, Today’s Sunbeam)

http://www.nj.com/news/sunbeam/local/index.ssf?/base/news-3/1197868640251120.xml&coll=9

IN MORRISTOWN

MORRISTOWN — Council members Timothy Jackson of the first ward and Dick Tighe of the fourth ward sat in on their last town council meeting Tuesday night.

Both had served on the local governing body for 12 years. Both had lost tough re-election campaigns in November, with Jackson losing to independent candidate Rebecca Feldman and Tighe to Alison Deeb, a Republican.

Council President Anthony Cattano thanked the two men for their hard work, saying that “their hearts were truly in the town of Morristown.”

Jackson described the council job as a learning experience.

“It has been an honor,” he said. “I learned a lot. It has never been easy and shouldn’t be. This is not a comfortable job.”(Hassan, Daily Record)

 

http://www.dailyrecord.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20071217/COMMUNITIES32/712170333/1203/NEWS01

 

IN CASE YOU MISSED IT – NEWS FROM THE WEEKEND

CORZINE USES A “BARNYARD EXPLETIVE”

Gov. Jon Corzine feels like he’s been in this spot before.

In the second year of his reign at Goldman Sachs, he was mired in criticism from partners who doubted the bond trader in a sweater vest was capable of leading a white-shoe investment firm. Earnings had shriveled and Corzine was forced to drop his first bid to remake the private partnership into a public corporation. He eventually gave up some of his power and accepted a co-chief executive.

His first two years in Trenton have been every bit as trying.

Corzine is under fire from unions, environmentalists, the National Association for the Advance ment of Colored People and other liberal constituencies who have begun to wonder if he really is the progressive capitalist they thought they were helping to elect. The state faces a $3 billion shortfall and $32 billion in debt, and his plan to “restructure” the state’s finances by raising Turnpike tolls is stalled. His relationship with the Legislature is tenuous.

Drawing the parallel himself in an interview last week with The Star-Ledger, Corzine said that he would persevere on State Street as he had on Wall Street.

“We are addressing needed change and it’s an uncomfortable fit,” Corzine said. “It’s uncomfortable for the idealists who want perfect answers. It’s an uncomfortable world for people who don’t want any change. It’s uncomfortable for those of us who want to get done the most we possibly can. … It has to be done.”……..

Midway through his first term in office, Corzine sat down over a late dinner at a Hoboken restaurant to talk about the necessary discomforts of his first two years in the Statehouse………

In the interview, Corzine firmly laid to rest any suggestion he was uninterested in re-election.

“I didn’t enter into this for a four-year term. I’m not declaring I’m going to run right now, but the reality is that the job that I think needs to be done takes continuity and time,” he said.

He used a barnyard expletive to refute persistent reports that he is aiming for a Cabinet post if a Democrat is elected president.

“A lot of people would like to say we don’t have to listen to this guy because he’s going to be gone. I couldn’t have been more clear: I’m not going to Washington,” he said. (Howlett, Star-Ledger)

http://www.nj.com/news/ledger/index.ssf?/base/news-12/1197785621124280.xml&coll=1

 

USUALLY IT’S HARD TO GET COVERAGE OF THE NEW JERSEY LEGISLATURE IN NEW YORK

Rome plans to flush golden light through the arches of the Colosseum for 24 hours in celebration of New Jersey’s abolishment of the death penalty.

The Italian capital will conduct a special run of electricity through the world’s most famous arena out of an agreement with an international lay Cathol
ic group, The Community of Sant’Egidio, which advocates ending the death penalty worldwide.

“We light it up when there is real good news, a real step forward in the campaign against the death penalty,” said Mario Marazziti, a spokesman for Sant’Egidio and coordinator of its campaign for a worldwide moratorium of the death penalty, in a telephone interview from Italy.

New Jersey’s legislature voted this week to replace the state’s death penalty with life in prison without parole. Gov. Jon Corzine is scheduled to sign the bill in a Statehouse ceremony on Monday. The Colosseum lighting would happen the following day, Marazziti said. (Diamant, Star-Ledger)

http://www.nj.com/news/ledger/index.ssf?/base/news-12/1197698174317400.xml&coll=1

WHAT ABOUT WHITMAN?

A panel of three former governors who grappled with the challenge of trying to finance public schools in New Jersey gave high marks yesterday to Gov. Jon Corzine’s new school aid formula.

“I think it’s fabulous if it can be implemented in the proper way,” Donald DiFrancesco, a Republican who served as governor for one year in 2001, said of Corzine’s plan to link state school aid to the needs of individual students. “As a policy measure it’s a great idea.”

Former Democratic governors Brendan Byrne and Jim Florio echoed DiFrancesco’s endorsement, saying years of court-ordered spending focused on 31 designated special-needs districts has exhausted public support and the state treasury.

“It’s not sustainable financially; it’s not sustainable morally,” said Gordon MacInnes, the state’s former assistant education commissioner in charge of implementing the reforms ordered by the court in the Abbott vs. Burke school funding lawsuit.

MacInnes is now senior education policy expert at Princeton University’s Woodrow Wilson School and introduced the former governors at yesterday’s panel discussion, presented by the school’s Policy Research Institute for the Region. (McNichol, Star-Ledger)

http://www.nj.com/news/ledger/index.ssf?/base/news-0/1197697089317400.xml&coll=1

 

SACCO GOES AGAINST THE GRAIN

State Sen. Nicholas J. Sacco, the mayor of North Bergen, was the only legislator from Hudson County to vote this week against abolishing the death penalty.

Sacco said yesterday that while he agreed with the bill’s proponents that the current system “is not structured properly,” he felt the death penalty should still be an option to punish “the most heinous crimes where there is evidence well beyond a reasonable doubt.”

He said he was also swayed by recent polls suggesting that a majority of state residents do not want to abolish the death penalty.

“I’m concerned about their wishes, and they believe (capital punishment) is valid,” he said.

The other eight Hudson legislators – like Sacco, all Democrats – voted with the majority to replace the death sentence with life without parole. Sacco was one of three Democrats in the Senate – along with nine in the Assembly – to vote against the measure. (Koepp, Jersey Journal)

http://www.nj.com/news/jjournal/index.ssf?/base/news-2/1197702833170720.xml&coll=3

 

WILL CORZINE PAY HIS BAIL?

Rocco Riccio, a small-time player who has been elevated to center stage in the latest State House drama, may be looking at hard time.

The man best known as the brother-in-law of Governor Corzine’s ex-girlfriend, labor leader Carla Katz, and also for accepting a $15,000 gift from Corzine earlier this year, has been accused by a state senator of looking up private tax records — while a state employee — for reasons not related to his work.

That’s an offense that, if fully prosecuted, could result in probation or even jail, according to the state’s criminal code.

For Corzine, Riccio is another example of how the generous use of his substantial wealth has brought unwanted media attention to matters he believes are private, such as his forgiving a $470,000 loan to Katz for a home mortgage.

The Riccio issue comes up just as the governor prepares an ambitious public policy agenda, of which higher highway tolls may be a part.

While the situation goes back to last year, state Sen. John Adler, D-Camden, called last week for an investigation of Riccio’s actions. (Reitmeyer, Bergen Record)

http://www.northjersey.com/page.php?qstr=eXJpcnk3ZjczN2Y3dnFlZUVFeXk2MDcmZmdiZWw3Zjd2cWVlRUV5eTcyMzQ0OTEmeXJpcnk3ZjcxN2Y3dnFlZUVFeXky

SAXTON SAYS WHY IT’S TIME TO GO

Rep. Jim Saxton walks with a slight limp across his office and winces as he sinks into a chair.

The chronic lower-back pain caused by a pinched nerve is one reason the Mount Holly Republican will retire when his term ends in 2009.

Saxton has had sciatica since 1992, which causes back and leg pain and makes it difficult for the 64-year-old lawmaker to stand for long periods. Then, as the pain intensified last year, Saxton received more unsettling news — he has prostate cancer.

All those were “pretty telling messages from somewhere that maybe it’s time to do something else,” Saxton told Gannett News Service.

Despite Democrats taking control of Congress last fall, Saxton said he’s not leaving because he’s disenchanted with Congress or because he has another job lined up.

“I like it here. I like it just fine. Although I have to admit that it does not offer as much enjoyment being in the minority as it does being in the majority,” Saxton said. “One of the reasons I announced my retirement . . . in November was because it gives me a year . . . to make a decision about what I want to do.”

Saxton reiterated that his doctors believe he’ll beat the cancer and he’s undergoing therapy to control his back pain.

He rejected suggestions he’s leaving to avoid being beaten in next year’s elections.(Chebium, Gannett)

http://www.courierpostonline.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20071216/NEWS01/712160386/1006

RON PAUL SUPPORTERS BLIND MOTORISTS WITH TIN FOIL HATS

Led by prospective U.S. Senate ca
ndidate Murray Sabrin and roused by Assemblyman Michael Doherty, supporters of presidential candidate U.S. Rep. Ron Paul held what they described as a liberty and freedom rally in Fort Lee today.

“We are overtaxed, the policies of our bi-partisan political elite have weakened the security of our borders, our civil liberties are under attack, and future generations are facing an unprecedented liability of $60 trillion to maintain the welfare state,” said Sabrin, a professor of finance at Ramapo College of New Jersey, who ran for governor as a Libertarian in 1997.

Republican Paul has poor numbers in New Jersey. A Quinnipiac University poll this week showed him 2% among likely Republican voters. Former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani remains the front-runner at 38%, followed by Sen. John McCain at 12%.

But neither the numbers not the cold would deter this mostly young Paul crowd that gathered on the overpass on the Jersey side of the George Washington Bridge and waved banners and American flags at cars passing below.

I think a lot of young people really identify with Ron Paul because they’re afraid of what they’re going to be left with,” said Jay Carlson of Linden, who was among the 60 Paul activists on Fort Lee’s streets.

Held in the town where Washington set up key fortifications during the Revolution, the event dovetailed symbolically with tomorrow’s commemoration of the Boston Tea Party when some of the candidate’s backers plan to attend Paul events in Philadelphia.

“We’re making our political statement that we want liberties and freedom,” said organizer Joseph Fisher of Passaic County, “and we believe Ron Paul is the only candidate who’s going to give them to us.” (Pizarro, PolitickerNJ.com)

http://politickernj.com/paul-supporters-rally-fort-lee-14734

STATE TROOPER SCANDAL

A defense attorney speaking for seven state troopers who have been suspended while authorities investigate an alleged sexual assault on a college student said yesterday he is confident no criminal or department charges will be filed against them.

“To a man, all of the individuals are stunned that there is an allegation that there was some activities that were non-consensual that evening,” the attorney, Charles Sciarra, said during a news conference at his Clifton office. “We’re confident that at the end of the day, these guys will be exonerated and will move on with their careers.”

The attorney’s comments came as Mercer County Prosecutor Joseph L. Bocchini and State Police Superintendent Col. Rick Fuentes met briefly yesterday about the prosecutor’s investigation into claims by a 25-year-old Rider University student that one or more of the men sexually assaulted her last week at a house in Ewing Township.

The two, both guest speakers at an Operation CeaseFire event in Trenton, met before the event in a room in Trenton’s City Hall. Fuentes declined to comment on the meeting.

“I told him we were working on it hard … and aggressively,” Bocchini said afterwards, stressing that Fuentes did not inquire about details of the criminal investigation. “He didn’t want to know.” (Hepp and Margolin, Star-Ledger)

http://www.nj.com/news/ledger/index.ssf?/base/news-12/1197697839317400.xml&coll=1

 

CARDINALE WILL NEVER LET THE ADC GO

Passaic County Democrat Sami Merhi came to Trenton last Thursday, hoping to clear a routine hurdle for an unheralded and unpaid government post.

But by the time the Senate Judiciary Committee was through with him, the Lebanese-born businessman from Totowa collided — again — with the realities of post-9/11 politics in New Jersey.

The committee scuttled Merhi’s nomination to the New Jersey Educational Facilities Authority after a 45-minute grilling about his membership in an Arab-American civil rights group and the circumstances that led Governor Corzine to pick him.

Watching Merhi wither under a prosecutorial-style pounding, it became clear to me that Arab-Americans, even those like Merhi with long-established reputations in the business community, remain pariahs of New Jersey’s politics — unless of course, they can round up some well-heeled friends for a fund-raiser. The political establishment would rather demonize Arab-Americans than champion their cause.

But by the hearing’s end, I was not so sure that Merhi was the best poster child for the aggrieved and alienated Arab-American community. He seemed, at times, to parse his answers, raising doubts about his views on terrorism. And Merhi did not put to rest suspicions that the nomination was a consolation prize from Corzine. Nobody — not with the state engulfed in federal corruption probes — is eager to sanction any kind of deal that has the slightest hint of a quid pro quo.

For Merhi, the committee’s rebuff was a bitter coda to the political furor that erupted in March 2006, after he won the party’s backing to become a Passaic County freeholder candidate……….

But Republican Sen. Gerald Cardinale, serving as the panel’s chief interrogator, sought to cast doubt on his sincerity. He questioned Merhi about his membership on the Arab-American Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC), a civil rights group that rallied to Merhi’s defense last year.

The ADC is of particular interest to Cardinale: It was the target of a nasty, late-stage campaign attack he lodged this fall against his Democratic opponent, Joe Ariyan, whose law partner is a member of the group. Cardinale says the group carefully conceals pro-terrorist sympathies for groups such as Hezbollah and Hamas. (Stile, Bergen Record)

http://www.northjersey.com/page.php?qstr=eXJpcnk3ZjczN2Y3dnFlZUVFeXk2MDcmZmdiZWw3Zjd2cWVlRUV5eTcyMzQ1MjMmeXJpcnk3ZjcxN2Y3dnFlZUVFeXky

 

LAUTENBERG’S SON WON’T RUN FOR CONGRESS IN COLORADO

The son of New Jersey’s senior U.S. senator has decided not to pursue a seat in the Colorado Legislature.

Josh Lautenberg, 39, said in an e-mail that he decided to decline an appointment to an open seat as a state representative because of his family and business commitments. If he took the appointment, he also would have been expected to run for a full term in November.

“I have two very small children and a wonderful wife, and a thriving real estate practice that cannot be sacrificed,” he wrote in an e-mail. “That doesn’t mean I won’t run in the eight to 10 years or so when the time may be better.”

Lautenberg also said he’ll be busy next year trying to help his 83-year-old father, Frank R. Lautenberg, win another term in the U.S. Senate.

“Although it would have been exciting for the two of us to run at the same time, I think it’s much more important for me to be there by his side to help him,” Josh Lautenberg said.(Jackson, Bergen Record)

http://www.northjersey.com/page.php?qstr=eXJpcnk3ZjczN2Y3dnFlZUV
FeXkyODgmZmdiZWw3Zjd2cWVlRUV5eTcyMzM2NDYmeXJpcnk3ZjcxN2Y3dnFlZUVFeXk5

SAL VEGA EATS IT

On Tuesday morning, there was a slight cold breeze coming off the Hudson River and blowing through a Boulevard East pavilion, above the Palisades in West New York. Near a portable podium stood West New York Mayor Silverio “Sal” Vega, a well-dressed figure who still managed to look forlorn in a bleak landscape.

If he wanted to come back to the fold and work with the rest of the 33rd District, which includes West New York, Sal was being asked to perform. No matter how it was masked, there had to be a sense of humiliation and a mea culpa to the exercise………….

After the loss, Vega did not feel as much love from the HCDO as he did before announcing his candidacy. There is the possibility of a recall effort against him. It will probably be led by alienated town Commissioner Gerald Lange Jr……..

t all came down to Tuesday’s press conference, and despite the cold, local news media was showing up for the unity spectacle.

Several members of the Town Commission were present and from among the people Vega fought in the primary, only Weehawken Mayor Richard Turner was present. Turner said he was representing Sires, who was in Washington, and Stack, who was supposedly working with the Corzine administration on the school funding formula. (Torres, Jersey Journal)

http://www.nj.com/columns/jjournal/insider/index.ssf?/base/columns-0/1197703240170720.xml&coll=3

 

MIDDLESEX DEMS OUGHT TO CONSIDER ENJOYING THEIR GOLDEN YEARS

The fallout from last month’s elections in Middlesex County continues to deliver troubling news for local Democrats.

Not only was it one of the party’s smallest margins of victory in a county Democrats have long dominated, but final campaign finance reports showed it was among the most expensive.

The five countywide Democratic candidates raised and spent more than $700,000. Though the incumbents easily bested the Republican challengers, freeholders Stephen J. “Pete” Dalina, Christopher Rafano and Blanquita Valenti, Sheriff Joseph Spicuzzo and Surrogate Kevin Hoagland won with 57 percent of the vote — a drop from the 64 percent margin of victory for Democrats last year.

The results prompted Spicuzzo, who is also the Democratic county chairman, to call party leaders to a special meeting to map out the future of the organization. For nearly two hours, the party’s leaders met behind closed door at the Pines in Edison last weekend.

While Spicuzzo declined to give details of what occurred, he said the party does not intend to change its strategies in the coming elections. He attributed the results to poor voter turnout.

“Because there was a lack of interest by the voting public this year, it seemed like we spent a lot more per vote than we should have,” Spicuzzo said. (Walsh, Star-Ledger)

http://www.nj.com/news/ledger/middlesex/index.ssf?/base/news-3/1197789055124280.xml&coll=1

NOW THAT’S THE KIND OF PASSIONATE ADVOCACY NEEDED: “I’M SURE WE WOULD HAVE GONE ALONG AND MADE SOME KIND OF STATEMENT”

VINELAND – When Vince Grimm sends out a mailing from his southern New Jersey gay-rights organization, he jokes that the group’s letterhead, citing all of its affiliated organizations, is 3 inches deep. But none of those groups is in Cumberland County.

Until the start of this week, Grimm knew only that his organization, the Cape May-based GABLES, which works for equality for gays and lesbians, occasionally took him to parts of Cumberland and Salem counties.

He says the vote taken by Vineland City Council on Tuesday to define marriage as monogamous and heterosexual brought home the fact that Cumberland County has no active gay-rights groups.

Only two members of the public stood up at public hearings to oppose the resolution, which was initially brought before City Council by Ralph Snook, a local pastor. One was Cathy Rabbai, who described herself as a member of the county’s Human Relations Commission.

Grimm said Friday that had he known about the vote in advance, he or another representative would have stepped up to express concern.

“I’m sure we would have gone along and made some sort of statement,” he said.(Fletcher, Press of Atlantic City)

http://www.pressofatlanticcity.com/news/local/cumberland/story/7522837p-7423215c.html


EVERYONE’S FAVORITE ACTIVIST GROUP

New Jersey’s well-organized gay-rights advocates are finding that their adversaries, too, are getting ready for a legislative debate over same-sex marriage.

The National Organization for Marriage, established this year in Princeton, made itself known over the last few weeks with radio advertisements urging people to tell their lawmakers that allowing gay couples to marry would undermine the institution.

The group set up in New Jersey because it is one of the few states where there’s a realistic chance that lawmakers will vote to allow same-sex marriage in the next few years.

The group’s emergence shows how close New Jersey is to becoming the first state to enact a law that allows gay couples to marry, said Steven Goldstein, chairman of Garden State Equality, a gay civil-r
ights organization.

“We’re ready for this battle,” he said. (Mulvihill, Philadelphia Inquirer)

http://www.philly.com/inquirer/local/nj/20071216_Voices_added_to_same-sex_debate.html

 

 

THE HISTORY OF OPERATION BID RIG

Finally, Matt Scannapieco is ready to tell the truth.

On Tuesday, April 12, 2005, the former mayor of Marlboro stands in a Camden courtroom and confesses to the world.

He tells a federal judge that he accepted $245,000 in exchange for helping win planning board approvals for six development projects in Marlboro. All are connected to Anthony Spalliero, the FBI says.Following the admission, Scannapieco’s lawyer issues a statement that says, in part:

“Today is a very sad day for Matt and his entire family. He, however, had the courage to stand before this court and his community and admit to his mistakes and wrongdoings.” (Cullinane, Asbury Park Press)

http://www.app.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20071216/NEWS/712160424

 

SCHOOL FUNDING

If Gov. Jon S. Corzine’s new funding formula were applied today, Jersey City schools would be out $111 million in state aid.

Under the new criteria, other big cuts would be in store for city schools in places such as Newark ($88 million), Camden ($48 million) and Vineland ($42 million).

These districts are among the 31 historically poor, urban “Abbott” districts that in recent years have received more than half of state education aid, helping them keep their own property taxes down. The new formula, if strictly applied, would take some of that money away as it requires all communities to pay their local “fair share.”

But a “hold harmless” provision in Corzine’s plan says no schools will lose money for at least the first three years of the new program, even if the formula says they are already spending more than necessary. In fact, every district will get at least a 2 percent increase this year, regardless of what the formula says. (Tamari, Gannett)

http://www.app.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20071216/NEWS0301/712160323/-1/NEWS10

 

LOOKING TO REPLACE ELEASE EVANS

PATERSON — As Passaic County officials scramble to plug a $10 million budget shortfall, which will likely result in layoffs, Greyson Hannigan has decided now is the time to run for the freeholder board.

“I’ve never been one to shy away from adversity,” the 34-year-old Democrat said. “It is a bad time, trying to seek a seat on the board, but I do believe in fiscal discipline.”

Hannigan, a Paterson lawyer and former assistant county counsel, said Thursday he will forgo running for a seat on the City Council for the chance to fill the seat Freeholder Director Elease Evans will vacate next year when she is sworn in to the state Assembly. Evans replaced the Rev. Alfred E. Steele in Trenton after the Paterson minister was arrested in September on federal bribery charges.”

A move to seek the Passaic County Democratic Committee nomination not only paves the way for a new challenger to run against 3rd Ward Paterson City Councilman William McKoy but also gives Hannigan the early lead in campaigning for the freeholder seat when the committee votes in March. (MacInnes, Herald News)

http://www.northjersey.com/page.php?qstr=eXJpcnk3ZjczN2Y3dnFlZUVFeXk2MDcmZmdiZWw3Zjd2cWVlRUV5eTcyMzM4OTYmeXJpcnk3ZjcxN2Y3dnFlZUVFeXky

JUDICIAL TENURE

An Essex County judge who has received stellar reviews from her superiors and in state judicial evaluations has been denied tenure be cause of complaints from unidentified attorneys.

Gov. Jon Corzine nominated Judge Rachel Davidson for reappointment but did so in a fashion that will require her to wait another seven years for tenure eligibility.

When her reappointment was put before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Monday, Sen. Nia Gill (D-Essex) said she could not understand the denial of tenure to a judge with such impressive cre dentials.

“I must say that you have some of the best numbers I have seen in these judicial evaluations,” she said. “I don’t quite know what happened that you are only getting a seven-year term.”

Sen. Gerald Cardinale (R-Ber gen) revealed at the hearing that the reappointment of Davidson was initially opposed by the judicial review committees of the county and state bar associations. He said the committees reviewed her qualifications a second time and reached a compromise in which they agreed to support her reappointment without tenure. (Kleinknecht, Star-Ledger)

http://www.nj.com/news/ledger/essex/index.ssf?/base/news-4/1197786602124280.xml&coll=1

 

IT ALL DEPENDS ON MORIARTY

WASHINGTON TWP. While the mayor of Gloucester County’s most populated town has yet to announce whether he will run for a second term, the 2008 local election is already shaping up for what looks to be an interesting primary.

Both Democrats and Republicans said they likely won’t announce their candidates until February or March. But behind closed doors, discussions are already taking place about who may show up on the ballot in June for the mayoral candidacy and two open township council seats.

Mayor Paul Moriarty, who is about to enter the final year of his first mayoral term, is up for re-election in November, as are Council President Frank Scarpato and Councilwoman Anita LaPierre.

And after a fairly quiet electoral season this year since there was no local race, the political pundits are buzzing with ideas.

“I’ve heard a lot of things for the last couple months,” said Gloucester County Democratic Party Chairman Michael Angelini. “Different people are interested in running, but some depend on what Paul’s going to do. Some people may not depend on it.” (Beym, Gloucester County Times)

http://www.nj.com/news/gloucester/index.ssf?/base/news-3/1197795381148140.xml&coll=8

 

IN CAMDEN COUNTY

Did the Camden County freeholders buy Marlkress Road from Cherry Hill for $1.7 million because they needed an alternate emergency evacuation route?

Or did they purchase the road – as a county resident’s lawsuit contends – to help fellow Democrats in Cherry Hill close a $2 million budget deficit in 2006?

Superior Court Judge Francis J. Orlando Jr. said yesterday it doesn’t matter – from a legal standpoint. No laws were broken, so he dismissed a suit by Camden activist Frank Fulbrook seeking to nullify the sale.

“The evidence before the court is that the county has a right to buy the road,” Orlando said as he summed up t
he case. “Cherry Hill can sell it, and there’s no challenge to the price paid. . . . The best remedy is not at court but at the polls.”

Fulbrook said county taxpayers – especially those in poorer communities such as Camden – shouldn’t be forced to bail out Cherry Hill. So he filed the suit in 2006 and represented himself in the court challenge.

“I’m very disappointed,” Fulbrook said after the judge’s ruling.(Colimore, Philadelphia Inquirer)

http://www.philly.com/inquirer/local/nj/20071215_Judge_backs_freeholders_on_road_deal.html

 

IN SECAUCUS

An attempt to ban the practice of rewarding political contributors with municipal contracts was shot down after a proposed pay-to-play ordinance sparked a shouting match among council members.

Councilman Gary Jeffas tried to introduce the ordinance Tuesday night. It would have made Secaucus the second municipality in Hudson County, after Hoboken, to pass a local pay-to-play ban.

“I was not surprised it wasn’t welcomed with open arms,” Jeffas said Wednesday. “It’s a contentious issue, because a lot of the funds that are raised by the Democrats come from sources that are affected by pay-to-play, and that would cut off a huge source of revenues.”

Jeffas and his fellow council independents, Michael Gonnelli and John Bueckner, said they tried to persuade their Democratic counterparts to tackle the issue several months ago, but a proposal to form a committee to study it was voted down (Henry, Bergen Record)

http://www.northjersey.com/page.php?qstr=eXJpcnk3ZjczN2Y3dnFlZUVFeXk2MDcmZmdiZWw3Zjd2cWVlRUV5eTcyMzI5NjgmeXJpcnk3ZjcxN2Y3dnFlZUVFeXkz

 

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