Today’s news from

Corzine signs death penalty repeal, Matt Boxer is confirmed as comptroller, congressional poll in the second district, Whelan backs Clinton.


Gov. Jon Corzine signed historic legislation abolishing the state's death penalty yesterday, clearing death row at New Jersey State Prison and providing an epitaph for what he called "state-endorsed killing" in the pursuit of justice.

"Today New Jersey is truly evolving," Corzine told about 200 people packed into his outer office in the Statehouse for the bill-signing ceremony. "Society must determine if its endorsement of violence begets violence and undermines the sanctity of life. … I answer yes, and therefore I believe we must evolve to ending that endorsement."

The night before, Corzine said, he had signed an order commuting the sentences of all eight men on death row. The order provided "legal certainty" that the convicted murderers will never be paroled, Corzine said. "They will spend the rest of their lives in jail."

New Jersey became the first state to repeal its capital punishment law since the U.S. Supreme Court, which had struck down the death penalty in 1972, allowed its reinstatement in 1976.

The move was hailed by death penalty foes nationally and internationally. Sister Helen Prejean, a leading opponent of capital punishment and author of "Dead Man Walking," came to Trenton to witness the signing.

"There's no place on Earth I would rather be," Prejean said. "The word will travel around the globe that there is a state in the United States of America that was the first to show that life is stronger than death, love is greater than hatred and that compassion is stronger than the need for revenge." (Howlett, Star-Ledger)

New Jersey on Monday became the first state to abolish the death penalty since it was reinstated by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1976 — a historic move Gov. Jon S. Corzine said he hoped other states would follow.

"Today New Jersey evolves," Corzine said prior to signing the law. "This is a day of progress for us and for the millions of people across our nation and around the globe who reject the death penalty as a moral or practical response to the grievous, even heinous, crime of murder."

In honor of New Jersey's landmark decision, Rome was expected to shine light on the Colosseum, a location once known for executions and gladiator combats but now serves as a symbol for the effort to abolish the death penalty.

"We have seized the moment and now join the ranks of other states and countries that view the death penalty as discriminatory, immoral and barbaric," said Assemblyman Wilfredo Caraballo, D-Essex. "We're a better state than one that puts people to death." (Graber, Express-Times)

The new law immediately spared the lives of the eight men in New Jersey who had been awaiting death by lethal injection. They include the convicted killer of Megan Kanka, the 7-year-old whose rape and murder fueled a national movement to register sex offenders.

In a step Corzine said was designed to ensure that the men remained behind bars until their deaths, he disclosed that on Sunday night he signed orders commuting the sentences of those eight to life in prison without parole………

However, Assemblyman Alex DeCroce, who leads the Republicans in the Assembly, where they are in the minority, ripped into Corzine.

"I consider it abominable that the governor would repeal the death penalty for cold-blooded killers," DeCroce, of Morris County, said in a statement……….

Richard Kanka, Megan's father, noted yesterday that Corzine had signed the bill exactly 15 years to the day that death-row inmate Ambrose Harris kidnapped, raped and murdered Kristin Huggins, 22, a Bucks County artist.

"Just another slap in the face to the victims," Kanka said.


The Senate yesterday confirmed Matthew Boxer's nomination as state comptroller, giving New Jersey its first government watchdog to try to help control the nation's highest property taxes.

Boxer, of Bridgewater, is a former assistant U.S. attorney who was working in Gov. Corzine's office overseeing state authorities. The comptroller position was created earlier this year to ferret out wasteful government spending as the state looks for ways to control property taxes that are twice the national average, at $6,330 per homeowner. He is to serve a six-year term.

The comptroller position was created earlier this year to ferret out wasteful government spending as the state looks for ways to control property taxes that are twice the national average, at $6,330 per homeowner. He is to serve a six-year term.

"The state of New Jersey has gained the services for the next six years of an experienced and dedicated public servant who will work tirelessly as a watchdog on behalf of New Jersey taxpayers," said Gov. Corzine, who nominated Boxer. (Hester, AP)


The decision by two New Jersey congressmen not to seek re-election could change the dynamics of the 2nd Congressional District.

Last summer, national Democrats targeted U.S. Rep. Frank LoBiondo, R-2nd, who up to now has easily defended the seat he won in 1994. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee ran ads bashing LoBiondo in anticipation of mounting a challenge.

But things have changed now that two prominent Republicans, U.S. Reps. Mike Ferguson and Jim Saxton, said they will not seek re-election in their New Jersey districts. This suddenly makes those races more attractive to Democrats.

Even so, a recent poll suggests Democrats are not giving up on upending LoBiondo. Voters were polled this month about their feelings toward the congressman and a slate of possible Democratic contenders. Topping that list was state Sen.-elect Jeff Van Drew, D-Cape May, Cumberland, Atlantic.

Van Drew could not be reached for comment Monday. LoBiondo declined to comment Monday on the campaign speculation.

Burlington County Democratic Chairman Richard Perr said Democrats might not want to lose an influential state senator to federal office. A state Senate seat in New Jersey might be more valuable to the state's Democrats than a freshman seat in the U.S. House of Representatives, he said.

"There's a difference in influence – one of 40 versus one of 435. And there are seniority issues," he said. (Miller, Press of Atlantic City)


Sen.-elect/Assembyman Jim Whelan supports the presidential candidacy of Sen. Hillary Clinton, a determination he made shortly after his Nov. 6th victory in district 2, he told

"I think she's our strongest candidate," said the former mayor of Atlantic City and one-term Democratic assemblyman who challenged and defeated Sen. Sonny McCullough.

Whelan said the last eight years under the stewardship of President George W. Bush by comparison make the Clinton years in the 1990s look very good.

"With Bill Clinton we experienced eight years of peace and prosperity," said Whelan, who observes in Sen. Clinton qualities of experience and intelligence, which in his view serve her particularly well on foreign policy and the economy.

Whelan said he would not run for Congress against U.S. Rep. Frank LoBiondo.

"I'm flattered that people have asked me, but I'm a lucky guy to be able to do two things I love, which are teaching school and being involved in politics," Whelan said. (Pizarro,



Another chapter of a high-profile Brick political corruption scandal came to a close Monday when former Mayor Joseph C. Scarpelli was sentenced to 18 months in prison for accepting bribes while in office.

Although Scarpelli apologized, a federal judge said prison time — rather than probation — was necessary to send a strong message to other officeholders.

U.S. District Judge Susan D. Wigenton also sentenced Scarpelli, 68, to three years' supervised release following the end of his prison term. In addition, the judge imposed a $5,000 fine.

Scarpelli's attorney, Michael T. Nolan, had argued for a sentence of probation in light of Scarpelli's long service to the township. But while Wigenton acknowledged that Scarpelli, a Democrat who served as mayor for roughly 13 years before resigning last December, did much good while in office, she said the sentence must also be a deterrent to others. (Schweiger, Press of Atlantic City)



PASSAIC — City Councilman Marcellus Jackson will plead guilty this morning in Trenton to federal corruption charges, his attorney confirmed on Monday.

The attorney, Miles Feinstein, wouldn't discuss the terms of the plea bargain or say whether Jackson will be required to testify against anyone else as part of the agreement.

"I'm not going to comment until tomorrow," he said. Feinstein said Jackson would appear in front of Judge Anne Thompson at 11 a.m. in federal court in Trenton.

Michael Drewniak, a spokesman for U.S. Attorney Christopher Christie, said he could not confirm whether Jackson would plead guilty, adding, "You might want to be there tomorrow."

Jackson, Mayor Samuel Rivera and former Councilman Jonathan Soto were the three Passaic officials among 11 officeholders in New Jersey arrested on federal corruption charges as part of an FBI sting operation dubbed "Operation Broken Boards." (Mandell, Herald News)



Earlier this year, Cumberland County Democratic Chairman Lou Magazzu found himself on a Washington-bound Amtrak train with U.S. Sen. Joe Biden.

The two already knew each other. Cumberland County sits just across the Delaware Bay from Biden’s home state of Delaware, and Biden had once come across to participate in a fundraiser for the county party.

During the ride, Biden asked Magazzu to consider supporting his candidacy for president.

“Then he said something to me that was very compelling,” said Magazzu, who’s also a freeholder. “He said ‘Lou, I understand you’re an elected official, and if the Governor and leadership go one way, I would never ask for a guy to undermine his position.' And I thought that was extraordinarily generous.”

But it wasn’t to be. Two days ago, the Cumberland County Democratic Committee voted to endorse Hillary Clinton for president, giving her the line in this corner of south Jersey. Magazzu, citing Clinton’s visit to the New Jersey Democratic State Convention and stressing that he felt no pressure from party leadership, joined the committee in endorsing her.

Biden has been known to jokingly refer to himself as the third Senator from New Jersey, and M
agazzu returns the label in praise. South Jersey shares Philadelphia’s television market with Delaware, and people there have witnessed Biden’s extraordinarily young rise to power, the tragic death of his first wife and daughter in a car accident and his aggressive opposition to Supreme Court nominee Robert Bork in the 1980s. Biden’s Irish Catholic background could also play well with New Jersey voters.

There’s also a significant New Jersey connection on Biden’s campaign staff. His political director, Danny O’Brien, is former Chief-of-Staff to former New Jersey Senator Robert Toricelli and worked as the coordinated campaign director for Jim McGreevey’s 2001 gubernatorial run.

But none of that has translated to any significant support for Biden in New Jersey – not even in its southernmost regions. (Friedman,



TABERNACLE TOWNSHIP – The number of potential candidates for the Republican nomination for the 3rd Congressional District has recently been decreasing, but another person recently made official his bid for the seat.

Justin Murphy said Monday he'll finish notifying party leaders in the Ocean, Burlington and Camden Counties of his candidacy this week. No matter what the outcome of the Burlington screening and convention in January, Murphy said, he plans to kick off his campaign with an event in Medford the same month.

Active in Burlington politics since 1991, the 41-year-old businessman has lived in Tabernacle since 1978 and served 2000 to 2003 as the deputy mayor of the Township Committee. Murphy said he felt constrained in his ability to affect change at the local level and subsequently set his sights on national office.

Burlington County GOP leaders said Monday they had not yet heard from Murphy and could not comment on his entering the race. (Previti, Press of Atlantic City)


Attorneys for former Newark Mayor Sharpe James have accused federal prosecutors of trying to smear him in advance of his corruption trial by alleging that James billed the city for porn flicks and body lotions.

In a Nov. 28 letter to U.S. District Judge William J. Martini, one of the former mayor's lawyers, Alan Zegas, called "highly prejudicial and grossly inflammatory" government allegations that James rented porn movies during a trip to Miami.

Zegas' attack came in response to a Nov. 17 government proffer of evidence that prosecutors may seek to introduce at trial. The proffer letter was not made public.

"The government's papers continue what has been an ongoing campaign to maliciously smear the good name of defendant in a way that will bear directly upon his ability to receive a trial by a fair and impartial jury," Zegas wrote.(Sampson, Bergen Record)


The families of two drivers killed in a horrific crash on the New Jersey Turnpike were stunned last week to learn the deceased motorists were being sued by the Turnpike Authority for the damage the crash caused to the highway.

But yesterday a Turnpike spokesman said the lawsuit was the result of a "stupid mistake," and was withdrawn as soon as authority officials became aware of it.

Four people died and four others were hurt in the August 2006 crash on the Turnpike in Teaneck.

Sam Davis, a Teaneck attorney who represents the family of three of the victims, said he received a copy of the lawsuit Friday. "I called their attorney and said, 'You can't be serious,'" Davis said. "He told me it was just a terrible, dopey mistake."…….

William B. Ziff Jr., a Westfield attorney, filed suit on behalf of the Turnpike Authority to try to collect $10,000 for the damage the crash did to the roadway. It named as defendants Tseperkas and nearly every other driver involved in the crash. Christmas and Ryan were named as defendants, even though they're deceased, Davis said.

The Turnpike Authority routinely goes after drivers whose negligence in crashes causes damage to blacktop, guardrails or other property on the Turnpike or the Garden State Parkway, spokesman Joe Orlando said. The legal actions against those drivers brings in about $2 million a year, he said. The lawsuits are handled by outside attorneys who are paid a percentage of what they collect, he said.

"Our policy has always been we don't go after people involved in fatal accidents," Orlando said. (Feeney, Star-Ledger)



A Princeton University student who argued that his conservative views were not accepted on the campus confessed to fabricating an assault and sending threatening e-mail messages to himself and some friends who shared his views, authorities said yesterday.

Princeton Township police said Francisco Nava was not immediately charged with any crime, but the investigation was continuing.

Nava claimed to have been assaulted Friday by two men off campus, police said. But he later acknowledged that scrapes and scratches on his face were self-inflicted, and that the threats were his work, too, said Detective Sgt. Ernie Silagyi.

A spokeswoman for the Ivy League university said disciplinary action – which could range from a warning to expulsion – was pending.

"The university takes all matters related to the safety of its community members very seriously," said spokeswoman Lauren Robinson-Brown. "It's particularly concerning that a student would fabricate such matters." (Mulvihill, Philadelphia Inquirer)


Now it's time to pay homage to the State House's "doomed ducks,'' long-neglected legislation never given 15 minutes of committee-hearing fame.

These are the bills that have gathered mold in the State House basement while the top priorities of special interests and lobbyists gather momentum in the homestretch of the "lame-duck" legislative session.

Plenty of proposals deserve to be ditched. Those Tin Pan Alley-tinged suggestions for the New Jersey state song, for example, remained mercifully muzzled this session.

The push to stitch "NJ" next to Rutgers' "R" logo didn't go anywhere either. Although don't be surprised to see a proposal to add "$" to promote Governor Corzine's fund-raising drive for the stadium expansion plans. And while we're on the subject of fowl legislation, the Legislature had more important concerns on its plate than worrying how ducks, geese and other poultry are fattened for foie gras.

But there are many serious proposals, too numerous to list here, deserving debate — and even passage – before the session closes on Jan. 8. Here are a few:

Ending the Atlantic City casinos' exemption from the indoor smoking ban. The casinos used their clout several years ago to win a special exemption from New Jersey's ban on public smoking — which meant hundreds of waitresses, cooks and croupiers continued to ply their trade in a haze of carcinogenic poison………..

Banning convicted legislators from returning to Trenton as lobbyists. This bill, sponsored by Democratic Assemblywoman Joan Voss of Fort Lee, seems like a no-brainer but has seen no action since it was introduced last February.

Without the ban, New Jersey's ever-swelling ranks of disgraced legislators are free to resurrect their careers as lobbyists. What's to stop, say, the Rev. Alfred Steele, the Paterson assemblyman who pleaded guilty in October to taking bribes from federal agents posing as insurance contractors, from returning to Trenton as a registered influence peddler?

It's happened before. Last year, former Democratic Assemblyman Anthony Impreveduto of Secaucus, who pleaded guilty to using campaign funds for personal uses, hawked legislation as a lobbyist — while still on probation. (Stile, Bergen Record)


Despite confusion, disagreement and little time to hear from concerned groups, a Senate panel approved one of the more complicated, ever-morphing proposals on the agenda for the current Legislature's final few days.

To combat global warming, a measure designed to require electric producers to bid on the amount of carbon dioxide they are allowed to release to the air was released by the Senate Economic Growth Committee, even though only a handful of the standing-room-only crowd was allowed to testify and that even two lawmakers who voted for it weren't pleased with the legislation.

"Senators, I apologize," said committee chairman Raymond Lesniak, D-Union, who voted to release the bill despite concerns. "This is not particularly the best way I like to do things, but I understand the need of the sponsors to move this bill forward."

Sen. Joseph Kyrillos Jr., R-Monmouth, abstained from the vote, saying there was too much material and scant time for public testimony. The measure had two marathon hearings before Assembly committees and will be considered by both houses' appropriations committees Jan. 3.

"I'm not prepared to vote yes today," Kyrillos said. "There's too much dense material, and we've probably got like 10 minutes." (Volpe, Gannett)


Newark Mayor Cory Booker yesterday fired his first legal salvo to reclaim scores of discounted municipal lots that were sold to builders by the previous administration but never developed.

Corporation Counsel Aney Chandy said the lawsuits filed against five builders yesterday — seeking to regain 19 lots — represent "the first wave" in Newark's efforts to reclaim and then develop languishing city land.

"This administration will not tolerate people who have abused the process for acquiring city-owned parcels," Booker said. "We are ending policies of the past administration and affirmatively working to regain land from those who did not fulfill their commitment to the city and to our residents."

Chandy said two more lawsuits are imminent, including one against TRI, a company owned by Tamika Riley. Riley was indicted with former Mayor Sharpe James last summer on charges that the two conspired to defraud Newark by selling Riley discounted city land. She, in turn, flipped the properties, reaping profits in excess of $700,000, according to the indictment.

Riley could not be reached for comment. (Shearn, Star-Ledger)


The state council overseeing affordable housing proposed new rules yesterday that will greatly increase the amount of housing built for poor and middle-income families but may drive prices up for others.

The rules would require the construction of one unit of affordable housing for every five market-rate units built or 16 jobs created through commercial construction.

The new rules replace ones that would have required one unit of affordable housing built for every eight market-rate units or 25 jobs created by commercial construction. Those rules were deemed unconstitutional in January by a state appellate court that ruled they underestimated housing needs.

The Council on Affordable Housing's new rules were praised by housing advocates who had been highly critical of the earlier version, but some questioned who would pay for the increased number of affordable units.

"On face value, it appears as if the affordable housing obligation has doubled, while the methods of municipal compliance have been narrowed," said Bill Dressel, executive director of the state League of Municipalities. "Meanwhile, we are unsure how this will be funded, and are very concerned that taxpayers, and not developers, will be asked to pay more." (Chambers, Star-Ledger)


ATLANTIC CITY – A confidential document written by a city-hired consultant shows the city may be overpaying in a recent tax appeal settlement with Trump Entertainment Resorts by at least $8.18 million.

The document, dated May 9 and viewed Monday by The Press of Atlantic City, states that the "worst-case scenario" for the city was to pay a $25.82 million settlement with Trump, based on the opinion of Pamela J. Brodowski, a consultant with BRB Valuation and Consulting Services. However, city officials agreed Nov. 1 to pay $34 million.

Brodowski, who could not be reached for comment Monday, deduced four possible settlements using four different valuation scenarios to come to four separate estimated costs, which were $1.65 million, $10.52 million, $16.35 and $25.82 million. The document notes the estimates do not include interest.

The $1.65 million assessment is described as the city's "best case scenario," and the $25.82 million is its "worst case scenario."

However, the city eventually agreed with Trump officials on the $34 million settlement, which called for a $12 million cash payment earlier this month and $22 million in tax credits to be paid over a six-year course. The agreement ended a dispute over the value of Trump Entertainment properties that saw 19 appeals.(Clark, Press of Atlantic City)



Barring court intervention, Union residents will not be going to the polls early next year to vote on scuttling the long-standing township committee form of municipal government.

A petition drive for a referendum on changing to a council-manager form of government fell well short of the required 5,523 signatures, or 20 percent of registered voters, township officials said yesterday afternoon.

"There weren't enough verified signatures," said Municipal Clerk Eileen Birch. "They were 868 short. Most of the disqualifications were people who were not registered to vote, and there were a number of duplicate signatures."

Birch notified the petitioners, Citizens for a United Union, shortly after 4 p.m. that their month-long drive had failed.

Fran Metta, a founding member of the CUU, charged the petition-certification process had been compromised and said the group will go to court.

"They will do anything to stop the people from having a change of government question on the ballot," she said of township officials aligned with Assemblyman Joseph Cryan (D-Union), the municipal party chairman who strongly opposed the petition drive. "I'm am upset and livid they would go this far in rejecting signatures for reasons that are unfair.

"It's about the people, and what the people want," said Metta, "and all they (officials) want is power. Eileen Birch is Joe Cryan's sister. I mean that tells me that there is bias. It shouldn't be about the Democratic Party, it should be about the people." (Jett, Star-Ledger)


Today’s news from