Kean starts firing senate staffers, Passaic councilman pleads guilty to corruption charge, campaigns complain that Clinton has an unfair ballot advantage, a dramatic appointment for a patronage position worth $10,000 per year.
MERRY CHRISTMAS FROM TOM KEAN, JR.
The word came down from Sen. Thomas Kean, Jr., on Tuesday.
Trying to change the look of the GOP Upper House team, the incoming Senate Minority Leader fired Rick England, a political operative who was director of constituent relations, in addition to several members of the minority office’s support staff, Republican staff sources say.
While there is speculation that Director of Reasearch John Hutchison is also slated to lose his job, he was absent from work on Tuesday and his status is unknown, according to sources.
Averting a firing, Communications Director Mike Jennings told PolitickerNJ.com that he has accepted a communications job with PSE&G.
“I’ll be starting the job at the beginning of the new year,” said Jennings.
Sources say John Samerjan, executive director of the Senate Republican Minority Office, will be removed under the new regime. On that front, a fight goes on in the caucus between Kean, who favors as Samerjan’s replacement attorney James Harkness, and some of the senators-elect, including Kevin O’Toole, who like John Kingston, the Assembly Republican Research Director. (Pizarro, PolitickerNJ.com)
“KICKED TO THE CURB”
What if Miss Daisy suddenly fired her loyal chauffeur? For one thing, she wouldn’t be a very sympathetic character in the movie “Driving Miss Daisy.”
Well, welcome to “Driving Sen. Bernard Kenny.” Kenny has just dumped his longtime driver, Joe Shine. Both men are Democrats from Hoboken. Kenny is considered a dapper dresser. Shine wears glasses and is best described as an average Hudson County guy.
Kenny, a lame duck in the 33rd District, is recovering from what police are convinced was a July 18 hit and run accident. He has had several surgeries And is due for more as a result of his injuries, which included multiple ractures to his pelvis, a dislocated right shoulder, a fractured nose and ractured right fibula, a blow to the head, and several bruises.
The senator initially told police he tripped, but that explanation was hard to swallow considering the extent of his injuries. It is presumed the police are still investigating the incident. One has to presume they still give a hoot(ers). Sorry, couldn’t resist. Still, one has to wonder what the police are doing about someone running down the state’s Senate majority leader.
Early this month, Kenny made a triumphant visit to the Statehouse. Shine was expecting to drive him there. Shine had driven the senator and family members everywhere – to doctor’s appointments, meetings with the governor, political sessions, family functions, and much more, for 15 years.
Kenny’s return was a turning point for their relationship. It seems that
just before the visit, Senate President Richard Codey offered the senator rom Hoboken a state trooper to chauffeur him around – and Kenny accepted. hile at his customary driving duties, Shine heard Kenny talking to a secretary about using troopers as his drivers and when he asked about it, he senator told him he was taking advantage of Codey’s offer. During one trip to Manhattan, Kenny was driving the point hard and Shine said he was so upset that he was close to stopping the car just outside the Lincoln Tunnel,getting out and throwing the keys at Kenny. (Torres, Jersey Journal)
JACKSON: “I SHALL RETURN.” PLEASE DON’T.
Passaic City Councilman Marcellus Jackson pleaded guilty yesterday to attempted extortion, in a scheme to steer lucrative municipal insurance contracts to a phony undercover brokerage firm.
The federal corruption probe, tied to 10 other public officials across the state, has already led to the resignations of two state legislators and a number of other guilty pleas.
In court before U.S. District Judge Anne E. Thompson in Trenton, Jackson, 39, admitted taking $26,000 in payoffs to help Coastal Solutions LLC gain insurance brokerage contracts from Passaic.
Coastal Solutions was a shell corporation, set up by the FBI, in a long-running sting.
Under questioning in court, Jackson said he took for cash payments between January and August of this year, in exchange for his assistance. He said he voted against two council resolutions on March 22, which had the effect of favoring Coastal Solutions. (Sherman, Star-Ledger)
Jackson said that he also resigned from his job at the Passaic Valley Sewerage Commissioners. When asked what he was going to do now, Jackson replied, “I’m just going to relax and get prepared for my sentencing. Hopefully, the judge will have leniency on me. Hopefully, they will see how much I’ve helped my community and my church.”
Jackson is a deacon at the Calvary Baptist Church in Garfield.
Then, alluding to World War II Gen. Douglas MacArthur’s quotation after a defeat in the Philippines, he said, “I shall return.”
Jackson is the first of three Passaic officials facing federal corruption charges to make a plea deal. Jackson, Mayor Samuel Rivera and former Councilman Jonathan Soto were among 11 public officials netted in an FBI sting on Sept. 6.
APPARENTLY CLINTON’S 40 POINT POLL LEAD ISN’T ENOUGH
On Thursday, all 21 of New Jersey
217;s county clerks will draw for ballot positions for the February 5 presidential primary.
Since this is the first time that New Jersey has had a primary so early – and the first competitive primary here since 1984 – county clerks are scrambling to figure out how they’re going to design the ballots. But the way the Democratic State Committee has requested that ballot positions are assigned has caused alarm with members of the Barack Obama and John Edwards campaigns, who decry their lack of input in the method and feel that it inherently favors Hillary Clinton.
Yesterday, Democratic State Committee counsel William Northgrave sent a letter to Deputy Attorney General Donna J. Kelly and copied it to all of the county clerks and several campaign officials, requesting a method for ballot construction in the Democratic primary.
The request was made up of three parts: that a candidate endorsed by each county’s Democratic organization appear on the first line and column of every ballot; that in counties where there is no endorsement, an initial draw takes place between Clinton and Obama for the first spot, since they were the only candidates to field a full slate of delegates; and that delegate slates are chosen along with the presidential candidate through the push of one button.
Democratic State Committee Chairman Joe Cryan supports Clinton, as do and the bulk of the state’s prominent Democrats.
If county clerks abide by Northgrave’s request, Clinton will get top billing the 17 counties where the county chair has endorsed her. Obama and Edwards each have only one county chair backing them.(Friedman, PolitickerNJ.com)
AH, NEW JERSEY – WHERE VYING FOR A PATRONAGE POSITION IS OUT IN THE OPEN
They hear it on the streets of Newark.
But every two weeks members of the City Council can be sure to receive a barrage of complaints from residents who are worried not only about the murders and gangs but about the cost of living and the threat of corporate interests upending local concerns.
“You’re supposed to be standing up and fighting for us,” the poet Amiri Baraka cried during the public comment forum of a meeting. “Until I see you fighting, then you’re not a good council.”……….
And always there is the complaint about the scarcity of jobs.
Failing a large company investing in Newark, the council must search among the resources it has and historically one of these is the Passaic Valley Sewerage Commission, a plant based in the city that treats the wastewater of 34 northern New Jersey municipalities………
A $10,000-a year seat on the nine-member Passaic River Sewerage Commission hardly sounds like glamorous work, even if it carries an invite to the international sewerage convention in Geneva, and other perks, like being able to walk down the street in the city and catch hell from residents who know when a bad commissioner has failed to secure lower sewer rates or failed to employ Newarkers.
But a good commissioner can wield more popularity in Newark than a state senator. In the early 1960s, the Democratic Party dumped state Senator Donald C. Fox because he didn’t support Commissioner Dennis F. Cary, who used his position in no small part to land jobs for city residents. For over 20 years, Assemblyman/Newark City Councilman Donald Tucker filled the Democratic Party’s seat in Essex County and by all accounts was a fighter. But since his death in 2005, Newark has gone not only without good representation on the commission but without representation, as the seat has remained vacant…..
As it faces a skeptical public, the Newark City Council is now battling to replace Tucker with another city councilman following the meltdown of the governing body’s first choice, At-Large Councilman Luis Quintana, whom the Senate Judiciary Committee drummed out of contention last month on orders from Gov. Jon Corzine.
Three councilmen are vying for the seat: Donald Payne, Jr., Augusto Amador, and Carlos Gonzalez. The nine-person council is divided about the best person for the job. Payne has connections: he’s a freeholder in addition to being a councilman and his father’s a congressman. Amador is the veteran who knows government operations, and Gonzalez the lawyer who ran on Cory Booker’s slate in 2002 and 2004, and is said to be the mayor’s first choice. (Pizarro, PolitickerNJ.com)
DON’T FORGET TOM KEAN, JR.’S FACIAL HAIR, WHICH IS SURELY A SIGNIFICANT SIGN OF WHAT’S TO COME
For those hardy souls who still believe Trenton can break its addiction to special-interest money, there is a glimmer of new hope.
A gang of fired-up freshmen Republicans in the Senate are promising an early offensive on campaign finance reform.
Yes, they remain the minority party.And that means they’ll have to crash through the brick wall that Democratic leaders in the Legislature have built around the status quo.
But they just might do it. Because Gov. Jon Corzine says he wants to knock down that wall, too. And so do several Democratic senators who feel Senate President Richard Codey and his leadership team have been timid on ethics reform.
So if Codey doesn’t yield, the Republicans hope to provoke a mutiny by luring dissident Democrats to their side. And if it comes to that, they want the governor to help them.
“If he’s for real, he won’t bend on it this time,” says Assemblyman Kevin O’Toole, who becomes a senator next month. “The young blood has taken over here. We’re going to put our 17 Republican votes on the line, and say, okay, we need four more from Democrats.” (Moran, Star-Ledger)
LIKE CHILD BIRTH BUT THE LABOR LASTS FOR YEARS
Despite some complaints, several participants — both winners and losers — in the Legislature’s second experiment in publicly funded elections said Tuesday the program should be reauthorized in some form for the 2009 Assembly races.
“I described it a little bit like childbirth,” Sen. Loretta Weinberg, D-Bergen, said. “The farther away from it you get, the less troublesome it seems.”
New Jersey’s experimental program, known as Clean Elections, was run in three districts this fall in an attempt to erase the influence of special-interest money in politics by requiring candidates to collect $10 donations from constituen
ts instead of traditional fund-raising.
In 2005, the program — which then had higher and more confusing hurdles to gain public funds — was deemed a failure when only two of 10 candidates qualified. This fall, 16 of 20 candidates qualified for the public funding, several of whom appeared in Trenton to testify before the Election Law Enforcement Commission, which will report to the Legislature on how the program worked but make no recommendations how it should be improved…….
Advocates, including lawmakers who sponsored the program, were critical that this year’s program didn’t include primaries, which in many districts are more competitive than general elections; allowed candidates to raise $10,000 in up to $500 chunks for seed money that favored the politically entrenched; and treated third-party candidates unfairly by allowing them a maximum $42,000 subsidy while major-party candidates in the competitive 14th District could get more than $525,000.
During the campaign another issue dominated discussions, as a group called Common Sense America began attacking Assemblywoman Linda Greenstein, D-Middlesex, for her views on gay marriage.
The incumbent received an extra $100,000 in rescue funds from the state and won re-election but warned Tuesday that “if you have a new candidate that’s trying to come in, they will not survive that attack.”
Assembly Speaker Joseph J. Roberts Jr., D-Camden, a Clean Elections proponent, did not attend the hearing but issued a statement saying he will try to increase the number of participating districts and include primaries in 2009, give third-party candidates parity funding and reduce the state funding given to candidates. (Volpe, Gannett)
“IF YOU WANT PEOPLE TO LOOK AT US AS LAW ENFORCEMENT LEADERS, THEN YOU HAVE TO ACT LIKE IT”
As prosecutors investigate allegations of a sex assault that prompted the suspension of seven state troopers, the head of the State Police told troopers this week he is pushing for new conduct rules for the force.
Superintendent Rick Fuentes declined to comment publicly, but two state officials said he wants to crack down on off-duty alcohol consumption and ban troopers from drinking for eight hours be fore their shifts begin.
One of the officials said Fuentes also plans to issue revised guidelines defining troopers’ responsibilities while off duty, including precise circumstances under which they may or may not carry guns. The officials asked not to be identi fied because they were not authorized to discuss the new rules.
Capt. Al Della Fave, a State Police spokesman, refused to go into detail but said the superintendent’s message was clear.
“He’s telling them that if you want people to look at us as law enforcement leaders, then you have to act like it,” Della Fave said. “The policy will be all-encompassing and will be appropriate with regard to a law enforcement person’s behavior, both on and off duty.” (Hepp and Margolin, Star-Ledger)
NO SURPRISE HERE
New Jersey has done “an abysmal job” of annually funding its public employees’ pensions and is below the national average when it comes to saving for its workers’ retirements, according to a report released Tuesday by the Pew Center on the States.
The report found New Jersey $23.1 billion short of the funding needed to cover its pension obligations as of 2006. Overall the state has set aside about 79 percent of the money needed to pay its estimated pension costs. The national average is 82 percent, and the report says a “healthy” number is 80 percent or higher.
New Jersey has ramped up its pension contributions, but is still lagging behind its annual requirements. Its early projection for next year’s budget calls for contributing 60 percent of what is required — $340 million above current spending, but still short of what Pew considers “healthy.”
Gov. Jon S. Corzine’s chief of staff, former state Treasurer Bradley Abelow, said in September the state’s pension shortfall had reached $25 billion. In addition, the state faces a $58 billion shortfall for retiree health benefits.(Rispoli, Gannett)
PARK COMMISSION STICKS AROUND
The Somerset County Park Commission, which came under fire this summer after a report cited a “systematic failure” in the way it conducted business, will continue overseeing Somerset’s recreation space.
The county freeholders, who had been considering a motion to dissolve the commission, voted 3-2 last night to let the commission re main as a semi-autonomous agency instead of having it become a county department.
“This is a work in progress,” said Freeholder Rick Fontana, the board’s liaison to the park commis sion.
Following the report by the law firm of Wolff & Samson, which brought to light problems with staff housing and vehicles, several commission members were either replaced or resigned.
The report accused the commission of breaking state bidding laws, maintaining cozy relation ships with some vendors and providing lavish perks to some employees. It also prompted subpoenas from the state Attorney General’s Office for park records.
The report was commissioned after a former parks employee was arrested and charged with official misconduct. Prosecutors said Joseph Lucas Jr., 40, took $3,000 in bribes from contractors. Earlier this year, a Superior Court jury found Lucas, who worked as the commission construction manager, guilty of official misconduct. (Holl and Abdou, Star-Ledger)
VAN DREW: IT’S BETTER THAN NOTHING
When a Cumberland County engine repair plant closed up shop and fired 240 employees with just two months’ notice, state lawmakers sought to protect workers in the state against something like that happening again.
They proposed legislation requiring a 90-day notice period and hefty severance pay for workers employed by companies that failed to comply.
This week, lawmakers approved and sent the governor a very different version of the bill.
“It’s not what we wanted,” said Sen. Stephen Sweeney, D-Gloucester.
Gov. Jon S. Corzine conditionally vetoed the bill, which would now require companies with more than 100 employees to give workers 60 days’ notice, already required under federal law.
New Jersey’s proposal, however, would create more stringent penalties for employers who did not comply, requiring they pay employees a week’s worth of pay for every year with the company.
Federal law requires a day’s worth of pay for each day a company misses the 60-day deadline.
“It’s certainly better than not doing anything at all,” Assemblyman Jeff Van Drew, D-Cape May, said of the state proposal. (Graber, Gloucester Cou
CHILDREN’S HEALTH INSURANCE
In a move that could make a serious dent in the number of children who lack health insurance in New Jersey, state officials are expected to announce a program today that would let parents buy a policy at a drastically reduced rate.
The initiative is modeled after the government-subsidized FamilyCare program, which provides HMO-style coverage for 113,000 children from working-poor families and 84,000 parents who meet strict income guidelines.
The dramatic difference with this latest expansion of FamilyCare is that it won’t require any public funds.
Until now, FamilyCare has been open to children whose families earn up to 350 percent above the federal poverty line (for example, $72,275 for a family of four). State and federal funds subsidize the cost, so those with the lowest in comes receive free coverage while those earning 200 percent or more above poverty pay premiums ranging from $18.50 to $125 a month.
The new program will allow parents at any income level who have no health coverage for their children to buy into the FamilyCare program at the same rate Horizon Blue Cross-Blue Shield charges the state: $137 a month for one child, $274 for two children or $411 for three or more kids.
“Extending the savings that the state can command to all working families in New Jersey just makes sense,” said Sen. Joseph Vitale (D- Middlesex), sponsor of the legislation that created the FamilyCare program and chairman of the Senate Health, Human Services and Senior Citizens Committee. (Livio, Star-Ledger)
Atlantic County‘s judicial system is in hell. And the rest of the state isn’t far behind.
That’s what a report by the American Tort Reform Association found. The county made its debut this year on the group’s annual “Judicial Hellholes” report, coming in at No. 6.
“Atlantic City has long been one of America‘s hottest destinations for gamblers, and now its county courts are attracting personal-injury lawyers who are also looking to get rich quick,” association President Sherman Joyce said. “Atlantic County judges have been dealing from the bottom of the deck in advancing personal injury litigation to the detriment of New Jersey‘s economy.”
But that’s not the case, says one Atlantic City lawyer.
“The judicial hellholes report is a myth created by the tort-reform groups,” Thomas Vesper said. “They take cases and show there were these large verdicts and make you think the jury was crazy or the judge was crazy. Then when you hear the details of the case you think, ‘You know, that wasn’t such a crazy verdict.'” (Cohen, Press of Atlantic City)
A judge yesterday dismissed an 11th-hour motion to replace the Hudson County prosecutor leading the criminal investigation of the Hoboken police chief and a superior officer.
Attorney Louis Zayas, representing the five Hoboken cops who filed the discrimination lawsuit, argued yesterday that Hudson County Prosecutor Edward DeFazio has a long-standing relationship with Police Chief Carmen LaBruno and that he should be removed from the investigation.
LaBruno served as the chief of investigators at the Prosecutor’s Office 18 years ago, when DeFazio was an assistant prosecutor.
State Superior Court Judge Peter Vazquez refused to remove DeFazio from the investigation, telling Zayas that his clients, as witnesses, had no right to request that a new prosecutor be appointed. (Hack, Jersey Journal)
NOW HE’S SEEN AS THE BOY WHO CRIED WOLF. LIBERALS – TIME TO GET HIM
A Princeton University student who admitted e-mailing threats to himself and some friends, then faking an attack of himself, expects to be expelled, a friend said Tuesday.
Francisco Nava, a 23-year-old junior from Bedford, Texas, who spoke out for socially conservative causes, created a stir on Friday when he claimed that two men roughed him up off campus.
On Monday, authorities said that the attack — and the threats that preceded it — were hoaxes.
A friend, Sherif Girgis, said he suspects Nava will be kicked out of the Ivy League school, and so does Nava. “He mentioned that that’s what he thinks will happen,” Girgis said, recounting a meeting with Nava on Monday evening.
A university official said the student would be disciplined, but it was not clear how. Princeton spokeswoman Cass Cliatt said Tuesday that she would not comment on discipline regarding a specific student……
Girgis said Nava explained that he roughed himself up in almost exactly the way he claimed that others hurt him: breaking a juice bottle over his head and hitting bricks against his head. (Mulvihill, AP)
NOT THE HAPPIEST WAY TO START A NEW TERM
TOMS RIVER — Although Mayor Paul C. Brush presented a budget in October that called for no increase in the municipal tax rate, he and his successor, Thomas F. Kelaher, have asked the Township Council to consider raising the rate by 7.9 cents per $100 of assessed value for the fiscal year 2008 budget.
In a joint statement, Brush and Mayor-elect Kelaher told the council Tuesday night that the previously presented $87.9 million budget should be amended to $91.5 million
to adjust for a state law passed earlier this year that does not allow municipalities to increase municipal tax levies by more than 4 percent each year.
n the same statement, the pair said it is unlikely the township could obtain a waiver to the New Jersey Property Tax Levy Law to increase revenues and avoid cutbacks under the 2009 budget.
The amount to be raised by taxes under the request is $49,024,291, up $5,063,755 from the October draft budget. The adjusted budget prepared by the administration would require a municipal purposes tax rate of 76.44 cents per $100 of assessed value. That amounts to an annual municipal tax of about $1,047 on the average home assessed at $137,000 here.(Kidd, Asbury Park Press)
IN ATLANTIC CITY
A former inspector with the city’s Neighborhood Services Department has filed a lawsuit against the city claiming he was wrongfully terminated from his job because he would not “go along to get along.”
Thomas Citrino claims he was harassed and eventually fired after speaking out against a number of incidents of corruption and incompetence, including witnessing an inspector trying to solicit money from a property manager.
The lawsuit claims Citrino was fired from his inspector job in March amid a hostile work environment that evolved after former Neighborhood Services Director David Tayoun was dismissed and replaced by Tim Mooney, who is the department’s acting director.
According to Citrino’s lawsuit, Mooney “began to restore the division to its previous state of corrupt incompetence,” including returning three inspectors to their light work schedule after they were originally reassigned by Tayoun, who acted on Citrino’s complaints about the inspectors’ work shifts and failure to enforce the law.
Contacted by phone on Tuesday, Mooney would not comment on the suit, saying that he had not yet seen it.(Clark, Press of Atlantic City)
Residents once again are canvassing the town to collect signatures in an effort to get a question on next November’s ballot regarding Mayor Donald Cresitello’s recent raise.
The town council approved an ordinance earlier this month that increases his salary range by $6,000. The mayor, who was elected in 2005, currently earns $26,042 for his part-time position.
The ordinance adoption came after Cresitello’s third request in the past year for a pay hike. And for the third time, a grassroots committee has been formed to collect signatures from residents in an effort to get the salary ordinance on the ballot.
Resident Tom Hollo said a petition now is being circulated.
Some had wondered whether a petition would be started now, when the holiday season could potentially create difficulties in collecting signatures. But the group’s five members — Hollo, Thad Kobylarz, Marion Harris, Stefan Armington and Duane Perry — are moving forward.(Hassan, Daily Record)
During the past decade, the state has pumped $1.5 billion into the city’s schools, but the academic performance hasn’t matched the investment, state Education Commissioner Lucille Davy said yesterday.
As a result, the district will receive the minimum increase in state aid this year as the state presses efforts to force improvements, Davy said.
“Significant dollars are being input to districts like Trenton, without the results to match,” Davy said in an interview at The Times. “Clearly, it’s not just about the money, but how the district in vests its resources and supports high-quality education.”
Davy emphasized the need for a unified curriculum throughout the district, and said the system has suffered from ineffective leadership.
Trenton is among 22 of the state’s poorest districts scheduled to receive the minimum 2 percent increase in state aid under the funding formula Gov. Jon Corzine proposed last week. There are 31 Abbott districts, so named because of the litigation that resulted in massive funding gains for poor, mostly urban systems, but some are in line for large increases. (Rich, Trenton Times)
IN SEA ISLE
The Cape May County prosecutor said yesterday that investigators from his office would begin monitoring the Sea Isle City Police Department following several incidents there, including the suspension of its chief.
In November, Police Chief William Kennedy was suspended pending an administration hearing into whether he had a relationship with a dispatcher under his command.
Those allegations came to light after the chief’s wife filed a restraining order against him and said she found text messages and a graphic photo from a woman on his cell phone.
Kennedy’s wife also called 911 after an argument with him. The prosecutor’s office investigated, but no charges were filed against the chief.
Also this year, a department sergeant was charged with planting evidence and an officer was accused of supplying his urine to a municipal employee who needed to pass a drug test.
Capt. Michael Cook has been serving as acting chief of the department, which has about two dozen officers and dispatchers covering a popular Shore destination town.
County Prosecutor Robert L. Taylor said the monitors were necessary to “restore public confidence in the department.”(Graham, Philadelphia Inquirer)
IN TOMS RIVER
Disappointed” is how Superintendent of Schools Michael J. Ritacco described his reaction to a new state funding formula that would give the Toms River Regional district just a 2 percent increase.
Since Gov. Corzine unveiled the state&
#39;s $7.8 million state aid funding formula — New Formula for Success: All Children, All Communities — for K-12 education last week, Ritacco said district officials are reviewing all figures to find out why the district received the lowest possible percentage increase.
“We are beginning to research the present funding formula just released to try and decipher the different components of aid,” Ritacco said at Tuesday night’s Board of Education meeting. (Santoriello, Asbury Park Press)
Defeated in their bids for fourth terms, Parsippany council members Rosemarie Agostini and James Vigilante bid farewell to their colleagues last night while promising to remain publicly involved in Morris County’s largest town.
Agostini, 68, and Vigilante, 43, who have been on the all-Republican panel since 1996, were presented with plaques and plaudits at the year’s last session, at which the council also approved a $7,500 settlement with the state Department of Environmental Protection.. (Frank, Star-Ledger)