Sharpe James trial may split in two, AG certifies presidential primary candidates, DSC drops controversial ballot request, Ocean County Republican group likely to field its own congressional candidate.
“I DON’T WANT THIS TO BE A SEX TRIAL”
A federal judge yesterday proposed splitting the corruption case against former Newark Mayor Sharpe James into two trials, gutting from the first any reference to allegations that James billed the city for scores of personal meals, trips and lavish vacations with female companions.
U.S. District Judge William Martini said the parade of witnesses and mounds of evidence necessary to detail James' spending habits could overwhelm jurors and extend a trial already expected to last as long as five months.
The judge also said he was wary of forcing jurors to untangle James' relationships with seven women who have not been publicly identified or charged. He said their relationships might not prove relevant to the alleged crimes.
"I don't want this to be a sex trial," Martini said during a hearing in Newark. "The inferences of all these other relationships can confuse (jurors) from what this case is really about."
Instead, the judge suggested James be tried on what he called "the heart of the case," charges that the ex-mayor illegally arranged for one friend, Tamika Riley, to buy city land at a substantial discount and resell it for nearly $700,000 in profits.
Martini's willingness to split up the charges elated the defense attorneys, who repeatedly argued that the case had been poisoned with salacious and unnecessary suggestions about the private life of the 71-year-old married ex-mayor.
"Anything, to us, that focuses the case is helpful," a smiling Alan Zegas, one of James' two attorneys, said after the hearing. (Martin, Star-Ledger)
The state Attorney General's Office this week certified who will be on the presidential primary ballot, giving state voters on Feb. 5 the choice among most of the candidates running national campaigns.
Democratic front-runners New York Sen. Hillary Clinton and Illinois Sen. Barack Obama will share space with four other candidates who have struggled to get out of the single digits in statewide polls.
But the voting won't mean the same thing to both parties. In May, Republicans decided on a winner-takes-all primary, a move seen as a boost to Giuliani, who during the past year has maintained a consistent poll lead. He was last in the area Oct. 1, stumping for candidates in Cape May County. (Harper, Press of Atlantic City)
The Democratic State Committee has backed down from its earlier balloting position request and has instead recommended that county clerks conduct an open draw between all presidential primary candidates.
“The New Jersey state committee has been contacted by the major presidential campaigns to request that, instead of the process for ballot draws outlined in my letter of December 17, 2007, that the state committee recommend an open draw of all primary candidates. Accordingly,” wrote party counsel William Northgrave in a letter to all county clerks this evening.
The DSC’s earlier request would have allowed county chairs to give candidates that they’ve endorsed the first ballot spot, which would benefit Hillary Clinton, who has the support of 17 of 21 county chairs. It also would made the first ballot draw in each county where there is no endorsement between Clinton and Barack Obama, as they were the only two candidates to field full slates of delegates. Both of those provisions drew criticism from the Obama and John Edwards campaigns, who felt that they benefited Clinton, and were criticized as contrary to Democratic National Committee rules.
The third part of Northgrave’s request – that candidates and delegates are selected together through the touch of one button – remains intact. (Friedman, PolitickerNJ.com)
EH, WHY NOT?
A Republican group from Ocean County has said it might field a candidate for the 3rd Congressional District nomination to run against the established parties' candidate in the June primary.
Late Tuesday, the Traditional Republicans of Ocean County named Berkeley Township resident Suzanne Penna a prospective candidate against whoever is backed by the district's county Republican organizations, which the group has targeted as its main adversaries.
We want to give people an alternative," said founder Joseph Haelig. "We're all Republicans, but Republicans are different. … I'm not too familiar with Burlington, but the Ocean machine … is costing taxpayers millions of dollars.
Haelig said he has long been involved in politics. His father, Robert, was an assemblyman and a commissioner of the Municipal Utilities
Authority for 25 years, and experienced frustrations of his own with the Ocean County Republican Party.
Haelig started the Traditional Republicans in December 2006. He is also the administrator for www.oceancountypolitics.com a political Web site that contains page after page of criticism of prominent area Republicans, particularly Ocean County GOP chairman George Gilmore." (Previti, Press of Atlantic City)
LOOKING WAY AHEAD
The new class of legislators isn’t even seated yet, but that won’t stop us from speculating about the Assembly election in 2009.
Granted, two years is a political eternity, and which party will hold an advantage in that time depends most heavily on who’s at the top of the ticket. But when the new Assemblymen and women take there places in Trenton early next year, there will be 25 freshmen – several from competitive districts. Those represent the best opportunity for each party to knock off some incumbents.
Right now, however, from this great distance, it doesn’t appear as though any new districts will come into the fold, or that control of either legislative body is likely to shift. Indeed, it’s more likely that 2009 will see a smaller number of districts in play……….
As it stands right now, the first district looks to be one of the Republicans’ best shots at getting back some lost ground. Democratic and Republican observers acknowledge that Democratic Assemblyman/state Sen. Jeff Van Drew’s coattails played a role in holding Nelson Albano’s Assembly seat and shepherding in Matt Milam. But in 2009, Van Drew – whose reputation as an independent Democrat appeals to many Republican voters in this majority Republican district – will not be on the ballot.
Outgoing state Sen. Nicholas Asselta, who lost his seat to Van Drew, has not yet ruled out making a run for Assembly next time around. Asselta said that he didn’t see a move back to the Assembly, where he served for nine years, as a step down. Or, for that matter, if Van Drew decides to challenge U.S. Rep. Frank LoBiondo and wins, he could seek to take back his Senate seat. But right now, he’s starting a job search in both the public and private sector.
“Whatever I come up with will probably dictate my next year or two of thinking in a political or non-political way,” said Asselta. “It’s hard for me to give you a really truthful answer there because I don’t even know what I’m doing yet…. I don’t take anything off the table” (Friedman, Press of Atlantic City)
HUCKABEE SUPPORTERS HOPE TO SEE SOME FLOATING CROSSES IN NEW JERSEY
Seated at two tables pushed together in a diner in Scotch Plains, the core of presidential candidate Mike Huckabee's New Jersey supporters plan their next move.
"We've got to be relentlessly positive," says Huckabee for President 2008 lead organizer Peter Kane of Summit. It's a message to which the group immediately responds because most of them say they like Huckabee because he hasn't gone negative in Iowa, and because he just generally projects likeability.
Someof these people gathered signatures for Huckabee, helping to submit 2,300 here in New Jersey or 1,300 more than what the state requires, and now they're ready for the next challenges: busing up to New Hampshire to volunteer for the campaign, writing letters to the editor, or convincing friends and relatives to back their man.
"Very few of New Jersey's Republican Congressional delegation have declared their support for a presidential candidate, and we're reaching out to them," says Kane, a senior vice president at CitiGroup who worked for the Dole campaign in Iowa in the 1996 election, and spent three days with Huckabee in the summer before committing to the former governor of Arkansas. (Pizarro, PolitickerNJ.com)
HOW ABOUT WISHING A SEX ASSAULT DIDN’T TAKE PLACE AT ALL?
The prosecutor investigating allegations that New Jersey state troopers sexually assaulted a university student says it is a complicated case, it could take weeks to complete and he has no inkling how it will turn out.
But he's sure of one thing. He wishes the alleged sex assault had taken place somewhere else.
"I told Bob Bernardi — you know, the Burlington County prosecutor — that I wished the guy lived in Bordentown," Joseph Bocchini said of the trooper's home where the incident reportedly occurred. "If I saw Bruce Kaplan, the Middlesex prosecutor, I'd say that I wished the guy lived in North Brunswick."
Bocchini said nothing about this case is going to be easy.
"It's a nightmare," he said during an interview in his Trenton office. "The puzzle is complex. Any prosecutor who would look for this type of case, I think, has a psychological problem."
For three decades, Bocchini was a supporting player in New Jersey politics, an assemblyman, municipal judge and two-time candidate for county executive. Now as the Mercer County prosecutor, "Joe Bo" as he is called by friends, will ultimately decide whether to proceed with criminal charges stemming from an incident that has already led to the suspension of seven state troopers and drawn national attention. (Margolin, Star-Ledger)
CHARLES STILE IS PROUD OF NEW JERSEY
Governor Corzine likes to regale listeners these days about how his research for an eighth-grade writing assignment converted him into ardent foe of the death penalty.
Problem is, his staff can't find a copy of this fabled essay or confirm details about a doomed California inmate from the 1950s that he wrote about. It's causing them fits
."If you can find anything, let me know," said one Corzine staffer.
ertainly understandable if Corzine is a little fuzzy on details of a paper he wrote almost 50 years ago. It's possible he made up the yarn out of whole cloth to help burnish his anti-death penalty bona fides.
Either way, it's not particularly relevant. What is important is what future generations of eighth-graders will discover when cracking open history books on the subject.
They will learn that New Jersey was the first state to summon the courage and the collective will to abolish the death penalty since the U.S. Supreme Court reinstated capital punishment in 1976. (Stile, Bergen Record)
PSSST, HEY MISTER – YOU’RE IN TROUBLE
PLEASANTVILLE – A city man was indicted Wednesday on charges he helped a Board of Education member get money in exchange for his support of contracts.
Louis Servon Mister, 57, is accused of conspiring with then-board member Maurice "Pete" Callaway to take bribes from a roofing company in exchange for Callaway helping the company get a contract with the school board. Twelve men from throughout the state were arrested Sept. 6 in connection with the case. Mister is the only one of those arrested who has not served in public office.
According to the three-count indictment, Mister met with an unnamed cooperating witness on June 5, 2006, in Egg Harbor Township, and accepted a cash payment of $1,500 on behalf of Callaway. About two or three hours later, Mister received a second payment of $1,500 at Callaway's request. (Cohen, Press of Atlantic City)
NEW JERSEY GIVES MORE CHILDREN HEALTH INSURANCE – COMMUNISTS SET TO TAKE OVER ANY MINUTE NOW
Moving New Jersey closer to universal health care coverage, Gov. Jon S. Corzine said on Wednesday that the state had reached an agreement with Horizon Blue Cross Blue Shield allowing working- and middle-class families to obtain health insurance for children at drastically reduced rates.
As many as 15,000 children who currently lack insurance could enroll in the program, which will take effect on Jan. 1. In contrast to comparable efforts in other states, the program would cost New Jersey nothing because Horizon, a nonprofit company, would absorb what Karen L. Clark, president and chief operating officer of the Horizon subsidiary Horizon NJ Health, said could be up to a $1 million loss in the first year.
“We are going to be setting the standard in the country for how we insure those children,” Mr. Corzine said in his announcement at a shopping mall here. “We know we will get a lot more of our children insured, and you know what that will do? That will keep them out of the emergency room. That will make sure that they get their shots. That means that they will look after their health and prevent the problems from developing.”
The program sets the stage for what Mr. Corzine and State Senator Joseph F. Vitale, a Democrat who is chairman of the Senate’s health committee, promised on Wednesday would be unfurled as early as January: a universal health care plan for all residents that would be phased in over the next few years.(Chen, New York Times)
PROSECUTOR PAY RAISE
Top lawmakers are pushing to give New Jersey's 21 county prosecutors their first pay raise in five years.
Senate President Richard Codey said yesterday he wants legislation that would require prosecutors to earn the same as trial court judges to pass before the lame duck Legislature expires Jan. 8.
"We have very good prosecutors who, like anybody else, could go out and make a lot more money in private industry," said Codey (D-Essex), who brought the topic up in a recent Senate caucus. "It is not unreasonable that they get an increase in pay."
The pay raise for prosecutors, who make $141,000 a year, is expected to be included in a package that also would boost salaries for members of the state Judiciary, workers' compensation judges and administrative law judges, said Sen. Nicholas Scutari (D-Union), the sponsor. (Coscarelli and Hepp, Star-Ledger)
LOOKS LIKE PUBLIC DEFENDERS NEED A PAY RAISE TOO
A Union County public defender, who is usually in the role of defending the accused, was charged yesterday with torching his sport utility vehicle in an attempt to cash in on the insurance.
The Union County Prosecutor's Office said Mark Bailey, 36, of Kendall Park in South Brunswick, allegedly set the 2005 gray Ford Explorer ablaze on July 4.
An investigation into the incident led to charges of insurance fraud and arson, said Eileen Walsh, executive assistant prosecutor and spokeswoman for the prosecutor's office.
Baily never ended up receiving the money for the vehicle, she said.
Bailey, who is married and has children, was arrested yesterday and later released on his own recognizance, Walsh said.
Walsh said she did not have any details on how and where the vehicle was burned.(Star-Ledger)
AS USUAL, A MESS IN NEWARK
When Newark laid off 153 city employees, Mayor Cory Booker said it was necessary to close a massive budget deficit.
But since the layoffs were announced Oct. 1, the city has hired 14 workers at a total salary of $668,970.
Now the union representing the city's white-collar and professional employees wants the layoffs rescinded, arguing that the city did not act in good faith when it made the job cuts.
Newark Council 21,
which represents 1,200 city employees, filed a complaint with the state Department of Personnel, which must approve any hirings because laid-off workers are supposed to get first dibs on job openings. The personnel department has not approved the 14 positions in Newark.
"There was one hire that was approved by us and that was a school traffic guard position. If there are any other additional hires other than this position … it was not done with department of personnel approval," said Ester Rodriguez, a spokeswoman for the state department. (Mays, Star-Ledger)
WHAT’S MIKE DOHERTY UP TO NOW?
A state lawmaker has a plan to give residents a chance to curb local borrowing and make county and municipal officials think twice about their priorities before bonding new debt.
Send all bond issues to the voters.
"New Jersey taxpayers are burdened by the highest property taxes in the nation, and this is at least one way that they can regain control over those tax rates," said Republican Assemblyman Michael Doherty, of Warren County.
School boards and state government are already required to gain voter approval for bond issues.
Doherty's proposal, to be introduced in January, would amend the "Local Bond Law" requiring that county and municipal bond issues also be sent to the voters at the next general election.
"If you can't sell your project to the voters, then you shouldn't be spending millions of dollars," Doherty said. (Graber, Gloucester County Times)
When the New Jersey attorney general ordered police to alert federal officials to illegal immigrants arrested for serious offenses, Camden's Hispanic leaders were concerned. Local law enforcement officials were, too.
Would the measure hurt relations between police and the immigrant community? Would victims and witnesses remain silent for fear that their residency status might be challenged? And would police exploit the directive to root out those guilty of nothing more than an immigration violation?
Yesterday, officials explained the measure and calmed nerves at a forum – possibly the first in the state – held before a predominantly Latino audience in Camden.
Some Hispanic leaders and immigration advocates called for the measure's revision and training of officers, and others advocated its elimination.
Attorney General Anne Milgram's order to police on Aug. 22 was not intended to discourage immigrant victims or witnesses from coming forward, said acting Camden County Prosecutor Joshua Ottenberg, whose office sponsored the forum with the Camden Police Department.
"Local law enforcement is not in the immigration business," Ottenberg said. "We are in the solve-the-crime business."(Colimore, Philadelphia Inquirer)
I’M A MAYOR, BRO
A municipal court judge granted Lakehurst Mayor Stephen Childers his fourth court extension on DUI and marijuana possession charges that date back to August.
Toms River defense attorney S. Karl Mohel, representing Childers, asked Manchester Municipal Court Judge Philip M. Miller for a court extension because Manchester Patrolman Brian Collins, the officer who arrested Childers, was out sick yesterday.
Collins likely would have had to provide testimony about Childers' arrest if Childers had pleaded not guilty to the charges, prompting the case to go to a court trial.
By gaining this latest extension, it is likely that Childers will leave his Lakehurst mayor's office this year with the case unresolved. Childers' term expires at midnight Dec. 31.
Childers was arrested Aug. 1 on charges of possessing marijuana and being under its influence.(McConville, Asbury Park Press)
“LIKE A BAD CHRISTMAS JOKE”
It was like a bad Christmas joke.
The folks who run the New Jersey Turnpike filed a lawsuit last week against a family named Christmas and others for having the nerve to actually die in a horrible traffic accident.
The turnpike quickly withdrew the suit and apologized for what it called a mistake. But no matter. This ham-handed legal mess was nothing less than another example of how our state dropped the ball after four innocent people were killed by a speeding trucker on the turnpike.
The story begins with a traffic jam on a section of the turnpike that cuts through Teaneck. It was a clear, sunny afternoon in August 2006. (Kelly, Bergen Record)
Blatant discrimination against American Indians thrives in New Jersey, according to a report presented yesterday to Gov. Corzine.
The report, by the New Jersey Committee on Native American Community Affairs, found "lingering discrimination, ignorance of state history and culture, and cynicism rather than shining celebration of the state's tribal members."
"We were disappointed to learn that New Jersey lags behind, rather than leads, at least 15 other states which recognize, respect and celebrate their tribal people through legislative, executive or agency action," the report states. "We were saddened that subtle [and] even blatant discrimination still can thrive in New Jersey."
An estimated 20,000 members of the Nanticoke Leni-Lenape, Powhatan Renape and Ramapough Lenape tribes live in New Jersey.
Corzine appointed the commission in 2006 after a state park police officer fatally shot a Ramapough Lenape on a mountaintop near the New York border after a confrontation that remains under dispute. (Hester, AP)
WHAT ABOUT THE RIGHT TO PARTY DOWN?
College students from some of New Jersey's public institutions are trying to send a message to the governor that they are tired of rising tuition costs and decreasing state aid and that they, too, have rights.
The Garden State Student Alliance (GSSA), a group of student trustees from around New Jersey, recently drafted the "Student Bill of Rights" a six-point docum
ent that declares students' top priorities when it comes to education.
Program Coordinator Alex Habib, a Rowan University senior, said the group is collecting thousands of signatures from students throughout the state and plans to send the signed bill of rights to Gov. Jon S. Corzine in January.
"This bill of rights is more or less what we feel the state should make a priority when it comes to our education," said Habib, of Jersey City. "The first and most foremost thing, is we have to have a right to an accessible education and we feel that students in New Jersey are being underserved. The fact that education is not affordable to all students makes it inaccessible." (Beym, Gloucester County Times)
While the debate over whether Trenton Police Director Joseph Santiago should live in the city continues, Mayor Douglas H. Palmer has given Santiago an extended waiver by allowing him to bypass the residency law for as long as Palmer remains mayor.
Palmer issued the waiver in a memo dated Nov. 26 to Business Administrator Jane Feigenbaum and Personnel Director Raissa Walker. (Loayza, Trenton Times)
A senior Camden police official has filed two lawsuits contending that cronyism and petty politics not only stalled her career but also contributed to the botched 2005 search for three boys who were found suffocated in a car trunk.
Cassandra Smith, a 20-year veteran, is one of four deputy chiefs in the city's Police Department and the only woman and only African American in that position.
Smith's attorney, William H. Buckman, made the suits pubic after the department suspended her with pay yesterday afternoon on allegations that she took time off without authorization. (Wood, Philadelphia Inquirer)
A Newark police officer has filed a federal lawsuit that accuses the police department of violating his constitutional rights by suspending him without pay for anonymously criticizing his superiors on an Internet forum.
The suit by Officer Louis Wohlt man accuses the department of using improper subpoenas to ob tain his identity from an Internet provider, Optimum Online, and the Web forum, Newarkspeaks.com.
Wohltman's attorneys, Rubin Sinins and Frank Corrado, said they hope the suit will break new ground in establishing the right of public employees to speak freely on the Internet without fear of reprisal.
"It's a fairly open area of the law," said Corrado, who is handling the case for the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a San Francisco organization that promotes free speech on the Internet. "There is very little case law in connection with an employee's anonymous speech on the Internet. To that extent we are in some uncharted waters."(Kleinknecht, Star-Ledger)
IN OCEAN COUNTY
Hours after officials announced a 7.9-cent increase in the local tax rate, Ocean County Freeholder John C. Bartlett Jr. said there will be no similar surprises from county officials in the 2008 budget, despite a worsening economy.
"We're entirely cognizant of the public message to cut spending," Bartlett said yesterday.
While Freeholder Director John P. Kelly predicted in October that the county tax rate would fall again, Bartlett hedged his bet yesterday, saying any change will be "minor, in either direction." (Bennett, Press of Atlantic City)
IN SALEM COUNTY
The New Jersey presidential Primary Election has been moved up from June to Feb. 5 for the first time in 2008, but local political parties are not planning on making any endorsements until voters have their say at the polls.
Several states have moved the presidential primaries to February, including New Jersey, which gives the state more of a voice when it comes to national endorsements…….
Regardless of the primary results, the Salem County Democratic Executive Committee does not plan on making any endorsements for president as a committee something it has never done and the executive committee of the county Republican Party will endorse someone, but not until afterward.
"We're not meeting until the end of January," said Paul Reed, chairman of the Salem County GOP, adding the executive committee will probably make an endorsement in March. (Moore, Today’s Sunbeam)
The borough will have an all-Republican Council, and with it a new attorney and manager come Jan. 5. But it will face the same lingering problems that bedeviled the outgoing Democratic majority.
The lame-duck Democratic bloc ended its reign Tuesday with a round of remarks and official actions.
“I want to say good luck to the seven who will be running the council," Bill O'Hearn, one of the defeated Democratic incumbents, said of the all-Republican group that will be seated in January. (Barry, Bergen Record)
IN FAIRFIELD TOWNSHIP
A recount will be held Friday in regard to the Nov. 6 election that left incumbent Democrat Albert Beverly Sr. just five votes behind newcomer Republican Patrick Conahey Sr. in the three-candidate race for two seats on the Fairfield Township committee.
Superior Court Judge Richard Geiger ordered the recount during a show cause hearing on Wednesday.
Despite testimony given by Beverly during the hearing that showed some improprieties that may have occurred during the elec
tion, Geiger said he was ordering the recount simply because the outcome of the election was so close.
"I am going to ask for a recount and recheck, not on the strength of your allegations, Mr. Beverly, but because the votes were so close," he said. (Hamm, Bridgeton News)
Township Mayor-elect John Bencivengo is scheduled to join New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg for a lunch meeting today.
The lunch will include 14 other newly elected mayors from New York, New Jersey and Connecticut, with Bencivengo and Toms River Mayor-elect Thomas Kelaher the only representatives from New Jersey.
The meeting will be at noon at New York City Hall. (Trenton Times)
A month before taking office, the mayor-elect is demanding that Borough Hall shun the hiring of professionals who fill the campaign coffers of local politicians.
Mayor-elect Timothy Driscoll has asked the town to stop the year-end process of selecting accountants and others who provide professional services, and instead has issued his own request for quotes through a newspaper advertisement.
The Democrat says those who gave more than $300 in the past year to Bergenfield political candidates or committees need not apply. (Tumgoren, Bergen Record)
IN RED BANK
RDuring the final meeting of his term as councilman Wednesday, the last thing Robert J. Bifani did was take it easy.
Instead, the 14-year council veteran was a whirlwind of work. He suggested an ordinance to deal with the blizzard of political, real estate and other commercial signs placed on public land or nailed to utility poles.
Bifani delivered a final progress report about funding repairs to homes occupied by low- and moderate-income residents through several grant programs, with a request for his colleagues to apply for more grants, since they were expiring. (Higgs, Asbury Park Press)
IN HILLSIDE TOWNSHIP
With a new year approaching, the Hillside Township Council has resolved to pursue détente with Mayor Karen McCoy Oliver.
Council members at Tuesday night's meeting said they will seek a working relationship with the mayor in 2008, after two years of bitterness at town hall following a split between allies within the local Democratic Party. (Jett, Star-Ledger)