2007 was a record year in legislative campaign spending, Kenny makes it back to the Statehouse, Death Penalty abolishment bill passes committee, Molinelli’s nomination looks more secure.
NEW JERSEY’S POOR LOOK LONGINGLY AT HUGE AMOUNT OF CAMPAIGN CASH
Spending on legislative races mushroomed to nearly $69 million this year as lawmakers shattered the previous record by throwing gobs of cash at TV advertising, attempts to oust incumbents and primary free-for-alls prompted by a rash of retirements.
"We did set a record," said Fred Herrmann, executive director of the Election Law Enforcement Commission.
Figures released yesterday showed this year's spending was 21 percent higher than the previous record of $57 million, set in 2003. The general election cost $43.4 million, up from $40.4 million four years ago. And 17 retiring lawmakers opened the floodgates for spending during the Democratic and Republican primaries: $25.4 million, up from $16.7 million in 2003.
Statewide, Democrats outspent Republicans more than 2 to 1 in the general election as they added a seat in the Senate but lost two in the Assembly. They will hold a 23-17 majority in the upper house and a 48-32 margin in the lower house when the new Legislature convenes Jan. 8………
As expected, the most hotly contested race in the fight for 120 legislative seats drew the biggest bucks: the 12th Legislative District showdown, in which Assemblywoman Jennifer Beck (R-Monmouth) ousted incumbent Sen. Ellen Karcher (D-Monmouth). The two parties spent a combined $5.9 million, making it the second most expensive legislative race ever, behind the $6.1 million clash won by 3rd District Democrats in 2003.
Beck prevailed despite being outspent nearly 6-to-1. She spent just $18 per vote, compared to $114 per vote for the Democratic incumbent, who spent the most ($2.6 million) of any single candidate. (Donohue, Star-Ledger)
Assemblyman Jeff Van Drew's election to the Senate became the top priority for New Jersey Democrats during the final week of the 2007 election, campaign finance reports show.
Post-election reports filed with the New Jersey Election Law Enforcement Commission show Van Drew and running mates Assemblyman Nelson Albano and Assemblyman-elect Matthew Milam raised more than $1.1 million in the final week, more than any other legislative slate for that period. The final flurry put the Van Drew team over the $3.5 million mark, a record for local spending. (McAleer, Press of Atlantic City)
“I’M VERY FORTUNATE TO BE ALIVE”
Walking with a cane but declaring himself lucky, Senate Majority Leader Bernard Kenny (D-Hudson) returned to the Statehouse yesterday for the first time since an apparent hit-and-run auto accident hospitalized him with multiple fractures in July.
"I'm happy to be back," Kenny said. "I feel very good. I have a lot of work ahead of me in rehab and shoulder surgery, but I'm very lucky to be here."
The 61-year-old Kenny accepted greetings from well-wishers, shook hands and posed for photographs as he resumed his post as chairman of the Senate Budget Committee. He said it was "just a coincidence" that he returned on the day the committee faced a vote many senators described as the toughest they had ever cast, on a bill to replace capital punishment with life without parole. It passed, with Kenny voting for it.
Kenny had been out of commission since July 18, when he was found lying in the street not far from his Hoboken home and taken to the hospital. His injuries included a broken lower leg, four fractures of the pelvis, a broken nose, dislocated shoulder and cuts and bruises on the face and head. Doctors said his injuries were consistent with being hit by a car, and a police investigation remains open.
Kenny is scheduled for surgery to repair his right shoulder in February but said his outcome could have been far worse, and at one point he was at risk of losing his leg.
"I'm very fortunate to be alive," the senator said. "I'm looking for ward to the next month or so," which will be his last in the Legislature. Before his accident, Kenny had announced his intention to retire after 20 years as a lawmaker when the current term ends in January. (Schwaneberg, Star-Ledger)
DEATH PENALTY ON ITS LAST LEGS
A Senate committee voted yesterday to abolish New Jersey's 25-year-old, never-used death penalty and replace it with life imprisonment without parole.
The 8-4 vote by the Senate Budget Committee clears the bill for a vote by the full Senate and puts New Jersey on track to become the first state to repeal its death penalty since 1965, when West Virginia and Iowa repealed theirs.
It would make New Jersey's the first of the modern generation of death penalty laws — those written to meet the requirements the U.S. Supreme Court set down in 1976 — to be abolished by legislative rather than judicial action.
A Senate vote could come as early as next week, when the Assembly also will consider legislation to abolish the death penalty.
Gov. Jon Corzine said yesterday that replacing it with life without parole would be a move in the "right direction" that would be less costly than endless appeals and would satisfy the demands of justice. "Many would argue that it's a harsher penalty to be locked up without any possibility of getting out," Corzine said. (Schwaneberg, Star-Ledger)
JOHN AND JOE’S EUROPEAN ADVENTURE MAY NOT KILL NOMINATION AFTER ALL
Just a month and a half ago, the re-nomination of Bergen Prosecutor John Molinelli to another five year term looked to be in jeopardy.
The revelation that he had accompanied outgoing state Sen. Joseph Coniglio on a trip to Italy while the Senator was under federal investigation raised doubts among top Democratic officials whether he should be reconfirmed. Meanwhile, Republican Sen. Henry McNamara and Democratic Sen. Loretta Weinberg had already exercised senatorial courtesy for different reasons, refusing to sign off on Molinelli's nomination.
But today, the prospect of Molinelli securing another term looks much more likely, even if he has several more p
olitical obstacles to overcome.
On Friday, Weinberg announced that she would let the nomination move forward. She had blocked it after receiving an anonymous letter accusing Molinelli of using his office's resources to conduct opposition research against the 37th district Democrats on behalf of Bergen County Democratic Chairman Joe Ferriero, with whom they're warring. That leaves McNamara, who has been holding up the nomination since June in order to force Gov. Corzine to start filling the ten vacant Bergen County superior court judicial seats, as the next barrier — but he's set to retire next month. ………
McNamara had been mired in a dispute with fellow Republican Sen. Gerald Cardinale over his pick of Lyndhurst lawyer James Guida for a Superior Court judgeship. Cardinale wanted someone else for the seat who he would not name, but the two have apparently hammered out a deal. Sources close to both Senators say that both Guida and Cardinale's picks will be nominated. (Friedman, PolitickerNJ.com)
OCEAN COUNTY WANTS A CONGRESSIONAL SEAT, DAMN IT
Ocean County Republicans are gearing up to screen candidates for the 3rd Congressional District seat Saturday morning at the Holiday Inn in Toms River. They'll vote to select one during a convention Dec. 10, party Chairman George Gilmore said Monday.
That will happen weeks before Burlington County Republicans screen their candidates for the seat. They do not plan to interview candidates until after the New Year, county party organization Executive Director Chris Russell said Monday.
"At this stage of the game another couple weeks will make no difference at the end of the day. … Two, three, even four weeks isn't going to present a Burlington County candidate at any significant disadvantage."
Russell attributed the delay to party infighting that started during the summer, when Dawn Lacy became county chairwoman and quickly called for revamp of party leadership, which started to split Republicans before U.S. Rep. James Saxton announced Nov. 10 he would not run for a 13th term………..
Also out as of Thursday was Ocean County Freeholder Gerry P. Little.
Little said Monday he does not want to take as much time away from his high school-age children as a national office would require. He also pointed to the great cost of the campaign.
"National and state party officials have indicated to us that this race could consume anywhere from $2 to $4 million and that's just … beyond the reach that I wish to pursue in terms of campaign funding," Little said. (Previti, Press of Atlantic City)
NOW THAT CORZINE'S HEADING TO IOWA, HILLARY SHOULD HAVE THAT STATE IN THE BAG
New Jersey's presidential primary is only 63 days away, which means the state's top political leaders are marshaling their minions and money to make a big splash — in Iowa and New Hampshire.
It's all hands and wallets on deck for those early must-win contests in January. Jersey's presidential primary on Feb. 5? Not a priority, at this point. New Jersey is on a long to-do list for another day.
Governor Corzine is in an Iowa-state-of mind. He's scheduled to stump for Sen. Hillary Clinton in Des Moines this week. Next week, he'll be in New Brunswick, co-hosting a croon-for-cash gala headlined by Tony Bennett that was organized by Clinton's corporate-named fund-raising cabal called "The Group."
Sure, the 81-year-old Bennett might leave donors misty-eyed for San Francisco, but The Group prefers they leave behind $2,300 checks to pay for television ads in Sioux City, Iowa, and Manchester, N.H…………
With such a fervor and focus fixed on the critical first round in January, political observers are beginning to doubt whether New Jersey's primary will play a significant role in the primary sweepstakes. That was the whole purpose of moving from its traditional date in June, then to March, and finally again to February — to be an early, influential player, not a footnote.
But the hoped-for flood of candidates crisscrossing the state, shaking hands, making Jersey-themed pitches, strolling Oprah-like at town meetings, giving undivided attention to average Joes sipping cups of joe at a Hackensack diner just hasn't happened to any significant degree. Candidates have yet to establish extensive Jersey field operations or even offices — Illinois Sen. Barack Obama is opening an office in West Orange on Wednesday.(Stile, Bergen Record)
BURLINGTON COUNTY RECAP
After a very public squabble, the Burlington County Republican Committee has chosen a new leader who says the party is ready for the 2008 campaigns.
Bill Layton was elected chairman of the county party at a meeting over the weekend. Dawn Lacy, who had been the GOP's acting chairwoman, pulled herself out of contention before the vote.
Layton, 39, of Riverton, previously served as campaign chairman and ran the party's successful efforts to hold onto county and state legislative seats in November.
Lacy said she did not want to be the permanent chair; she said she would serve as vice chair until her term expires in June.
Layton agreed to implement some of the reforms Lacy wanted, including an audit of the party's finances. The party is about $400,000 in debt following the tough November campaigns.
Lacy had harsh words for her enemies in a speech she delivered Saturday to about 300 party members, whose loyalties were divided between Lacy and a former chairman, lawyer Glenn Paulsen.
Describing the battle since the election, when she took a computer and party records from the party's Mount Holly office and fired Layton and another staffer, Lacy said: "I have been c
alled a thief, arrogant, power hungry, a [Camden County Democratic leader George] Norcross plant, the reason Vince [Farias, their unsuccessful 2006 surrogate candidate] lost his election, a liar . . . oh, and an adulterer. (Burton, Philadelphia Inquirer)
SUPERIOR COURT JUDGE KATHE DONOVAN?
In Bergen County, Republicans only have one county-wide elected official: Kathleen Donovan, the County Clerk since 1988.
That could soon change.
Multiple sources from both parties say that Donovan’s name has been suggested to Gov. Corzine for a nomination to a Superior Court judgeship by Democratic state Sen. Paul Sarlo.
Donovan, a former GOP State Chairwoman and one-term Assemblywoman, would not confirm or deny the prospect of her taking a judicial post.
“I’m running for my re-election, but if that was an opportunity I would seriously consider it,” said Donovan. “It would be an honor to serve the people in New Jersey in that position.” (Friedman, PolitickerNJ.com)
The attorney general's request to extend a January deadline by six months for installing printers on 10,000 electronic voting machines drew howls yesterday from voting advocates who said it would only reward the state's ineptitude.
The request came in the form of a bill before a key Senate committee because granting it would require changing the 2005 law that set the deadline. It was ultimately passed, 3-2.
"The Attorney General's Office has fallen down on the job," said Matt Shapiro, president of the New Jersey Tenants Organization, echoing the more than half dozen critics. "This office has been the problem."
Attorney General Anne Milgram, who did not appear before the Senate state government committee that approved the extension to June 3, said the voting advocates have it wrong.
"Nothing could be further from the truth," she said in a telephone interview. "The real situation is we made a decision to set the strictest, toughest standards in the country. We could have accepted lesser standards. I'm really looking long-term. I believe strongly that we're actually going to do it once and we're going to do it right." (Hepp, Star-Ledger)
HOBOKEN – The cities of Hoboken and Kenner, La., cannot agree on who paid for the accommodations for the now-disbanded Hoboken SWAT team's infamous trip down South.
Hoboken Public Safety Director Bill Bergin said yesterday Kenner paid for the cops' lodging, something officials from the Louisiana city deny.
"Unless we find out something different, and as far as our investigation stands right now, the city of Kenner paid for the lodging," Bergin said.
But reached for comment last week, former Kenner Mayor Phil Capitano said the SWAT team was not put up at his city's expense on either a 2005 trip or one during Mardi Gras in 2006. Hoboken "adopted" Kenner after Hurricane Katrina and initially went down there to bring relief supplies.
Business Administrator Richard England said Hoboken paid $5,100 – mostly for gas – for both visits.
Lt. Angelo Andriani, the former SWAT team's leader who has shown up in several racy photos that became a national embarrassment for the department, said the cops worked 12 to 16 hours a day and missed out on thousands of dollars of overtime pay. (Hack, Jersey Journal)
GILMORE TO STATE: PAY UP
HAMILTON — As township officials continue to grapple with a budget gap, Mayor Glen D. Gilmore said yesterday he would ask the state to compensate Hamilton for tax revenues lost by hosting the state police complex.
Gilmore estimated the complex off Klockner Road would generate about $1 million a year in property taxes, which would be shared by the municipality, school district, county and fire district, if it had been developed commercially. He said the complex consists of 303,000 square feet of space on 39 acres that are not taxable.
Since the facility opened in 2000, Gilmore said, the state should pay far more than $1 million in host fees.
The mayor said he will send a letter this week to Gov. Jon S. Corzine to ask for a special appropria tion and rally state lawmakers who represent the municipality to join in lobbying for the money.
"We're proud and grateful to have the state police located in our community, but as a matter of fairness … we should receive some compensation for revenues that would otherwise have been generated by this site," Gilmore said in a statement. (Tracy, Trenton Times)
JUDICIAL PAY RAISES
New Jersey judges should get an 11 percent pay raise, their second increase within months, followed by yearly cost-of-living increases, says the state commission that meets every four years to recommend raises for public officials.
The Public Officers Salary Review Commission said New Jersey judges are the most vetted in the nation and that the pay hike would "ensure the exceptional quality of our judiciary and retention of our experienced judges."
Superior Court judges, now earning $149,000, would jump to $165,000 a year. Appellate judges would go to $175,600 from $158,511, with a potential new salary of $185,500 for Supreme Court justices, up from $167,493.
Chief Justice Stuart Rabner, who pressed the commission for the raises now being recommended, would be paid $192,300, up by $18,731 from his current $173,569.
The report is only a recommendation. It requires a bill be passed by the state Legislature and then signed by Gov. Jon S. Corzine, whose spokeswoman, Lilo Stainton, said his office first saw the report at the close of the work day Monday. (Baldwin, Gannett)
IN MORRIS COUNTY
Forget gift shopping, it's election time already. Thanks to New Jersey joining 20 other states to hold a presidential primary election on Feb. 5, county election officials are checking their lists twice to make sure that all will be ready for voters.
Morris County Democratic Chairman Lew Candura said voters who sit out the primary may miss the chance to vote for their favorite candidate.
An earlier primary also changes some key dates for voters, including a Dec. 17 deadline to file to change party affiliation and Jan. 15 is the deadline to register to vote.
Morris County Clerk Joan Bramhall said a presidential election brings out many more new voters, so there are more registrations, more unaffiliated voters choose a political party so they can vote in the primary, and with new state no-excuse absentee balloting, she is expecting an increase over the 16,000 absentee ballots cast in the 2004 presidential election. (Daigle, Daily Record)
CONTRACTORS WILL NEED TO INCREASE PRICES IF THEY PAY THEIR PLUMBING CONSULTANTS $5,500 PER MONTH
Contractors on municipal and county construction jobs would be free to increase prices — after their bids are accepted — under a bill sponsored by Sen. Joseph Coniglio, the Paramus Democrat and plumber who is under federal criminal investigation.
The Senate State Government Committee, with Coniglio as chairman, approved the Material Price Stabilization Act on Monday, freeing it for a full Senate vote.
Supporters, particularly the building industry, said the bill would protect contractors when costs rise abruptly for such materials as fuel or lumber. If prices fall, the difference would be refunded to the local contracting government.
But critics, testifying in Trenton, said property owners' tax bills would jump whenever local construction projects go over budget. (Young, Bergen Record)
BOOZE AT THE SUPERMARKET
New Jerseyans would eventually be able to buy liquor, beer or wine at supermarkets or convenience stores — like consumers in 45 other states — under a bill debated before a Senate committee yesterday.
Lawmakers took no vote after hearing arguments on a bill that would change a 47-year-old law designed to prevent monopolization, price-fixing and mob influence. There was no word whether the bill would be taken up again before the end of the lame-duck legislative session Jan. 8.
Owners of "mom-and-pop" liquor stores complained that the measure is a first step toward supermarket chains gaining control of the state's retail liquor business.
The bill (S1691) would change the existing system, which prohibits a corporation or individual from holding more than two retail liquor licenses statewide.
The director of the state Division of Alcoholic Beverage Control, Jerry Fischer, said the proposal is opposed by the Corzine administration.
"When I see a 15-year-old walk into a liquor store, I assume there is a problem," said Fischer. "When I see a 15-year-old walk into a supermarket, I can't assume anything. I have very valid concerns. The Economics Committee needs to consider very carefully the idea of changing the two-license limitation." (Hester, AP)
Middlesex County Prosecutor Bruce Kaplan was nominated yesterday for reappointment as the county's top law enforcement officer.
Gov. Jon Corzine named Kaplan for reappointment, along with Union County Prosecutor Theodore Romankow.
Their nominations will be sent to the state Senate for review.
Both Kaplan and Romankow have served in a "hold-over" status since July, when their five-year terms as prosecutors expired.
Kaplan, a former Middlesex County counsel from Highland Park, had the full support of three Democratic state senators in his county for his reappointment.
However, people familiar with the internal politicking, and who did not want to be named for fear of affecting the outcome, had said Corzine considered nominating Peter Jimenez Jr., a deputy attorney general and son of Perth Amboy City Council President Peter Jimenez, for the Middlesex County post. (Haydon, Star-Ledger)
BOUND BROOK RECOUNT
Bound Brook Democratic Councilman Ben Auletta picked up an additional vote yesterday in a recount of ballots requested by his Republican challenger, Jacquelyn Nicholson.
The outcome of yesterday's re count of Election Day votes widened Auletta's margin of victory to 10 votes, resulting in a final tally of 817-807, election board administrator Jerry Midgette said.
Auletta gained the extra vote while board staffers tabulated absentee ballots.
Midgette said he believed the reason for the discrepancy in the initially certified results and yesterday's recount was that the voter didn't darken the circle enough be side the candidate's name on the ballot, meaning the vote-counting machine didn't pick it up. Staffers examining the absentee ballots yesterday concluded that Auletta garnered 26 instead of the initially certified 25 and Nicholson had 29. (Bugman, Star-Ledger)
The Borough Council publicly responded to a nasty war of words Monday night that has played out over the last year in e-mails between Mayor Lee Eggert and various borough employees. A
At Monday night's Borough Council meeting, Councilman Rusty Draper read a statement on behalf of the entire council in an attempt to "clarify some misleading, offensive, negative attacks" that were coming from an unnamed person who was clearly Eggert, based on the incidents cited.
"Since the beginning of this year's agenda, the air has been filled with negative, insultin
g comments directed at each and every council member as well as various employees working for the borough, to include but not limited to, our very own legal council, Senator-elect Mr. (Christopher) Connors," said Draper, who said after the meeting that the e-mail dispute between Eggert and then-CFO Laura Giovene, which was made public earlier this year, was only the tip of the iceberg.
According to the statement, the problems began early in Eggert's term when he started "a negative barrage toward the Tuckerton Fire Company and the way they do business."
The council claimed that the volunteers were insulted by Eggert's condescending behavior and were forced to be put on the defensive, which resulted in the company unanimously passing a vote of no confidence the mayor in March.(Spahr, Press of Atlantic City)
A councilman has resigned his elected post after he was informed he cannot serve in both that capacity and as a member of the Mercer County Community College Board of Trustees, to which he has belonged for 3 1/2 years.
Robert DiFalco submitted a letter resigning from the council on Nov. 16, writing that he was unaware of a law barring service on both bodies until MCCC Board Chairman Anthony "Skip" Cimino informed him of it Nov. 9.
"I am embarrassed to admit that this news came as a total shock to me," DiFalco, a Democrat, wrote in his resignation letter.
DiFalco was appointed to an unexpired council term in February and was elected to fill the last year of an unexpired term Nov. 6.
Mercer County Republican leaders yesterday called for the ouster of DiFalco from the college board and questioned his actions. (Kitchenman, Trenton Times)
Mayor-elect Ted Hussa said Monday that he will nominate the Boonton-based law firm of Dorsey & Semrau as municipal attorney. If approved by the council, the firm would replace John P. Jansen.
Hussa, who will succeed outgoing Mayor Gene Feyl on Jan. 1, said he was impressed by law partners John Dorsey — a former state Senate majority leader and the current municipal attorney in Boonton, Hanover and Mount Olive — and Fred Semrau, a special tax counsel in five municipalities and the municipal attorney in Mendham. (Jennings, Daily Record)
CUE COMPLAINING FROM PEOPLE WHO ARE CONVINCED THAT CHRISTMAS IS UNDER SIEGE
When Millville bought new holiday decorations for its downtown, it opted for lighted snowflakes to hang on streetlamps along High Street.
Mayor James Quinn said it was a safe decision, as the snowflakes were a generic, secular decoration that wouldn't offend anyone who might otherwise raise a legal stink over the city opting for something related to the season's religious holidays.
But on two corners, the streetlamps have lighted Santas, which are designed to welcome people to the High Street business district. Those seemingly harmless displays have Quinn worried. "That may be offensive," he said.
Quinn isn't alone in worrying about the ramifications of how municipalities decorate for the holidays: The New Jersey State League of Municipalities is warning local governments that the wrong decision can get them into legal trouble. (Barlas, Press of Atlantic City)