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Walter Kavanaugh dies, Christie’s Ashcroft pick sparks internal Justice Department inquiry, Bobby Jackson dies after Obama rally, Obama fires up Jersey City.


Longtime legislator Walter Kavanaugh died yesterday at Somerset Medical Center, just two days after retiring from the state Senate. He was 74.

The lifelong Republican from Somerset County died of complications from diabetes, said John Graf Jr., a former campaign aide. Graf said he had undergone kidney dialysis for some time.

With 32 years of service, Kavanaugh, who also had been an assemblyman, was the seventh-longest-serving legislator in New Jersey.

Best known as a key sponsor of the Transportation Trust Fund, Kavanaugh entered the state Legislature in the 1970s after serving on Somerville’s board of education and rescue squad, according to Graf and the senator’s Web site.

“When addressing New Jersey’s problems, I have always asked: ‘Can we afford this?’ or ‘Can we afford not to do this?'” Kavanaugh said last year when he announced his retirement.

Though a Republican, Kavanaugh was willing to work with Democrats to achieve legislative goals during his career, his spokesman said.

“He was a longtime Republican, there’s no doubt about that, but Walter Kavanaugh was never afraid to cross the aisle,” Graf said. “He put people first.”

Kavanaugh died at 8:09 p.m., said Jodi McCaffrey, a spokeswoman for Somerset Medical Center.

“Oh, dear,” former Gov. Christie Whitman said upon learning of Kavanaugh’s death last night. “He was one of those people who really cared. He loved what he was doing. He loved serving, even when his health made it a challenge to him. He really cared about public service.” (Berkin, Star-Ledger)



WASHINGTON — When the top federal prosecutor in New Jersey needed to find an outside lawyer to monitor a large corporation willing to settle criminal charges out of court last fall, he turned to former Attorney General John Ashcroft, his onetime boss. With no public notice and no bidding, the company awarded Mr. Ashcroft an 18-month contract worth $28 million to $52 million.

That contract, which Justice Department officials in Washington learned about only several weeks ago, has prompted an internal inquiry into the department’s procedures for selecting outside monitors to police settlements with large companies.

The contract between Mr. Ashcroft’s consulting firm, the Ashcroft Group, and Zimmer Holdings, a medical supply company in Indiana, has also drawn the attention of Congressional investigators.

The New Jersey prosecutor, United States Attorney Christopher J. Christie, directed similar monitoring contracts last year to two other former Justice Department colleagues from the Bush administration, as well as to a former Republican state attorney general in New Jersey.

Officials said that while there had been no accusations of wrongdoing on the part of Mr. Christie or Mr. Ashcroft, aides to Attorney General Michael B. Mukasey were concerned about the appearance of favoritism………

Mr. Ashcroft was awarded the contract last fall at the direction of Mr. Christie as part of his office’s settlement of criminal accusations against Zimmer Holdings and four smaller firms accused of paying kickbacks to doctors.

A spokesman for Mr. Ashcroft said that the Ashcroft Group had not lobbied for the contract but was pleased by the referral………..

In a telephone interview on Wednesday, Mr. Christie said he chose Mr. Ashcroft and the others for the monitoring assignments because they had impeccable legal credentials and he knew and trusted them.

“It’s really important that the working relationship between this office and the monitors is very, very close,” he said. “I can’t tell you how much work we do with these monitors.” He said he had selected Mr. Ashcroft to work with Zimmer, the largest of five companies in the criminal investigation, because “I knew he was somebody who understands these issues and would be taken seriously by the company as an authority figure.”(Shenon, New York Times)



Bobby Jackson, Jersey City’s first black City Council president and a campaign consultant for both Glenn D. Cunningham and Sen. Sandra Bolden Cunningham, has died.

Jackson, 62, suffered a heart attack and collapsed outside St. Peter’s College last night after a rally for Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama. Jackson was rushed to the Jersey City Medical Center at 6:23 p.m. and was pronounced dead at 6:33 p.m., hospital spokesman John McKeegan said last night.

“It’s a shame,” Jersey City Mayor Jerramiah Healy said. “Today we went from a very good high with the Obama rally and then went to a very bad low. My condolences go the family. It hurts me, all of us.”

The mayor said he expects to have flags flown at half-staff on city property for Jackson.

Jackson was elected as an at-large councilman in 1981, and as the council member with the most votes, was elevated to City Council president. He served until 1985. (Jersey Journal)



Almost everyone figured Sen. Barack Obama would appear in Jersey City on a surfboard, riding a gathering and unstoppable wave out of New Hampshire that would surely leave Sen. Hillary Clinton’s New Jersey supporters somewhere amid the tearful, floating wreckage of her campaign.

But following Obama’s mortal second place finish, he appeared a day later at a free rally at St. Peter’s College, a visibly fatigued presence to those who saw him up close, who nonetheless was just as electrifying in his newfound role as an exhausted, wounded hero to the 3,000 who packed the gym.

“My voice is a little hoarse, my eyes are a little bleary, my back is a little sore, but my spirit is strong,” he announced to cheers. “And I am ready to bring about change in America, how about you?”

Deafening applause.

“We’re thrilled, honored and proud to welcome the most intriguing, the most exciting, the most inspiring, dynamic candidate on the national front,” Jersey City Mayor Jerramiah Healy told the crowd crammed into bleachers behind the main stage, and on the hardwood in several penned-off sections in the gym on JFK Boulevard.

Two counties away, meanwhile, coming off a trip to New Hampshire on Clinton’s behalf, U.S. Rep. Bill Pascrell said the New York senator – whom her closest supporters admit is no Bobby Kennedy when it comes to speech-making – had endured the solitary confinement of her campaign’s worst moments, made the leap for human contact, and on Tuesday was rewarded with victory.

“I know exactly what she’s talking about when she said she’s found her voice,” said Pascrell. “A vote is an emotional connection and you have to bring a person into the campaign. I believe Hillary has found her voice and is now in her comfort zone.” (Pizarro,

Sen. Barack Obama brought his energetic road show to Jersey City yesterday, asking for support at a “defining moment” in history, while Sen. Hillary Clinton, still abuzz from her dramatic come-from-behind win in New Hampshire, vowed she won’t concede a single state to her top rival for the Democratic presidential nomination.

In the more muddled Republican field, a resurgent Sen. John McCain hunted for votes in Michigan, where a McCain victory next week could snuff out the presidential hopes of native son Mitt Romney, the former Massachusetts governor.

Former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee, the Republican winner of last week’s Iowa caucuses, looked to build on an opinion-poll lead in South Carolina. And former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani continued to pin his hopes on Florida.

In what is looking increasingly like a two-person Democratic race, Obama’s visit to New Jersey brought him into Clinton’s backyard, a state that the senator from New York and former first lady has visited often and where she had built an imposing lead.

But Obama’s campaign, even with a disappointing 3-point loss to Clinton in New Hampshire, believes the candidate from Illinois has a chance for an upset in the Garden State. Obama played to that idea before a crowd of 2,000 at Saint Peter’s College.

“There’s something going on out there, people,” Obama said, drawing roars from the audience. “There’s something in the wind, something stirring all across America.”


Indicted former senator Wayne Bryant has formally asked the state Election Law Enforcement Commission for permission to use leftover campaign cash to pay his legal bills, state officials confirmed yesterday.

Frederick Herrmann, ELEC’s executive director, said Bryant’s request is the first time a former candidate has asked to tap into campaign funds to defend themselves against criminal charges. The commission will make a decision Tues day at its regular meeting and issue an opinion that addresses Bryant’s immediate request while also providing a guide for future candidates.

State law imposes limits on what candidates can do with leftover campaign funds. They can use the money for regular campaign expenses or donate to other candi dates or charities. They can use them for some legal expenses — for instance, Herrmann said past candidates have been allowed to use money for election recounts, defamation lawsuits or court cases involving civil violations of campaign law. They also have used such money to defend themselves against legislative ethics complaints.

As for Bryant’s request, “This is a matter of first impression right now for the commission,” he said. (Donohue, Star-Ledger)

The commission will consider Bryant’s request on Tuesday.

Bryant did not seek re-election after 25 years in the Legislature. His final term expired Tuesday.

Bryant was indicted in April on 20 counts of using his clout as the Senate budget chairman to steer millions in grants to two state schools that gave him no-show jobs, and using that and other jobs to triple his publicly funded pension.

He has pleaded not guilty and trial is set for April 14. Bryant couldn’t be reached for comment.

His attorney, Richard Weinroth, said they’ve “set forth reasons why it’s appropriate and proper for the senator to use campaign funds in connection with the action pending against him.”


Elected Democrats and registered voters in New Jersey have given New York Sen. Hillary Clinton widespread support in her quest for the White House, but the sudden emergence of a potent rival could change the equation, some observers contend.

Illinois Sen. Barack Obama’s unexpectedly strong showing in Iowa makes the Democratic primary in New Jersey on Feb. 5 hard to handicap, despite Clinton’s 34-point lead in a Quinnipiac University poll of Garden State voters released Dec. 13, experts said.

And, despite strong support among Republican leaders in the state, former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani may not be considered a sure winner either, one analyst said.

“A major lesson of Iowa and New Hampshire is that anybody who tells you what’s going to happen has no idea what’s going to happen,” said John Weingart, associate director of the Eagleton Institute of Politics at Rutgers. (Greenblatt, Courier-Post)

The presidential caucuses and primaries held to date have produced huge mood swings for the party faithful.

But the delegate count so far favors U.S. Sen. Hillary Clinton in the Democratic field and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney in the Republican contest.

Clinton, the New York Democrat, has 138 delegates, including the so-called super delegates, such as state party officials, who have chosen to back her candidacy regardless of what any caucus or primary voters decide.

Barack Obama, the Illinois Democrat, has 78 delegates, and John Edwards, the former North Carolina senator, has 52………

The eventual Democratic candidate needs 2,025 delegates out of 4,050 to secure the Democratic nod. New Jersey offers 127 delegates, or 6.2 percent of the total.

The GOP hopeful needs 1,191 delegates out of 2,380 to get the Republican nomination. New Jersey offers 52 delegates, or 4.3 percent of the prize.

Polls showed Obama poised to win the nation’s first primary in New Hampshire. His narrow defeat there failed to discourage one of his supporters, U.S. Rep. Steve Rothman.

“I thought that Senator Obama might actually win New Hampshire, but I was extremely pleased that, in a state where he was 20 points behind two weeks ago, he managed to come in second only three points from Senator Clinton,” said Rothman, D-9th Dist., who attended a rally on Wednesday with Obama in Jersey City.

U.S. Sen. Bob Menendez, a Clinton supporter, took note of what he called Clinton’s “very significant” lead among super delegates.

But Rothman and Menendez agreed on one point: They claimed that New Jersey, by moving its presidential primary up to Feb. 5, had positioned itself to play a starring role in the next phase of the campaign.

“Fifty percent of all the delegates are going to be up on that day,” said Menendez, D-N.J., of Feb. 5. “New Jersey is going to play a pivotal role in that respect, and it definitely can be at the table as one of the king-makers of a Clinton presidency.”


The back-to-back political drama that played out in Iowa and New Hampshire has yet to pick a nominee for either party, but it is awakening voters in New Jersey.

With the deadline to register for the Feb. 5 New Jersey primary coming up on Tuesday, thousands of applications from prospective new voters are suddenly being filed with state and county election boards.

“We received approximately 6,000 applications in the last two days — 4,000 yesterday and another 2,000 today,” said David Wald, a spokesman for the Attorney General’s Office, which oversees the state Division of Elections.

The registration uptick is characteristic of presidential election years, but those who have experience in the division say the crunch usually comes later — right on deadline, not a week before.

Some of the new registrations may be the result of the candidates’ individual campaigns, which are conducting voter-registration drives and have been handing out registration applications addressed to the state rather than a specific county.

County officials, however, are also reporting an increase in applications — as well as questions about the primary, which for this year was moved up from its traditional June date.

Carmen Casciano, the Essex County superintendent of elections, said his office has been flooded with calls from voters confused about who can and cannot vote Feb. 5. The calls started early last week, but really picked up after the Iowa caucus.

“Now it’s really hot,” he said. (Sherman, Star-Ledger)



Gov. Jon S. Corzine on Wednesday turned to the Republican he defeated in a bitter race for the United States Senate in 2000 to help with what may be his toughest campaign yet: persuading taxpayers and legislators to accept costly increases on New Jersey’s toll roads to pay off billions in debt and maintain its bridges and highways.

Bob Franks, who during eight years in Congress was a member of the Budget and Transportation Committees, said at a news conference that he had agreed to become the chairman of a campaign to promote Mr. Corzine’s plan.

Mr. Franks said that he had been talking to Mr. Corzine for a year about his plan, and explained the unusual alliance this way: “The current occupant of the governorship is a liberal Democrat, so how could I, as a fiscally conservative Republican, find common ground with him? The reason is simple: Jon Corzine has broken with the tradition of Trenton, and declared that we must transform the way that we handle the state’s finances.”

Under Mr. Corzine’s proposal, highway tolls would increase by a maximum of 50 percent four times in 12 years — in 2010, 2014, 2018 and 2022 — and be adjusted for inflation. (Chen, New York Times)



U.S. Rep. Jim Saxton is expected to endorse an executive from Lockheed Martin to succeed him in Congress.

Saxton, 64, will not seek re-election in November because of health problems related to sciatica and prostate cancer, according to spokesman Jeff Sagnip Hollendonner.

Hollendonner said Wednesday that Saxton, R-3rd, will join Chris Myers this morning in Medford, Burlington County, where Myers will kick off his congressional campaign.

“That says something,” Hollendonner, also Saxton’s 2006 campaign manager, said of the pairing. “More than that, only (Saxton) can say, ‘Congressman Saxton thinks very highly of Chris.'”

He has rarely made public his support for candidates, but will likely do so now because of his direct interest in the office he has held for 25 years, Hollendonner said.

“He most likely realizes this is part of his legacy. It’s an open seat – he’d like to leave it in good hands,” Hollendonner said. (Previti, Press of Atlantic City)



Gov. Corzine has a “hard sell” ahead of him, says the Senate president.

He won’t find a “rubber stamp” in the Assembly, says the speaker. And that’s just people in his own party commenting on the governor’s plan to hike tolls to solve the state’s fiscal crisis.

“It’s either the politically bravest thing or most politically foolhardy thing that’s ever been tried,” said Pat Politano, a Democratic political consultant.

He noted that the two biggest toll roads – the Garden State Parkway and New Jersey Turnpike – cut through cities and counties that hold the bulk of the Democrats’ base.

Corzine also proposed tolls on Route 440, which runs to Staten Island through Middlesex County, the heart of Assembly Transportation Committee Chairman John Wisniewski’s district.

Roger Bodman, a lobbyist who served in Republican Gov. Thomas H. Kean’s administration, said Corzine could expect resistance not just from Republicans but Democratic legislators who represent heavy toll-road users.

“That’s going to create a political headache for these legislators if they’re asked to vote for these things,” Bodman said. (Burton, Philadelphia Inquirer)



For a candidate in a congressional race that most political observers consider a long shot, Dennis Shulman, who hopes to be the Democrats’ chosen candidate to against Republican U.S. Rep. E. Scott Garrett, has raised a significant amount of money.

Although the blind Rabbi/Psychiatrist’s campaign won’t release fundraising totals until Monday, sources say that Shulman raised approximately $140,000 last quarter, bringing his amount raised so far up to about $190,000. It’s unclear how much of that will be cash on hand. Shulman would not confirm or deny raising the sum.

Shulman would not confirm or deny raising the sum.

“I have been overwhelmed and humbled by the enthusiasm for change here in New Jersey,” he said in a statement. “Our campaign is still fresh, but we are committed to bringing this district the kind of sensible leadership that the people are thirsting for.”

To take on Garrett, Shulman will first have go get by Camille Abate, who ran an unsuccessful primary campaign against Paul Stuart Aronsohn, Gov. James E. McGreevey’s former press secretary, in 2006. Abate couldn’t be reached for comment, but her Washington, DC-based campaign consultant Doug Jaraczewski would not say how much she raised last quarter.

“Our fundraising is on pace,” he said. “Camille is calling Democratic New Jersey donors on a regular basis, and we’re receiving more union fundraising as well.”(Friedman,



Gov. Jon S. Corzine nominated former state Sen. Nicholas Asselta to a public post the day the lame-duck senator cast a critical vote for the governor’s school-funding bill.

Corzine spokesman Jim Gardner confirmed Asselta’s nomination Wednesday to fill a vacant commissioner post on the state Board of Public Utilities. The nomination is subject to confirmation by the Senate, typically a formality.

Last week, Asselta said he was considering several private and public job offers, including the BPU post, which pays $125,301 per year. State legislators earn $49,000 per year, according the state government’s Web site. Asselta could not be reached for comment Wednesday.

Asselta was the only member of the 1st Legislative District to vote for the governor’s controversial school-funding plan. Democrats Jeff Van Drew, who won Asselta’s state Senate seat, and Assemblyman Nelson Albano voted against it.

The governor needed 21 Senate votes to push the bill – and eventually received 23, but not before hours of consideration. (Miller, Press of Atlantic City)


With uncommonly snarky wording, Cape May County freeholders passed a resolution expressing “actual bewilderment” over a state law that ties judges’ salaries into several elected county positions. Resolutions are typically dry as toast.

The sarcasm indicates the six-year-old law remains a sore spot for county governments mandated by the state to give raises to their clerks, sheriffs and surrogates. But a new state law passed Monday reopened an issue that county governments in southern New Jersey are seeking to change.

But a new state law passed Monday reopened an issue that county governments in southern New Jersey are seeking to change.

On Monday, the Legislature passed a law increasing salaries of state judges 11 percent over two years.

Because of a law passed in 2002, the elected constitutional offices of clerk, sheriff and surrogate must receive at least 65 percent of judges’ salaries,

They get a raise as well.

The county’s anger – and sarcasm – has little to do with the judges.

“Despite the dismal financial profile of the state … Cape May County hereby expresses no objection to the judicial salary,” says the resolution, passed unanimously by freeholders Tuesday.(Ianier, Press of Atlantic City)



Cumberland County Freeholder Director Lou Magazzu said “at this time” he will not give raises to any of the county’s three constitutional officers.

This comes after the state Legislature approved raises this week for Supreme and Superior Court judges, which in New Jersey are tied directly to the salaries of county clerks, sheriffs and surrogates.

The raises, which need approval from the county freeholder board, would increase salaries for the county’s constitutional officers from $91,650 to $107,250 over a two-year period.

Aside from some employees with the prosecutor’s office, whose salaries have been determined by the state, the only other county employee that makes more than $100,000 is County Administrator Ken Mecouch.

“I feel that these increases are in violation of the state mandate, state pay’ requirement,” Magazzu wrote Wednesday, in a letter to the county clerk, sheriff and surrogate. “The state has failed to provide a funding source for these mandated increases, leaving the county the obligation to provide the increases in our 2008 and 2009 budget.” (Dunn, Bridgeton News)



The state Division on Civil Rights has refused to end its investigation of whether a Methodist group in Ocean Grove violated the rights of two lesbian couples by rejecting their applications to rent its boardwalk pavilion for their civil union ceremonies.

The division rejected a motion by the Ocean Grove Camp Meeting Association to dismiss complaints filed by the lesbian couples. The association argued that forcing it to use its property for civil unions would violate its constitutional freedom of religion.

In a five-page letter, Gary LoCassio, assistant director of civil rights, said that could be determined only after further investigation. He also said that conducting an inquiry “in no way interferes” with the religious liberty of the Camp Meeting Association, the Methodist organization that owns the pavilion.

LoCassio conceded that churches and religious programs are not subject to the state’s Law Against Discrimination, but said it was “far from clear” whether the Camp Meeting Association “meets the definition of a church or similar religious organization.”

That, LoCassio said, requires further investigation. He said the division also must determine whether the association’s rental of its pavilion “is religious or secular in nature.” (Schwaneberg, Star-Ledger)



A group of city residents filed a civil suit in state Superior Court yesterday seeking the immediate removal of Police Director Joseph Santiago as head of the police department for violating the city’s residency ordinance.

The residents are also asking the court for a declaration that Mayor Douglas H. Palmer had no authority under the city’s residency ordinance to give Santiago the waiver that allows him to live almost 50 miles away in Stirling, Morris County.

The suit was filed by attorney George Dougherty on behalf of city residents Greg Forester, Bill Kearney, Joe Harrison, Hoggarth Stephen, Nicholas Stewart, Carolyn Nicolai, Peter Wagner, Frank Sasso and James Fouse.

The suit is against Palmer, Santiago and the city.

Dougherty said the residents are doing the job the mayor has refused to do: uphold the law.

“The mayor has never identified one syllable in this ordinance that says he can waive Santiago’s residency requirement,” said Dougherty. “Nobody else can find that power in the ordinance. It’s not there.” (Loayza, Trenton Times)



Union County Prosecutor Theodore Romankow was sworn in to his second five-year term yesterday afternoon, but only after pushing the event back from the morning because of a news conference announcing the capture of Union County jail escapee Jose Espinosa.

“I had a great two days. The Senate confirmed me, the Legislature gave me a raise … and we caught one of the escapees,” Romankow said.

Shortly after Romankow made his comments, authorities in Mexico City captured the second escapee, Otis Blunt.

Romankow placed his hand on a Bible held by his wife Daria, and was sworn in by Union County Assignment Judge Walter Barisonek. “He’s dedicated, an easy man to work with,” Barisonek said.

The ceremony at the Union County Courthouse was supposed to include only family and close friends, but was attended by al most 200 people, including all the assistant prosecutors and detective staff who were also sworn in.

Sen. Ray Lesniak (D-Union) said, “This guy’s reputation throughout the state is stellar. Everyone who works with him loves him.” (Jukaku, Star-Ledger)



HAMILTON — Mayor John Bencivengo has ordered that employees leave their township-issued cars in the lot when they go home after work, ending a long-standing practice.

“I see very few occasions where taking a car home is necessary,” he said. “We analyzed the usage and determined it would be just as easy for employees to pick up the car in the event they need one.”

The directive affects 14 cars in three departments, said Director of Public Works Rich Balgowan. Employees will now be asked to leave the keys to the vehicles with the township at night and retrieve them in the event they need a car after hours.

But even as Bencivengo issued his directive, Democrats were assailing him for his own newly received township vehicle, which the mayor said he plans to take home with him at night.

“Our new mayor is certainly talking one game and playing another,” said Mercer County Democratic Chairman Rich McClellan, who is a former chief of staff to former Mayor Glen Gilmore. “He has gotten himself a new car in the midst of a fiscal crisis even as he is taking cars away from everyone else.” (Isherwood, Trenton Times)



A contracting company bidding on a lucrative Essex County traffic signal project claims the federally funded deal was stacked in favor of a longtime county vendor — and is seeking to kill the contract before it is awarded.

A judge issued a restraining order yesterday, which will allow the county to accept and open bids on the project today, but it will be unable to award the contract until a full hearing into the allegations can be held.

At stake is a proposal to build a multimillion-dollar, computer-controlled traffic signal system on Central Avenue in Newark. The project, which initially came in far over budget, is now being rebid. But one of the contractors involved in the bidding says the contract was illegally tailored to favor a specific vendor who is the sole New Jersey distributor for several components specified by the county.

“I’ve never seen collusion like this — ever,” said Frank Dobiszewski, vice president of engineering for JEN Electric Inc. in Springfield and the former traffic engineer for Union County. (Sherman, Star-Ledger)


A trial over the disputed 2005 Parsippany mayoral election was adjourned until Tuesday at the request of Rosemarie Agostini, whose attorney sought additional time to subpoena up to 17 people who voted despite allegedly not living in town.

Parsippany Mayor Michael Luther, whose 39-vote victory over Agostini is being challenged, expressed frustration and said Agostini should have been ready to proceed Wednesday with witnesses.

“I am outraged,” Luther said after the trial’s third day wrapped up at Superior Court in Morristown.

“She’s been demanding her opportunity for two years. Now, when the times comes, she’s not ready,” Luther said.

Agostini, in response, said she was “very much at peace” with her long-running court challenge.

“I’m always at peace,” Agostini said. (Jennings, Daily Record)


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