Passaic mayor indicted, Clinton is coming to New Jersey, Codey considers changing his endorsement if Edwards does poorly in Nevada, House and Senate Judiciary Committee leaders request GAO inquiry into federal monitors.
THE HONORABLE SAMUEL RIVERA
Passaic Mayor Sammy Rivera was indicted Wednesday on charges that he offered to peddle his official influence on behalf of a prospective city contractor in return for $50,000.
It was the first federal corruption indictment of a sitting mayor in Passaic County since Paterson's Marty Barnes went to prison for nearly three years in 2003 for accepting lavish gifts from municipal contractors. And it came as part of the latest crackdown by federal and state authorities on what they portray as chronic abuse of power by local officials in North Jersey……
"Definitely, I'm innocent," Rivera said in the living room of his Westervelt Place home. He wouldn't talk about the case, instead joining his family in watching televised word of his indictment and turning ing the subject to his career as a young professional wrestler. Pressed again about whether he did meet FBI agents in restaurants as charged, he said, "You'll find out when I go in front of a judge."
Rivera said he could continue to do his job "very well."
"One thing has nothing do with the other," he said. "People trust me, and they know better." (Sampson and Cowen, Bergen Record)
CLINTON IS COMING
Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton will be in Bergen County on January 23 to pick up the endorsement of Bergen County Democratic Chairman Joseph Ferriero and other party leaders and elected officials, according to Ferriero.
Clinton campaign spokesman Brendan Gilfillan said that Clinton was coming to New Jersey on the date, but did not confirm the location.
Bergen has the fourth highest number of Democratic primary voters in the state, and his support is widely viewed as an important cog in Clinton’s bid to win New Jersey in the February 5 primary. Ferriero will host a fundraiser for Clinton following his endorsement announcement. (Friedman, PolitickerNJ.com)
STILE ON FERRIERO’S VISIT
Joe Ferriero may finally get his prime-time Hillary moment.
The Bergen County Democratic Organization leader said Wednesday that Hillary Clinton will come to Bergen, most likely Hackensack, on Jan. 23 to accept his formal endorsement.
State, local and county Democrats indebted to the Ferriero machine will be summoned in a show of force, he said, in perhaps Clinton's only high-profile appearance in the Garden State before the Feb. 5 super-cluster of presidential primaries.
"I think it is important. … It will certainly focus attention on New Jersey," Ferriero said at the BCDO headquarters. And her appearance, he said, "gives her a certain amount of momentum [in New Jersey] going into the election."……..
But the normally cautious Ferriero did not seem too concerned with the dotted i's and crossed t's of logistics on Wednesday (although perhaps he should have been, given the unpredictable nature of campaign scheduling). He has been thirsting to share a media moment with Clinton and to reap the political benefits it could ultimately provide.
If, for example, Illinois Sen. Barack Obama narrows Clinton's lead in New Jersey going into the final week of the race, Ferriero could claim credit as the closer — the power broker whose late-stage endorsement helped seal her victory. The BCDO endorsement could become an IOU that President-elect Clinton would carry into the White House.
But there is also a big risk: Ferriero and the BCDO will be under pressure to deliver. A Bergen rally would require Clinton to take a U-turn on the campaign trail three days before the South Carolina primary, which is the do-or-die contest (of the moment). And so he could become persona non grata if Bergen turnout for Clinton is tepid.(Stile, Bergen Record)
NEW JERSEY’S MOST POPULAR POLITICIAN MAY CHANGE HIS ENDORSEMENT
State Senate President Richard Codey today said if presidential candidate John Edwards comes in third in the Nevada primary on Jan. 19th, he would consider backing either Sen. Hillary Clinton or Sen. Barack Obama in advance of the New Jersey primary on Feb. 5th.
"If he comes in third, he may be gone," said Codey, who is Edwards' New Jersey campaign chairman. "I've been getting calls from both sides (the Clinton and Obama campaigns)."
Both Clinton's and Obama's camps admit Codey would be a big plus.
"He is particularly important because of the unique role he occupies, not just because of his popularity but because of how respected he is," said Clinton spokesman Brendan Gilfillan. "We’re reaching out aggressively regardless of what happens in Nevada and South Carolina."
"He’s a natural endorser for us," said Mark Alexander, state director for the Obama campaign. "He cares about the same things we care about. In a lot of ways he’s been a progressive leader in New Jersey. And we have our office in his district."(Pizarro, PolitickerNJ.com)
WHO BENEFITS FROM CROOKED DONORS? CHARITIES, OF COURSE
New Jersey Democrats have donated more than $47,500 to nonprofits to try to remove the stigma of taking donations from a convicted felon whose fugitive status created a national scandal last fall, according to new reports released yesterday by the Election Law Enforcement Commission.
The Democratic State Committee sent checks to 11 nonprofit groups after receiving four contributions from New York businessman Norman Hsu between October 2005 and June 2007.
Hsu's donations to major Democrats across the nation became a major controversy after presidential candidate Hillary Clinton divested $850,000 Hsu had raised for her campaign. The disgraced donor was sentenced to three years in prison earlier this month after a judge refused to dismiss his 1992 no-contest plea in a fraud case. Hsu was a fugitive at the time he made all his political donations.
Assemblyman Joseph Cryan (D-Union), chairman of the Democratic State Committee, said once the party learned about Hsu's misdeeds, it knew it needed to take steps to regain the public's trust. Hsu's donations "had to be taken out of the state party coffers," he said. (Donohue, Star-Ledger)
A SPOILER IN OCEAN COUNTY?
Her literature printed, Suzanne Penna of Berkeley is poised to enter the Republican primary for Congress in the 3rd District.
"We're considering a kickoff. There are a few more details to clear up," Penna said Wednesday after handing a reporter a campaign card promoting her as a "traditional" Republican candidate who will "plant the seeds for a secure future" if she is elected.
Penna took on Republican organization candidates for Ocean County freeholder a year ago and got 37 percent of the vote despite spending little on the race………..
Her entry into the race could hurt Kelly's chances, because he is counting on the votes of Ocean County Republicans to offset those Myers is expected to get in Burlington County, where he has the backing of the party organization.
The GOP winner is likely to face Democratic state Sen. John H. Adler of Camden County, who announced he would run against Republican incumbent Jim Saxton before Saxton announced he would not seek a new term, citing health problems. (Bennett, Asbury Park Press)
THIS STORY HAS LEGS
The chairmen of the Senate and House Judiciary committees yesterday called for an independent investigation into the process federal prosecutors use to select private lawyers as monitors in corporate fraud settlements, citing the New Jersey case that could net former Attorney General John Ashcroft between $28 million and $52 million.
In a letter to the Government Accountability Office, Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) and U.S. Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.) asked for that office to investigate "if political or personal favoritism played a role" in the appointment of dozens of monitors to potentially lucrative but secretive contracts. The GAO is the nonpartisan investigative arm of Congress.
Leahy and Conyers specifically cited the fees Ashcroft stands to earn from Zimmer Holdings, one of five medical implant manufacturers that last fall agreed to accept monitors to end a two-year fraud investigation by agents and prosecutors in New Jersey.
U.S. Attorney Christopher Christie tapped Ashcroft, his former boss, as well as former U.S. Attorneys in Los Angeles and Manhattan and onetime New Jersey Attorney General David Samson.
The Star-Ledger reported in November that Ashcroft's 18-month contract calls for Zimmer to pay him between $28 million and $52 million. Christie has said Ashcroft was uniquely qualified and that the company never objected to his appointment or fees. (Martin and Whelan, Star-Ledger)
IT’S OVER! IT’S ACTUALLY OVER!
Rosemarie Agostini's long-running bid to overturn the November 2005 Parsippany mayoral election ended on Wednesday when a Superior Court judge dismissed her case.
Judge B. Theodore Bozonelis, in a 66-minute ruling, found in favor of Parsippany Mayor Michael Luther's motion to dismiss Agostini's challenge to 48 absentee ballots………
The ruling ended Agostini's court bid because it prevented her from any possibility of successfully challenging enough votes to overturn Luther's 39-vote margin of victory. Bozonelis entered an order dismissing her case with prejudice.
Luther's lead attorney, Angelo Genova, said afterward that he couldn't recall a more protracted battle over an election dispute.
Agostini hugged Luther in court and indicated that her long-running legal challenge had concluded.
"Mayor Luther is our mayor," Agostini said. "I respect the judge."(Jennings, Daily Record)
ADDIEGO FULFILLS CAMPAIGN PROMISE A LITTLE LATE
Assemblywoman Dawn Marie Addiego, R-Burlington, resigned today from her other elected office as a Burlington County freeholder.
Addiego submitted her letter of resignation Wednesday to the county clerk, saying she was doing it now as part of her pledge against holding dual elected offices. Her departure was effective today.
Her departure was effective today.
Meanwhile, a screening committee of the Burlington County Republican Committee began interviewing candidates for that post as well as Congress and other offices Wednesday night.
Those candidates will have the party backing in the primary election in June. (Comegno, Courier-Post)
THAT’S AN OOPSIE
Newark Mayor Cory Booker asked his inspector general yesterday to investigate how a letter from Barack Obama's presidential campaign got into a four-page program distributed to guests last week at a ceremony for the city's African Commission.
Booker called the inclusion of Obama's letter a "clear violation of my administration's standards and the ethics legislation my administration wrote in conjunction with Councilman Ronald Rice."
The mayor, an honorary co-chairman of Obama's campaign in New Jersey, asked Inspector General James Wright to investigate after The Star-Ledger raised questions about the letter.
The program has also caught the attention of federal authorities, who are looking into whether it violates the Hatch Act, which restricts campaigning on the federal, state and local levels of government.
"This is an official city event and the city presumably gets federal funds," said Jim Mitchell, a spokesman for the Office of Special Counsel, an independent federal agency responsible for enforcing the Hatch Act. "Our Hatch Act attorneys were very interested in this." (Wang, Star-Ledger)
ANOTHER TWO BITE THE DUST
Truck dealership owners Stephen and Matthew Appolonia choked back tears in a federal courtroom this afternoon as each received federal prison terms for passing bribes to Monmouth County officials in a scheme to secure contracts and work.
Matthew Appolonia received 24 months prison time and his brother Stephen Appolonia was given a 28-month term by U.S. District Court Judge William Martini.
The judge rejected pleas for leniency, including appeals in more than 240 letters he acknowledged receiving on the defendants' behalf.
"The problem I have with the Appolonias is that they didn't just get into this corruption once or twice," Martini said. "This was a regular part of their business practice."(Webster, Asbury Park Press)
NO SURPRISE HERE
New Jersey Democrats outspent their Republican rivals in campaigns late last year. Campaign spending reports released yesterday show the Democratic Party's three major fund-raising committees spent $11.25 million from Oct. 1 to the end of the year.
That compares with $5.2 million spent by the three major Republican committees. Democrats overall lost a legislative seat but maintained control in November's election. They control the Assembly 48-32 and the Senate 23-17. (AP)
CORZINE’S MAYORAL MEET
Gov. Corzine warned mayors Wednesday that property tax relief could be cut in the new state budget unless he can reduce state debt, providing local officials an ominous picture of what could happen if his toll-road plan is not approved.
"If we don't solve these problems, property tax relief . . . will not be able to be accomplished, so I hope that people understand that these things are connected," Corzine said in a morning presentation pitching his proposal to sharply raise tolls in order to halve state debt and fund decades of transportation projects.
Corzine said he hopes to preserve direct property tax rebates to owners. But municipal aid, which helps municipalities hold down property taxes by paying for local programs, could be cut without the expected savings from the proposal, Corzine said.
But after presenting that prospect to roughly 150 mayors visiting Trenton, Corzine also dangled the potential positives of his plan, countering criticism from an Ocean County mayor by saying that his proposal could help pay for projects such as widening the Garden State Parkway, including a stretch in Ocean.(Tamari, Gannett)
THE ROUTE 440 PLAN IS TOAST
Sen. Raymond Lesniak (D-Union) said yesterday he will decline to sponsor Gov. Jon Corzine's legislation to overhaul state finances unless the governor drops a plan to impose tolls on Route 440.
"If they want 440 in there, they will have to find someone else to sponsor it. I won't," said Lesniak, one of the earliest proponents of using the state toll roads to ease the state's financial problems.
While Route 440 doesn't run through his district, Lesniak said Corzine's plan to make it a toll road will make it much harder for Democratic leaders trying to usher the bill through the Legislature.
"I just don't think we should be adding tolls. This is a heavy enough lift as it is," he said.
Lilo Stainton, spokeswoman for Corzine, declined to comment on Lesniak's threat to withdraw as sponsor.
"We hope to have a bill before the Legislature as soon as possible," Stainton said. (Donohue, Star-Ledger)
HEALY AND FULOP ACTUALLY AGREE ON SOMETHING
Stop the presses. Jersey City Mayor Jerramiah Healy and his all-but-declared challenger, Councilman Steve Fulop, agree the city should be willing to share some of the tax-abatement money it rakes in with local public schools.
But Fulop wants this idea actively pursued, while for the mayor and his team, it's a we'll-do-it-if-we-have-to situation.
Fulop has said he's introducing a resolution next week to "urge the Hudson delegation of the state Legislature to amend the formula that disperses PILOT funds from residential tax abatements."
PILOTs are the payments-in-lieu-of-taxes paid by owners of tax-abated properties. At present, every penny of a PILOT goes to the city and the property owner pays the county an additional 5 percent of the PILOT sum.
Fulop wants 5 percent of the city's PILOT money dedicated to local schools.
"This is a simple, but necessary change that will help our schools while shifting the burden of public school funding from our taxpayers," said Fulop. "The Board of Education needs to be treated as part of the city and not as a second-class citizen."
When asked about the proposal, Healy said he's glad to see Fulop's on board with an idea he had first.
"Our administration has already discussed PILOT revenue allocation for school taxes and we are currently evaluating the full impact this could have for Jersey City," Healy said in an statement. (Thourbourne, Jersey Journal)
THE NEW YORK TIMES RESURRECTS GUY TALARICO FROM THE DEAD
For months, the Republican establishment in New York and New Jersey marched nearly in lock step behind Rudolph W. Giuliani, the former hometown mayor they were confident would become their party’s nominee for president.
But as Mr. Giuliani has plummeted from first to fourth — or worse — in some national polls, as he finished near the bottom of the pack in the nation’s earliest primaries, and as his lead evaporated even in Florida, the state on which he has gambled the most time and money, those Republican leaders are verging toward a grim new consensus:
If Mr. Giuliani loses in the Florida primary on Jan. 29, they say, he may even have trouble defeating the rivals who are encroaching on his own backyard………..
Mr. Giuliani’s precipitous decline in national and state polls in recent weeks has prompted many of his leading supporters in the metropolitan area to raise questions about his strategy of largely ignoring early races in Iowa, New Hampshire and Michigan to focus on Florida. He received little news coverage during those primaries, then finished poorly in each.
“I think that a lot of what’s happening in general is the early campaigning in Iowa, New Hampshire and Michigan playing an active role, and the fact that Rudy chose not to compete,” said Guy F. Talarico, a Giuliani supporter who is the former chairman of the Republican Party in Bergen County, N.J. “People are focusing on that and saying, ‘When are we going to get in the game?’
Still, once the campaign circles back to the metropolitan area, “I think he’s going to win New Jersey,” Mr. Talarico said.”
AS USUAL IN BERGEN COUNTY, ONE MAN GETS TO PICK THE NEXT FREEHOLDER
Bergen County Democratic Chairman Joe Ferriero endorsed Rev. Vernon Walton, a former Englewood councilman, for freeholder today, lining him up to be Bergen County’s first African-American freeholder.
The endorsement, given today at the Bergen County Democratic headquarters in Hackensack, was also attended by Assemblyman Gordon Johnson, a Ferriero foe and former Walton rival who pledged his support to the freeholder-in-waiting.
Ferriero’s endorsement all but ensures that the county committee will confirm Walton to serve the remainder of the unexpired term for the seat left vacant by Connie Wagner, who just entered the Assembly.
Ferriero touted the endorsement as one of a number of moves he has made to increase the number of minorities serving in the party and Bergen County government.
“What’s most important is the Democratic Party has always been a party of inclusion, a party that is there to work for the under privileged, to work for seniors, to improve education,” he said. (Friedman PolitickerNJ.com)
A federal complaint charging a Jersey City man with participating in a kickback scheme was dropped yesterday, an accusation that implicated the president of a union local who's a member of a family prominent in New Jersey labor circles.
U.S. Magistrate Claire C. Cecchi in Newark signed an order brought to her by government lawyers that stated prosecution of Christopher Ruton, 35, on the conspiracy charge was "not in the best interests of the United States at this time."
Ruton's attorney, Henry Klingeman, predicted the charge against Ruton — that he had his apartment in Jersey City renovated at a discounted rate as part of the scheme — will not be brought back.
In the days since his client was arrested on a criminal complaint in late November, Klingeman said he presented federal prosecutors with evidence that Ruton had properly contracted for the work and paid fair market value for the job.
"I'm grateful the government rectified its mistake within a relatively short period of time and did not put Mr. Ruton through the ordeal of a trial," Klingeman added. (Sterling, Star-Ledger)
INDEPENDENTS COULD PLAY A ROLE IN THE PRIMARY RESULTS
Terry Corolan is not registered as a member of either the Democratic or Republican party, which makes him typical in New Jersey, where independent, or unaffiliated, voters outnumber both parties combined.
"The last time I voted in a primary was 16 or 17 years ago, in Virginia," the 45-year-old engineer from Haddonfield said this week. As far as he's concerned, the two major parties should be called the "ins" and the "outs," for all the differences they represent, Corolan said.
But come Feb. 5, Corolan most definitely plans to vote in the Democratic primary, exercising his right to declare himself at the polls and participate. How many of his fellow independents — 2.7 million of New Jersey's 4.7 million registered voters — abandon their own habit of forgoing primaries and join him at the polls remains to be seen.
How many of his fellow independents — 2.7 million of New Jersey's 4.7 million registered voters — abandon their own habit of forgoing primaries and join him at the polls remains to be seen.
They have the potential to carry the day in either the Democratic party, with its 1.2 million registered voters, or the GOP, with its 800,000.
But by definition, at least among those who've been unaffiliated for a while, they tend to avoid primaries.
"There are people who don't like political parties and think they are somehow tainted by any association with them," said John Weingart, associate director of the Eagleton Institute for Politics at Rutgers University in New Brunswick.(Pearsall, Courier-Post)
MORE CAMPAIGN SEASON CHARGES DISMISSED
Officials have cleared Republican Atlantic County Executive Dennis Levinson of breaking a federal law last year, saying they found no evidence to back claims by Democrats that he used county resources for what amounted to electioneering in October.
County Democratic Committee Chairman Ron Ruff charged that Levinson broke the Hatch Act by holding a meeting with Meadowview Nursing Home workers Oct. 9 and telling them that he wouldn't sell the facility if he was re-elected.
Ruff also charged in his complaint to the U.S. Office of Special Counsel, or OSC, which enforces the Hatch Act, that Levinson further broke the Hatch Act by subsequently using county resources to send out a press release to county employees and the media to reinforce his stand on the nursing home. (Barlas, Press of Atlantic City)
Former township Committeeman Raymond Davis faces a five-year state prison term after admitting he stole more than $46,000 from the township, authorities said.
Davis, 58, pleaded guilty to official misconduct Tuesday at the Warren County Courthouse. He admitted diverting money from a $2.6 million municipal complex project to a dummy corporation.
The thefts occurred while he chaired a subcommittee overseeing construction of the now-completed municipal complex on Route 94. (Quigley, Express-Times)
MERKT THINKS HE’S STACKING THESE MEETINGS
Gov. Jon Corzine, on the third stop of a 21-county tour to pitch his controversial toll-hike plan, faced a skeptical crowd of about 700 people last night in solidly Republican Morris County.
In a packed auditorium at the County College of Morris in Randolph, the Democratic governor made his now-familiar case that sharp and steady increases in tolls are the best way to stabilize transportation funding and right the finances of a state that has borrowed and spent its way into crisis.
But Corzine appeared to have a tough sell from the start, with murmurs and sarcastic comments rippling through the overflow crowd as he spoke.
Marion McPhail, who lives in Parsippany, used the term "Ponzi scheme" to describe Corzine's plan, under which a quasi-public agency would sell bonds against future toll revenues.
"The Garden State Parkway and the New Jersey Turnpike belong to the citizens of New Jersey, not Goldman Sachs," McPhail said, referring to Corzine's tenure as chief executive of the Wall Street firm, which frequently handles big bond sales. (Hester and Feeney, Star-Ledger)
Officials from all three political parties in town praised former Mayor Anthony S. Ingemi upon his death Tuesday at the age of 66. A lifelong resident, Ingemi served as mayor from 2002 to 2005 following 12 years on Town Council.
"It's a sad day for the town of Hammonton," said Mayor John DiDonato, who defeated Ingemi for another term as mayor in 2005 on the Hammonton First ticket. "He was a great mayor," said Councilman Jerry Vitalo, a fellow Republican. "One of Hammonton's great leaders. He's going to be sorely missed."
Democratic Club member James MacLane, meanwhile, called Ingemi "a very popular mayor, well respected by all of Hammonton."
Described by The Press during his first run for mayor as "the tall, thin, councilman with glasses who did not say a lot but spoke straight when he did," Ingemi led the attempt to build a new town hall on 11th Street, a move that sparked the formation of the Hammonton First party that eventually ousted him. (Lemongello, Press of Atlantic City)
A Morristown councilman who once supported an ordinance increasing Morristown Mayor Donald Cresitello's pay said yesterday he planned to recommend the ordinance be rescinded.
Councilman John Cryan said yesterday he placed the issue as an agenda item under new business for next Tuesday's council meeting, citing a concern over the negative attention the ordinance has received at the same time the town has been moving forward with more positive projects, such as redevelopment, Cryan said. (Williams, Star-Ledger)