Today’s news from PolitickerNJ.com

Christie will testify in front of congress if asked by Justice Department, Lesniak chops down business group’s proposals to put tolls on routes 78 and 80, budget cuts will likely be unpopular, Doblin asks whether Coniglio is the Keyser Sose of New Jersey.

 

POLITICKER IN THE NEWS

In the middle of a media-saturated political season, Jared Kushner, publisher of The New York Observer, has been quietly nurturing an ambitious political journalism venture.

The plan is to pull together 50 Web sites, one for each state, into a political hub called Politicker.com. Each site will serve as an intensely local source for political articles, speculation and scandal, Mr. Kushner said.

Ten sites are online already, and the 11th, covering Kentucky, is scheduled to go up this week. Mr. Kushner hopes his multimillion-dollar investment — he would not be more specific — will attract an influential readership and, in turn, advertisers who want to reach those readers.

“Instead of taking out ads in five papers across the state, if you want to reach the most influential and politically active people, all you have to do is buy an ad package on the site,” he said.

The Observer Media Group, which owns both the namesake newspaper and the Politicker brand, has kept relatively quiet about the development of the state sites. They will most likely become more prominent when a national site aggregating the local content starts within the next few weeks.

“We view this as one of the most ambitious projects right now in journalism,” said Robert Sommer, the president of the Observer Media Group. “We’re basically creating 50 news bureaus with full-time reporters in each state.” (Stelter, New York Times)

http://www.nytimes.com/2008/02/18/technology/18observer.html?adxnnl=1&adxnnlx=1203343294-w29j7DUjZpSg72mhjvZW9w

 

CHRISTIE WILL TESTIFY, BUT ONLY IF THE JUSTICE DEPARTMENT ASKS HIM TO

A congressional committee has called for New Jersey's U.S. attorney, Christopher Christie, to testify at a hearing next week about his appointment of former Attorney General John Ashcroft to a lucrative assignment as a corporate monitor.

Rep. Linda Sanchez (D-Calif.), who will chair the Feb. 26 hearing, said she and other Judiciary Committee members want to discuss Ashcroft's hiring, role and compensation at Zimmer Holdings, an Indiana-based manufacturer that accepted a monitor to settle a fraud investigation with Christie's office.

The contract calls for Ashcroft's Washington-based consulting firm to collect between $27 million and $52 million over 18 months.

"We're interested in knowing about the process by which he was selected to be the monitor and what exactly he's doing to earn the fee," Sanchez said in an interview.

The committee made the request by e-mail and phone to the Justice Department's Office of Legislative Affairs about two weeks ago but has not received a response, according to Sanchez's chief of staff, Michael Torra. Ashcroft also was asked to testify but has not responded.

Reached by phone Friday, Christie declined to discuss the request. But the topic came up the day before, when he held a news conference to announce a corruption indictment against state Sen. Joseph Coniglio, a Bergen County Democrat.

"If my bosses at the Department of Justice call and ask me to come and testify, I will follow their direction," Christie said then. "Every Justice Department — not just this administration, but ones before — feel, and I think rightfully so, that any response to Congress should be a coordinated response and have a department position." (Martin and Whelan, Star-Ledger)

http://www.nj.com/news/ledger/index.ssf?/base/news-13/120331291829020.xml&coll=1

“THEY MAY NOT BE SHOOTING IT DOWN. BUT I WILL.”

A trade group representing industrial office park developers has asked the Corzine administration to reconsider imposing tolls on Routes 78 and 80 as a way to hold down future increases on existing toll roads.

Michael McGuinness, chief executive officer of the National Association of Industrial and Office Properties, said the proposal, along with a gasoline tax increase, would help make the governor's toll-for-debt plan more palatable.

"We're supporting some elements of the plan, but we do not support the plan as it is currently structured," said McGuinness, whose group has 550 members in New Jersey. "Our big problem is the tolls. That's just going to have a huge adverse impact on our economy. What we see is the way he's going at it now is flawed."

However, Sen. Raymond Lesniak (D-Union), who intends to sponsor the bill implementing Gov. Jon Corzine's plans, said that instead of reviving the idea of tolling other major roadways in the state, he should kill the idea once and for all.

"They may not be shooting it down. But I will. It's a nonstarter," said the lawmaker, who was one of the main critics of the idea when it was first floated a year ago. "I just don't think we should be adding tolls. It just creates more kinds of political problems." (Donohue, Star-Ledger)

http://www.nj.com/news/ledger/index.ssf?/base/news-13/120331294729020.xml&coll=1

 

ASBURY PARK PRESS MANAGES TO GET SOPRANOS REFERENCE INTO MONETIZATION STORY

The best way to handle a competing business is to eliminate the competition.

Barring a scenario out of an episode of "The Sopranos," state officials want to whack any attempt by investors to prevent them from improving roads and mass transit lines, which could be seen as competitors to the three toll roads that Gov. Corzine wants to "monetize."

Experts said that the final word on anti-competition clauses could come from bond buyers, who would buy notes to be repaid by up to 99 years of toll increases on the Garden State Parkway, New Jersey Turnpike and Atlantic City Expressway.

"If money is tight, there could be more pressure not to have competing roads and mass transit," said Peter Humphreys, a securitization attorney and spokesman for Save Our Assets, a group opposed to monetization. "We need to see the cash flow (from toll increases)." (Higgs, Asbury Park Press)

http://www.app.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20080218/NEWS/802180354

 

 

PUBLIC GETS READY TO GET ANGRY OVER BUDGET CUTS EVERYONE ASKED FOR

Gov. Corzine has a warning for New Jersey: You may not like the next state budget.

As part of the governor's plan to shore up state finances, he has pledged to hold the budget for the fiscal year that begins July 1 to this year's level of $33.5 billion.

Corzine has warned repeatedly in recent weeks that when he presents his next budget on Feb. 26, people would be far more upset about that than about his controversial toll-hike proposal.

"There is a growing recognition that we have a major, major financial emergency crisis . . . and that we have to address it," Corzine said Thursday on a radio program on WOR. "Otherwise, we will end up having an inability to fund any of the things I think the public wants to see – quality public education, public safety, attention to our senior needs, a whole host of public-health questions, and the debt that has been created over the last 25 years is going to squeeze that out."

But many New Jerseyans are asking why the state isn't taking even more drastic measures at a time when it is supposedly in a fiscal crisis. At the governor's recent town hall meetings and in other venues, one question has popped up again and again: Why not cut spending instead of freeze it? (Lu, Philadelphia Inquirer)

http://www.philly.com/inquirer/local/nj/20080218_Brace_for_a_budget_freeze_due_to_crisis__Corzine_warns.html

 

“WELL I BELIEVE IN GOD, AND THE ONLY THING THAT SCARES ME IS JOE CONIGLIO” – THE USUAL SUSPECTS

WHEN RUMORS began circulating last year that Joseph Coniglio was the target of a federal investigation, my phone started ringing. Democrats would tell me privately that then-Sen. Coniglio, the former plumber of Paramus, wasn't bright enough to be a crook.

These not-for-attribution bon mots described a pleasant, likable official, who, though not stupid, was not clever enough to be the mastermind behind a scheme to milk paychecks from Hackensack University Medical Center in exchange for securing state funding for the hospital.

These same folks would give me an earful about other indicted public officials, but always conclude that Coniglio was not like those guys. Not exactly a ringing endorsement for a state senator, but to a man, no one I spoke with believed Coniglio was the Keyser Soze of fraud.

But last week, U.S. Attorney Christopher Christie did his Miss Congeniality strut past flashing cameras to the microphone and announced a nine-count federal indictment against Coniglio. Christie, by contrast, is widely acknowledged as a very smart guy. He may have gubernatorial aspirations. Democrats are quick to remind anyone listening of Christie's partisan history. He also has not lost a public corruption case.

Maybe Christie is like the New England Patriots, heading for a very public defeat. I don't think Coniglio is Eli Manning, but could he be Keyser Soze? (Doblin, Bergen Record)

http://www.northjersey.com/opinion/moreviews/15727212.html

IT’S GOOD TO BE A SUPERDELEGATE

June Fischer was vacationing recently in Siesta Key, Fla., when her cell phone rang. On the other end was former President Clinton, checking on how she was doing.

Clinton noted that Fischer was only a few miles away from his wife. Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton was holding a fundraiser for her presidential campaign at a $9 million house on the Gulf.

"I said, 'Mr. President, I would love to go to that fundraiser. But I'm not in a position right now to make a contribution,'" Fischer said.

No matter. Fischer, 76, a Democratic National Committee member from Scotch Plains, Union County, is a superdelegate who can vote for whomever she pleases at the national convention. Bill Clinton made a call. And before long, Fischer was at the fundraiser, speaking with the candidate she had already agreed to support.

"It's nice to be courted at my age," Fischer joked. (Froonjian, Press of Atlantic City)

http://www.pressofatlanticcity.com/109/story/84536.html

FITZGIBBONS IN AN AWKWARD POSITION

There was no "unity" gathering of Hudson County Democrats on Monday and there is none planned for this coming week – so far.

There have been pundits and writers out there declaring the end of the Hudson civil war for about a month now. If you say it long enough, eventually you're bound to be right.

Then there are those who want the division in the Democratic Party because it helps their own agendas. (Hey, I love a good war as well as anyone else intrigued by Hudson politics but I only watch.) They are the ones who probably spread yesterday's big rumor that Stack has announced his full slate of freeholder candidates.

An armistice may be closer now and, unless something else pops up to annoy one ego or two, the issue may be down to the future of one Hudson County freeholder and the most veteran member of the county panel, Maurice Fitzgibbons of Hoboken.

Odd that it may come to this considering Fitzgibbons was a member of the Democrats for Hudson County, a group that splintered from the Hudson County Democratic Organization and declared its independence early last year, in advance of the June primary. (Torres, Jersey Journal)

http://www.nj.com/columns/jjournal/insider/index.ssf?/base/columns-0/1203145837183290.xml&coll=3

CIVIL UNIONS

A New Jersey commission has found in an initial report that civil unions – approved a year ago in an attempt to ensure equal rights for same-sex couples – are falling short of the goal.

It said that employers were still discriminating against those in same-sex relationships and that civil unions were "not clear to the general public, which creates a second-class status."

The commission is expected to release the report tomorrow, the first in a series of analyses. The Inquirer obtained a copy yesterday.

The finding, based on three public hearings, could boost an effort to allow gay marriages in New Jersey. (Bauers, Philadelphia Inquirer)

http://www.philly.com/inquirer/local/nj/20080218_Report_criticizes_N_J__civil_union_law.html



GEORGE WASHINGTON WUZ HERE

The narrow stretch of dirt road that runs through the woods on Sun Valley Farm off Route 202 in Mahwah and fades away along a bank of the Ramapo River has not been used by travelers and horse-drawn wagons for nearly 200 years.

But the roadbed is still hard and rutted. It was that busy all those years ago.

One of the few remaining sections of a main thoroughfare linking New Jersey with New York and New England, the road was used by the armies of George Washington and France's Comte de Rochambeau as they hurried to Yorktown, Va., during the summer of 1781 to win a battle that effectively ended the Revolutionary War.

Carol Greene, who owns Sun Valley with her husband Dick, said that when she walks along the old road, she can feel the spirits of history.

"This is sacred ground. They walked on the roadbed. It appears on French maps," Greene said. "This road, this section of road, is something very different from yet another house or building. It makes people think of the fabric of life back then." (Hester, AP)

http://www.nj.com/news/ledger/jersey/index.ssf?/base/news-9/120331290729020.xml&coll=1

 

IN CASE YOU MISSED IT – NEWS FROM THE WEEKEND

“A GROUP OF SERIOUS THINKERS”

A 54-member panel chosen to "educate the public" about Governor Corzine's financial restructuring plan contains a mix of administration loyalists and veteran Trenton insiders positioned for a piece of multibillion-dollar highway spending.

Three of the members — including the chairman — are principals or affiliates of New Jersey's top three lobbying firms. They represent engineers, raw-material industries, financial companies, resorts and utilities — all with potentially something to gain from a proposed $11 billion in road projects.

Ten of the appointees have some connection to Alliance for Action, a construction advocacy group that promises its 600 members "excellent opportunities to network with New Jersey's public and private leaders." Three other appointees — top executives with Verizon, Trump Entertainment and Public Service Electric and Gas Co. — have seen their businesses benefit from legislation Corzine has signed or initiatives he has endorsed.

To Corzine, the members are "a group of serious thinkers," said his spokeswoman, Lilo Stainton.

"What people will see is a broad variety of interests, a broad spectrum of people who have supported this," Stainton said. "There's not a common denominator beyond wanting New Jersey to be a better place." (Young, Bergen Record)

http://www.northjersey.com/news/njpolitics/Special_interests_abound_on_Corzine_toll_panel.html

 

ESSEX TRUCE

With tensions between Newark Mayor Cory Booker and North Ward power broker Steve Adubato escalating, the pair met last week to hash out their differences.

The meeting was arranged by Essex County Executive Joseph DiVincenzo, who said he wanted to head off an all-out conflagration between two of Newark's most powerful men.

"I wanted to bring Steve and Cory together because people say different things. I wanted to make sure everyone's on the same page," said DiVincenzo, a longtime Adubato ally.

While Booker and Adubato are occasional allies, fissures have grown in their relationship in recent months.

"There were tensions," is all Adubato would say about his relationship with Booker.

The mayor declined to comment.

Adubato has a well-organized political machine in the North Ward and alliances in the East and Central wards that he could put to work for the mayor — or against him. (Mays and Wang, Star-Ledger)

http://www.nj.com/news/ledger/essex/index.ssf?/base/news-4/1203226598272060.xml&coll=1

 

HAS CHRISTIE’S AURA OF INEVITABILITY FADED?

Christopher J. Christie got a big headline yesterday with the indictment of former state Sen. Joseph Coniglio. But his victory in prosecuting another prominent public official was tempered a bit by a Wednesday New York Times story harshly critical of “the way he has conducted business” and a Thursday editorial that slammed him around.

Has the aura of inevitability around Christie as the Republican nominee for Governor in 2009 faded?

The next election is nineteen months away, and it’s not even a sure bet that Gov. Jon Corzine will seek reelection. But of the few Republican candidates on the horizon, this winter belongs to conservative activist and former Bogota Mayor Steve Lonegan, whose name is associated with the defeat of two ballot measures in November’s election, and who has taken a stand at the forefront of the anti-monetization movement, warming him to the type of mainstream Republican politicians with whom he’s feuded with in the past.

Add to that the Democrats’ criticism of Christie for handing a federal oversight contract worth $28 to $52 million to his former boss, John Ashcroft, and you have an interesting dynamic developing.

“All of a sudden Steve’s got a lot of new friends,” said political strategist Rick Shaftan, a close aide to Lonegan. “Not that Steve’s necessarily running, but they’re saying this might be the guy here.” (Friedman, PolitickerNJ.com)

http://politickernj.com/03909-christie-hillary-and-lonegan-obama-16460#comment

THANK YOU FOR BEING A FRIEND

 

When Democratic U.S. Sen. Frank Lautenberg runs for office, the issue of ageism often seems to be part of the campaign conversation.

It started more than a quarter-century ago with his own subtle shots at his first opponent – a 72-year-old – as flaky, eccentric, and a national monument.

He battled the "he's too old" charge himself in 2002, when his GOP opponent questioned his fitness for office after Lautenberg, who was 78 at the time, gave a rambling answer to a debate question. Lautenberg shot back that he was a better skier than his younger opponent, and his friends explained that Lautenberg had always been a rambling speaker.

But now, Lautenberg is 84 and would be 90 at the end of the term he seeks. Opinion polls taken by Rutgers University and Quinnipiac University in the summer showed that a majority of New Jersey voters thought he was too old to run again. A third academic poll, by Monmouth University last month, showed that 51 percent of respondents did not think he was too old, but that 58 percent felt he'd been around too long.

The age issue this year is being pushed – delicately – by the opposition in a state where 1.1 million residents are older than 65.

GOP primary candidate Anne Evans Estabrook, 63, made subtle work of Lautenberg's age from day one of her campaign, saying in her announcement speech: "People like our own Sen. Frank Lautenberg have had their chance. Sen. Lautenberg was first elected 25 years ago." (Burton, Philadelphia Inquirer)

http://www.philly.com/inquirer/local/nj/20080217_Issue_of_age_still_follows_Lautenberg.html

BUDGET TIME

Gov. Jon Corzine is considering making more high-income residents ineligible for tax rebates, closing some state parks, reducing hours at motor vehicle offices and slicing aid to colleges, hospitals and towns, according to administration and legislative officials familiar with his plans for a no-frills state budget.

While no final decisions have been made on the budget Corzine is due to present a week from Tuesday, the officials substantiated the governor's warnings of painful cuts, saying virtually all areas of spending except aid to local school districts are on the chopping block.

Department of Environmental Protection Commissioner Lisa Jackson said closing some state parks — or at least cutting back on public services at them — is among the measures being considered for the next budget, which takes effect July 1.

"The kind of cuts we are talking about could mean cuts in state park service," she said. "I don't want to list parks, but … people have to realize services they've come to enjoy cannot necessarily be sustained." (Donohue and Livio, Star-Ledger)

http://www.nj.com/news/ledger/index.ssf?/base/news-13/1203226584272060.xml&coll=1

As Gov. Jon S. Corzine travels county to county to pitch his plan to hike tolls to solve New Jersey's financial troubles, he's heard an echoing cry from the public.

They've scrawled their message on signs, yelled it into microphones at town hall meetings and screamed it in front of the Statehouse at a rally protesting his plan:

They want to see drastic cuts in state spending.

But some have suggested that the discussion may take a turn once the public actually sees what lies ahead in the state budget which, as part of Corzine's financial restructuring plan, will be frozen at last year's $33.5 billion, meaning at least $2.5 billion in cuts.

"People would like the idea of the budget being cut, but they don't like the idea of programs that affect them being cut, and that's the challenge," said Assemblyman John Burzichelli, D-3, of Paulsboro, a member of the Assembly Budget Committee. (Graber, Gloucester County Times)

http://www.nj.com/news/gloucester/index.ssf?/base/news-3/1203235824248910.xml&coll=8

 

CRYAN: “THE ONLY SURE THING… I’M GOING TO WIND UP WITH A LOT OF ENEMIES”

Sometime this week, behind closed doors, Democrats will begin selecting New Jersey's delegation to the party's national convention in Denver this summer.

It will surely be complicated.

It might even get ugly.

"Hundreds of people have a reasonable sense and belief they should be delegates," said Assemblyman Joseph Cryan, the state Democratic committee chairman who will oversee the process of winnowing the list of delegates.

"The only sure thing," he added, only half in jest, "I'm going to end up with a lot of enemies."

That's because there just aren't enough invitations to the ball to go around. There were more than 240 would-be delegates slated with candidates on the Super Tuesday primary ballot. The party leaders must winnow those down to 70, then add 37 at-large delegates, 20 superdelegates and 18 alternates.

Their choices are complicated by the Democratic Party's strict affirmative action rules. Women, for example, must comprise 50 percent of the delegation. At least one delegate must be Native American. There also are goals for the percentage of other traditionally underrepresented groups, such as African-Americans, Latinos, Arabs, gays, veterans and the disabled.

If that wasn't complex enough, there are the political realities of the upcoming 2009 elections. The party wants to be sure local party members, as well as deep-pocketed financial backers, feel rewarded for their loyalty and work. (Howlett, Star-Ledger)

http://www.nj.com/news/ledger/jersey/index.ssf?/base/news-9/1203226588272060.xml&coll=1

 

STILE HOLDS CORZINE ACCOUNTABLE

Governor Corzine restated his resolve to achieve campaign finance reform last month with one taut, memorable line:

"Now is the moment," he said in his State of the State speech.

But instead of seizing that moment, some watchdogs and political reformers are wondering whether Corzine has let it slip away — again.

That's because his promised reform crusade has been replaced by another high-powered campaign — backed by an all-star lineup of New Jersey's special interests.

Casinos. Utilities. Telecommunication giants. The pharmaceutical industry. Labor unions.

These entities, at times, need Corzine's clout for their bottom-line health and Corzine needs them for his political survival. He has recruited them for an impressive "steering committee" to sell and salvage his plan to fix New Jersey's finances by borrowing $40 billion backed by steep toll hikes. (Stile, Bergen Record)

http://www.northjersey.com/news/njpolitics/15710872.html

 

 

HUDSON COUNTY: WHERE POLITICS IS BLOODSPORT

The Hudson County Board of Freeholders meeting ended on a sour note Thursday night when Freeholder Jose Munoz stormed out, triggering a shouting match between Freeholder Maurice Fitzgibbons and Chairman Jeff Dublin.

After several minutes of Dublin and Fitzgibbons shouting at each other, Dublin's motion for an adjournment was seconded and approved by a majority of the board.

Munoz was angered at not being able to get the floor during an extensive dialogue between Freeholder Bill O'Dea and Jersey City NAACP chairman Kabili Tayari, who addressed the board on a proposed committee of community organizations to work with the county on reviewing complaints and procedures in the county's Department of Corrections.

Tayari noted that several months ago the freeholders' legal counsel was directed to meet with the NAACP's lawyers about the creation of the committee. Tayari threatened to contact the U.S. attorney or the state attorney general if the freeholders renege on their promise.

Munoz raised his hands several times, seeking to be recognized during the discussion between Tayari and O'Dea, but each time Dublin motioned him to hold his comments, promising to recognize him momentarily. Finally Munoz stomped out of the chamber. Munoz's exit prompted a protest from Fitzgibbons, who objected to Dublin not recognizing Munoz when he wished to speak. (Morgan, Jersey Journal)

http://www.nj.com/news/jjournal/index.ssf?/base/news-2/1203145885183291.xml&coll=3

 

WE’LL JUST HAVE TO TAKE HIM AT HIS WORD FOR IT

The youngest member of New Jersey's congressional delegation says he decided to step down at the end of his term because his children need him, not because he's shying away from a tough re-election fight.

Rep. Mike Ferguson, a 37-year-old Republican from New Providence, is giving up the 7th District seat in January, when his fourth term officially ends.

Ferguson has no concrete plans for the future, though the former high school teacher and community college instructor said he wants to teach or remain involved in education in some way. And he didn't rule out a future run for elective office years down the road.

But his immediate priority is to spend more time with his wife, Maureen, and their four children, 9-year-old Jack, 8-year-old Grace, 5-year-old Rose, and 3-year-old Joseph, said Ferguson, who won his first House election in 2000. (Chebium, Gannett)

http://www.app.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20080217/NEWS03/802170398/-1/NEWS10

“I’M A JUDGE, BRO”

A former Morris County municipal judge, who gave up his seat after pleading guilty to drunken driving and threatening a public servant last year, is facing new charges for driving while intoxicated.

George R. Korpita was arrested Friday night in Sparta after a traffic stop on Route 181 near the Jefferson border, Sparta Police Chief Ernie Reigstad said. Police noticed Korpita driving erratically on Green Road and pulled him over shortly after 11 p.m.

He was arrested and issued four traffic summonses — driving while intoxicated, careless driving, failing to keep right and refusing to take a breath test, Reigstad said.

Korpita, who could not be reached for comment, was later released on his own recognizance pending a hearing in Sparta Municipal Court.

Korpita had presided over the courts in Dover, Rockaway Borough and Victory Gardens until an incident early on the morning of Nov. 6. In that case, police pulled over Korpita's vehicle on Route 46 after a motorist noticed his black Chrysler sedan not moving at an intersection after the light turned green. (Lockwood, Star-Ledger)

http://www.nj.com/news/ledger/jersey/index.ssf?/base/news-9/1203226525272060.xml&coll=1

MAYBE THE LINK TO CONIGLIO WILL HURT THE HOSPITAL NOW, BUT IT CERTAINLY HELPED THEM BEFORE

Hackensack University Medical Center is used to being named to lists of the best places for medical care. Now it's ended up on the FBI's weekly top 10 list of cases, its executives mentioned prominently in the corruption indictment of a state lawmaker.

This is not the kind of attention the hospital would want right now. The big-time medical center with high-profile friends and grand ambitions is embarking on two large initiatives to expand its size and influence even more.

It's hoping to acquire the shuttered Pascack Valley Hospital in a joint venture with Touro University that would create in Westwood the state's second medical school. And it plans to borrow $85 million — and raise $50 million more — to build a cancer center in Hackensack.

Now, it finds itself in the middle of an alleged influence peddling case in which a former state senator is accused of taking money from the hospital to swing state aid its way. The hospital and two of its top officials have had to hire criminal defense attorneys to help navigate the grand jury proceedings. (Washburn, Bergen Record)

http://www.northjersey.com/news/njpolitics/Link_to_Coniglio_could_hurt_hospital.html

 

IN TRENTON

Attorneys defending the state Board of Public Utilities and its top officers against a whistle-blower suit are asking a judge recently assigned to the case to recuse himself because he has a financial interest in a company that has received clean-energy grants from the BPU.

The court papers, released Friday, say Superior Court Judge Wilbur "Bill" Mathesius owns stock in Energy Photovoltaics, now called EPV Solar, and represented the company before becoming a judge.

EPV Solar has received nearly $1 million in clean-energy grants — the fund that is central to the suit — including one in 2003 and another for $499,795 on the day the case was assigned to Mathesius.

Officials of EPV Solar said Mathesius holds fewer than 100,000 shares of the privately held company, worth about $100,000.

Through a member of his staff, Mathesius said he will address the issue in court Feb. 29.

Four private lawyers defending the BPU and its three top officials have billed the state nearly $1.1 million through November. Another lawyer joined the fray after Potena's lawyer, Joseph Lang, subpoenaed Senate President Richard J. Codey on Jan. 18. (Volpe, Gannett)

http://www.courierpostonline.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20080216/NEWS01/802160352/1006

 

SEPARATE AND UNEQUAL

When civil unions became available one year ago, Gina Pastino of Upper Montclair was "thrilled" to form one with her partner of a dozen years, Naomi Cohen.

But the couple are frustrated after a year of trying to explain — at the bank, the passport office and repeatedly in hospitals — that their civil union entitles them to be treated like spouses.

"People don't understand what civil unions are," said Cohen.

Judy Ford of Port Norris formed a civil union last April to add her partner to her health insurance plan. But the medical center that employs Ford used a loophole in federal law to deny coverage to her partner, Yvonne Mazzola.

Now, because of her civil union, she would be liable for her partner's uninsured medical bills. They might dissolve their civil union.

"It only puts us in a precarious legal situation," said Ford. "Now we have a civil union with no benefit and only detriment." (Schwaneberg, Star-Ledger)

http://www.nj.com/news/ledger/jersey/index.ssf?/base/news-9/1203226622272060.xml&coll=1

 

IS DEALING WITH THE MCGREEVEYS NOW JUDGE KAREN CASSIDY’S FULL-TIME JOB?

Former Gov. James E. McGreevey lost a round in the continuing divorce fight against his estranged wife when a Superior Court judge ruled yesterday that he could not subject his 6-year-old daughter to more psychologists in his bid for joint custody.

Their daughter Jacqueline McGreevey is already under the care of a court-appointed psychologist and there is no need for any more evaluations, Superior Court Judge Karen Cassidy said.

"I'm disappointed," said McGreevey after the hour-long hearing in Elizabeth. "Our hope was to have a third party expert interview both parents and Jacqueline and make a detached, professional determination. It could only help the court. It could only help Jacqueline."

Dina Matos McGreevey had no comment but smiled when it became clear Judge Cassidy was siding with her in the latest round of McGreevey versus McGreevey.

The McGreeveys' nearly four-year marriage crumbled after the former governor's shocking announcement in 2004 that he is gay and engaged in a homosexual affair with an aide. (Lucas, Star-Ledger)

http://www.nj.com/news/ledger/index.ssf?/base/news-13/1203140123304900.xml&coll=1

 

MAYBE WE’RE NOT PASSING MASSACHUSETTS ON THE LEFT AFTER ALL

A top state Democrat said Friday he will introduce legislation to penalize New Jersey businesses that knowingly hire illegal immigrants.

Senate Majority Leader Stephen Sweeney said his proposal aims to "put up a stop sign for illegals who undermine family, educational and health care support systems."

"Companies that knowingly hire illegals are destroying job opportunities for the working men and women of New Jersey," said Sweeney, D-3, of West Deptford. "The practice has to be stopped."

The measure would require New Jersey businesses to verify the legal status of employees. Violations of the law would be penalized by a 10-day suspension of the business license for the first offense and permanent revocation of the license for the second.

If passed, New Jersey would become the second state in the nation to enact such legislation. According the National Conference of State Legislatures, Arizona mandates the federal work authorization database E-Verify, which was formerly known as Basic Pilot. The Arizona law was recently upheld by a federal judge who rejected claims that Arizona had assumed the federal government's role of regulating immigration. The court ruled that the state had the right to regulate business. (Graber, Gloucester County Times)

http://www.nj.com/news/gloucester/index.ssf?/base/news-3/12031512078400.xml&coll=8

 

ARENA TURF WAR

The way Essex County Executive Joseph DiVincenzo sees it, the $375 million Prudential Center has proved it can be a success. Since opening in October, the venue has attracted crowds to sporting events and concerts.

But there is one thing standing in the way of the Newark arena achieving its full potential: The Izod Center.

"The Meadowlands should have been closed as soon as this arena opened up," said DiVincenzo. "Saying two arenas can make it is absolutely not true. Every day the Izod Center stays open, it hurts our arena and hurts what we are trying to do by redeveloping Newark."

DiVincenzo thinks one of the reasons Gov. Jon Corzine has not closed the Izod Center is pressure from an organized group of Bergen County politicians. Now he's called together a coalition of Essex County politicians to fight for "The Rock."

They will gather at a Feb. 28 meeting at which Devils owners Jeff Vanderbeek will give a presentation on the status and challenges facing the Prudential Center.

The central goal of the meeting is closing the Izod Center. (Mays and McDermott, Star-Ledger)

http://www.nj.com/news/ledger/index.ssf?/base/news-13/1203140140304900.xml&coll=1

 

IN OCEAN COUNTY

Ocean County workers were paid $6.4 million in overtime last year, three-quarters of it to sheriff's and corrections officers, and Road Department workers.

"It reflects the nature of the operation," said County Administrator Alan W. Avery Jr., of the $2.1 million in overtime paid to sheriff's officers, $1.6 million to corrections officers and $1 million to Road Department workers.

Bad weather, a surge in major crimes, an ever-increasing population in the county jail, and growing demands on the sheriff to provide security can impact the amount of overtime workers are paid, Avery said.

Overtime for all county employees can be viewed at www.DataUniverse.com, the Asbury Park Press' public records site on the Web. Click on "Government OT/Salaries" to access the search page. (Bennett, Asbury Park Press)

http://www.app.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20080217/NEWS/802170437/-1/NEWS10

 

THE SOPRANO STATE

"It's not a joke. New Jersey leads the country in corruption."

Those words stand out in bright red letters at the top of the dust jacket of a new book — scheduled to hit bookshelves Tuesday — written by two veteran Statehouse reporters.

In " "The Soprano State: New Jersey's Culture of Corruption," co-authors Bob Ingle and Sandy McClure use newspaper stories, unpublished material and fresh reporting to detail the depth and pervasive culture of corruption in New Jersey.

"It's connecting the dots for people, even if they're familiar with what's going on; the book will connect the dots for people," McClure, who is now re-tired, explains.

"The Soprano State," dedicated "for taxpayers everywhere," chronicles corruption in New Jersey at every level — from questions that remain unanswered about disgraced former Gov. Jim McGreevey, who resigned under a cloud of suspicion after announcing he was a "gay American," to attorneys general who turned a blind eye to the law, and to the leaders and underlings who have made a home within New Jersey's political landscape for decades. (Webster, Asbury Park Press)

http://www.app.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20080217/NEWS/802170438/-1/NEWS10

HE SHOULD GET ADVICE FROM A YOUNG, FORMER SCHOOL BOARD MEMBER: JAMES PRESSLEY OF PLEASANTVILLE.

VINELAND –A high school student is seeking a spot on the city's Board of Education, and he would be the youngest person ever elected to the school board.

At least three people have submitted their school board nominating positions for the upcoming election. A total of five petitions have been picked up.

Vineland High School senior Robert Petronglo — if elected April 15 — would be the youngest person to sit on the board since Jessica Deckard won a seat in 2005, when she was 22 years old.

Petronglo, who turned 18 in October, submitted his "School Board Candidate Kit" this week. He joins two other prospective candidates vying for three, three-year-terms on the nine-person panel.

"I have new ideas. I'm not the protocol candidate," Petronglo said. (Funderburk, Daliy Journal)

http://www.thedailyjournal.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20080216/NEWS01/802160317/1002

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