Politicker in the news, Star-Ledger explores Middlesex County after John Lynch, Charles Stile on upcoming budget cuts, Chris Christie will testify if his boss says it’s ok, Corzine’s 54 each have something to gain.
A LITTLE SELF-PROMOTION
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)
Middlesex County is a different place without John Lynch.
The former state Senate president and New Brunswick mayor was the star of the county’s political universe, building the Middlesex Democratic Organization into one of the state’s most powerful party machines.
Its greatest success was when the party maneuvered Woodbridge Mayor James E. McGreevey into the governor’s office in 2001. The euphoria ended 2 1/2 years later when McGreevey resigned in disgrace over a gay love affair with his former homeland security adviser.
The astute Lynch quickly switched allegiance to Sen. Jon Corzine, who was elected governor in 2005. Despite the McGreevey debacle, Lynch’s reputation as a political mastermind was not tarnished.
But since the 69-year-old Lynch pleaded guilty to corruption charges and landed behind bars a year ago, there has been a void in Middlesex County politics. Republicans took control in two small towns, South River and South Plainfield, and made inroads elsewhere, exposing cracks in the once- impenetrable Democratic organization.
“Middlesex County looks different in the post-Lynch era,” said Ingrid Reed, director of the New Jersey project at the Eagleton Institute for Politics at Rutgers University. While Lynch was “very hands- on” in molding the county organization, in his absence no one has emerged as the single, cohesive, unifying leader, Reed said. (Walsh, Star-Ledger)
STILE ON BUDGET CUTS
North Jersey residents, brace yourself for Phase II of the selling of Governor Corzine’s toll hike plan: the budget cuts.
A week from today, Corzine says he will make good on his pledge to freeze state spending at last year’s levels, which will force him to make $2.5 billion in cuts to state services. And that, in turn, could lead to tuition increases and the closing of some hospitals and state parks.
For weeks, Corzine has barnstormed the state warning that a radical restructuring of its finances, underwritten by steep toll hikes, was needed to mop up the red ink caused by years of bookkeeping gimmicks, spending giveaways and reckless borrowing. It’s a long-term fix.
Next week’s budget document will be the first installment in this painful and long-deferred process.
“We are going to hear more protests,” Corzine said recently. “When you cut higher education, when you cut municipal aid, when you cut Medicaid, it has implications for other parts of society. … This isn’t going to be without its costs.”
The challenge facing Corzine is this: Will the budget book give him a useful I-told-you-so prop when he resumes his second set of town meetings later this month to muster public support for the toll hike plan? Will the public realize that toll increases, which could be shouldered in large part by out-of-state drivers, is a less onerous option than ending weekend hours at motor vehicle stations or scaling back adult day-care programs throughout New Jersey? (Stile, Bergen Record)
THIS PIE HAS 54 PIECES
The 54 people handpicked by Gov. Corzine to promote his toll-hike plan include lobbyists whose clients could gain from the project and 10 people linked to a construction advocacy group promoting opportunities to network with state leaders.
The panel’s chairman and two other members work for the state’s three top lobbying firms, the Record of Bergen County reported on Sunday. They represent engineers, financial companies, resorts and utilities – all industries with the potential to benefit if the governor’s multi-billion-dollar financial restructuring plan is approved.
Ten of the appointees are connected to the construction advocacy group Alliance for Action. Three more are top executives with Verizon, Trump Entertainment, and Public Service Electric and Gas Co., businesses that have benefited from prior laws or initiatives promoted by Corzine. “There’s not a common denominator beyond wanting New Jersey to be a better place,” said Corzine spokeswoman Lilo Stainton. “What people will see is a broad variety of interests, a broad spectrum of people who have supported this.”
Corzine’s financial restructuring plan includes sharply higher tolls, revenues from which will be used to pay down state debt and fund transportation projects. Tolls on the Turnpike, Parkway, and Atlantic City Expressway would be affected. (AP)
POSSIBLE FUTURE GOVERNOR HAS TO ASK HIS BOSS
U.S. Attorney Christopher Christie has been asked to testify before members of Congress about a multimillion-dollar contract his office awarded to former U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft.
The hearing before a House Judiciary Committee subcommittee is scheduled for Feb. 26, The Star-Ledger of Newark reported in Monday’s newspapers.
Christie, the top federal law enforcement officer in New Jersey, has not said whether he will appear. At a news conference last week, he said he would appear before Congress if higher-ups in the Justice Department asked him to do so.
A message left for Christie was not immediately returned Monday.
The subject of the probe is a contract to serve as a federal monitor that Ashcroft’s Washington law firm received from Christie’s office. The deal is worth 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,” Rep. Linda Sanchez, D-Calif., told The Star-Ledger. (AP)
THE FRENCH ENLIGHTENMENT HAS REACHED NEW JERSEY
David Rousseau’s timing could have been better.
The Mercer County resident is set to become New Jersey state treasurer with the state contending with crushing debt, revenue worries, a need to slash spending, and Democratic Gov. Corzine’s plan to significantly increase highway tolls.
But Rousseau doesn’t lament his timing.
“This is a pivotal time in the history of our state,” the 47-year-old said. “I am honored that Gov. Corzine has selected me to be a part of his ambitious and innovative plan to restructure the state’s finances.”
Corzine recently nominated Rousseau to be treasurer, a $141,000-per-year cabinet position that’s among the most crucial in state government as it oversees spending, debt and tax collections.
Rousseau is working as acting treasurer as the Senate considers his nomination, and Corzine’s choice has been widely praised – even by Republicans often critical of Corzine’s fiscal moves.
“He is knowledgeable, approachable, dedicated, and a person of impeccable character,” Assemblyman Joe Malone (R., Burlington) said of Rousseau. “I feel so strongly that he will serve the state well in this post that I would be willing to testify on behalf of his nomination.” (Hester, AP)
SOUNDS LIKE THE BEGINNING OF A BAD JOKE
A baker, a funeral director, three dentists and a locksmith. Can you name what they have in common? They are members of New Jersey's 213th Legislature, which convened for the first time last month.
And they all run businesses.
Of the 120 members of the Legislature, 18 lawmakers, or 15 percent, own or operate businesses, according to a three-week analysis of data by NJBIZ. (See box on page 7 for complete list of business proprietors).
The number is remarkably low to some, like Philip Kirschner, president of the New Jersey Business & Industry Association, who says the analysis indicates 85 percent of lawmakers "don't have a fundamental understanding of all the pressures businesspeople are under, and the kinds of sacrifices they make to stay in business and operate.
"It is a very time-consuming endeavor to serve in the Legislature," says Kirschner, "and a lot of businesspeople, particularly small-business people, simply cannot make the time commitment and still run their business." (Goldstein, NJBIZ)
They’re not state Senators or gubernatorial offspring. They don’t come from political dynasties and don’t have powerful county organizations backing them.
But in the third and seventh congressional districts, there are eight lower-profile Republican candidates, considered second-tier to the likes of state Sen. Leonard Lance, Kate Whitman, Medford Mayor Chris Myers and Ocean County Freeholder Director Jack Kelly. And those candidates want to stress that even without a famous name or a powerful county organization behind them, they can have an impact on these races.
One of the longest shot candidates on the ballot in either district is Suzanne Penna, a 37-year-old nursing student from Bayville who’s only been involved in politics for the last year and a half. It won’t be her first time facing Kelly in a primary.
Penna, who used to run a daycare business, began her political awakening with the sudden death of her husband three years ago from a heart condition. She decided that the best way to provide for her four children would be as a nurse, so she enrolled full-time as a nursing student at Ocean Community College. (Friedman, PolitickerNJ.com)
LIKE MOTHS TO A LIGHT
Two former assemblymen, ousted from the Legislature after losing in the last June’s primary, have resurfaced with one of Trenton’s largest lobbying firms.
After their legislative careers ended last month, former Assemblymen Wilfredo Caraballo, D-Essex, and Guy Gregg, R-Sussex, now work for MBI-GluckShaw.
Clark W. Martin, the firm’s president, said he expects both to register as lobbyists after the one-year “cooling off period,” enacted in 2004, which bars legislators, governors and department heads from serving as lobbyists immediately after their public service.
Former lawmakers and commissioners bring insight and connections to a lobbying firm and credibility among their former colleagues they now try to sway, said Martin, who now has six former legislators on staff.
“You get to find out what they’re really thinking as long as their memories are fresh,” Martin said. “You get a chance to get our phone calls answered more quickly — sometimes in a lame-duck (legislative session), that’s the most important thing.” (Volpe, Gannett)
YOU WANT ALTERNATIVES, YOU’VE GOT ‘EM
Jeff Van Drew, Nelson Albano and Matt Milam proposed four constitutional amendments, one nonbinding referendum and three other bills Monday they say would address many of the state’s fiscal problems without raising taxes or increasing highway tolls.
The bills would partially follow Gov. Jon S. Corzine‘s suggestions last month to stop spending money without dedicated funds and block borrowing without voter approval.
The three said they are following Corzine’s suggestion to present him with ideas that could work better. But state Sen. Van Drew and Assemblymen Albano and Milam, all D-Cape May, Cumberland, Atlantic, said they have not yet spoken with leadership about the bills.
They expect the bills, not yet introduced, will hit committees Thursday.
The biggest one is a nonbinding referendum that would ask voters if the state should stop sending homestead rebates to all but seniors or those who are totally disabled. (Harper, Press of Atlantic City)
The city resident will be in Camden today as jury selection begins in his trial. He was one of five past board members arrested Sept. 6 on charges of taking money in exchange for supporting certain companies for school district contracts, but he is the only one taking it to trial. The other four – including past Presidents Jayson Adams and James Pressley – have all pleaded guilty and are awaiting sentencing.
The six-count indictment claims McCormick received $3,500 in exchange for his vote in favor of an insurance broker for the district. What he and the others accused did not know was that the broker was actually working on behalf of the FBI.
McCormick was one of a dozen men – 11 of them public officials – charged in the case, which reached to the Statehouse. (Cohen, Press of Atlantic City)
STEVE M. LONE… SWEENEY
A New Jersey Senate leader said he will push legislation to punish businesses who knowingly hire illegal immigrants.
Senate Majority Leader Stephen M. Sweeney said his decision comes after a federal judge upheld an Arizona law that prohibits businesses from knowingly hiring illegal immigrants and yanks the business licenses of those that do.
“Companies that knowingly hire illegals are destroying job opportunities for the working men and women of New Jersey,” said Sweeney, D-Gloucester. “The practice has to be stopped.”
The Immigration and Naturalization Service in 2003 estimated that New Jersey had 221,000 illegal immigrants, though the Federation for American Immigration Reform, which favors tighter border security and immigration laws, estimates the state has 490,000.
New Jersey has about 8.7 million residents and 4.1 million workers. (Hester, AP)
IF THEY PASS THIS, THERE MAY BE NO PARTY
A locally sponsored bill to require voter approval on debt issued by local and county governments is facing early opposition.
The New Jersey League of Municipalities, which represents the interests of the state’s 566 towns, says the proposal would hinder the ability of local governments to move projects along and increase the cost to taxpayers.
“This bill will delay the process, and time is money,” league Executive Director Bill Dressel said.
Assemblyman Michael Doherty introduced the proposal, arguing that issuing debt without voter approval is unconstitutional.
The state is required to gain voter approval for certain debt as well as school districts.
“The state cannot delegate a power that they don’t have,” said Doherty, R-Warren/Hunterdon. (Graber, Gloucester County Times)
“I’M A JUDGE, BRO”
SPARTA TWP. — Former Municipal Court Judge George R. Korpita had just left a French country restaurant with a female companion when he was stopped Friday night on a drunken driving charge, his second in less than five months, authorities said Monday.
Korpita, 48, already is slated to be sentenced this Friday in Superior Court, Morristown, on guilty pleas he gave in December to drunken driving in Roxbury on Nov. 6, and threatening a public servant — a police officer — to gain a benefit for himself.
At the time of his plea, Korpita resigned his municipal court judgeships in Dover, Rockaway Borough and Victory Gardens.
His latest brush with the law came about 10:40 p.m. Friday when Sparta Officer Joseph Pensado, on routine patrol on Tomahawk Trail, said he noticed a black Maserati being driven erratically. The driver, Korpita, was stopped and taken to headquarters, where he refused to submit to a breath test. He was charged with driving while intoxicated, careless driving, failure to maintain a lane and refusing to take a breath test, Sparta Sgt. Ron Casteel said.
Korpita was released into the custody of his companion and passenger, Kimberly Breazzano, who was sober and not charged with any offenses. Breazzano drove Korpita home in his Maserati, police said. (Wright, Daily Record)
A PASSAIC COUNTY EXECUTIVE?
As Passaic County’s government struggles with budget problems, the senior county freeholder is proposing a major change in government to strengthen financial decision making.
Freeholder James Gallagher, who has advocated electing a Passaic County executive for years, is looking to rally others who support changing a system that now immerses the Freeholder Board in intricate budget matters.
As a 10-year veteran, Gallagher is the longest-serving member on the all-Democratic Board of Freeholders. He has invited mayors and municipal council members to a March 1 discussion about commissioning a study on alternative government charters for Passaic County. So far, about 30 people, evenly divided between Democrats and Republicans, have indicated an interest in attending the event to be held at The Brownstone in Paterson, Gallagher said. (Brubaker, Herald News)
GILMORE IS STILL ALIVE
There is life after Hamilton Township politics and former Mayor Glen Gilmore has found it 1,632 miles from his Hamilton Square home, at least for a few days.
While the former mayor is not making a career change just yet, he did accept an invitation extended in October from the National Emergency Response and Rescue Training Center in College Station, Texas, to share with other government officials what he learned from responding to Hamilton’s anthrax scare in 2001. He is in Texas through tomorrow doing just that.
“I provided quite a bit of background and they asked if I’d come out here and critique a new leadership seminar for Homeland Security that they’re doing,” Gilmore explained yesterday in a phone call from this Texas A&M University town located about 100 miles northwest of Houston.
“I flew into Houston and drove here. It’s a beautiful day. They were asking me how cold it was back home.” (Persico, Trenton Times)
FERRIERIO/WEINBERG FEUD CONSUMES LOCAL POLITICS
One of four orthodox Jews who sits on the Teaneck Township Council — including Mayor Elie Katz — Councilman Elnatan “Rudy” Rudolph smothered any potential criticism than one religious group would dominate local government by announcing plans to run on a ticket with a Muslim, Mohammed Hameeduddin, and African American Minister, Rev. Robert Robinson.
“We’re running on a message of diversity,” said Rudolph.
But there remains another rift in this town of 40,000, inevitablya flashpoint in Bergen County politics as long as State Sen. Loretta Weinberg continues her rivalry withBergen County Democratic Chairman Joseph Ferriero. Now it’s hard for any local official to make a move without his or her actions being ascribed to eitheroneor the other. Thus, while municipal elections in May are nonpartisan, they still carry tacit designations of “F” or “W” in place of the more traditional “D” and “R” tags.
In this case, it’s Rudolph on Team Ferreiro, running for his first full four-year term on a slate that in part targets Councilwoman Monica Honis, widely perceived as a Weinberg ally. A third councilperson, Jacqueline B. Kates, has told other local officials that she does not intend to pursue re-election. (Pizarro, PolitickerNJ.com)
HOBOKEN – A police lieutenant – now involved in a whistleblower lawsuit against the city – complained to his captain that the night shifts were left dangerously short-staffed during the Hoboken SWAT team’s Mardi Gras trip to New Orleans from Feb. 18 to March 2, 2006, according to documents obtained by The Jersey Journal.
Then-Lt. Mark Competello, who has since been busted down to sergeant, wrote in the memo dated March 8, 2006 that the loss of four officers from the midnight to 8 a.m. tour to be with the SWAT team in New Orleans, created a “dangerous public safety condition.”
“During their absence there were several tours where our manpower level was dangerously low, to the point where the safety of the public and the officers who were on duty were placed in a precarious position,” Competello wrote.
Competello is appealing his demotion at the state Office of Administrative Law and has accused the city in Superior Court of demoting him because he’s complained about inadequate staffing and other issues.
Public Safety Director Bill Bergin acknowledged the authenticity of the memo, but added: “I would strongly doubt that any shift was left short-handed to send men down there (to New Orleans).” (Hack, Jersey Journal)
BEST BUDDIES IN CUMBERLAND COUNTY
BRIDGETON — A presidential holiday offered no truce in a battle of words and statistics between members of Cumberland County government and the Prosecutor’s Office.
Freeholder Director Louis Magazzu called a news conference Monday to criticize Prosecutor Ronald J. Casella over his performance.
Magazzu said a major boost in funding has not been matched in the numbers of criminals sent away. State statistics show worsened outcomes in some areas, he added.
According to the county, the Prosecutor’s Office 2007 budget was $653,000 for operating expenses and $5,936,706 in salary and wages.
The figures do not include costs such as pension and health benefits. County Administrator Ken Mecouch put the overall cost at about $9 million annually.
Magazzu said that the county deserves better results from a budget that has more than doubled in about three years.
“The facts are that the disposition rate, as an aggregate and within the various components, would suggest there has not been a 250-percent increase in improvement in that office,” the director said, citing his computation of the Prosecutor’s Office budget increase.” (Smith, Daily Journal)
IN LINCOLN PARK
Mayor David Runfeldt, responding to criticism from Rockaway Township’s mayor, defended the borough’s decision not to reveal a criminal investigation into its former chief financial officer.
Dennis J. Gerber, 57, of Saddle Brook, was charged with official misconduct and theft Thursday — just six days after resigning his Lincoln Park post and two days after being named Rockaway Township’s chief financial officer.
In response, Rockaway Township Mayor Louis Sceusi said Lincoln Park should have let Rockaway Township know about the investigation before the decision was made to proceed with Gerber’s hiring in the township.
“It is very troubling that Lincoln Park, who was conducting an investigation of this employee’s conduct, would not confidentially alert our township of criminal allegations after learning this same employee was seeking similar employment in our community,” Sceusi said last Thursday. (Jennings, Daily Record)
MAYOR DECIDES TO ACT AS TOWN SPOKESMAN, BUT BACKTRACKS AFTER REALIZING JUST HOW ANNOYING REPORTERS ARE
New Mayor Nelson Vaughan rescinded his short-lived policy of being the sole spokesman for the borough on Monday. He said he was acting on the advice of borough attorney Joe Bell.
Vaughan, a Democrat who never served in the public sector prior to becoming mayor in January, informed members of the local media last week that he would be the borough’s spokesman, effectively barring all borough employees from speaking directly to the press.
But on Monday, he held a press conference announcing his decision to shelve his ill-fated policy. The policy had never been drafted into an ordinance and was never voted on by the borough council.
“The last thing in the world I want to do is make it more difficult for the press, but it turns out I was wrong,” said Vaughan, who championed an open form of government during his campaign last year. “I made a mistake.” (Schneider, Daily Record)
The electric guitars squawking from the Cumberland County College gymnasium on March 8 will have some political overtones.
Stand Up For Vineland, the election campaign of Mayor Perry Barse and his City Council slate, is staging a five-band rock concert partly aimed at courting younger voters.
he idea for the concert, which will include a voter registration drive, sprang out of debate over the Vineland Music Festival, a multi-day event that was planned for August in East Vineland.
Promoters last month announced they were shelving the festival until early summer 2009.
Hundreds of residents both for and against the festival spoke at public meetings and organized opposing groups. (Zatzariny, Daily Journal)
Constantino Rozzo knows the road to City Council won’t be an easy one for him this time out.
Rozzo in 2004 couldn’t gather enough nominating petitions to run for council.
This year, he’s trying again.
Rozzo needs petitions from 1 percent of voters in Vineland, or 347 individual petitions to run in the May 13 election.
“It looks doubtful, but it’s possible,” he said of his campaign to gather enough petitions by the March 20 deadline.
Rozzo said he’s collected about 260 petitions over the past month.
Rozzo, a member of Socialist Party USA, ran unsuccessfully for governor in 2002, for Congress in 2000 and 2004 and state Assembly in 2003. He says he is running for Congress again in November. (Zatzariny, Daily Journal)