Important South Jersey Democrats, including two superdelegates, go to Obama; Congressional hearing delayed because Christie and Ashcroft aren’t certain to testify; poll finds poor approval ratings for New Jersey politicians; Carla Katz shoots for higher CWA position that could put her in negotiations with Corzine administration.
IMAGINE IF THIS HAPPENED BEFORE THE PRIMARY
Barack Obama today picked up the support of two super delegates from New Jersey as several major Democratic leaders in South Jersey announced that they would switch their endorsements from Hillary Clinton to Obama. Super delegates Donald Norcross, who had previously been uncommitted, and State Sen. Dana Redd, who had backed Clinton, are now for Obama. This is a net pickup of two super delegates for Obama and a loss of one for Clinton.
Obama also won the backing of one of the state’s most powerful political insiders, George Norcross, and was endorsed by Clinton backers, including Senate Majority Leader Steve Sweeney, Democratic County Chairmen James Beach (Camden), Rick Perr (Burlington) and Michael Angelini (Gloucester), Camden Mayor Gwendolyn Faison, State Sen. Frederick Madden, and Assemblyman Paul Moriarty.
This brings the New Jersey delegate count to 72 votes for Clinton and 52 for Obama, with 3 super delegates still undecided.
"Like many Americans, we have been closely watching the presidential contest unfold and sense a new energy and excitement that hasn't been seen in at least forty-years," said Norcross, the South Jersey AFL-CIO president and the Camden County Democratic Co-Chairman. "The performance of Senator Obama in Wisconsin and the Potomac primaries demonstrated that he has broad appeal across the political spectrum – men and women, young and old, white and blue collars, Asian, white, Latino and African-American. We need to seize this momentum, attract a new generation of leaders to our Party, while rallying behind the candidate who can best unite the country during these uncertain economic times. That candidate is Senator Barack Obama." (Editor, PolitickerNJ.com)
The latest moves, along with Obama's wins in Wisconsin and Hawaii on Tuesday, give him 1,351 delegates to Clinton's 1,262, according to the Associated Press' count of both elected delegates, who are pledged to candidates, and superdelegates, who are not. The two candidates meet in televised debates tonight in Texas (8-9:30 p.m. on CNN) and Tuesday in Ohio ahead of the crucial March 4 primaries in those delegate-rich states.
Yesterday's endorsements leave Gov. Jon Corzine and most of the New Jersey's congressional Democrats backing Clinton while George Norcross and Senate President Richard Codey (D-Essex) — two men who have often feuded — along with Newark Mayor Cory Booker and others, are backing Obama.
"What we are seeing here is a shift in the tides … toward Senator Obama," said Brigid Harrison, a political science professor at Montclair State University.
The governor's press secretary, Lilo Stainton, said, "Governor Corzine believes Democrats are lucky to have such a bounty of excellent candidates in this year's presidential race and he feels Hillary Clinton has the right combination of leadership and experience to benefit New Jersey and America." (Schwaneberg, Star-Ledger)
PALLONE VS. CHRISTIE
Representative Frank Pallone said that the hearing in which U.S. Attorney Chris Christie and former Attorney General John Ashcroft were to testify in was postponed because the two would not agree to attend.
Although he’s not a member of the committee, Pallone said that based on his experience chairing the Health Committee, the next step may be to issue a subpoena.
“When we want to have a hearing, we contact the people we would like to see testify and, if they don’t appear, you have to decide how you get them there, whether it’s through a subpoena or other means.”
Christie had told reporters that he would testify if asked by the Justice Department. But Pallone pointed out that there’s no law that says a sitting U.S. Attorney needs permission. (Friedman, PolitickerNJ.com)
“ALL THESE SIGNS ARE CERTAINLY NOT GOOD”
New Jerseyans are generally dissatisfied with their state and political leaders, according to a poll released yesterday.
According to the survey by the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute, New Jersey voters:
· Would not re-elect Gov. Jon Corzine if he were running today.
· Are not satisfied with the way things are going in New Jersey.
· Remain unimpressed with Democratic U.S. Sens. Frank Lautenberg and Bob Menendez.
· Believe the Legislature is not doing a good job.
"All these signs are certainly not good," said Clay Richards, assistant director of the poll.
Richards said 64 percent of New Jersey voters believe the state is in an economic recession, according to a follow-up poll to be released this morning, and that has created an atmosphere of gloom that elected officials must pay attention to.
The survey of 1,803 voters was conducted from Feb. 13 to 18. It has a margin of error of plus or minus 2.3 percentage points. (Margolin, Star-Ledger)
Corzine also is paying a price for his plan to raise highway tolls.
Ingrid Reed, director of Rutgers University's New Jersey Project, said that after following the governor around the state at his toll-hike town meetings, she was not surprised by the declining approval ratings. Even in audiences that weren't overtly hostile, she said, she found "a real skepticism, a real distrust, a conviction that public officials were in this for themselves."
The sagging approval ratings reflect "a sense of withholding approval because you really are not sure these people are trustworthy," said Reed. "If I were these officials, I would realize that I have to recapture the trust of the citizens." (Burton, Philadelphia Inquirer)
STILE TO CORZINE: TRY AGAIN
Governor Corzine's Save Our State lobbying unit has been invited to Drumthwacket on Monday for dinner and a preview of the much-anticipated Slash and Sacrifice state budget he'll deliver the next day.
It's a call to arms (or, more specifically, a call to twist arms) in an effort to salvage his plan to raise $40 billion through steep toll hikes. Corzine wants SOS members to digest the details of his proposed $33.5 billion budget for the new fiscal year — replete with steep cuts in services — before they swarm the State House in support of his cause.
He's thinking such an austere budget could be a useful sales tool for the SOS — line-item proof of the hardship that will plague New Jersey in the coming years unless lawmakers face up to the governor's less odious toll hike alternative.
But Corzine — who is paying for the meal out of his own pocket — should use the pre-budget banquet to discuss another strategy: scrapping the toll hikes and starting over.
The toll hike plan has "smashed into a brick wall of massive voter opposition,'' said Clay F. Richards, assistant director of the Quinnipiac University poll, which delivered a grim report card Wednesday — 73 percent of New Jersey voters oppose the plan. (Stile, Bergen Record)
WOULDN’T WE ALL LOVE TO SEE MORE CORZINE/KATZ NEGOTIATIONS?
A local state worker union president who once dated Gov. Corzine is running for a top Communications Workers of America post that could one day place her in direct negotiations with Corzine's office.
Carla Katz wants to be vice president of Communications Workers of America's District 1, which represents more than 190,000 members in 327 CWA local unions in New York, New Jersey, New England and eastern Canada.
Katz is seeking to unseat Christopher Shelton, who last year led contract talks with Corzine's administration. Katz opposed the deal they reached because it cut health and pension benefits for state workers.
The contract was approved by workers and the state.
"I do, however, believe we need real leadership change in our district to forcefully and successfully stand tough against attacks on our jobs, on our health care benefits, and on our pensions," Katz said in a statement on her Web site. "In this time of economic uncertainty, it is imperative that we elect leaders who are united in standing up for the rights that we have worked all our lives to earn." (Hester, AP)
“IF THE GOVERNOR WANTS ME TO INTRODUCE THIS BILL, I’LL INTRODUCE IT, BUT IT DOESN’T LOOK LIKE IS GOING ANYWERE.”
Amid signs of growing resistance to Gov. Jon Corzine's toll plan in the Legislature, its chief Democratic critic yesterday proposed an alternative that would combine smaller toll increases with higher gasoline taxes and the sale or lease of the state Lottery.
Assembly Transportation Committee Chairman John Wisniewski (D-Middlesex) said his plan would be a fairer and more affordable way to raise money to pay down state debt and fund highway, bridge and transit projects.
Wisniewski released his proposal on the same day a new poll from Quinnipiac University showed public opinion running against Corzine's "financial restructuring" by a margin of 73 percent to 22 percent. Poll director Clay Richards said those results mark the governor's proposal as a "political disaster."
Also yesterday, the Democratic senator who was expected to introduce the enabling legislation for Corzine's plan said he prefers Wisniewski's approach.
"If the governor wants me to introduce his bill, I'll introduce it, but it just doesn't look like it's going anywhere," said Sen. Raymond Lesniak (D-Union), an early supporter of Corzine's idea to use assets like the toll roads to raise money to address the state's financial woes. (Feeney, Star-Ledger)
– A Senate leader yesterday said highway tolls should increase only to pay for transportation improvements, casting further doubt on Gov. Corzine's plan to boost tolls to reduce state debt.
Senate Majority Leader Stephen Sweeney said Corzine must find an alternative to toll hikes to pay at least half of $32 billion in state debt.
"As far as cutting state debt, he's going to have to work with something else besides this to do it," said Sweeney (D., Gloucester).
The lawmaker said the gas tax shouldn't increase, as some lawmakers suggest, since the state transportation fund has money until 2011. (Hester, AP)
PILE ON ANNE
Millionaire developer Anne Evans Estabrook's two rivals for the Republican nomination for U.S. Senate accused her yesterday of violating a law designed to level the fundraising playing field — a charge she dismissed as "baseless."
The campaigns of state Sen. Joseph Pennacchio (R-Morris) and Murray Sabrin separately accused Estabrook of hiding how much of her own money she has invested in her campaign. By doing so, they charged, she has prevented them from being able to ask each of their donors for more money under a provision known as the "millionaire's amendment."
That provision, part of the 2002 McCain-Feingold campaign finance reform law, raises the contribution limits for candidates facing wealthy opponents who finance their campaigns from their own deep pockets.
"But for Ms. Estabrook's malfeasance, Sen. Pennacchio would be able to raise $4,600 to $11,500 more per donor," his campaign lawyer, Alan Zakin, wrote last week to Estabrook's campaign treasurer.
"This violation is more damaging to Sen. Pennachio's campaign each day that goes by, as he is improperly prohibited from receiving the early campaign money to which he is entitled — funds that are most crucial to maximize campaign success," Zakin added.
Mark Duffy, Estabrook's campaign manager, responded yesterday with a letter stating, "Mrs. Estabrook's loans to her campaign have not triggered the 'millionaire's amendment.'" (Schwaneberg, Star-Ledger)
FORMER MAYORS LOSE THEIR HARD EARNED PENSIONS
Former Brick Mayor Joseph C. Scarpelli must repay more than $20,000 he received in pension benefits, a state pension board ruled Wednesday.
The Public Employees Retirement System Board of Trustees also voted unanimously to strip the pension benefits Scarpelli accrued from 1998 until his resignation as Brick mayor at the end of 2006. The order reduces the 68-year-old Scarpelli's monthly pension check to approximately $333 from approximately $1,825, according to Tom Vincz, a state Treasury Department spokesman.
In another unanimous vote, the trustees revoked former Ocean Township (Monmouth County) Mayor Terrance D. Weldon's state pension. Weldon, who recently began a 58-month prison term at Texas' Beaumont Federal Correctional Complex, would have received roughly $1,667 each month beginning next year.
Weldon, 59, pleaded guilty more than five years ago to taking cash bribes in exchange for official favors. He was the first local official to fall in the FBI's Operation Bid Rig investigation. (Schweiger, Asbury Park Press)
BUT EVERYONE IN STATE GOVERNMENT WORKS SO HARD
Lawmakers said they are bracing for massive state worker job cuts and even the elimination of state departments as Gov. Jon Corzine prepares a proposed budget that will recommend slicing spending by more than $2 billion.
Lawmakers who have spoken with Corzine or his aides about the budget said they believe he wants to reduce the payroll by 3,000 to 4,000 positions, though the exact mix of layoffs and other job cuts remained unclear. Other options include reductions through attrition or early retirement.
Several lawmakers also said Corzine is considering the elimination of at least three departments: Agriculture, Personnel and Commerce.
Without providing specifics, Lilo Stainton, an administration spokeswoman, confirmed the governor will be announcing plans Tuesday during his annual budget message to further shrink the bureaucracy, which now numbers 68,430 full-time positions.
"The governor will discuss downsizing government during his budget address," she said. (Donohue, Star-Ledger)
MASON NEEDS THAT MONEY FOR HER FUTURE MAYORAL CAMPAIGN
The state Supreme Court is considering whether to extend the deadline to sue for failure to turn over documents under the state Open Public Records Act and if a government should pay legal fees for forcing a lawsuit.
The high court heard arguments yesterday in an appeal by Hoboken Councilwoman Elizabeth "Beth" Mason, who wants to see the 45-day deadline extended to two years and the Hoboken government ordered to cover her attorney costs. Mason contends the open records law has no specific deadline — lower courts have held it is 45 days — and claims she was forced to sue when the city failed to respond in a reasonable amount of time.
"This case will determine whether government must be transparent and open or not," said Jeffrey Kantowitz, Mason's lawyer, "whether citizens have access to government records or not, whether there will be an incentive to pursue records when governments are not responsive."
The city insists it was meeting Mason's requests as quickly as possible and the court action was unnecessary.
Steven W. Kleinman, Hoboken counsel, said Mason filed numerous lawsuits against the city and one against the school board.
"The city's position is this is an incredible waste of time and money for all involved and no reason for it," Kleinman said. (Hester, AP)
Both the government and defense agree the federal corruption case against a former Pleasantville school board member is about “the three C's.” But what that letter stands for differs greatly.
James McCormick, 50, is on trial for his “corruption, concealment and consciousness of guilt” for taking $3,500 in exchange for supporting an insurance broker's contract with the Pleasantville school district, U.S. Assistant Attorney Christopher Gramiccioni said in his opening statement today.
McCormick was arrested Sept. 6, along with 11 other men, on bribery charges in an FBI sting that began in Pleasantville, but stretched throughout the state. Five of those arrested had served on the Pleasantville board. Only McCormick has decided to go to trial; the other four have pleaded guilty. Three of them – Jayson Adams, James Pressley and Maurice “Pete” Callaway – are scheduled to testify against him. (Cohen, Press of Atlantic City)
KEEP MOVING. NOTHING TO SEE HERE.
New questions are being raised about the reliability of electronic voting machines following the Feb. 5 presidential primary.
Union County Clerk Joanne Rajoppi says she found errors in a handful of machines when trying to verify returns.
The numbers from the cartridges that print out vote tallies and the paper-tape backup didn't match.
Rajoppi told The Star-Ledger of Newark that colleagues detected similar problems in paperless voting machines in Bergen, Gloucester, Middlesex and Ocean counties.
The discrepancies have rekindled concerns over the reliability of 10,000 Sequoia Voting Systems machines used in New Jersey.
Sequoia technicians suspect a corrupted computer chip. (Courier-Post)
DINA MATOS MCGREEVEY APPARENTLY HAS A LIFE OUTSIDE OF COURT
A group from Columbus Hospital led by Dina Matos McGreevey pleaded yesterday with Newark City Council members to be more aggressive in blocking the closing of two city hospitals.
McGreevey, the estranged wife of former governor James E. McGreevey and executive director of the Columbus Hospital Foundation, said it is critical for leaders in cities such as Newark to fight for residents who do not have the language skills or money to do so on their own.
"This would never be allowed in a Livingston, in a Short Hills, in a Rumson or an affluent part of the state," McGreevey said. "This is allowed in the city of Newark be cause these people don't have the knowledge, don't have the resources. Many of them don't speak the language. … they look to the leaders of this city and to the leaders of this state to be their advocates." (Wang, Star-Ledger)
Now it's next week.
The highly anticipated disciplinary report into the Hoboken SWAT scandal will be completed sometime next week, city officials said yesterday.
The city's labor counsel, David Corrigan, had originally promised the report would be finished yesterday, but pushed the date to Feb. 28 or 29 after one of the people he needed to interview fell ill, Public Safety Director Bill Bergin said.
But before the report goes public, Bergin, in consultation with city attorneys, will either approve or revise the recommended punishments, Bergin said.
Mayor David Roberts, who mistakenly told The Jersey Journal the report would be completed yesterday, stressed the report is in its "final stages."
"There are very serious, serious allegations and serious issues that are within the report," he said. (Clark, Jersey Journal)
JERSEY CITY COPS NOT TO BE OUTDONE BY HOBOKEN SWAT
As many as 40 Jersey City police officers are under investigation for possible steroid abuse, a Jersey City source told The Jersey Journal last night.
WNBC-TV/Channel 4 in New York reported last night that the department's Internal Affairs unit is heading the probe and also reported that a police spokesman confirmed the ongoing probe. (Jersey Journal)
ANYONE INTERESTED IN RUNNING FOR MERCER COUNTY FREEHOLDER OR SHERIFF?…. ANYONE?
WEST WINDSOR — The Mercer County Republican Party is seeking candidates for county sheriff and freeholder.
"This is an exciting opportunity for those who want to work for meaningful change in Mercer County," county GOP chairman Roy Wesley said. "The Mercer GOP is dedicated to breaking the all- Democrat stranglehold on county government. We want a county government that will control spending, reduce crime and work for sustained economic growth."
interested parties should contact Wesley at email@example.com or (609) 275-1007. (Trenton Times)
Embattled Police Director Joseph Santiago cannot be fired for not living in the city because Trenton's residency laws are invalid, his attorney argued in court papers filed yesterday.
The argument, echoed in papers also filed yesterday by an attorney for Mayor Douglas H. Palmer, is the pair's defense against a lawsuit brought by residents demanding the city's top cop move into Trenton or lose his job.
"We believe the city's residency ordinance does not comply with the state statute (governing such laws), said Salvatore T. Alfano, Santiago's attorney. "The bottom line is this lawsuit is just another effort to drum Santiago out of the Trenton Police Department and it will fail just like the others."
Santiago refused to comment on the filings. Palmer could not be reached for comment. (Coryell, Trenton Times)
Mayor Mark A. Seda's seat on the dais will not be up for grabs when township voters head to the polls this spring to choose three Township Council members. But it might as well be, local resident Sheldon Hofstein said. Voters will be thinking of Seda, and of their disapproval of his job performance, when they vote "no" to the lone incumbent candidate and her two running mates, he predicted.
"More people will know the mayor's name than know any members of the council," Hofstein, 70, said. "It will be a vote against the administration."
Further entangling Seda in the council election is the slate of opposition candidates. Two of the council hopefuls are men who have clashed publicly with the mayor: Michael Kafton, a former Township Committee member who lost to Seda in the contentious mayoral election of 2006, and Michael Reina, who served as chairman of the Planning Board and as a special police officer until Seda became mayor and relieved him of both titles.
"It will be an interesting election," Hofstein said. (Reiss, Asbury Park Press)
OUR BEST WISHES GO OUT TO ASSEMBLYWOMAN CASAGRANDE
Stephen Chance, the husband of Assemblywoman Caroline Casagrande, R-Monmouth, remains in critical condition at Jersey Shore University Medical Center in Neptune following a two-vehicle crash on a snow-slicked road last week, Casagrande's legislative office confirmed Wednesday.
Chance, 30, of Colts Neck, lost control of his 2001 Mercury on Feb. 12 as he was heading north on Kozloski Road between Business Route 33 and Center Street. His car crossed into the southbound lanes and collided broadside with a Cadillac Escalade driven by Vincent Masdonati, 38, of Freehold, police Capt. James Lasky said.
Masdonati was pinned in the Escalade and had to be extricated by the East Freehold Fire Department and the Freehold First Aid Squad. He and another passenger, Michael Vizian, 27, also of Freehold, were each treated for minor injuries at Jersey Shore University Medical Center and later released, Lasky said. (Johnson, Asbury Park Press)
Running on the theme of "change," three Edison residents yesterday announced their candi dacy for the board of education.
Gene Maeroff, Aimee Szilagyi and Veena Iyer are running on a slate for the three seats on the board. Maeroff and Szilagyi held a press conference yesterday. Iyer, co-president of the Parent Teacher Organization at John Adams Middle School, did not attend because she was sick. The election is April 15.
"We generally want to emphasize the idea of change because we're seeking change," said Mae roff, founding director of the He chinger Institute on Education and the Media at Columbia University. The candidates plan to focus on fis cal responsibility, accountability and putting children first, they said.
The board seats up for election in April currently are held by William Van Pelt, Joseph Shannon and Raymond Koperwhats. Van Pelt said yesterday he plans to seek re- election. Messages left for Shannon and Koperwhats yesterday afternoon were not returned. The filing deadline for the election is Monday. (Hayslett, Star-Ledger)
IN MINE HILL
An evolving power struggle between Mine Hill Mayor Richard Leary and his political opponents has spilled over into a debate about the mayor's $7,000 salary, which the township council has slashed by nearly half.
Tonight, Leary plans to veto the legislation before the township's council meeting. For Leary's veto to be overridden, one of the mayor's two fellow Republicans on the council would have to change their vote and go against the mayor. (Williams, Star-Ledger)