Corzine acknowledges that he doesn’t have the votes to pass his fiscal restructuring plan, Tom Moran writes his farewell column, Christie says he won’t get into a back and forth with Pallone, Adler makes the rounds.
DING DONG, MONETIZATION IS DEAD
If there is one thing Gov. Jon Corzine learned as chief executive of Goldman Sachs, it is how to count.
Yesterday he acknowledged the cold, hard numbers confronting his grand plan to fix state finances through higher tolls: There simply aren't enough lawmakers willing to vote for it.
"I'm not conceding that it's dead. On the other hand, I'm a realist. I don't have 21 and 41 votes for this," Corzine said, referring to the minimum votes he needs to push his proposal through the state Senate and Assembly.
Sen. Raymond Lesniak (D-Union) flatly said Corzine's complex plan to use huge toll increases to sharply reduce state debt and pay for road projects is on the scrap heap.
"It's dead as we know it," Lesniak said. "That doesn't mean it couldn't come back in a revised, trimmed-down version."
Corzine said yesterday he will review a proposal by Assembly Transportation Committee Chairman John Wisniewski, the first detailed alternative to his plan.
"We'll have to see what it actually accomplishes," Corzine said. "But it's a healthy addition to the dialogue. I'm searching for a solution that actually addresses the failed financial position of the state." (Donohue, Star-Ledger)
Corzine said he wasn't surprised.
"There's a pretty strong resistance to the toll plan," he said, adding that he welcomed other ideas.
A solution, he said, is vital.
"I don't want to be the governor who stands in front of the public and says we didn't fix a bridge and therefore we just had a tragedy, which we've seen happen in other places around the country," Corzine said, alluding to August's Minnesota bridge collapse that killed 13.
But Republicans said the solution could not include tax or toll hikes. Republicans also questioned $4 million paid by the administration for legal work on the toll plan.
"Four million dollars for work we are not sure of, for a deal that's unlikely to go forward, is a complete and total waste," said Sen. Jennifer Beck (R., Monmouth). (Hester, AP)
TOM MORAN’S LAST COLUMN
Most human beings do something really stupid, sooner or later. And one of the great joys of being a columnist is that we get to kick the bad people when they stumble.
As the sage Russell Baker once put it, the columnist is the guy who steps onto the field of battle when the fighting is done, and shoots the wounded.
It's not sadism. The joy behind this exercise is that so many of the characters in New Jersey's political drama richly deserve the scorn they inspire. It feels like justice.
When Sharpe James, the former mayor of Newark, is charged with draining his poor city's treasury to ferry female companions to luxury hotels in places like Rio, yes, there is joy in dancing on his head.
The same warm feelings flow when exposing politicians who make a killing by taking three government jobs, or even four. Or covering the bosses like Joe Ferriero and George Norcross, who make sure big money remains at the center of the political game.
This pleasure, of course, comes at a price. Because opinion writers are not exempt from the laws of nature. We do stupid things, too. Here, by way of confession, are a few of my worst ever. (Moran, Star-Ledger)
“IF THE JUSTICE DEPARTMENT INSTRUCTS ME, I’LL GO”
VINELAND – U.S. Attorney Christopher J. Christie confirmed today that he would not testify Tuesday before a House JudiciaryCommittee seeking information about his actions in rewarding a federal monitoring contract to former boss John Ashcroft.
The contract for the former U.S. Attorney General is worth between $27 and $52 million.
"I said all along that if the Justice Department asks me I will," said Christie, who said he refuses to get into a back and forth with U.S. Rep. Frank Pallone, who yesterday suggested Congress may have to issue a subpoena in order to get Christie to testify.
Christie told PolitckerNJ.com that it impractical to think of United States attorneys going individually without departmental oversight to participate in Congressional hearings.
"If the Justice Department instructs me, I’ll go," he repeated. (Pizarro, PolitickerNJ.com)
ADLER STUMPS IN THE SNOW
Under a light snowfall, Democratic congressional candidate John Adler was ringing doorbells this week in a Pemberton apartment complex, talking to its mostly military residents about the economy, the Iraq war and health care.
"The fact that I'm working this hard in February should tell you about the kind of person I am," he said to Altagracia Ortega-Dominguez. The former Peace Corps volunteer and teacher said it told her enough.
"Going door-to-door, speaking to people is one of the things all these candidates should do the most," she said, without indicating whether she wanted a Democrat or a Republican to win the seat that is opening with the retirement of U.S. Rep. James Saxton (R., N.J.).
Adler, the presumptive Democratic candidate, is running against the odds in this Republican-leaning congressional district, which spans Burlington and Ocean Counties. So he is taking his advantage as the lone Democrat as far as it will get him.
The state senator from Cherry Hill hopes to make inroads while a primary battle pits the region's two most powerful Republican county organizations against each other. (Burton, Philadelphia Inquirer)
THE TRIED AND TRUE BLAME THE MEDIA STRATEGY
New Jersey Republicans got a double dose of bad news yesterday as their likely presidential candidate, John McCain, was forced to deny an improper relationship with a female lobbyist and a new poll showed he would lose the state to either Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton.
But GOP leaders pointed enthusiastically to other numbers in the poll, showing 52 percent of New Jersey voters have a favorable opinion of McCain — a slightly better rating than Clinton got.
They also defended McCain against the story in yesterday's New York Times about McCain and the lobbyist, which they denounced as unfair.
"I think a story with anonymous quotes from unnamed staffers when Senator McCain and everyone else has denied it is not damaging to the campaign," said Sen. Bill Baroni (R-Mercer), McCain's New Jersey campaign chairman. "I think the voters of New Jersey are tired of this kind of 'gotcha' politics and will see Senator McCain as an American hero who is best prepared to be president on day one."
State GOP Chairman Tom Wilson said the story was "beneath" the Times and "full of innuendo." He said it would be "a distraction for a few days, maybe a week." (Schwaneberg, Star-Ledger)
LIKE PULLING TEETH
Legislators questioned plans to slash property tax rebates, environmentalists worried a historic park might close and farmers fretted as Gov. Jon S. Corzine on Thursday warned tough spending cuts loom.
A key Assembly leader wondered why the state would consider cutting property tax rebate checks for households earning from $150,000 to $250,000, noting how the federal government will soon send rebates to try to stimulate the wobbly economy.
"If the federal rebates are an economic stimulus, than so are New Jersey's," Assembly Budget Chairman Louis D. Greenwald, D-Camden, said.
Environmentalists worried that historic Washington Crossing State Park, a nearly 3,000-acre expanse eight miles north of Trenton, would be closed as part of Corzine's budget proposal to be introduced Tuesday. (Hester, AP)
DID HE SAY “I’M A JUDGE, BRO?”
Livingston Municipal Court Judge Robert Jones has been arrested in Parsippany on charges of drunken driving.
According to an account by police, Jones, 51, was stopped at Parsippany Boulevard shortly after midnight Sunday when officers spotted a motor vehicle violation. Officers Thomas Pomroy and Brian Conover placed Jones under arrest on charges of driving while intoxicated.
Jones was transported to Parsippany police headquarters where he was administered a breathalyzer test, issued a summons, and later released to a family member.
A call to the Parsippany police chief for further details was not re turned.
Livingston Mayor Gary S. Schneiderman said yesterday that Jones reported his arrest to the mayor and another council member on Sunday.
"He let the town council know and we've asked him to keep us abreast of what is going on," Schneiderman said. "I don't know if he's had a hearing yet." (Moore, Star-Ledger)
THEY MAY NOT HAVE MONETIZATION TO KICK AROUND ANYMORE
About 100 people came to the high school auditorium to hear Assemblyman Michael Doherty, R-Warren, Hunterdon, chairman of the Republican-led Assembly Task Force for Fiscal Responsibility, and Assemblymen John Amodeo and Vince Polistina, both R-Atlantic, present their ideas for solving the state's fiscal crisis. State Sen. James Whelan, D-Atlantic, also attended and spoke for a few minutes.
The state of New Jersey needs to make drastic cuts in spending, Doherty said to the cheers of the crowd. The state debt has gone from $16.9 million in 2002 to more than $38 billion today, he said.
"That's no way to run a family, that's no way to run a business, that's no way to run a state," Doherty said. (Rose, Press of Atlantic City)
DOBLIN: NEW JERSEYANS LIKE CORZINE LIKE DINA MATOS MCGREEVEY LIKES HER EX-HUSBAND
New Jerseyans want less government – everywhere else.
JON CORZINE spent tens of millions of dollars to become the governor of New Jersey. You have to wonder if he has received a good return on his investment. According to a Quinnipiac University poll released this week, New Jerseyans are about as fond of Corzine as Dina Matos McGreevey is of her soon-to-be-ex-husband, Jim.
Corzine's approval rating has gone south, from 46 percent in December 2007 to 37 percent today. Even worse for the governor is voter opposition to his proposed toll increase on the turnpike, parkway and Atlantic City Expressway — 73 percent are against the plan.
Legislators say the current proposal is dead. The governor has said he's open to change. But what are the options?
Was it that long ago that raising the state's low gas tax was as unpopular as, say, raising the tolls? Somewhere on the road to monetization, opponents of Corzine's financial restructuring plan began to preach that raising the gas tax is the answer. But if gas prices continue to rise, the salesmen who are pitching a gas-tax hike will be pitching a reduction in the gas tax. (Doblin, Bergen Record)
TRENTON – It is increasingly likely that New Jerseyans will vote without a paper backup in November's general election.
The state will miss a June deadline to retrofit thousands of electronic voting machines with paper printers, the attorney general announced yesterday.
The Legislature reluctantly gave the Attorney General's Office until June to test and certify printers for more than 10,000 paperless voting machines.
Attorney General Anne Milgram blamed unanticipated delays in testing the machines for the state's failure to meet the deadline.
"We're as frustrated as anyone," Milgram said yesterday. She said that putting off the requirement another six months is "the most responsible course of action under the circumstances and one that will provide the state with adequate time to ensure that only the most reliable technology is certified." (Delli Santi, AP)
IN THAT POLITICAL MESS KNOWN AS ATLANTIC CITY
ATLANTIC CITY – The vice chairman of the city's Housing Authority is claiming political retaliation in a lawsuit he recently filed against the resort after consolidation cost him his $51,690 job two years ago.
Mark Hamilton's lawsuit claims Assistant Business Administrator Domenic Cappella destroyed employment documents signed by then-lame-duck Mayor Lorenzo Langford that certified him to a permanent position as superintendent of weights and measures.
Hamilton was hired as the city's superintendent of weights and measures in April 2002. But incoming Mayor Bob Levy, who has since resigned his seat, eliminated the job in January 2006, turning over the responsibilities to Atlantic County.
Among other duties, weights and measures staff inspect and verify that gasoline pumps and supermarket scales are accurate. County Executive Dennis Levinson said at the time the city position was eliminated that the county did not plan to hire anyone to pick up the extra workload.
Hamilton claims he was wrongfully terminated, alleging Cappella and others conspired with Levy to fire Hamilton, who is close with Langford. (Clark, Press of Atlantic City)
On the side of a highway in south Jersey, sitting at one of the back tables in the Ramada Inn while Chris Christie spoke in general terms about public corruption, Police Lieutenant Robert Romano smiled grimly with a sense of recognition.
"It’s ironic that Chris Christie’s here, because ethics have been nonexistent in this administration," said Romano, who’s running against two-term Vineland Mayor Perry D. Barse. "The citizens aren’t involved in the process of making decisions. There’s no open door policy. It’s not conducive for people to go see the mayor."
A 35-year veteran of the Vineland Police Department who charged up the street crimes unit for eight years, Romano said Barse has improperly tampered with the qualifications for the departmental directors’ positions, and the result has proved an embarrassment for the Cumberland County city of 56,000 with a bare bones budget of $52 million.
"When I’m mayor, I’m going to make sure qualified people are directors of the departments," said Romano. "We’re going to review all the directors’ positions." (Pizarro, PolitickerNJ.com)
Since Montclair changed its form of government to directly elect its mayor 20 years ago, not a single incumbent has won a second term.
The job pays $7,000 and doesn’t wield much more power than a regular member of the Township Council. But with Mayor Ed Remsen’s announcement that he will not seek reelection, five people – including three current council members – have taken out petitions to run for the office in this long, narrow New York City bedroom community with a dense and diverse population of about 40,000.
The non-partisan election in May promises to be an impassioned free-for-all. Council members Joyce Michaelson, Ted Mattox and Gerald Tobin have all decided to seek the mayor’s seat. Also interested in running are local antique dealer Noel Brogan and former Councilman Donald Zief. And since the council members’ terms are not staggered, all six seats are up for grabs – with 23 people currently interested in seeking one of those positions either at-large or in one of the four wards, many of whom will run on slates with the mayoral candidates (some of the mayoral candidates have also picked up council petitions).
“They tire of us, they want some new faces in there,” said Remsen, who said that he never really planned to seek reelection, but didn’t say so early on because it would essentially render him a lame duck. “You can have a real lack of continuity sometimes, and the upturn of having a turnover is you have a cluster of people who run as a team and want to get something done.” (Friedman, PolitickerNJ.com)
BUT MIMS IS COOL
Orange mayoral candidate Eldridge Hawkins, Jr. today received the endorsement South Ward Councilman Edward Marable, Jr.
"After considerable thought and prayer, I have concluded that you are Orange’s best hope to restore pride, progress and professionalism in our city," Marable wrote in a letter to Hawkins, a West Orange police officer and son of former Assemblyman Eldridge Hawkins.
Hakwins is one of several people expressing an interest in succeeding embattled Mayor Mims Hackett, who faces federal corruption charges. Others who have picked up the paperwork that needs to be completed by March 20 as a pre-requisite to run in the May 13 race include Councilman Donald Page, Councilwoman Tency A. Eason and Council President Lisa Perkins.
Marable, a longtime critic of Hackett’s and the mayor’s council allies Eason and Perkins, wrote a letter to the 28-year old mayoral candidate officially notifying him of his endorsement. (Pizarro, PolitickerNJ.com)
THE CALLAWAY LEGACY
Virginia Darnell, president of the Atlantic City White Collar Professional Association, recently filed a complaint with the city on behalf of a member who applied for a transfer to a clerk position that was instead given to Callaway's sister Toni M. Dixon.
Dixon, a staunch campaign worker who lost a bid for a City Council seat to Marty Small last year, was hired earlier this month to a $22,000 entry-level clerk position with the Landlord/Tenant Affairs section of the Neighborhood Services Department.
The union's grievance, dated Feb. 15, is its third in two months concerning a hiring that Darnell characterizes as "political favoritism." The other grievances were in reference to the appointment of Gwendolyn Lewis, another of Callaway's sisters, and Barbara Hudgins, a former councilwoman and Callaway ally. (Clark, Press of Atlantic City)
Special Agent Thomas Raftery knew several Pleasantville school board members had been paid for their votes on contracts. But when one of those men – James McCormick – came into the FBI's Northfield office, Raftery never mentioned his knowledge of the case.
"I knew we had transferred $3,500 to him," Raftery testified Thursday in McCormick's federal corruption trial. "I knew why he was there. I was just going to let him talk."
Raftery didn't tell McCormick what he knew: The veteran agent headed the federal investigation into corruption on the school board. That case reached beyond Pleasantville, resulting in 12 arrests – five of those arrested served on the city's Board of Education. McCormick is the only one who has not pleaded guilty.
Three board members have testified against McCormick this week, saying he was handpicked to fill a vacant seat on the nine-member panel so they would have a majority. With a "solid five," they could easily push through contracts for vendors who had already been paying them for the support. (Cohen, Press of Atlantic City)
NO GOLD STARS FOR THEM
Three area school board members who failed to file their financial disclosure forms on time in 2007 have been recommended for sanctions by the state School Ethics Commission.
The annual financial disclosure forms are required by state law and are due at the county Offices of Education on April 30. The forms include information about the sources of board members' income, although not the amounts, and if they have any relatives working in the district. Their purpose is to help identify any potential conflicts of interest. (D’Amico, Press of Atlantic City)
TO PAY OR NOT TO PAY?
A state appeals court today overturned a $500 fine levied against former Attorney General Zulima Farber's boyfriend for not appearing in court as part of a traffic case that led her to resign, a published report says.
Hamlet Goore had received the fine, five days of community service and a scolding from Municipal Court Judge Roy F. McGeady for vacationing in Mexico when he was supposed to be in court. As it turned out, the ticket he had been contesting — for allegedly driving while on the suspended list — was thrown out.
The appellate court said Goore didn't violate the rule for which he was fined because his attorney appeared on his behalf, according to the Star-Ledger of Newark.
"Clearly, there was no inconvenience or expense inflicted on the State or the court from defendant's failure to appear because the State and the court proceeded in defendant's absence," the court said. "Thus, no sanction ought to have been imposed." (Bergen Record)
NO KATHE DONOVAN… NOT YET, ANYWAY
Governor Corzine will nominate nine Bergen County attorneys to fill longstanding vacancies on the Superior Court bench, most likely in Hackensack, state officials said Thursday night.
The nine Bergen County lawyers were on a list of 19 candidates for Superior Court judgeships that Corzine presented to the state Senate on Thursday night. The lawyers will be formally nominated next week, and are scheduled to be reviewed by the Senate judiciary committee on March 3. Confirmation is contingent on approval by the full Senate.
The move marked the first step toward filling 10 posts on the Superior Court bench in Hackensack, seven of which have sat vacant for at least two years. (Lamb, Bergen Record)
In December, Mayor Douglas H. Palmer cited al leged threats and harassment against Police Director Joseph Santiago in granting Santiago a waiver of the city residency ordi nance. But his attorney now is also arguing that the ordinance itself is invalid.
The legal claim was made in a filing Wednesday in response to a lawsuit seeking to oust Santiago. The claim has drawn the ire of some council members, who question its implications for former city employees who lost their jobs due to the ordinance.
"Imagine you've been terminated and suddenly you read that the highest officer in the city says you shouldn't have," South Ward Councilman Jim Coston said yesterday.
Palmer attorney Angelo Genova said the case should be evaluated based on the facts unique to it. He noted that the former employees had an opportunity to challenge the ordinance when they were terminated, while this case would only affect future cases.
"In my experience, when laws are challenged and determined to be invalid, such determinations have a prospective effect," Genova said. (Kitchenman, Trenton Times)
IN ONE OF THE WASHINGTON TOWNSHIPS
A township park ranger filed a complaint with the state Division on Civil Rights claiming he was discriminated against and repeatedly passed over for a promotion because of his race.
Lamar Johnson, 26, of Deptford, who is black, was hired as a seasonal worker for the Public Works Department in October 2006, according to the complaint, with the understanding he would either be let go or promoted to full-time status after six months.
Starting in April, Johnson said he repeatedly asked for a permanent position within the department, which would entitle him to set hours, health benefits and job protection.
Instead of being hired full time, permanent status was given to a "similarly-situated Caucasian co-worker," who was hired about a month before Johnson, according to the complaint. Johnson is the sole black in the department. (Huelsman, Courier-Post)