Booker may testify at Sharpe James corruption trial, Jury finds Pleasantville Board of Education member guilty of corruption charges, Franks tries to make toll hikes look good in the face of budget cuts.
WHAT, NO MORE BEAR HUGS?
Newark Mayor Cory Booker emerged yesterday as a potential witness in the corruption trial of his predecessor and former political rival, Sharpe James.
Booker narrowly lost to James in the 2002 election after a bruising campaign, then succeeded him four years later after James decided against running for a sixth term as leader of the state's largest city.
The twist came during the second day of jury selection in James' trial before U.S. District Judge William Martini in Newark. The former Democratic mayor and state senator is accused of rigging city land deals for Tamika Riley, a 38-year-old publicist with whom James allegedly had an intimate relationship. (Whelan and Mays, Star-Ledger)
ANOTHER ONE BITES THE DUST
McCormick was indicted on charges he took money in exchange for using his board position to support an insurance broker. That broker, John D'Angelo, was paying certain members to get the district's contract. But D'Angelo was really working with the FBI.
The defense insisted the postal carrier accepted $3,500 because he believed it was from the city's Real Democratic Club to fix up his basement, where they would hold meetings. But the government's case questioned why – if McCormick thought the money was legitimate – he had it wired to a friend's account in Georgia. Months later, he had that friend, Linda Ward, mail him a check.
The 10-woman, two-man jury took seven hours to find McCormick guilty on all six counts: conspiracy, attempted extortion, bribery, violating the federal Travel Act and two counts of money laundering.
"We're obviously disappointed," defense attorney James R. Murphy said after the verdict. "We'll keep going with the process." (Cohen, Press of Atlantic City)
FRANKS SAYS WHAT CORZINE THINKS
Gov. Jon Corzine's unpopular plan to pay down state debt and fund transportation needs by sharply increasing tolls still may be the best way for the New Jersey government to escape its prodigious financial mess, former Republican U.S. representative Bob Franks told an audience at Rutgers University's Eagleton Institute of Politics last night.
"It sounded to me like an innovative approach and I clearly liked the notion it would generate a revenue stream and finance transportation costs," said Franks, who has accepted the governor's offer to lead the steering committee he put together to drum up support for the plan. "I believe those are laudable objectives. It's proving to be a very tough sell."
Recent polls have found strong public opposition to Corzine's plan — 64 percent in a Fairleigh Dickinson University/Public Mind poll released this week and 73 percent in a Quinnipiac University poll released last week.
Republicans in the Senate and Assembly have vowed to vote against the plan, and Democrats in both bodies have expressed doubts about it. Even Corzine himself has admitted in recent weeks to being realistic enough to realize his plan doesn't have enough support to pass.
But Franks said he believes people need to consider it carefully. (Qarooni, Star-Ledger)
TRYING TO KNOCK THAT ONE LAST REPUBLICAN OUT
Bergen County Democrats have tried for months to get Republican County Clerk Kathleen Donovan off the November ballot and into a $153,000-a-year seat on the Superior Court bench.
That's not going to happen — at least for now. So they've resorted to Plan B: competing for the clerk's seat.
Diane T. Testa, the Fairview borough attorney and administrator, is the Bergen County Democratic Organization's candidate for the county clerk. Testa's candidacy is expected to be ratified at the county nominating convention in Hackensack tonight.
Testa, 47, a former councilwoman in Fairview, is an attorney, which was viewed as an important credential in going against Donovan, who is also a lawyer and former legislator from Rutherford.
Testa, a graduate of Bridgeport University School of Law, confirmed that she was selected by the BCDO credential committee. She said she is "hopeful" of winning the nomination tonight, but declined to elaborate. But Bill Maer, a BCDO spokesman, said Testa "will be an excellent candidate" and is a proven vote-getter in Fairview. (Stile, Bergen Record)
“WHAT A CONCEPT: NO CHEATING”
Oh, beautiful for spacious skies and malls, has there ever been a bigger political klutz in Bergen County than Joe Ferriero?
OK, Joe "The Plumber" Coniglio is making a run toward klutzdom. And Dennis "the Pay-to-Play Menace" Oury is not far behind.
But Boss Joe seems hell-bent for a legacy all his own.
Later today, Ferriero is slated to call a meeting of his 1,100-member Bergen County Democratic Organization. But as doors open at the Hackensack Middle School, Ferriero will face two choices.
Should he behave like Thomas Jefferson? Or Vlad the Impaler?
Bet on the Impaler.
At issue is a Jeffersonian-like proposal: A group of progressives wants the county Democratic Committee to amend the party's bylaws.
One proposed change specifies that when Democrats meet to vote for nominees, "representatives from all sides" should be allowed to check that ballot boxes are empty prior to voting. Also, they should be "allowed" to watch as votes are counted.
What a concept: no cheating. (Kelly, Bergen Record)
HEY SENIORS, SEE WHAT WILL HAPPEN IF YOU DON’T GET ON BOARD WITH MONETIZATION?
As Gov. Jon Corzine mingled at a diner to promote a new no-frills budget, administration officials yesterday revealed some senior citizens will share its pain.
Acting treasurer David Rousseau during a Statehouse briefing disclosed the budget proposes raising co-payments for participants in the popular PAAD prescription drug program for the first time in 16 years. The administration also revealed new numbers on the plan to cut back on some homeowner rebates.
While the budget does not eliminate any benefits in the Pharmaceutical Assistance to the Aged and Disabled program, co-payments for medications would be $6 for generic drugs, $1 more; and $7 for brand name prescriptions, an increase of $2.
Raising the co-pays would earn the state $7 million a year. The increase does not apply to participants in the Senior Gold prescription drug program because they already contribute $15 per prescription. There are 180,000 people enrolled in PAAD and 30,000 in Senior Gold. (Donohue and Livio, Star-Ledger)
From the emergency rooms of city hospitals to hayfields in horse country, from motor vehicle offices to small towns and state parks, New Jersey residents began bracing on Wednesday for the upheaval that Gov. Jon S. Corzine’s plan to reduce the state work force by 3,000 people and eliminate three government departments is expected to cause.
Mr. Corzine said that the cuts, which he announced as he unveiled his $33 billion budget on Tuesday, were unavoidable because two decades of profligate spending had left the state on the verge of fiscal ruin. But the governor’s description of the spending reduction that would ultimately prove beneficial did little to mute criticism from around the state and across the political spectrum.
In the halls of the state capitol, Republican leaders charged that the cuts did not go far enough, but unions, as well as lawmakers from both parties, searched for ways to ease the pain to their constituents and the cuts in favored programs.
Around the state, many residents were disheartened to be facing another bout of bad fiscal news when they were still trying to make peace with the governor’s call for sharp toll increases on New Jersey’s major highways. (Kocieniewski, New York Times)
BUT THEY DON’T MIND
CLIFTON — A day after proposing sharp budget cuts that could affect property taxes, colleges and state parks, Gov. Jon S. Corzine tried to explain his plan to morning diners Wednesday.
This budget, while extremely painful, is necessary," Corzine said at the Tick-Tock Diner. "We don't have the revenues to spend any more than what we put down."
As customers ate breakfast around 9:30 a.m., Corzine sidled up to tables, asking the diners about their jobs and briefly discussing the budget. One moment the patrons were eating pancakes, eggs and waffles. The next they were surrounded by journalists following Corzine.
The morning crowd largely gave the governor a thumbs-up on his budget, but a thumbs-down on his toll-road plan. (Tamari, Gannett)
ESTABROOK’S JEANINE PIRRO MOMENT
Republican U.S. Senate candidate Anne Evans Estabrook’s loss for words while answering a question on gun control may have gone unnoticed a few years ago, but in an age where a video of the awkward moment can circulate quickly in political circles, it could become the silence heard across New Jersey.
“It seemed like kind of a mistake that someone running for the first time in office might make, and it was done in the right kind of context with a small group meeting, where you’re practicing your stump speech, working on your ability to articulate ideas and your policy positions,” said Dr. Joseph Marbach, a political science professor at Seton Hall.
“Unfortunately, it was videotaped,” Marbach noted.
The clip, shot last weekend by the campaign of Republican Senate candidate Murray Sabrin at a Woodbridge Republican Club candidates’ forum, shows Estabrook pausing mid-sentence to shuffle through her notes for 24 seconds before finishing her answer. (Friedman, PolitickerNJ.com)
RELAX, THERE ARE ENOUGH LIFE PRESERVERS FOR EVERYONE
Republican State Chairman Tom Wilson doesn’t like where the Republican U.S. Senate primary appears to be going.
Noting the attacks lobbed against Anne Evans Estabrook by the rival campaigns of Murray Sabrin and State Sen. Joseph Pennacchio, Wilson said that the campaigns so far are very close to violating Ronald Reagan’s 11th commandment: "Thou shalt not speak ill of a fellow Republican."
“I’m Switzerland here, and I’m beginning to think I need to do what I did in 2005 with all the gubernatorial candidates: invite them to have a discussion about this campaign,” he said. “It’s ok to point out differences, but there’s no reason to get personal about it or ascribe motivations to people. Fight as hard as you can, but fight fairly.” (Friedman, PolitickerNJ.com)
Standing on the steps of City Hall this evening shortly before the start of the city council meeting, Perth Amboy Mayor (and Assemblyman) Joseph Vas announced his intentions to again run for the office of mayor, according to his aide Mel Ramos.
"Being mayor of Perth Amboy is not just about where we have been or what we have accomplished.It is about where we are going, our plans to get there, and having the vision and know-how to get there," said Vas. "I am committed to continue my vision of change and progress for the betterment of every resident in the City of Perth Amboy, and am as energized today as I was when I first took the oath of office as your mayor. I promise to work as hard as possible to make Perth Amboy a better place to live, to work, and to raise and educate our children." (Pizarro, PolitickerNJ.com)
CORZINE: MAKING GOVERNMENT MORE EFFICIENT
Jeanne Fox, president of the state Board of Public Utilities when it had stored more than $80 million in bank private bank account outside Treasury Department purview, has been nominated for another six-year term by Gov. Jon S. Corzine.
The governor announced the nomination in a statement released Tuesday, hours after outlining a budget deep with cuts he called "a turning point toward spending restraint."
Under Fox's watch, the board set up a ratepayer-funded account in a private bank without Treasury's knowledge or consent. A scathing draft audit, kept secret for years, found the Clean Energy account had terrible records, no controls and was plagued by cronyism.
Fox has called the audit unfair, incomplete and inaccurate. (Volpe, Gannett)
Essex County Executive Joseph DiVincenzo yesterday called for a thorough review of the Izod Center's finances, saying the Meadowlands arena should close if it is los ing money.
DiVincenzo said he will ask Gov. Jon Corzine to hire independent auditors to determine whether the state-owned venue makes a profit.
He also blasted the state agency that runs the Izod Center for sig ing an agreement with the Nets that imposes fees up to $12 million if the team moves anywhere other than New York City.
"That, to me, is beyond belief," DiVincenzo said, addressing a gathering he called of about 50 people, including city council members, county freeholders and state lawmakers. "How can they penalize the Nets for coming to Newark?" (McDermott, Star-Ledger)
BARSE HOLDS PRESS CONFERENCE TO “REMIND THE CITIZENS OF VINELAND THAT WE WANT THEM TO FEEL PROTECTED.” IT HAS ABSOLUTELY NOTHING TO DO WITH HIS REELECTION BID.
Saying that police salaries had risen from around $8 million to nearly $11.5 million in eight years, he used a press conference to "remind the citizens of Vineland that we want them to feel protected."
"We have a commitment to fund the Police Department," he said, "and to grow it."
He said his administration had increased the local Police Department by 23 sworn officers in eight years, and had added another six staff members. He also highlighted the work of the city's three street-crimes units.
Just a day after City Council approved a two-pronged redevelopment of sections of Landis Avenue to accommodate more restaurants and a food market, the mayor said he felt that increased police presence there had made the street safer. (Fletcher, Press of Atlantic City)
HOLTS TOWN HALL MEETINGS
U.S. Rep. Rush Holt, D-Hopewell Township, has announced he will hold several public meetings on an assortment of topics at the begin ning of next month.
The first will be held in Spotswood, Middlesex County, at 10:30 a.m. Saturday, and the next in Hopewell at 4:30 p.m. Sunday.
The Spotswood meeting will be held at the Spotswood Municipal Building at 77 Summerhill Road. The Hopewell meeting will be held at Stony Brook Elementary School at 20 Stephenson Road.
Holt is slated to speak about Social Security, economic development, hometown security, health care, and education. The forums will also be open to any other topics of interest to residents. (Trenton Times)
A key official at the state Department of Children and Families who was a leading candidate to run the agency resigned yesterday, state officials confirmed.
The unexpected departure of Molly Armstrong, the department's director for policy and planning, leaves no clear choice to lead a department that must prove to a federal court monitor it is making progress improving its troubled child welfare system. Armstrong could not be reached for comment last night.
Department spokeswoman Kate Bernyk said Armstrong resigned after her father's death. Jack Armstrong died in a car accident two months ago.
His death "led to new family and personal responsibilities, and she needs to take an extended period of time off," Bernyk said. Armstrong plans to leave in April, she added.
Gov. Jon Corzine must find a replacement for Kevin Ryan, who leaves March 14 to oversee philanthropic work in Newark and Africa by the MCJ Amelior Foundation, created by multimillionaire and Newark native Raymond Chambers. (Livio, Star-Ledger)
Agriculture Secretary Charles Kuperus Wednesday told the policy-making State Board of Agriculture he is torn apart that Gov. Jon S. Corzine wants to eliminate his department.
Kuperus said "a very public conversation" will ensue over the future of the department. "We are very engaged. This is not an easy time for us. … Much of what we do is very available to the public," said Kuperus, a Sussex County farmer.
"This tears me apart," Kuperus said, a day after Corzine announced in his budget speech that the Agriculture Department — having shepherded the Garden State's farm industry since 1916 — would be dropped as a cabinet-level entity. (Baldwin, Gannett)
AS FOR THE FARMERS
Shuttering the state Department of Agriculture and two other departments as proposed in Gov. Jon S. Corzine's budget would save a combined $2.5 million a year, mainly eliminating overhead costs, according to documents released Wednesday.
Farm advocates said the news just confirmed their fears: that the savings would be minimal but the potential impact dramatic.
"This is a major blow to the confidence of farmers in New Jersey, to have the support structure pulled out from under them," said Richard Nieuwenhuis, president of the New Jersey Farm Bureau, a nonprofit with 15,000 farming members. (Graber, Gloucester County Times)
THAT’S INTERESTING. GOLDEN PARACHUTE?
New Jersey Personnel Commissioner Rolando Torres Jr. says he will resign May 1.
Under Gov. Corzine's proposed budget, Torres' department would be eliminated as part of $2.7 billion in cuts.
In announcing his resignation yesterday, Torres said he supported Corzine's plan and planned to pursue opportunities in the private sector. (AP)
– Both sides charge that election year politics are behind a full-blown contract talks stand off here between the mayor and fire department on one side, and the City Council on the other.
Mayor Jose "Joey" Torres said hedelivered the city’s $26 million contract with the 217-hard-hat strong Paterson Fire Department to the council in November, but has since received nothing but stall tactics and excuses from the governing body. Torres said he believes council members fear getting blamed for the five-year contract come election time on May 13th, and so are attempting to distance themselves.
Not a good tactic, in his view.
"This contract emulates the police contract they already adopted," said Torres. "It’s consistent with the 4% cap that the governor wants. The money is there, because I squirreled away what I thought this contract was going to cost. I did my due diligence. There’s no financial impact on the community in terms of a tax increase. The money’s already in the budget. The only thing I can think of is they would rather have an arbitrator confirm it." (Pizarro, PolitickerNJ.com)
AT MONTCLAIR STATE
Administrators at Montclair State University moved yesterday to separate the school's student newspaper from its student government amid criticism a funding dispute was muzzling freedom of the press.
In a statement read to Student Government Association legislators, university President Susan Cole questioned whether a student newspaper can effectively function when the student government controls its funding.
"The Montclarion has come to the conclusion that its relationship to the SGA poses an unacceptable obstacle to a free press. I agree with the underlying principle that government and a free press must remain separate," Cole said………
The student government froze funding for The Montclarion in January, but temporarily restored it to allow publication while the dispute was mediated. Negotiations broke down Tuesday. (AP)
“EVEN IF I HAD THE MONEYIN MY POCKET, I WOULDN’T PAY IT”
STAFFORD TOWNSHIP – Federal liens and just plain old defiance are the reasons former Mayor Wesley K. Bell says he will not pay $30,000 in penalties to the state for his failure to remove four boats from a Beach Haven West lagoon when ordered.
Bell said he will appeal a ruling made Tuesday by Superior Court Judge John A. Peterson ordering him to pay the penalties in 45 days or file a motion to receive a hearing to show inability to pay.
"I won't pay it, I refuse to pay it, even if I had the money in my pocket I wouldn't pay it," Bell said Wednesday. "That judge is the most un-American judge I have been before. He doesn't care what the constitution or the law says. He makes them up himself."
Bell submitted an affidavit for inability to pay to Peterson, but the judge determined it to be deficient, according to Deputy Attorney Jim Hill, who prosecuted the case against Bell. (Weaver, Press of Atlantic City)
THE HUMAN SHIELD
Lawyers for a North Jersey clergyman who defied regulations and visited Iraq in 2003 to protest the pending U.S.-led invasion argued yesterday that the government had unfairly singled him out for censure because of his antiwar stance.
A lawyer for the Rev. Frederick Boyle, pastor at the United Methodist Church in Linden, told a federal judge that the government had violated Boyle's constitutional rights and that his $6,700 fine should be nullified.
"He was targeted because he spoke out against the war," said Jonathan Hafetz, a lawyer from the Brennan Center for Justice, an advocacy group in New York, who is arguing Boyle's civil lawsuit.
Boyle sued the government in 2005, asserting violations of his First and Fifth Amendment rights and international law.
Yesterday's hearing was on a U.S. Attorney's Office motion to dismiss the suit. There was no immediate ruling by Judge Donald Pogue in U.S. District Court in New York. (Santana, AP)
Five months after returning from a 60-day unpaid suspension for giving no-bid contracts to a boyfriend, Housing Authority chief Mary Jo Grauso was awarded a $4,000 bonus Tuesday on top of the standard 3 percent salary increase for employees.
Authority commissioners defended the raise and bonus, which totaled about $7,000, as a reward well-earned by a director whose misstep, while severe, should be put in the context of an otherwise accomplished career. Grauso's base salary is now $109,545 annually.
"We are a very high-performing agency that has succeeded in many areas we've never ventured into before, and it's because of the leadership we've had," Audrey Wise, authority chairwoman, said Wednesday. "How many times are we going to make her pay for her indiscretion?" (Patberg, Asbury Park Press)
IN HADDON TOWNSHIP
Township commissioners introduced ordinances aimed at curbing pay-to-play just days after a resident accused them of awarding professional contracts to campaign contributors.
Commissioners unanimously approved introduction of four measures at Tuesday night's meeting. A public hearing and a final vote on the ordinances could be held at the next commission meeting on March 25.
The ordinances would ban nepotism in hiring, curb the use of eminent domain for economic development and prohibit the township from doing business or entering into a redevelopment agreement with individuals or companies that contribute to the political campaigns of elected officials here.
Mayor Randall Teague said the ordinances were modeled after pay-to-play measures approved in other towns and a model ordinance from the state Attorney General's Office. (DeCastro, Courier-Post)
Councilman John Fox said the town should consider seeking restitution from convicted former planning board attorney John J. Montefusco Sr. — a suggestion that drew a cautious response from other local officials.
"You can't just let it go. You have to make an example of somebody like this, who double-crosses us and betrays the public trust," Fox said Wednesday.
Montefusco, 67, pleaded guilty Feb. 13 in U.S. District Court in Trenton to illegally aiding a local builder in exchange for real estate discounts and other benefits for himself and family members. He is free on $200,000 bond and awaiting sentencing May 21. (Jennings, Daily Record)
IN MIDDLESEX BOROUGH
The Middlesex Borough mayor is pushing the council to formally eliminate the position of business administrator just weeks after the former administrator slapped the town with a lawsuit contending he was improperly ousted from the job and is owed back pay.
Mayor Jerry D'Angelo has drafted an ordinance that would end the $85,000-a-year business administrator position held by the previous mayor, Ronald Dobies. In December, the council cited budget reasons and eliminated funding for the position that Dobies held for the past two years, sparking the lawsuit.
The council was scheduled to have a first hearing of the ordinance on Tuesday, but council President Robert Gorr said they decided to shelve it for now.
"We want to look into it more," Gorr said. (Adarlo, Star-Ledger)
IN THE TOWN FORMERLY KNOWN AS WASHINGTON TOWNSHIP
ROBBINSVILLE — The process of creating a blueprint for economic development took a contentious turn yesterday as Mayor Dave Fried asked a former mayor to resign from volunteer posts on two committees.
Fried said Nancy Tindall was trying to "subvert" his administration's "economic development agenda" and that he wanted her to step down as a member of the township's Affordable Housing Committee and its Rent Leveling Board.
Fried said Tindall, a former mayor whom he appointed to the committees, was talking behind the scenes with township council members about opposing plans to rezone Route 130.
"Time and again, I hear through the grapevine that Nancy is working against the township's priorities," Fried said in a statement. (Tracy, Trenton Times)