Morning News Digest: October 26, 2009

The Auditor: Ron Rice lobbies for Richard Codey; Gov. Jon Corzine sees red; What's Sen. Bob Menendez running for?

The public positioning for leadership in the state Senate may have quieted down, but it doesn’t mean the issue has gone away. In recent days, Sen. Ron Rice (D-Essex) sent a “Dear Colleague” to every member of the Senate imploring them to give Sen. Richard Codey (D-Essex) another term as Senate president and deploring South Jersey political boss George Norcross, who has helped put Sen. Steve Sweeney (D-Gloucester) in line for the top job. “Unfortunately, this fight over the leadership of the Senate is not about Senator Codey or Sweeney,” Rice wrote in a letter accompanied by a series of unflattering news stories focusing on Norcross. “This is about the control of the New Jersey state Senate from outside by George Norcross.” (Star Ledger)

Rendell and Booker make the case for gubernatorial contest as Obama referendum

The event at the West Side Community Center appeared to lack coherence from the beginning, as operatives with furrowed brows tried to figure out how to get more people burrowed in, while headliner Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell sat in a sedan outside in the rain and Newark Mayor Cory Booker was MIA. "I told him whenever he needed me, I'd be there," said Rendell, referring to an August conversation he had with Gov. Jon Corzine, who's deadlocked in his reelection bid with GOP gubernatorial candidate Chris Christie on the same day Corzine campaign manager Maggie Moran on "Power and Politics" for the first time blasted independent candidate Chris Daggett, who this past week inched up in a Rutgers-Eaglton poll to 20% behind the frontrunners' 36%. (Pizarro, PolitickerNJ)

Control of Freeholder board up in Atlantic

Atlantic County Democrats have a chance to take control over the freeholder board this year, but they'll have to defy expectations to do so. The nine member board – under Republican control since the 19th century with the exception of a brief period in the 1970's – has three seats up for re-election that are currently held by Republicans. If Democrats can sweep the election to join their two Democratic colleagues on the board, they can take a 5-4 majority. But that is unlikely. Although elections are typically competitive in Atlantic County, which is split roughly equally in party registration, two of the three seats up this year – District 2 and 5 – represent traditionally Republican areas. (Friedman, PolitickerNJ)

NJ Assembly Democrats expect to retain majority control after November election

As the nail-biting governor’s race consumes just about all of the political oxygen this campaign season, there’s a quieter battle being waged for the 80-seat state Assembly, where Democrats are confident they will continue nearly a decade of dominance. Under-funded and lesser-known Republicans are struggling to make headway in legislative races, and few expect Democrats to lose control of the lower house, where they hold a 48-32 majority. But with Republican gubernatorial candidate Chris Christie running as an agent of "change," against Democratic Gov. Jon Corzine, GOP state Chairman Jay Webber said his party is on the offense. (Megerian, Star Ledger)

President Obama returning to support Corzine again

President Barack Obama will soon return to New Jersey to help boost Gov. Jon Corzine's re-election campaign. President Barack Obama greets the audience as he leaves the Rothman Center at the Fairleigh Dickinson University campus in Hackensack, where he campaigned for Gov. Corzine this week. The Nov. 1 visit — two days before voters go to the polls __ will include rallies in Camden and Newark, the governor's campaign announced Saturday. It will be Obama's third campaign appearance for his fellow Democrat and his second in recent weeks. (AP)

Twelve options for governor, not three

If Corzine drives you crazy, Christie leaves you cringing and Daggett disappoints you, don't despair: You've got nine other choices for governor on this year's ballot. Or at least take solace you might find a candidate you like, despite the cold political reality that none of those nine — or the apparently surging independent Chris Daggett, to hear Republican Chris Christie tell it — has a solid chance of winning. Most of them say otherwise — that an electorate unenthused about Democratic incumbent Jon Corzine or his two established rivals and exasperated by economic hardship and New Jersey's government could conceivably elect them, if they only knew they're on the ballot. (Symons, Gannett)

Swing territory

Extending from the Philadelphia suburbs to the New Jersey coast, the Third Congressional District in New Jersey is a classic swing district. It went for Al Gore in 2000, George W. Bush in 2004 and Barack Obama in 2008. That has made the district a tempting target for Republicans, as Representative John H. Adler, a Democrat, approaches the end of his first term, a time when House incumbents are most at risk of defeat. Mr. Adler replaced Jim Saxton, a Republican who retired in 2008 after nearly a quarter-century in the seat. (Hernandez, New York Times)

NJ governor’s race could hinge on job drain

Amid a historic national recession, New Jersey – like every state – has hemorrhaged jobs. Unemployment is at 9.8 percent, more than double what it was in December 2007, when the recession officially began. That matches the national rate, but is higher than the levels in Pennsylvania and New York. The numbers are clear. But the election-year debate begins with the argument over how well, or poorly, New Jersey has weathered the economic storm compared with other states.Gov. Corzine, the only governor seeking reelection in the midst of the crisis, argues that he has taken steps to blunt the recession's pain.(Tamari, Inquirer)

Candidates for NJ governor focus on campaigning

After months of nasty attacks and disputes over who is best-suited to run New Jersey, the candidates for governor will spend the last leg of the long campaign focusing on old-fashioned politicking to woo voters ranging from women to talk radio fans. While most voters are concerned about property taxes and the economy, personal pitches tailored to specific constituencies could help put a candidate over the top. This weekend’s campaign schedule for the tickets led by Democratic Gov. Jon Corzine, Republican Chris Christie and independent Chris Daggett featured events with seniors, environmentalists, Muslim-American women and the NAACP. They will make more stops to convince those who usually vote their way show up on Election Day. (Heininger, Star Ledger)

Candidates push for beefed-up ethics rules

New Jersey's government-ethics code needs a redo, say the three leading candidates for governor, and each has plans to tighten regulations.They agree that pay-to-play — a highly criticized component of the state's campaign-finance system — is ripe for abuse. They object to dual-office holding. They want more safeguards against corruption.But they differ on how they would change the way Trenton operates. Governor Corzine, the Democratic incumbent, ran on an ethics platform in 2005 and has made some headway on his inauguration promise to combat "the toxic mix of politics, money and public business." (Young, The Record)

Mulshine: a declaration of independents?

I was up late Wednesday evening chatting on the phone with a political professional who has worked many campaigns in New Jersey. The subject turned to the candidacy of independent Chris Daggett in the race for governor. We agreed he had no chance. Well, maybe a tiny chance. "If he somehow hits 20 percent in the polls, then his candidacy could take off," the pro said. Thursday morning I opened my e-mail. There were the numbers from the latest Rutgers/Eagleton Poll. Daggett was at 20 percent with the two major candidates tied in a statistical dead heat. Daggett remains an extreme long-shot thanks to sparse funding and poor ballot position. But his supporters like to point out that he’s in better shape than Jesse Ventura was at this point in his successful run for Minnesota governor in 1998. (Mulshine, Star Ledger)

5 newspapers make endorsements in NJ’s gubernatorial race

Five more New Jersey newspapers have made their endorsements in the state's gubernatorial race. In editorials published Sunday, Republican challenger Chris Christie earned the support of The Press of Atlantic City, the Asbury Park Press of Neptune and the Courier-Post of Cherry Hill. Incumbent Democratic Gov. Jon Corzine won the backing of The Times of Trenton and The Record of Bergen County. (AP)

Questionable hiring by Christie raises concern among prosecutors in US Attorney’s office

Days before announcing his resignation as a federal prosecutor, Republican gubernatorial candidate Chris Christie agreed to hire the son of his friend and mentor, Herbert J. Stern, as an assistant U.S. attorney. The move sparked public criticism from Democrats, who accused Christie of using his post as New Jersey’s top federal law enforcement official for patronage. But interviews last week showed it also drew private concern from prosecutors at the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Newark. Christie hired Samuel Stern over objections from nearly every assistant U.S. attorney who interviewed him, according to three federal law enforcement officials with knowledge of the hiring process. (Ryan, Star Ledger)

6th election in Hoboken in three years

This November marks the sixth election in just 2 1/2 years for Hoboken's acting mayor. Dawn Zimmer assumed the mayor's seat when Peter Cammarano resigned amid corruption allegations after three weeks in office. Cammarano has said he's not guilty. Hoboken voters must now return to the polls in a special election to choose which of 7 candidates will fill out his unexpired term. Zimmer, who is also a councilwoman, has run for office several times. (AP)

FBI informant Solomon Dwek has whirlwind NJ corruption tour

In March, Solomon Dwek, government informant, met with his targets at least 26 times. He ate with them at crowded diners, busy pancake houses, fancy restaurants and hotels. He covered hundreds of miles, shuttling from one secret meeting to another, as the FBI taped every word. It was Jersey City for breakfast. Brooklyn for lunch. Plates of pasta at Casa Dante in downtown Jersey City in the afternoon, and dinner on the waterfront in Weehawken, at a pricey steakhouse overlooking the panoramic Manhattan skyline. He talked money laundering with rabbis in synagogues. Bribes for public officials over drinks. And he continually switched identities: One moment he would be David Esenbach, madcap real estate developer with money to burn; the next, Schlomo Dwek, real estate mogul. (Sherman, Star Ledger)

McCarthy: LTG candidate apparently familiar with GloCo

The man running with Independent gubernatorial candidate Chris Daggett apparently knows a thing or two about Gloucester County. Dr. Frank Esposito, who is Daggett’s candidate for lieutenant governor, was a finalist in 2007 to be the next president of Gloucester County College. “I went through to pretty close to the end,” Esposito said in a telephone interview with the Times on Friday. “I was down there quite a bit.” The longtime educator, who was serving as interim dean for the College of Education at Kean University at the time he applied, praised GCC. “It’s a school with great potential,” he said. “It has a potential of being one of the top two-year colleges in the country with its leadership and direction.” While campaigning, Esposito has continued his career – serving as a distinguished professor of history and education at Kean. (McCarthy, Newhouse)

Morris County Dems hope to break 26th District Republican dominance

In Republican circles, Assemblymen Alex DeCroce and Jay Webber have clout. DeCroce is Assembly Minority Leader. Webber is chairman of the state GOP. They are based in arguably the state’s most dominant Republican setting — Morris County. Enter Wayne Marek and Douglas Herbert, Democrats. Their task: with little money and no major campaign organization, take on DeCroce and Webber at the polls on Nov. 3. And do it in a district where Republicans are working overtime to get out the vote for favorite son Chris Christie, the Republican gubernatorial candidate. (Ragonese, Star Ledger)

Wording of flier hardens GOP rift

A petty spat last week over the details in an upcoming campaign mailer offered more evidence of the semi-estranged Bergen County Republican freeholder ticket — and the depth of the party's internal divide. The dispute began after candidate Rob Hermansen demanded that the Bergen County Republican Organization change what he said were objectionable details or remove his name from the flier, scheduled to hit voters' mailboxes beginning Tuesday. Hermansen made his concerns known to BCRO Chairman Bob Yudin. (Stile, The Record)

District 22 Assembly race centered on spending

Despite an obvious aversion to agreeing on many topics – a theme highlighted during a turbulent candidates' forum held earlier this month in Plainfield – the Republican and Democratic slates running for a pair of District 22 Assembly seats do see eye-to-eye on one key issue. Republican challengers Martin Marks and William “Bo” Vastine and Democratic incumbents Jerry Green and Linda Stender all acknowledged that government spending is one of the issues their constituents care about most — and might have in mind when they go to the polls on Nov. 3. “Everybody is feeling squeezed,” Stender said, “from their kitchen table to the State House.” (Spivey, Gannett)

Prominent minister gets nearly $1 million from Corzine Remember the reaction when it was learned that Gov. Corzine’s foundation had given the head of the Black Ministers Council, Reginald Jackson, $87,000 for his church? The council endorsed Corzine although Jackson had disagreements about the Corzine administration’s lack of enthusiasm for charter schools and vouchers in urban areas. But Jackson said the money had nothing to do with the endorsement. Turns out Corzine’s foundation gave nearly $1 million to a non-profit organization controlled by a black minister in Camden County in South Jersey, the Rev. Bishop David G. Evans, who also serves on the Turnpike Authority. (Ingle, Gannett)

Four candidates running to be elected Edison mayor

The mayoral race may have lost some of its intensity since the bitterly fought Democratic primary in June but the two leading candidates are still going head-to-head on the issues. Democrat Antonia Ricigliano and Republican Dennis Pipala are offering their own versions of “change” to voters. Ricigliano said the township has tumbled down the wrong direction in the past four years. As a member of the Township Council, she has served as part of the governing body during that time. “On the council you are one of seven votes and your vote is diluted,” she said. “It is time to take the bull by the horns.” (Amuthan, Gannett) Morning News Digest: October 26,  2009