Morning News Digest: November 18, 2009

Sources: Watson Coleman still seeking speaker's chair

Up against a politically and geographically connected frontrunner, Assembly Majority Leader Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-Ewing) this week continues to call assembly people in the Democratic caucus in an effort to secure backing for the speakership, according to party sources. A veteran legislator and former Democratic state party chair, Watson Coleman naturally headed a short-list of successors to retiring Speaker Joe Roberts (D-Camden). But the Mercer County product's difficulty in a state controlled by powerful political fiefdoms is she hails from a county that is the Democratic Party equivalent of Somerset. If the measure included time in the trenches and advocacy of progressive party causes, she looked tracked to become the Assembly's first African American woman speaker. But that was before Assemblywoman Sheila Oliver (D-East Orange) abruptly emerged this fall as part of a north-south senate/assembly deal engineered in large part by George Norcross III of South Jersey, Essex County Executive Joe DiVincenzo, and Union County power-brokering swing man state Sen. Ray Lesniak (D-Elizabeth). (Pizarro, PolitickerNJ)

Elwell indicted

Former Secaucus Mayor Dennis Elwell was indicted today on federal charges of taking $10,000 in bribes in exchange for help with development approvals. Elwell, who resigned shortly after his July 23 arrest, allegedly promised to expedite development projects for Solomon Dwek – a government cooperating witness posing as a developer under an assumed name – in exchange for the money. Also indicted was Ronald Manzo, brother of former Assemblyman and five-time Jersey City mayoral candidate Louis Manzo. Ronald Manzo, who is charged with taking $5,000 to facilitate the relationship between Elwell and Dwek, was indicted last month along with his brother on separate corruption charges. According to the indictment, Dwek gave Elwell – through Manzo — $10,000 and promised another $10,000 after the June 2 primary. (Friedman, PolitickerNJ)

DiVincenzo: If anyone can straighten out Jersey, it’s Chris Christie

Ready to formally announce at noon in Veteran's Park on Dec. 11, Essex County Executive Joe DiVincenzo says he has one campaign left in him: a third go at county executive next year before retiring to the private sector."My option is to run one more time here and then look at other options outside government, it's not to run for governor in 2013," said DiVincenzo. "I want people to look at my legacy in Essex County and remember that the two guys prior to me both did jail time. What I've done here is I've rebuilt parks and infrastructure. "Nobody should be talking about that right now," added DiVincenzo, when asked about the 2013 gubernatorial election and prospective Democratic challengers to GOP Gov.-elect Chris Christie. "Chris will be re-elected if he does a good job," said the county executive, a Democrat and longtime friend of Christie's. "There is no question, if anybody can straighten out the state, it's him. He's a very tough guy and the people he brings around him will be critical. Look at everything he's done so far. As someone who runs a governent here, I'm very impressed. I talk to him regularly. He's handling transition very well. He's trying to bring in everyone and reaching out to both sides, Democrat and Republican. I pray that he's successful because we can't go on for another four years like this. People out here are hurting." The results of a Rutgers-Eagleton poll released today show 35% of New Jerseyans think conditions will get better; 41% say they will stay the same; and 19% think they will get worse. Since Gov.-elect Chris Christie’s victory, 43% of Republicans are more optimistic about the state’s future; 32% of Democrats and 34% of independents have positive outlooks. (Friedman, PolitickerNJ)

New Jersey celebrity athlete candidates have mixed records

News of ex-Eagles tackle Jon Runyan's interest in running for Congress in the 3rd District brought about some excitement in Republican circles, but it was not universal. One South Jersey Republican, skeptical about celebrity candidates, kept his response to two words: Brian Propp. Propp, who played fifteen seasons with the Philadelphia Flyers, was recruited by state Sen. Diane Allen (R-Edgewater Park) to run for State Assembly in her district as a Republican in 2007. Propp was a promising pick, but buzz about competing down-ticket in the heavily Democratic district fizzled out, and ultimately he and his running mate, Nancy Griffin, did not come close to unseating incumbents Herb Conaway (D-Delanco) and Jack Conners (D-Pennsauken). But Propp is only the latest example of professional athletes from the Garden State who ran for office. While pro athletes who choose to run start out with name recognition that candidates from more traditional backgrounds typically have to spend years building up, their fame is by no means a ticket to a high office. In 1977, the late tennis great Althea Gibson – the first black woman to win a Grand Slam tournament – lost a state senate bid in a three-way primary against Frank Dodd — who was running on a slate with then-Assemblyman and now Senate President Richard Codey (D-Roseland) — and then-Assemblyman Eldridge Hawkins. (Friedman, PolitickerNJ)

Editorial: Three cheers for N.J.'s Election Law Enforcement Commission

Somebody just cracked a window on those smoke-filled back rooms. This week, the Election Law Enforcement Commission unveiled a new pay-to-play database that will enable anyone with a computer to track campaign contributions to county and municipal campaigns. Want to know who gave to the mayor’s campaign? It’s in there. Want to know who cut a check to help that freeholder’s re-election bid? It’s in there. Want to see if the contractor who wrote a check also got a municipal or county contract? That’s in there, too. Just type in the name. Connecting the dots was never easier. Imagine that — a state agency, on its own initiative, shining a light on politics that are among the most corrupt in the nation. Jeff Brindle, the new ELEC executive director, called the website "a major priority" since his promotion in July. Donations through this year’s primary are available now. General election data will go online in February, Brindle said. No doubt, there is more to do. For example, political action committees still can pour money into campaigns virtually anonymously. Those contributions must be tracked the old-fashioned way — by scouring paperwork scanned into ELEC computers. (Star Ledger)

Christie maintains close ties to Delaware

Since he was elected New Jersey's next governor, Chris Christie has received a lot of attention for being an avid fan of fellow Garden State native Bruce Springsteen. But, Christie, who's been to more than 120 Springsteen shows, also has a passion in Delaware. The 1984 University of Delaware grad and former student council president loves Blue Hens football games as much as he does Springsteen concerts, his close friends say. The 47-year-old Republican has had season tickets to Delaware Stadium for about 20 years, although the grind of this year's campaign caused him to miss all the current season's home games, something that had never happened before. Christie normally makes most of the home games.Now that he's won the governor's seat by beating incumbent Jon S. Corzine, Christie expects to return to the games next year. (Taylor, Gannett)

Christie: Budget situation worse than thought

Gov.-elect Chris Christie's budget advisers, fresh off a meeting with Gov. Jon S. Corzine's top treasury officials, said Monday that the state's fiscal situation is worse in the current and upcoming budget years than expected. "We did not get any pleasant news this morning from the Treasurer's Office — not that I expected to, but more unpleasant perhaps than we had hoped," Christie said at an afternoon news conference in his new transition office in the state capital. Christie reiterated that he won't seek tax increases to balance the budget. He wouldn't commit to timetable for promised cuts in income and corporate taxes, though he said tax cuts and spending cuts are needed to fix the state's budget and economy. "I absolutely believe that we can have New Jersey back to fiscal health by the conclusion of our first term. I don't think that's an unrealistic goal. But let me be really clear: There's going to be a lot of hard things that need to be done in order to do that, and everybody's going to have to come to the table ready to contribute to the restoration of our fiscal health," said Christie. "I think we can do it, and frankly I think that's one of the imperatives from the election. People voted for me because they want spending to be less. They want government to be smaller." "The state of New Jersey certainly faces a very urgent fiscal situation," said Christie adviser Richard Bagger, a former lawmaker who is now an executive at Pfizer. (Symons, Gannett)

Ingle: A new reason for business to leave

NJ Gov.-elect Chris Christie says after meeting with Treasury officials the state’s projected $8 billion budget deficit could be the low end of the range. He said it was too soon to say where the budget will be cut except that to repeat “everything is on the table.” Christie said finances are like they are not only because of the national economy but also due to eight years of Democrats in charge. He singled out former Gov. Jim McGreevey, saying his budget handling was “obscene”. Christie also said the state’s rules and regulations governing business are driving companies out of New Jersey and that means a loss of jobs. Here’s an example of what he’s talking about: Assembly Democrat leader Bonnie Watson Coleman is proposing a six-bill package dealing with former prison inmates. One of the laws she wants would make it illegal for employers to discriminate against job applicants on the basis of a criminal record. (Ingle, Gannett)

State Sen. Connors leaning against run for Congress

State Sen. Christopher J. Connors, R-Ocean, said he is "not likely" to run for Congress against Rep. John Adler, D-N.J., in the 2010 midterm elections. "I'm certain there will be a more definitive announcement regarding that issue in the very near future," Connors said. "I can tell you I'm getting a lot of telephone calls from the National Republican Congressional Committee and congressmen from all over the United States. . . . And it's been very flattering, of course." Connors, 53, a Lacey resident, was the first choice of Ocean County Republican Chairman George R. Gilmore to run for the 3rd District seat to which Adler was elected in 2008, following the planned retirement of Rep. Jim Saxton, R-Ocean, who had served in the House of Representatives for 24 years. Last week, former Philadelphia Eagles offensive tackle Jon Runyan, 35, of Mount Laurel caught Gilmore off guard when he announced through a representative of the Burlington County Regular Republican Organization that he was considering a run. The election of Adler, a former state senator from Cherry Hill, came after a contentious and costly nomination fight on the Republican side between the Burlington County and Ocean County GOP political machines in the winter and spring of 2008. (Larsen, Gannett)

Democrat requests recount in Monroe Township council race

A Democrat who was dealt a surprising loss in voting earlier this month for a Monroe Township Council seat has formally requested a recount. Dan Zwillenberg, a lawyer for candidate Steve Dalina, filed a petition Tuesday morning with Middlesex County Clerk Elaine Flynn requesting a recount of ballots in two districts of two wards in Monroe. Dalina lost the race in Ward 3 by a narrow margin to Republican Michael Leibowitz on Nov. 3. Dalina supporters have raised questions about whether people voted in the proper district, and that is why the recount involves the First District of Ward 2 and the Ninth District in Ward 3. "We want to make sure that every vote is counted,'' said Zwillenberg, who is with the law firm of DeCotiis, FitzPatrick, Cole & Wisler in Teaneck. Leibowitz won the four-year seat with 2,069 votes. Dalina had 2,038 votes. The tally included absentee ballots. After provisional ballots were counted, the vote count was 2,075-2,040 in favor of Leibowitz. (Sparta, Gannett)

More than 20K N.J. lawmakers, local officials expected to attend annual Atlantic City conference

New Jersey lawmakers and local officials poured into Atlantic City today for the annual New Jersey League of Municipalities conference – a Garden State tradition that features seminars by day and partying by night. More than 20,000 elected and government-related officials are expected to attend the four day-confab, highlighted by a joint appearance Thursday by Republican Gov.-elect Chris Christie and lame duck Democratic Gov. Jon Corzine. More than a dozen parties were scheduled at hotel and casino restaurants and ballrooms, hosted by state lawmakers, local officials and the contractors they do business with. The event is a one-stop-shop for networking with government officials from mayors to the governor’s administration – and in past years, it’s where elected officials have gotten themselves in trouble. League Executive Director William Dressel said his job is to put together an educational offering to "provide my elected officials with the tools they need" to run local government. "I’m only responsible for what happens between 9 o’clock and 5 o’clock," Dressel said. "For every hour in that normal workday, it’s chock full of education workshops, clinics." (Graber/Fleisher, Star Ledger) Morning News Digest: November 18, 2009