Morning News Digest: November 19, 2009

Sweeney subs for sitting Senate president at On the Record taping

NJN Chief Political Correspondent Michael Aron has a panel on a stage here in one of the break-out-rooms of the Atlantic City Convention Center. It's a familar group of legislative leaders, but in place of Senate President Richard Codey (D-Roseland) sits Senate Majority Leader Steve Sweeney (D-West Deptford). The Sweeney for Codey swap for this public television show taping anticipates Monday's senate Democratic caucus vore when Sweeney figures to defeat Codey. So it's Sweeney and outgoing Assembly Speaker Joe Roberts (D-Camden) versus Senate Minority Leader Tom Kean (R-Westfield) and Assembly Minority Leader Alex DeCroce (R-Parsippany) on an Aron-anchored On the Record episode to air this coming Sunday at 9 a.m. and 11 a.m. It's just starting. Facing a room of mayors and other government types at this, the 94th annual League of Muncipalities conference, Kean and DeCroce revel in the coming Christie era, while Roberts and Sweeney assume the grim chore of Corzine apologetics. (Pizarro, PolitickerNJ)

Christie transition team members to assume more specified roles tomorrow

The members of Christie's transition team will break into specified groups tomorrow, according to team facilitator and counsel Brian Nelson of Shrewsbury. "We're going to have a smaller number of groups to examine the issues than Gov. Corzine had four years ago," Nelson told Proving Gov. Jon Corzine's loss in his hometown doesn't diminish his standing with defeated Democratic governors, Woodbridge Mayor John McCormac huddled in a tight-knit circle of party stalwarts that included former Gov. Jim Florio here in the Atlantic City Convention Center at the 94th annual League of Muncipalities Conference. Corzine suffered a bellweather gut-wrencher in Woodbridge two weeks ago, ultimately going down to Gov.-elect Chris Christie, 11,475 to 9,391. Christie surfaced in Woodbridge two days later and triumphantly pounded pavement with the Democratic mayor. Then McCormac surfaced a few days after that as a member of Christie's transition team. McCormac, state treasurer in the administration of Gov. Richard Codey, will have a transition role in economic development. (Pizarro, PolitickerNJ)

Sweeney: Economy is the issue now, not marriage equality

Ready to be the next Senate President, state Senate Majority Leader Steve Sweeney (D-West Deptford) just told a crowd of mayors, council people and govenrment types that now is not the time to drive marriage equality through the legislature."It's an important social issue," Sweeney tells NJN Chief Political Correspondent Michael Aron in response to a question. "If we learned anything in this last election it's that the main issue right now is the economy," Sweeney adds. He says the legislature should consider marriage equality at another time. (Pizarro, PolitickerNJ)

Local NJ officials at annual conference focus on spending, not saving, taxpayer money

Much of the focus for New Jersey’s local government leaders at their annual conference in Atlantic City this week is on spending money — despite property tax bills that are at an all-time high. Attendees are greeted inside the convention center by a sea of booths advertising products and services that are being offered by vendors who feed off taxpayer-funded contracts. And the agenda for the convention, organized every year by the New Jersey League of Municipalities, is filled with workshops that teach local officials different ways to use their budgets for everything from crime prevention and green energy to transportation infrastructure and "emerging video technologies." "You see a lot of ways to spend money," Senate Majority Leader Steve Sweeney (D-Gloucester) said. "What you don’t see is how to regionalize and save money." About 20,000 people are expected to attend this year’s event, which runs through Friday. Many are billing their communities for meals and lodging, and most are in a public pension system that is teetering toward collapse, one that was the subject of a conference session held on Tuesday. (Reitmeyer, Star-Ledger)

Monmouth County financial adviser admits Ponzi scheme in state court

A financial adviser from Monmouth County admitted today he financed a lavish lifestyle with money from investors he duped in a $10.3 million Ponzi scheme. Maxwell Smith, 69, of Fair Haven, pleaded guilty in Superior Court in Morristown to one count of first-degree money-laundering. Under the plea agreement with the state Attorney General’s Office, Smith is likely to be sentenced to a 15-year prison term, with five years of parole ineligibility, but it will run concurrently with an upcoming federal prison sentence. Smith also had pleaded guilty Tuesday in federal court in Trenton to wire fraud in the same securities scheme, authorities said. A broker for 35 years, Smith in 1992 began bilking investors in a scam undertaken while he was employed for several different brokerage firms. Smith sold a bogus investment plan to 13 investors and guaranteed returns of 7.5 percent to 9 percent, paid semi-annually, Deputy Attorney General Andrew Fried said in court. Over the years, Smith raked in $10 million from the investors and paid out $2 million in interest to give a false sense of security, but he spent the other $8 million on himself and his wife. The money financed their high living, overseas travel and renting a villa in France, as well as dining in fancy restaurants, buying pricey antiques and gambling. (Lockwood, Star Ledger)

Albright: Elections are like sports – it’s all in the numbers

The sports pages always carry "The Tale of The Tape"-the vital statistics of the fighters in championship bouts; a tradition matched by the county-by-county returns published the day after elections. It is the most dramatic portrait of winners and losers. Christopher J. Christie, the state's former U.S. attorney with a 131-0 conviction record, proved himself a champion in the election booth. He carried 14 of the 21 counties and dramatically captured the Democratic bastions of Middlesex and Passaic counties on Nov. 3. The Democratic loser, Gov. Jon S. Corzine, of Hoboken, could wind up in the Obama administration. The president campaigned hard for him, but Christie will be inaugurated Jan. 12 as the first Republican governor in l2 years. (Albright, Jersey Journal)

N.J. Democrats differ on whether gay marriage should be voted on during lame duck session

As lawmakers prepare for the lame-duck session beginning Monday, top Senate Democrats remain split on whether the issue of gay marriage should be taken up before Governor-elect Chris Christie takes office in January. At the annual New Jersey State League of Municipalities in Atlantic City, Sen. Steven Sweeney (D-Gloucester) told reporters gay marriage was an important issue but not one that Democrats needed to focus on as a priority at this time. Sweeney instead said the economy should be the legislature's focus. Sweeney, the Senate Majority Leader, is expected to ascend to Senate President in January — pushing out current Senate President Richard Codey (D-Essex). Sen. Loretta Weinberg (D-Bergen), the prime sponsor of the same-sex marriage bill in the Senate and the lieutenant governor candidate on the Democratic ticket, responded to Sweeney's comment, saying she is "urging our current Majority Leader to honor the commitment he made to me to move this important civil rights bill forward." (Fuchs, Star Ledger)

Former N.J. Govs say Christie will have tough time cutting taxes

New Jersey is in for some bipartisan pain, former state governors said today. Gov.-elect Chris Christie ran on a pledge to lower taxes and veto spending increases, but it will be difficult – if not impossible – for him to keep those promises, the governors said in front of about 100 mayors and other municipal officials at a session during the annual League of Municipalities convention in Atlantic City. "It's going to be joining hands and jumping over the cliff together," former Gov. Jim Florio said. If Christie needs to raise taxes – whether he calls them taxes or not – he will have to make voters believe it is absolutely necessary, the governors said. "You have to convince the people of New Jersey that this is what we have to do," former Gov. Donald DiFrancesco said. It's not surprising Christie said the budget looked worse than he thought after he met for the first time after the elections earlier this week with Treasury officials, DiFrancesco said. "Everybody says how bad it is right after the election when they win," he said. The session was in part a look toward the Christie administration that takes the helm Jan. 19, but mostly a gripefest about the biggest issues local officials face such as affordable housing responsibilities. (Fleisher, Star Ledger)

Ingle: Howdy, I’m the new sheriff in New Jersey

Gov.-elect Chris Christie is in Lost Pines, Texas, for the annual Republican Governor’s Conference (and this year added, a victory barbecue). Does that mean that Lieutenant Gov.-elect Kim Guadagno is now Gov.-elect since Christie is out of state? Christie won’t have much time to enjoy himself. He’s talking to the annual meeting of the NJ Municipal League tomorrow in Atlantic City at 1:15 p.m. While he’s there, he might want to ask the League to justify its executive director, Bill Dressel who makes $191,000 a year, getting a taxpayer-funded pension even thought he is not a public employee. Dressel isn’t the only non-public employee getting a public pension. As for Lost Pines, Texas, it ain’t as bad as it sounds. The hotel looks really nice. If Christie pulls Jersey out of the fire, he had better get used to these meetings, because he will be a national hero. (Ingle, Gannett) Morning News Digest: November 19, 2009