Morning News Digest: November 20, 2009

Hornik maintains Marlboro majority amidst Christie’s Monmouth tsunami

While his fellow party members took a frontline beating from Chris Christie on Election Day in Monmouth County, Mayor Jon Hornik quietly won two out of three council seats in Marlboro to preserve his majority in western Monmouth's largest, most voter-concentrated town. "Gov. Jon Corzine lost Marlboro by over 30%, but I think Marlboro voters were smart enough to acknowledge what we're doing, said the 39-year old Democrat. "Notwithstanding the Christie tsunami, they believe Marlboro is moving in the right direction. We've cut operating expenses by 15%, and we've reduced total payments by 11% through furloughs, layoffs, attrition and retirement. Government is running well and lean. By year's end, we hope to dissolve our water authority, a completely unnecessary layer of government with 14 people working there set up for political patronage at a total annual cost of $5 million. We're really treating government like a business and we've acted more like a Republican than a Democratic administration. "I have not spoken to him but I am fully behind Chris Christie right now, Hornik added. "I hope he stands firm and makes the tough decisions. You can't worry about getting elected in four years, that's a sure way to failure. He needs to 100% deliver on COAH (the Council on Affordable Housing, which Christie in the campaign promised to reform), a big factor for my residents. Christie has to undo COAH, it does not work."As he has socialized with other elected officials at the 94th annual League of Municipalities Conference in Atlantic City, Hornik acknowledges that party members have asked him if he would consider running for governor himself in 2013. (Pizarro, PolitickerNJ)

Fifis formally announces BurlCo Dem leadership bid

It’s on. Chris Fifis, the Lumberton Democratic Chairman who is the favorite of South Jersey Democratic leaders to become chairman of the Burlington County Democrats, put out a statement officially acknowledging his candidacy for the chairmanship in response to Assemblyman Herb Conaway’s (D-Delanco) decision to run for the post. “I remain as committed to strengthening the Burlington County Democratic Party as I was when I took the fight to the entrenched GOP in 2004,” said Fifis, who that year ran unsuccessfully for freeholder and ran for assembly in 2007. The party, currently headed by Acting Chairwoman Alice Furia, will elect a new leader in June. The former chairman, Rick Perr — who just last year was considered a rising star in Democratic circles after presiding over a pickup of two freeholder seats and the county clerk's office – resigned under an ethical cloud after revelations surfaced about his involvement in a PAC that raised money for arrested Hoboken mayor Peter Cammarano. The GOP has a 3-2 majority on the freeholder board, and this year they successfully defended two seats left open by retiring Republicans. (Friedman, PolitickerNJ)

Sen. Steve Sweeney era begins: With victory in hand, next Senate leader settles scores

The political fight for control of the state Senate is over, barring a miracle. Now the victors are turning to the job of revenge. Their first victim is Sen. Joe Vitale, the champion of children’s health care, who will be stripped of his role as chairman of the Health Committee. "This isn’t personal," says Sen. Steve Sweeney, a beefy former ironworker from South Jersey who will soon become Senate president. "Joe’s done a good job." But Joe backed the wrong horse. He supported Sen. Richard Codey over Sweeney in last month’s fight for control of the Senate. And being an old-school sort of fellow he stuck by his word, even when he saw others in the Codey camp making deals to jump ship. "This decision is just beyond my control," Vitale said of his demotion. "I certainly believe I’ve earned the right to stay on as chairman, given all that this committee has been able to accomplish." And there lies the rub. Yes, this is partly about political egos and ambitions. But the public has a stake in this fight. Because it’s also about the tangible accomplishments that Vitale has scored during the last decade. Few others in Trenton can match his record. His passion is getting health care for the uninsured, especially for children, and he’s been relentless. He helped create the programs that provide subsidized care for children in working families, those led by truck drivers, janitors, and others who earn too much to qualify for Medicaid and not enough to buy insurance on their own. (Moran, Star Ledger)

Governors don’t call this home

It is a 20-room Greek Revival mansion, with Italian gardens, a music room and a wood-paneled library. But no one seems to want to live in Drumthwacket, the governor’s residence in Princeton Township, N.J. Governor-elect Christopher J. Christie says he will commute to the State House from his hilltop home in Mendham rather than move into the mansion, to avoid uprooting his four children from their schools. “It was a pretty easy decision,” Mr. Christie said in an interview. “Candidly, it’ll probably be the most normal thing about their lives the next four years.” The last governor to live in Drumthwacket was James E. McGreevey, who resigned in 2004 after acknowledging an extramarital affair. Richard J. Codey, who finished Mr. McGreevey’s term, stayed in his West Orange home. Gov. Jon S. Corzine, who lives in a Hoboken condominium, led Mr. Christie’s family on an hourlong tour of the 174-year-old mansion on Sunday. “He was wonderful with the kids, showed them secret passageways around the place, little spots that would be great for hide-and-seek with their friends, all the different little corners of the house,” Mr. Christie said. (Halbfinger, New York Times)

NJ Governor-elect Christie tells local officials to expect a ‘continued period of pain’

In his first major speech since Election Day, Gov.-elect Chris Christie told local officials today they better step up and become part of the solution, or he would become their problem. After embracing outgoing Gov. Jon Corzine at the head of a long banquet table of former governors at the annual League of Municipalities convention in Atlantic City, Christie delivered a forceful speech in which he said he would use "every tool at my disposal to force change." "If you want to participate in it, we welcome you to the party, to the center of the room," he said. "And if you don’t, we’re coming into that corner to drag you out." Christie, who throughout the campaign said towns needed to combine municipal functions to save money, said everyone in the state would need to bear some of the pain in getting New Jersey back on track. Though he never said the words "shared services" or "consolidation," that’s the message the municipal leaders in the room said they heard. "We’re talking about possible layoffs and consolidations that we’d prefer not to do," said Ellen Dickson, president of Summit Common Council. "It’s going to be very painful but we have to do it or else the state will be unlivable." Immediately after his nearly 20-minute speech, Christie left the banquet to attend transition meetings. He didn’t stick around for a speech from Corzine, who said changing New Jersey won’t be easy. (Fleisher/Graber, Star Ledger)

NJ Assemblywoman Sheila Oliver has clear path to Speaker post

Assemblywoman Sheila Oliver now has a clear path to become speaker of the lower house, after her only remaining competition for the post, Assembly Majority Leader Bonnie Watson Coleman, dropped out of contention today. The decision means Oliver will likely receive the unanimous support of the Assembly’s Democratic majority on Monday and assume the third-most powerful position in New Jersey government in January. "We have communicated with one another," Oliver (D-Essex) said of Watson Coleman. "We’re both looking forward to the next legislative session and working together as colleagues and committed Democrats." Two ranking Democrats, who declined to be identified but have detailed knowledge of the conversations, said Watson Coleman (D-Mercer) informed party leaders of her decision today. Both houses of the Legislature are scheduled to decide Monday who will lead the Assembly and Senate beginning in January. The votes, which are expected to usher in completely new leadership, will be made in closed-door sessions held by the Democrats in each house. (Megerian/Margolin, Star Ledger)

Stile: Christie keeping the faith for a new Jersey

Barack Obama was elected last year, preaching the Audacity of Hope. Chris Christie, the newly elected Republican governor of New Jersey and an Obama admirer, is just plain audacious. Christie showcased his signature brazenness Thursday, as he regaled the annual New Jersey League of Municipalities luncheon about a recent Jon Bon Jovi television interview. The Jersey-raised rock star was asked to explain the meaning of his song "Have a Nice Day." Was the title a simple pleasantry or was it something more cynical — or crude? "He turned his head and … said, 'I'm from Jersey,' " Christie said, triggering a wave of laughter inside the Atlantic City-Sheraton ballroom. "And we all know what he meant." Christie displayed a similar blunt Jersey iconoclasm in his victory lap pit stop at the league, itself a charter member of the calcified, special-interest establishment that Christie has vowed to "turn upside down." He gave the audience a taste of the Christie style — a direct, in-your-face manner, delivered in that plain yet difficult-to-define Jersey patter, a blend between the faint Brooklynese of North Jersey and that strange Philadelphia rounding of vowels heard in South Jersey. (Stile, The Record)

3 Middlesex County elections won’t be recounted until after Thanksgiving

The county election board will conduct reviews of three local municipal races, though the head of the board said the recounts likely won't take place until early next month. Jim Vokral, administrator of the Middlesex County Board of Elections, said he's received petitions calling for recounts of the votes in the New Brunswick ward referendum and the Monroe Ward 3 Township Council race. Anita Greenberg, chair of the Old Bridge Republican Party, said her Ward 1 Township Council candidate, Eleanor "Debbie" Walker, also has filed paperwork seeking a recheck of her race, which Walker lost by 33 votes to Democrat Robert A. Volkert. Greenberg said a recheck involves looking at the large number of mail-in and provisional ballots and also a more thorough review of the "physical history" of the election, including the roster of voters. "I think it warrants a look to make sure the outcome is really a representation of the voters' (will)," she said. Once such a recount petition is filed, Vokral said he generally consults with the Superior Court judge handling the case to schedule the recount. (Kaltwasser, Gannett)

Ingle: Must be that new math

New Jersey’s unemployment rate is down to 9.7 percent. Good news, a slight improvement. Private sector employment is down by 4,400 jobs. But government employment is up by 2,600 jobs. In addition, the job loss figure for September was reduced from losing 12,700 jobs to losing 10,600. That last one means Corzine’s Labor Department didn’t do his re-election effort any good when it over-estimated job loss during the campaign. Also, how the heck does government add 2,600 jobs in this economy? (Ingle, Gannett)

NJ Senate Majority Leader Sweeney says gay marriage vote would be irresponsible if passage unsure

Following a dust-up over gay marriage in which he said his quotes were taken out of context, Senate Majority Leader Stephen Sweeney said today it would be irresponsible for Democrats to bring a bill to a vote if they are not sure it will pass. The Gloucester County Democrat, speaking at the New Jersey State League of Municipalities conference in Atlantic City, said he thought gay marriage was an important social priority, but the economy takes precedent. The politically sensitive issue had created sparks between two of the state Senate’s heavyweights – Sweeney and Sen. Loretta Weinberg (D-Bergen), who was Gov. Jon Corzine’s running mate. As legislators try to finagle votes for one side or another, Sen. Paul Sarlo (D-Bergen) said he would not bring the bill up for a vote in the Senate Judiciary Committee — even though enough people in the committee supported it to pass — unless the Democrats could prove they had the votes to pass it outright. Sarlo, who said he did not necessarily support the bill, said he would not "stand in the way of progress" if there were enough votes. (Fleisher, Star Ledger) Morning News Digest: November 20, 2009