Morning News Digest: November 23, 2009

Velez-Gentry would take position in Christie administration if offered

Former Republican assembly candidate Stepfanie Velez-Gentry made national headlines for her unusual occupation, but she would be willing to put that job aside if offered one by the incoming Chris Christie administration. “I would absolutely be interested,” she said. “I want to help make changes in the community, and if something was offered to help make changes I would take it.” Velez-Gentry, 29, runs Nookie Parties, LCC – a company where traveling salespeople host parties to sell sex toys and other adult novelties – or, as described it when it was first reported in the Inside Edge, a “naughty Tupper Wear party.” Rather than generate controversy, however, Velez-Gentry’s business won her favorable press for her entreupeunerial spirit. The Associated Press picked up the story, as did the New York Daily News, and it ricocheted to several other media outlets and blogs. Howard Stern even talked her up on his radio show. Velez-Gentry said she even got a $50 campaign donation from a woman with a similar business in Utah. She was later endorsed by the Gloucester County Times, which said that, beyond the “snickering” about her job, she had “much to offer.” Ultimately, however, it was not nearly enough to prevail in a safe legislative district and against Democrats Donald Norcross — brother of South Jersey power broker George Norcross – and Angel Fuentes. (Friedman, PolitickerNJ)

Democrat Donald Scarinci is smiling; Corzine and Christie staffs spar; Fairness for Lambertville Mayor David DelVecchio

The Auditor last week sifted through the remains of the gubernatorial election. There, amid the wreckage of the Corzine administration, was Democrat Donald Scarinci. And he was smiling. Few political lawyers are more closely tied to the Democratic Party than Scarinci. Best friend of Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), former counsel to Assembly Democrats, counsel to Gov. Jim McGreevey’s transition, Hudson County power broker, former law partner of disgraced Bergen Democratic boss Joe Ferriero. No matter. This is New Jersey and there’s always an angle. Turns out Scarinci had a very good Election Day. Scarinci and his firm have a pole position as lawyers go in the new administration. One of Scarinci’s partners is Monmouth Republican Chairman Joe Oxley, who ran a critical voter-turnout effort that helped give Gov.-elect Chris Christie a big edge. Another, Matt Giacobbe, is working with Christie’s transition. (Star-Ledger)

Hayden files Ferriero motion

Former Bergen County Democratic Chairman Joe Ferriero’s attorney has filed to have Ferriero's corruption conviction overturned. Defense lawyer Joseph Hayden said he filed about a dozen arguments in federal court, chief among them challenging Ferriero's conviction for conspiracy to defraud Bergenfield of co-defendant Dennis Oury’s honest services. Oury, who was Bergen County Democratic Counsel, was the Bergenfield Borough Attorney. “The principle motions involve a challenge to the honest services theory of prosecution, which is presently being scrutinized by a case pending before the United States Supreme Court dealing with honest services,” said Hayden. “We believe the Supreme Court case will be decided favorably to the defense, and this will result in overturning Mr. Ferriero’s conviction.” The conspiracy count was the most serious of Ferriero's three count conviction. He was also convicted on two mail fraud counts and acquitted of five other mail fraud counts. (Friedman, PolitickerNJ)

NJ Sen. Steve Sweeney expected to win senate presidency

State Sen. Stephen Sweeney is expected to take control of the Senate presidency in a closed-door meeting today, ousting longtime Essex County Democrat Sen. Richard Codey, who had vowed to fight for the post despite increasingly long odds. The vote of the Democratic caucus marks the endgame in a contentious process that has riled the party for the past few months and erupted publicly during the gubernatorial campaign. By all accounts, Codey has been unable to fend off Sweeney, a Gloucester County Democrat and Senate majority leader. Sweeney’s ascension was coupled with that of Assemblywoman Sheila Oliver (D-Essex), who is expected to become speaker of the lower house after her last remaining opponent, Assembly Majority Leader Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-Mercer), dropped out last week. After winning election within their party’s caucus, each will likely be anointed by official votes in January. Because they hold the majority in both houses, Democrats can decide who leads the Legislature without needing Republican support. Although splinter groups of Democrats could join with Republicans to form coalition leaderships, that has only happened once before, in 1972, and is not expected this time around. (Megerian, Star Ledger)

Change coming early to Trenton

When Democrats return to Trenton tomorrow and choose Senate and Assembly leaders, their new chiefs will gain power, influence, and a role they didn't expect: party spokesmen during a Republican administration. After Gov.-elect Christopher J. Christie takes over in January, the Democratic message from the capital will emerge from the Senate and Assembly chambers, where the party retains control, instead of the executive suite. Democratic leaders in the Statehouse – with Gloucester County State Sen. Stephen Sweeney expected to be at the top – will set the tone for the party in public and serve as point people for negotiations with Christie. The behind-the-scenes maneuvering for leadership slots was largely completed in the summer, before it was known that a Republican would hold the governor's office. The Democratic heads in the legislature could have "a higher profile than they would have if their party had the governorship," said Jon Shure, communications director under Democratic Gov. Jim Florio, the last New Jersey governor who faced a Legislature controlled by the other party. When their collaborations with Christie are successful, the legislative officers will be able to claim credit alongside the governor. In debates, they will be the first line of Democratic opposition. The Senate president and Assembly speaker can put legislation crucial to Christie's agenda on a fast track or stop it from coming up for a vote. (Tamari, Inquirer)

Stile: Pay-to-play reform group has new hope

A statewide campaign finance reform group will launch a second effort for a tough Bergen County pay-to-play law in January, after the new Freeholder Board is sworn in. The Citizens' Campaign, a government accountability group based in Metuchen, didn't get very far with a similar push in 2006, but group officials say they are encouraged by the Nov. 3 election of Republicans Rob Hermansen of Mahwah and John Driscoll of Paramus. Both candidates pledged to tighten restrictions on campaign donations from contractors. Heather Taylor, the group's spokeswoman, acknowledged that the effort, aimed at severing the perceived link between campaign cash and county contracts, will be an uphill one. But she argues that the "change in the lineup" might make the board more "receptive" this time around. Democrats now have a 5-2 advantage on the board. The proposal casts a wide net, targeting contributions to freeholder candidates and any political committee that "regularly engages in the support of municipal or county elections and/or municipal or county parties." Taylor says the ban would apply to a network of pseudo-ethnic PACs created in September by Democratic operatives who pumped more than $250,000 into the failed freeholder campaigns of incumbents Julie O'Brien of Ramsey and Vernon C. Walton of Englewood. (Stile, The Record)

Ingle: Will they back Christie when the going gets rough?

What options does Gov.-elect Chris Christie have for getting the state's financial disaster under control? Two: raise taxes or cut like there's no tomorrow, and he's already said he won't hike taxes. "If you came here today expecting me to announce some kind of miracle or great news, now is the time to hit the exits," he told an audience of local officials in Atlantic City during a tough speech some called combative. Christie could always be counted on for a quote like that to brighten a story, but the news conference that came after a three-hour Trenton meeting with Treasury officials earlier in the week featured a different man. He looked like he had been put through the wringer. During that conference he revealed that the $8 billion to $10 billion budget deficit reporters and columnists have been writing about for months may be the optimistic low end. "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 in understatement. Is cutting enough? Government is bloated. There are people in jobs who don't do much work and there are jobs that don't need doing. There are people driving state cars that should be providing their own transportation. There are boards and commissions that have outlived their usefulness, if they ever had any to start with. (Ingle, Gannett)

Torres: 2 mayors host one party – an odd couple

Let's just put this in second gear and start with the League of Municipalities convention in Atlantic City this past week. Boring! There were no fistfights, shoving, or other boorish behavior, according to the many interviewed. Didn't Jersey City officials attend? The possible exception was the unhosted goings on Wednesday at The Pool at Harrah's Resort. The Pool motto: "Relax all day. Party all night. It's your choice." They chose. It was between 4 and 5 in the morning when some staggered into their rooms, according to several politicians who said they weren't there and have no clue who was. Anyone out there who knows anything, drop a dime – I know it's more. There were parties. Mayors Cory Booker of Newark and Jerramiah Healy of Jersey City co-hosted one that attracted many. It was not the first time these two paired up for this convention, but they are somewhat of an odd couple. Booker was treated like a rock star, according to political sources. Men and women were eager to talk and have photos taken with Booker. Healy was, well, there. Sure some people talked to him. Two who were willing to chat with Healy were Sen. Majority Leader Stephen Sweeney, a Gloucester Democrat who is the de facto Senate president, and state Sen. Ray Lesniak, Dem boss of Union County. It was a good crowd for a rushed last-moment put-together event. (Torres, Jersey Journal)

NJ Dems see urgency for enacting social agenda

With a former prosecutor waiting in the wings to take over as New Jersey's first Republican governor in a dozen years, Democrats know time is short to push through a social agenda in the Legislature that includes legalizing gay marriage and the use of marijuana for chronic medical conditions. New Jersey's lame duck legislative session begins Monday with scores of bills awaiting action — or death by inaction — and the burning question: How far to the left are the Senate and Assembly willing to go with a Democratic governor on his way out and Gov.-elect Chris Christie on his way in? "This is their window of opportunity or they're not going to see it for the next four years," Joseph Marbach, dean of the college of arts and sciences at Seton Hall University in South Orange, said of proponents of gay marriage, the social issue at the forefront. "But there has to be the will in the Legislature." Democratic lawmakers, in particular, face competing pressures. (AP)

Gov. Corzine signs nearly two dozen bills into law

Gov. Jon Corzine signed nearly two dozen bills into law Friday, including measures that restrict the marketing of credit cards at colleges, allow the state to invest cash and pension funds with New Jersey banks, and create personal finance courses for high school students. It's now illegal to sell and distribute novelty lighters in New Jersey, doctors can write several prescriptions at once for certain drugs, and police must now tell school principals when students commit certain crimes. The bills have all been awaiting signature for months while they were in review by the governor's office. One law, written after a series of violent incidents at the Ancora Psychiatric Hospital in Camden County, requires the Department of Human Services to report physical assaults and deaths at state-run psychiatric hospitals online and to the Public Advocate. Another health bill, inspired by the death of a developmentally disabled woman who lived at a group home in Edison, requires facilities to give the medical examiner contact information for the deceased's relatives. College students should no longer expect to get free towels, T-shirts or other goodies in return for applying for a credit card. Those types of freebies were banned in one new bill which also placed other restrictions on companies. (Fleisher, Star Ledger)

Ingle: Stop the stalling in the court and in the Senate

Nothing better illustrates what’s wrong with the New Jersey education system than the case of the former Keansburg schools superintendent Barbara Trzeskowski. She left with a $119,000 annual pension, a Cadillac health plan for life and $184,586 for unused sick and vacation time. In addition, the school board gave her a $556,290 severance gift. Or, rather was about to. After it came to light the state was forced to go to court. Superior Court Judge Bette Uhrmacher has granted a third extension and that’s about two too many. She isn’t due the money and she shouldn’t get it. No settlement, no way. Since Keansburg is one of the Abbott districts, taxpayers from one end of Jersey to the other would be paying for it although they can’t vote for the idiot school board that went along with this. Enough already. (Ingle, Gannett)

Middlesex Borough council will operate with two fewer members until ‘10

With the departure of Democrat Michael Venuto and the likelihood of further absences by fellow Democrat Bob Edwards, the Borough Council is poised to operate with only four of its six members through the end of the year. A first-term council member, Venuto had declined to seek re-election this year. “I think we're really looking at December as doing those things that are absolutely necessary,” said Mayor Robert Sherr Friday, less than 24 hours after Venuto submitted his resignation, effective immediately. Venuto informed the municipality of his decision in a brief letter delivered personally to the Borough Clerk's Office Thursday afternoon, said Clerk Kathy Anello. “He cited ‘personal reasons’ but did not elaborate,” said Anello. Two attempts Friday to reach Venuto by phone at his home, the only number the Courier News has for him, were unsuccessful. There are no plans to replace Venuto, according to local Democratic Party Chairman Ron DiMura. “We're going to let that seat stay open.” The party, which will control the council until the January government reorganization, normally would submit three nominees to the governing body within two weeks to replace Venuto, and the panel would have a month to select one of them. But with only 42 days remaining until Democrats relinquish their majority, DiMura said the party decided to let the post go unfilled. Meanwhile, Edwards' situation continues to add some uncertainty to the council's operation. (Grant, Gannett)

NJ Senators to support shortened debate on healthcare bill

Both of New Jersey's senators will vote Saturday to limit debate on a sweeping health care reform measure. Democratic Sens. Robert Menendez and Frank R. Lautenberg also plan to vote for the bill later this year, even though it wouldn't go as far as many liberal Democrats would like in creating a government-managed "public" health insurance plan . The Senate bill would cost $848 billion over 10 years, less than the $1.1 trillion bill the House approved Nov. 7. Both bills would create a public insurance option – financed with new taxes and fees – that would be offered with other options on a new health insurance exchange. The public option has been the biggest source of friction between Democrats and Republicans. Saturday's vote will be on whether the Senate proceeds to full consideration of its bill. At least 60 senators must vote yes for the bill to move forward. If that happens, the bill would be scheduled for a final vote and would need support from a simple majority of 51 senators to pass. Menendez accused Republicans of scaring Americans about Democratic plans to reform the health care system. (Chebium, Gannett) Morning News Digest: November 23, 2009