Morning News Digest: November 30, 2009

Runyan, now a Charger, announces NJ-3 congressional bid

Hours after he was signed by the San Diego Chargers for the rest of the football season, former Eagles tackle Jon Runyan today announced that this will be his last season in the NFL and that he will run for Congress next year."Yesterday, I received an offer to pursue my professional dream of winning a Super Bowl, and have decided to sign with the San Diego Chargers for the remainder of this season through the playoffs. Win or lose, these will be my final games as an NFL player,” said Runyan in a statement. “Last night, I personally informed the Republican County Chairmen in NJ's 3rd Congressional District that after the season is over I plan to officially retire from football and pursue a campaign for the United States Congress. I want to thank all of the people who have been encouraging me to run next year and let them know that I look forward to a successful end to my career on the field, and a spirited campaign against Congressman Adler in 2010." Runyan, who played for Philadelphia until 2008, plans to run as a Republican in the 3rd District, which U.S. Rep. John Adler (D-Cherry Hill) last year became the first Democrat to represent since the late 19th century. Runyan, who already appears to be backed by the Burlington County GOP, will have a primary competition against at least one Republican: former Tabernacle Township Committeeman Justin Murphy, an anti-machine candidate who had a surprisingly strong third place showing in last year's primary. (Friedman, PolitickerNJ)

Christie says Cryan should get out of chairman mode

Governor-Elect Chris Christie said that Assembly Majority Leader-Elect Joseph Cryan (D-Union), the head of the state Democratic Party, “stuck out like a sore thumb” at a press conference with other incoming legislative leaders yesterday. While most of the other leaders said they were not willing to “waver” on core Democratic principles, they took a more conciliatory tone towards Christie. Cryan, however, had the toughest rhetoric, reminding Christie that every incumbent legislator was reelected and 47 out of 48 assembly seats remained Democratic. “I would suggest to Mr. Cryan to get out of Democratic State Committee chairman mode, and that he get into the mode of governing,” said Christie. Christie said that he did not hear the same tone from incoming Senate President Stephen Sweeney (D-West Deptford), Assembly Speaker-Elect Sheila Oliver (D-East Orange), Senate Majority Leader-Elect Barbara Buono (D-Metuchen) or state Sen. Paul Sarlo (D-Wood-Ridge), the incoming chair of the appropriations committee. “And I was listening very carefully,” said Christie. “So listen, I know this is a tough conversion for Joe. He presided over a losing statewide election. So it’s difficult for him to get out of that mode and to admit what happened.” Christie said he looked forward to working with Cryan as majority leader, “not as chairman of his political party.”(Friedman, PolitickerNJ)

The Auditor: Christie rails against the Chamber train; A schoolyard fight; Lending a hand to the transition

Not all the hatchets, it seems, were buried after Election Day. The Auditor has learned the thrill of victory has not made Gov.-elect Chris Christie any less angry with the New Jersey Chamber of Commerce. Christie is telling advisers and those considering joining his administration that his appointees are not to go on the annual chamber train ride to Washington, D.C., on Jan. 28-29. They’re not allowed on the train and they’re not allowed to attend the D.C. banquet or after-hours parties that are fixtures on the state’s political circuit. Christie himself has said he is not going. The official excuse is the governor and his staff “have more important things to do,” one source told The Auditor. But the real story is Christie is angry at the reaction he got last year from chamber president Joan Verplanck after he and the other Republican gubernatorial candidates declined to go on the 2009 train ride. (Star Ledger)

Municipalities brace for steep cuts in state aid

In Hope Township, Mayor Tim McDonough said he’s considering cuts to "sacred cows" like money for senior groups, food banks and recreation programs. Paterson Mayor Jose Torres said the city may trim budgets for police and fire protection. All across New Jersey, municipal officials are faced with grim cost-cutting choices as they brace for the possibility of unprecedented cuts to state aid by year’s end, leaving them little room to maneuver. Gov. Jon Corzine said Thursday he might give towns only a portion of a planned December payment to help patch a growing budget deficit that now stands at $1 billion. Faced with strained finances, municipalities are already scrambling for savings as they struggle to keep their heads above water, experts and government officials say. "This isn’t like the good old days, when you adopted the budget and you waited until the following June to put together another budget," League of Municipalities Executive Director William Dressel said. "Now we’re going month to month, week to week." On Wednesday, the state revealed it may freeze up to $400 million in payments to municipalities, schools, higher education, hospitals and pensions. To cope, towns could lay off workers, borrow money, cut services or spend surpluses. Next year, they may have to raise property taxes to compensate, Dressel said. (Megerian/Fleisher, Star Ledger)

NJ’s Menendez says his focus is “jobs, not Dobbs”

Sen. Robert Menendez said Wednesday he is too busy with legislation to address reports of former CNN host Lou Dobbs seriously considering running for U.S. Senate in New Jersey in 2012. A spokesperson for former CNN anchor Lou Dobbs, left, said he may challenge Robert Menendez for his U.S. Senate seat, one of several career options the former CNN anchor is considering. A spokesperson for Dobbs said he may challenge Menendez for his U.S. Senate seat, one of several career options the former CNN anchor is considering. Rumors that Dobbs would seek political office – up to and including the presidency – have swirled since he abruptly left CNN earlier this month. Dobbs’ spokesman Robert Dilenschneider said the broadcaster, who still has his own radio show, is considering options in the arenas of media, business, private foundations and politics. “A step along the line might be Menendez’s seat,” Dilenschneider said. “Another step might be an appointed seat.” A run against Menendez, who is the next statewide leader to face re-election, would likely polarize voters. Dobbs’s criticism of the country’s immigration policies has angered Hispanics, and Menedez is the country’s only Hispanic U.S. senator. Menendez declined to comment on Dobbs' potential candidacy at an event in Hillside Wednesday, the Associated Press reported. "I'm concentrated on jobs, not Dobbs," he said. (Megerian, The Record)

Essex County Executive DiVincenzo faces tougher opposition in quest for third term

Joseph DiVincenzo Jr., the Essex County executive, was repeatedly touted as "the visionary" on summer’s final day as hundreds gathered a few months ago to dedicate the first new county park in Newark since the mid-1920s. The guy known as "Joe D" was man who made it happen, who tore down the "eyesore" of an antiquated parking deck and created a 2.7-acre inner-city oasis now called Essex County Veterans Memorial Park, supporters say. Come Dec. 11, DiVincenzo is to stand in that same expanse of green where praise so freely rained and announce his candidacy for an unprecedented third term. "What I’m going to do is run on my record," he said. As he did in his last State of the County address, DiVincenzo — a self-confessed "cheerleader" for Essex — can rattle off his accomplishments: beautified parks, a new, welcoming juror waiting area and parking deck at the historic courthouse and a county zoo that actually makes a profit, to name just a few. Since taking office, DiVincenzo has been credited with holding county tax increases to an average of 3.15 percent over six years and raising the county’s credit rating from "junk bond" status to Moody’s A-1 Stable. (Read, Star Ledger)

N.J. union accuses Department of Corrections of preventing, blocking prison investigations

Senior officials at the Department of Corrections are illegally blocking internal investigations into bribery, cell phone smuggling and gang activity, according to a lawsuit being filed by the union representing prison investigators. In several situations, the union charges, officials shut down ongoing probes or prevented investigations from even beginning. Investigators were told not to examine whether a prison employee was hiding a cell phone, or if an inmate had "put out a hit" on people outside the prison system, according to the lawsuit. "In some instances such senior department officials have directly intervened to prevent an initial preliminary investigation altogether, before a single witness could be interviewed or a single document or piece of evidence could be examined," reads the lawsuit.Other spiked investigations included probes into prison employees who fired service weapons, once during an alleged off-duty bar fight. According to the lawsuit, both files were marked "no action taken" by senior officials. The union — Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 174, which represents about 90 officers within Corrections’ Special Investigations Division — has previously clashed with the department’s leadership on issues of tactics and resources. Michael Bukosky, lawyer for the union, said the lawsuit was the "nuclear option." (Megerian, Star Ledger)

Gov. Corzine pledges 'answers' by Christmas for state's $1 billion budget hole

Gov. Jon Corzine said today he will once again scour the state’s budget to fill another unexpected shortfall that reared its head this year. The governor, who said he found out about the $1 billion budget gap after returning from a post-election vacation around Nov. 10, said his administration has come up with some options, but did not disclose specifics. Wednesday’s revelation that sagging tax revenue and higher expenses widened the budget gap to five times larger than expected is the latest hurdle in an ongoing fiscal battle that has dogged Corzine. Pulling out the red pen to make cuts has become a familiar exercise for Corzine, who lost his reelection bid to Chris Christie earlier this month. "We’ll have meetings, just like we would normally. We’ll come up with answers," the governor said. "Certainly before Christmas." The governor may freeze up to $400 million in payments to schools, higher education, hospitals, pension funds and municipalities, according to information tucked into a bond disclosure sent to Wall Street investors. The news has worried local leaders struggling with budget problems of their own. Christie, who takes office on Jan. 19, will work with the Corzine administration to freeze and cut spending, Christie spokeswoman Maria Comella said. "All along we have expected that New Jersey’s fiscal situation was going to be much worse than originally anticipated," she said. The state was already expected to begin next year’s budgeting process with an $8 billion hole. (Megerian/Fleisher, Star Ledger)

Records show relationship between extremist blogger Hal Turner and FBI

Despite downplaying his importance, federal officials apparently made frequent use of a New Jersey blogger Hal Turner in their battle against domestic terrorism. The Record of Bergen County reviewed numerous government documents, e-mails, court records and almost 20 hours of jailhouse interviews with Hal Turner, who faces trial this week on charges he made death threats against three Chicago-based federal appeals judges. The newspaper reported Sunday that Hal Turner received thousands of dollars from the FBI to report on neo-Nazis and white supremacist groups and was sent undercover to Brazil. Hal Turner also claims the FBI coached him to make racist, anti-Semitic and other threatening statements on his radio show. Turner — who also stands accused of threatening Connecticut legislators — feels double-crossed by the bureau after his arrest. But documents show federal agents often admonished his extremism. Federal prosecutors and FBI officials declined comment, citing the ongoing court cases. (AP)

NJ business leaders eagerly await new GOP leader

Not many governors take office in an economy as bad as the one Governor-elect Chris Christie will inherit in January. Christie's campaign pledges to cut taxes will quickly run into the challenge of the state's dire finances. And few face a business community as expectant as today's. After nearly a decade of Democratic gubernatorial rule, business leaders hope the arrival of a Republican to the governor's office will bring radical change to the state's troubled economy and solutions to a range of woes. They include the perception that the state is anti-business, expensive and losing its vaunted reputation as an engine of growth. A sense of the business community's grim outlook could be seen in a statement by the New Jersey Business & Industry Association, a Trenton-based trade group, last week as it released a survey showing that only 1 in 10 businesses think New Jersey is a good place to expand — down from 1 in 2 a decade ago "The dismal state of the New Jersey economy puts the focus squarely on the one thing that state government can do to improve the situation: improve the business climate," the association wrote. That's easier said than done in a state that has lost 170,000 jobs and where unemployment is at 9.7 percent. Christie's campaign pledges to cut taxes will quickly run into the challenge of the state's dire finances and the need to cut spending. And he will soon learn the reality of a GOP governor facing a Democratic-controlled Legislature. (Morley, The Record)

N.J. voters support merging school districts, local governments to lower property taxes

New Jersey voters overwhelmingly support merging school districts and local governments with neighboring ones to lower the state’s record-high property taxes, a new poll has found. The survey, released by Connecticut-based Quinnipiac University this week, found voters don’t support increasing property tax rebate checks that state politicians have touted for years as adequate relief. And the state aid Trenton sends to school districts and local governments shouldn’t be increased, the poll found. Instead, voters want to see more local governments and school districts merging to lower average property tax bills that have risen to $7,045 statewide. They also want more spending cuts by state government, including a wage freeze for state employees. Christie has stressed the need to stop new spending.Governor-elect Chris Christie has called for lowering state spending — and not hiking taxes — to fix the state’s budget problems, including an estimated $8 billion structural deficit. He also points to shared services and mergers at the local level as a way to address state property tax bills that are the highest in the nation. (Reitmeyer, Star Ledger)

Torres: Hoboken officials keep score with Sen. Stack

T he relationship between Union City Mayor and Sen. Brian Stack of the 33rd Legislative District and the elected officials of Hoboken conjures images of Disney's 1940 animation classic "Fantasia," specifically the "Night on Bald Mountain" and its Modest Mussorgsky score of the same name. Almost anyone can recall the awesome awakening of the giant demon figure at the top of the mountain who calls upon the demonic minions below. Similar to Stack at the top of the Palisades and below him the Hobokenites celebrating an election victory. "Night on Bald Mountain" should be the official theme to all political rallies and inaugurations. Which brings us to a tale about the season of giving. No one matches Stack for the number of turkeys he provides for the less fortunate. He delivered more than 16,000 (final figure) birds this year. In an amazing logistical feat, the Union City mayor and his followers made deliveries in his 33rd district and even as far south as the Greenville section of Jersey City. For several years, Assemblyman Ruben Ramos of Hoboken has been a beneficiary. Annually, Stack's turkeys arrive in the assemblyman's name for the Jackson Street public housing residents and others. Not long ago, 2007, someone (have to protect a source) mentioned to 4th Ward Councilwoman Dawn Zimmer that former Councilman Chris Campos also had his name on those turkeys. After a call to the top of "Bald Mountain," Zimmer became part of future big bird giveaways. Last year, Ramos got more local officials involved in taking gobbler bows. Stack started wondering why the assemblyman would just stop being Mr. Nice Guy and grow – well let's be polite and say it has something to do with testosterone. (Torres, Jersey Journal)

Ingle: They’re getting tired of being taken for granted

Supporters of marriage equality have decided the enemy isn't those who oppose it but the politicians who string them along with empty promises of consideration. On the lame-duck Legislature's first day, Garden State Equality brought an estimated 300 gay rights activists to the Statehouse steps in a noisy but polite demonstration aimed at lawmakers inside who had given the impression the gay marriage bill would be considered. A lot of Statehouse people thought that would happen — until just after the gubernatorial election when the mood changed and the official word was the legislative emphasis would be on the economy. Having this Legislature admit there's a financial crisis afoot, one that many of its members played a big hand in creating long before the national recession, is good news, but do you really believe it can resist the urge to stop spending? Consider this: On lame duck's first day, a committee passed four bills supposedly aimed at lowering the state's recidivism rate for prisoners, which would cost taxpayers. "While the public policy to rehabilitate those who are incarcerated is laudable, the fiscal impact of the bills we heard today is something we cannot afford," said Assemblyman David Rible, R-Monmouth. If they want new prisoner programs they can finance them by cleaning out the waste and corruption in the correctional system. Read the SCI reports and get people in charge who know what they're doing, for starters. (Ingle, Gannett)

Albright: Hudson Dems have lost their voter turnout mojo

Books have been published on the rise and fall of the Roman Empire and the rise and fall of the Third Reich – but none so far on the rise and decline of the Hudson County Democratic Empire. The vote just ain't there anymore. For years, the prevailing view was that a Democratic candidate for statewide office could not be elected without a massive plurality in Hudson. Gov. Jon S. Corzine, of Hoboken, received 76,409 votes Nov. 3, the lowest Hudson total since 49,160 votes for Essex County Executive Peter Shapiro in his 1985 landslide loss to Republican Tom Kean. The previous Hudson low was 59,226 for Democrat Edward I. Edwards in 1919. Gov. Richard J. Hughes mustered a 101,039 plurality over Republican Wayne Dumont in his 1965 county total of 156,671. But it was A. Harry Moore of Jersey City who gained the all-time laurels in Hudson – 267,899 votes in his 1937 victory, topping his 175,784 count in his 1931 triumph. Population shifts and ethnic changes have contributed to reduced Election Day totals. Former Democratic governor Jim Florio was the last to clear the century mark, with 101,061 in 1981. As the song says, "Those Were The Days." (Albright, Jersey Journal)

McCarthy: There is plenty to be thankful for this holiday season

As everyone recovers from too much turkey and stuffing, here are comments from elected officials around Gloucester County and the state who are thankful. Washington Township Councilman Al Frattali said he’s thankful for his health and his family. And he’s got good reason. Frattali was diagnosed in 2006 with prostate cancer. He gets blood tests now every six months, and so far, there’s no sign of the cancer returning. “I’m thankful they caught it early,” he said. “When you get news like that, you realize what’s important in life — family.” Monroe Township Mayor Michael Gabbianelli said he's thankful this year to be spending the holidays with his family, especially his two granddaughters who are just two years old. “This will be a great Christmas for them,” he said. “I’ve been fortunate in my life.” For Freeholder Joseph Brigandi Jr., who also serves as borough administrator in Glassboro, there are plenty of things for which he is grateful. “Especially for my health and the health of my family and friends. I’m also thankful for all the support the people of Gloucester County have given me and my family over the years.” Franklin Township Mayor Joseph Petsch is thankful for all those who serve the community, but he also took the time to thank those who are not home this holiday. (McCarthy, Newhouse) Morning News Digest: November 30, 2009