Morning News Digest: November 9, 2009

Woodbridge Mayor John McCormac headed for Christie transition team; Treachery among N.J. Democrats; Candidates take mystery vacations

When Gov. Jon Corzine came into office as a Wall Street whiz and criticized all the financial activity that preceeded him, John McCormac was none too pleased. McCormac, the state treasurer under Govs. Jim McGreevey and Richard Codey, and now mayor of Woodbridge, also disliked how Corzine dissed key Democratic mayors of large towns. Now comes the payback. McCormac, whose township of 100,000 residents surprisingly voted Republican on Tuesday, wasted no time stepping out with GOP Gov.-elect Chris Christie on Thursday. And three sources tell The Auditor that McCormac is likely to be a part of Christie’s transition team. The pair yukked it up during their tour of Woodbridge, with Christie at one point bumping into the mayor’s dentist and telling another passerby: "The mayor’s doing a great job." He heaped praise on McCormac at a news conference in a diner parking lot.

Voters loud and clear: work together

After months of shredding each other on the campaign trail, Republicans and Democrats awoke to a new political reality after Election Day: They'll soon have to work together to get anything done in Trenton. Starting Jan. 19, no law, budget or high-level appointment can pass without approval of the Democratic-controlled Legislature and the incoming Republican governor, Chris Christie. "I'm looking to get along with everyone," Christie said. "If people want a good fight, they'll get one from me, but I'd rather get results without a fight if I can." Christie also will try to tackle the state's festering problems alongside a new set of legislative leaders. Under a deal struck by Democrats during the summer, Assemblywoman Sheila Oliver, D-Essex, is expected to become the next speaker, and state Sen. Stephen Sweeney, D-Gloucester, would replace state Senate President Richard Codey, D-Essex. (Megerian/Livio, Star Ledger)

Poll: residents say NJ is corruption state

Nearly two-thirds of New Jerseyans believe there is "a lot" of political corruption in the state, according to a new poll.The Rutgers-Eagleton survey also found 54 percent of respondents believe the Garden State is more corrupt than other states, while 40 percent believe it's about the same as elsewhere. Respondents, though, were divided over what punishment should be meted out to those only accused of corruption. Fifty-eight percent say those officials shouldn't have their pay and benefits cut off unless they are convicted, while 36 percent disagree. But half say those officials should be forced to leave office once they're charged, while 42 percent say they should be allowed to stay until found guilty. (AP)

NJ unions worry Christie will keep promises once in office

Gov.-elect Chris Christie ran as no pushover to organized labor — pledging to be an "adversary" to unions and publicly fending off chances for endorsements. And labor did everything it could to keep the Republican out of the governor’s office, deploying thousands of volunteers to knock on doors and work phone banks in hopes of re-electing outgoing Gov. Jon Corzine, widely viewed as a champion of labor. Now, still reeling from the disappointment of Christie’s win, unions are hoping the heated rhetoric of the campaign will be left on the trail. There is a lot at stake for unions — particularly for state workers vulnerable in a tough budget year — and they’re scrambling to play nice with a new governor who might not need their support at all. "They hit him with everything but the kitchen sink — or everything and the kitchen sink — and he won," said state Sen. Stephen Sweeney (D-Gloucester), an ironworker who has said the state needs concessions from workers. "They can’t threaten him (by saying) ‘We’re going to beat you next time.’"Christie inherits a state with a budget already $8 billion in the hole and looking worse by the week. (Fleisher, Star Ledger)

Mulshine: Gov- elect Christie and two dates which may live in infamy

As the self-appointed soothsayer of New Jersey, I hereby offer the following prophecy to the struggling taxpayers of this state: Beware the fourth Tuesday in February. And the third Thursday in May. Those are two dates in 2010 when you will learn whether Gov.-elect Chris Christie really intends to "turn Trenton upside-down," as he promised in his acceptance speech last week, or merely leave it rightside-up with Republicans at the top. Christie’s first test will come on Feb. 23. That’s when the governor is required by law to give his first budget address. The reception Christie can expect in the New Jersey Legislature may be only slightly warmer than the one Julius Caesar got in the Roman Senate on that fateful day in 44 B.C. The budget that the new governor has to put together for fiscal 2011 has more holes in it than poor Julius had following that quorum call on the Ides of March. (Mulshine, Star Ledger)

Campaign won, now clean house

Gov.-elect Christie survived Jon Corzine's money, a campaign assault directed from the White House, the teachers' union's wrath and an independent candidate out to be a spoiler, but emerged the victor earlier Election Night than anyone expected and with a wider margin. Now he has to hit the ground running. He's getting good marks for having his first news conference after the election at a charter school, saying that education reform will be a top priority. "I am not going to continue to allow urban children to be failed and cheated by failing public schools. I had a number of reporters during the campaign ask me, "Will I close public schools as governor?' And my answer was, "No, parents will.' Because I will empower parents to send their children where they can be most successful." Christie will have bipartisan help. (Ingle, Gannett)

Don't mess with success: Gov.-elect Chris Christie should catch up on preschool

During his campaign for governor, Chris Christie derided the state’s preschool programs as "glorified babysitting," a comment he seemed to regret when he was challenged on it later. Good thing. Because these programs, launched under Republican Christie Whitman and built upon by her Democratic successors, represent the single greatest success story Trenton can claim over the last decade. Today, more than 50,000 kids are in these programs, most of them in the poorest urban districts. Class size is limited to 15, and teachers must be college graduates with special training in the workings of the young mind and how it learns. This all began with a Supreme Court case brought by the Education Law Center when Whitman was governor. At that time, most kids in the state’s poor school districts arrived in kindergarten with little preparation, and teachers told horror stories of children who could not name the colors or count to 10. The preschools that existed were a mixed bag — from Head Start programs, to public school programs, to informal babysitting programs in church basements with little instruction. (Star Ledger)

Mulshine: the real problem in ‘high benefit’ states like Jerz

This article in the City Journal titled "The Big-Spending, High-Taxing, Lousy-Services Paradigm" is about California. But the author's conclusions apply equally to New Jersey. William Voegeli makes the same point that I have been making for years: Don't believe politicians when they get up on their hind legs and tell you your state has high taxes because it provides a high level of services. Those services don't exist. Every time I hear a Trenton pol tell me that I'm getting a high level of services in return for the extortionate level of taxes I pay, I ask that pol to name a single service provided today that wasn't provided before this state got an income tax in 1976. I've yet to get an answer. The roads, libraries, schools, police services, fire services, etc. are all about the same as they were back then. And when I went to Rutgers in the early '70s, I paid about a tenth the tuition that it now costs to send my daughter there. So where's the big improvement? (Mulshine, Star Ledger)

New mayor has ambitious agenda in Middlesex Borough

History will be made on Tuesday night when Robert Sherr becomes the first Republican since 1972 to serve as mayor in this Democrat-leaning municipality. But you can excuse Sherr if he's not caught up in the moment. Sherr, who campaigned in part on the theme that a lot of vital business had been left undone in the borough, has a health to-do list. And with the municipality a fiscally difficult year in 2010, he's eager to get started. “Right now, it's a little bit overwhelming,” said Sherr of the change from retired municipal health agency executive to leader of a town of 13,644. “I want to set up an agenda of things I feel need to be addressed, short-term and long-term.”Sherr, who unseated Democratic appointee John Fuhrmann on Nov. 3, will take the oath a week after his win because he's filling a two-year unexpired term created by the sudden resignation of Democrat Gerald D'Angelo in December 2008. The mayor-elect spoke with Fuhrmann briefly after his victory and said he's received help from the outgoing mayor in preparing for the transition. (Grant, Gannett)

Ingle: Guess who’s governor

Gov. Corzine is on vacation, which leaves Senate President Dick Codey in charge, again. No word on where Corzine is going but it’s a safe bet it won’t be Belmar, Point Pleasant or any Monmouth/Ocean County resort. He will probably ignore Gloucester County too. Perhaps he will take that road, the one he calls the “Garden State Expressway” some place. When it’s all said and done, arrogance and a campaign staff in over its head was not able to get Corzine’s message out. Maggie Moran and Tom Shea may fancy themselves big time political operatives but they’re not and when things didn’t take off they had to bring in Shea’s friend, Jamie Fox. They thought they could avoid 101.5 debates and Gannett NJ editorial boards and coast to victory. Wonder how they feel today? It’s not the news organizations they snubbed. It’s the men and women who turn to those newspapers and that radio station to get news and opinion. They basically told those folks they don’t care how they vote. (Ingle, Gannett)

New Brunswick vote to divide city into wards failed by narrow margin

A ballot initiative to divide New Brunswick into wards for city council elections has failed by a narrow margin, unofficial results show, with 50.8% voters against and 49.2% in favor. The issue pitted City Hall against a well-organized grassroots political group in the most vicious political fight in New Brunswick in more than three decades. The final vote was 2,474 "no" votes against 2,392 "yes" votes, according to a Star-Ledger calculation. The outcome hinged on provisional ballots, which were counted this morning at the Middlesex County Board of Elections Office. Results won't be official until next week when the county clerk's office certifies the numbers. Of 229 provisional ballots, many were rejected, and in the end 81 "yes" votes were counted versus 47 "no" votes, said James Vokral, administrator of the county Board of Elections. City officials and residents against wards argued that the city is running well and doesn't need to change its structure, while members of Coalition for Democracy argued that poor parts of the city and other neglected neighborhoods would be better represented by wards. (Keller, Star Ledger)

Stile: Winners, losers in Christie’s conquest

The Republican Party's return from the wilderness, led by Governor-elect Christopher J. Christie and his victory over Governor Corzine on Tuesday, shook the political landscape from Washington to the precincts of suburban Totowa. Here is a look at who benefits from the Christie win and those who may be revamping their career plans. Winner: Bergen County Republican Chairman Bob Yudin. Even though Corzine narrowly edged out Christie in the county, the BCRO-financed freeholder campaign produced its first crack in the Democratic Party's seven-year hegemony on the Board of Chosen Freeholders, defeating incumbents Julie O'Brien and the Rev. Vernon Walton. Christie's coattails helped in some areas, and former Democratic Party boss Joe Ferriero's mid-October conviction fueled voter fatigue with Democratic reign, but Yudin switched gears this year, taking a more poll-driven tack by melding the corruption issue into an appeal on property tax reform. The ticket prevailed despite candidates John Driscoll and Rob Hermansen managing separate campaigns and quibbling with Hermansen over the use of horse photos and wording in a campaign flier. (Stile, The Record)

McCarthy: A look back at Election ‘09

Another election has come and gone, but it’s nice to know campaigns stayed fairly clean in Gloucester County. It was definitely an aggressive few months for some candidates, but it seems the majority of those running stayed on target when it came to battling their opponents. Republican freeholder candidates Chris Del Borrello and Ron Brittin were out trying to get their names known to as many as possible. They criticized their opponents for what they described as wasteful spending, but did not sway into personal attacks. Democrats Robert Damminger and Joe Chila stayed on message with the usual positive campaign. Their mailers and television commercial spoke of their accomplishments over the years on the freeholder board.

Torres: What do I see before me but clock towers, red ink

This is the third column of the week. It makes up for not publishing last week because of the Hoboken mayoral endorsement, which required page space and time on the shrink's couch. Usually, this would just be Insider Notes, but I'd rather call it a Gestalt effect. It's all about psychological perception. This is what happens when you read Goethe and Kant. Gestaltists gave us the phrase "the whole is greater than the sum of its parts." In our case, politics, the reverse provides parts that are more interesting than the big picture. So, another hour on the couch and a look at the first Rorschach card. A winged bat image brings the Hudson County Democratic Organization to mind. Did the county Dems help anyone in Tuesday's special Hoboken mayoral election? (Torres, Jersey Journal) Morning News Digest: November 9, 2009