Morning News Digest: December 1, 2009

Healy responds to Stack criticism of HCDO

Jersey City Mayor Jerramiah Healy says that state Sen. Brian Stack (D-Union City) was wrong when he said that the Hudson County Democratic Organization (HCDO) has not done enough to reach out to minority candidates. “I couldn’t disagree with him more,” Healy, who chairs the HCDO, said on Tuesday while waiting to meet with Gov.-Elect Chris Christie for a press conference at a Jersey City homeless shelter. “We supported [state Senator] Sandra Cunningham, a minority candidate. He supported Lou Manzo, a non-minority candidate. We supported [Hudson County Sheriff] Juan Perez. He supported a non-minority candidate,” said Healy, referring to a 2007 primary conflagration between the HCDO and Stack’s own emergent Democratic machine. “Saying is one thing… but we’ve walked the walk.” (Friedman, PolitickerNJ)

Beldini hit with new charges

A superseding federal corruption indictment against former Jersey City Deputy Mayor Leona Beldini further exposes the city's allegedly corrupt political underbelly. Beldini, arrested in July and in August indicted on one count of conspiracy to commit extortion, now faces two additional counts of attempted extortion and three counts of taking bribes to allegedly help a developer win zoning approvals in the new indictment, which is dated November 19. The developer turned out to be FBI informant Solomon Dwek. Beldini allegedly took $20,000 of Dwek’s money and, through straw donors, funneled it into Jersey City Mayor Jerramiah Healy’s reelection account and the Jersey City Democratic Committee. She also allegedly extracted a promise from Dwek to use her as the real estate agent for his purported development project on Garfield Avenue. In one exchange with Dwek recounted in the indictment, Beldini, who was the treasurer for Healy’s reelection campaign, even gave him a brief tutorial on the practice of wheeling. (Friedman, PolitickerNJ)

McKeon introduces Senate vacancy legislation

Assemblyman John McKeon (D-West Orange) today announced legislation meant to keep both U.S. Senate seats in Democratic hands in the event of a vacancy. McKeon’s measure would give the governor 30 days to appoint someone from the same political party as the senator who, for one reason or another, is unable to complete his or her term. It would also do away with the governor’s option to call a quick special election. "This bill would save taxpayers an estimated $10 million in the cost of an unscheduled statewide election and ensure that New Jersey continues to have full representation in Washington," said McKeon. "It also would honor the will of the electorate by requiring that the appointee be from the same political party as the U.S. Senator elected by voters." The idea has taken on new life now that Chris Christie, a Republican, has been elected governor and 85-year-old U.S. Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-Cliffside Park), who turns 86 in January, still has five years left of his term. Under current law, if there is a vacancy, Christie will be able appoint anybody he wants, regardless of his or her political party. (Friedman, PolitickerNJ)

Burlco Republicans insist Runyan is committed, but Gilmore is not convinced

Despite apparent comments to the contrary, former Eagles tackle and newly signed San Diego Charger Jon Runyan will indeed retire from football at the end of the season to run for congress, says Burlington County Republican spokesman Chris Russel. “He was trying to be playful and just having a give and take with reporters, joking around,” said Russell. “Nothing changed to him.” On Tuesday, Runyan signed with the Chargers for the rest of the season, declaring it the end of his football career and the beginning of his run for Congress in New Jersey’s 3rd Congressional District. But on Wednesday, Runyan told San Diego sports reporters that he has not “fully committed” to running for a House seat and that he was still “exploring my options.” Blue Jersey blogger Jason Springer latched on to the statement as evidence that Runyan “still wants a Super Bowl ring more than a seat in Congress,” and posted a video of the press conference on YouTube. Russell, however, said the response was the mark of a different kind of congressional candidate—one who has a playful relationship with the press and is not dependent on “canned sound bites” – even if all of his statements so far about his congressional run have been just that. (Friedman, PolitickerNJ)

Burlington County to union: discuss contract

The director of the Burlington County Board of Freeholders has asked its largest employee union for concessions that include a wage freeze, a payroll contribution toward health benefits and elimination of three holidays. In a letter to the Communication Workers of America last week, Freeholder-Director Joseph Donnelly issued an ultimatum to the union local to live up to its five-month-old pledge to discuss reopening contract negotiations. He set Dec. 15 for a meeting and urged the union to attend. "We can no longer forestall this meeting because of CWA's seemingly endless scheduling conflicts," Donnelly wrote. On June 27, union representative Anthony Tallarico told the freeholders at a public meeting that the union would sit down in good faith with the county to listen to proposed changes to its contract, which does not expire until Dec. 31, 2010. In exchange, he said, the freeholders decided against laying off 52 employees as he had proposed and then compromised on budget cuts to avoid layoffs. (Comegno, Gannett)

N.J. budget gap forces state to withhold $20.7M in aid payments to towns

To help close an unexpected budget gap, the state plans to withhold $20.7 million in aid payments to municipalities, a move that could force cuts in services or higher property taxes, according to three legislative sources briefed on the move. The decision to place the final aid installment in reserve rather than distribute it to towns is expected to be announced by the Corzine administration Tuesday along with other budget-trimming moves, according to the sources, who requested anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss it. The payment represents 5 percent of the total annual aid authorized for municipalities under the Consolidated Municipal Property Tax Relief Act. But that is enough to throw into turmoil the budgets of more than 400 towns that prepare their budget on the calendar year schedule, forcing them to scramble for last-minute cuts, said William Dressel, executive director of the state League of Municipalities. (Heininger, Star Ledger)

NJ proposal would eliminate special elections for vacant US Senate seats

A proposed state law would eliminate special elections to fill seats vacated by New Jersey’s U.S. senators, instead requiring the governor to appoint replacements from the same party as the departing senator.If passed, the Assembly measure would ensure Republican Gov.-elect Chris Christie appoints a Democrat if either of the state’s current senators resigns.State Sen. Tom Kean Jr. (R-Union) criticized the proposal as a "partisan game" that promotes party allegiance over the strength of a candidate."The majority party is simply looking to change the rules when they start losing," Kean said, referencing Gov. Jon Corzine’s Nov. 3 loss to Christie. Assemblyman John McKeon (D-Essex), one of the bill’s sponsors, said it’s not an effort to keep Democrats in power. "I don’t look at this as partisan," he said. "I think it’s good government." He said the bill (A-4271) "respects the will of the people" by requiring the governor to choose a replacement from the same party voters elected. (Megerian, Star Ledger)

Ban on fund raids may be put to voters

Voters could decide whether to prevent governors and legislators from dipping into state funds meant to benefit workers. The Assembly Labor Committee unanimously approved a proposal (ACR134) today to lock certain employee funds, such as those used to pay unemployment insurance benefits, that for years have been raided by politicians. The change would be done through a constitutional amendment, which ultimately needs voter approval. “It’s long past time that we put a stop to this, and I’m confident the voters will agree,” said Assemblyman John Burzichelli (D-Gloucester), the bill’s sponsor. From 1989 to 2005, governors and legislators from both parties diverted more than $5 billion from employee funds — $4.8 billion alone from the Unemployment Insurance Trust Fund — and used the dedicated money for other purposes. “It’s a no-brainer,” Art Maurice of the New Jersey Business and Industry Association said of the proposal. “It’s unfortunately not going to help us to get that money back.” The unemployment fund is replenished through a tax increase that occurs when the balance falls below a certain level. A tax hike on employers was triggered this year. (Graber, Star Ledger)

Stile: Sea change on multiple public jobs stuns Sarlo

Sen. Paul Sarlo expected smooth sailing through the Senate Judiciary Committee last week, only to find himself drowning in a political sea change. Sarlo — who's also the Wood-Ridge mayor and a top employee of a politically connected contractor — was stunned to watch multiple-job holder Nicholas Fargo's reappointment to the Hudson County Board of Taxation collapse so quickly. And with the help of fellow Democrats, no less. Sarlo, who heads the committee, was incredulous. So what if Fargo holds four separate public jobs (two of them in part-time posts at Sarlo's fief at Wood-Ridge Borough Hall) for a combined $192,000 taxpayer-financed salary. So what if he's salting away two public pensions — is there a problem here? He's "very talented at what he does,'' Sarlo said. It just isn't fair to make Fargo an example, Sarlo implied. It's so un-Trenton. He summed up his feelings this way: "That's bull—-,'' he fumed, apparently unaware that the panel's microphones were recording the proceedings for Internet posterity. (Stile, The Record)

NJ veterans official admits lies about military record

An official in New Jersey's Military and Veterans Affairs Department has admitted he falsely claimed a heroic record in the Vietnam War as a paratrooper and artilleryman. Sixty-four-year-old William Devereaux of Laurel Springs did not just tell lies. He also broke the law because he said his military service left him totally and permanently disabled and was qualified for a property tax exemption. As part of his guilty plea to theft charges Monday, Devereaux agreed to serve 30 days of house arrest, five years probation and to reimburse Laurel Springs more than $54,000 in unpaid taxes. Devereaux is also resigning from his job with the state Division of Veterans Services, where he is director of veterans programs. (AP) Morning News Digest: December 1, 2009