Morning News Digest: December 10, 2009

Nearly a year into Obama's term, Alexander reflects on the president's challenges

Proclaiming change in the face of the Hillary Clinton juggernaut, Mark Alexander, Obama's New Jersey go-to guy during the 2008 Democratic Primary, doesn't see a contradiction between the candidate whom progressives embraced as an antidote to the Iraq War embattled W. – and the commander-in-chief who last week called for an additional 30,000 combat forces in Afghanistan, even if Alexander acknowledges some first-year mechanical stumbles. "During the campaign, he consistently called for a more responsible approach in Iraq and a stepped up role in Afghanistan," said Obama's former statewide director, a resident of Montclair and professor of elections and Constritutional Law at Seton Hall University. "People may be unhappy, and I understand that, but they should not be surprised." But as a self-professed change agent, did Obama not consistently give the impression throughout the campaign that he would be less willing than the sitting power structure to rely on a military as opposed to a counter terrorism Middle East strategy, asked Alexander. (Pizarro, PolitickerNJ)

Not definite given local ties, but redistricting could propel Nutley GOP stars into other contests

Talk to the players on the ground here and it fast becomes evident that local ties run deeper than party, which is why it's difficult to picture Gov.-elect Chris Christie's Nutley victory sparking significant change among GOP ranks, even though individual Republicans have a dominating presence here. "Nutley supports Nutley, whether it's Democrat or Republican," said Commissioner Mauro Tucci, who owns the local pool and spa business. Gov. Jon Corzine won Nutley in 2005 by about 1,000 votes but in this past election, Christie flipped the numbers on the incumbent, beating him in this Italian suburban bellwether, 4,669 to 3,407, or by more than the inversion of Corzine's 4,957 to 4,029 victory over Doug Forrester four years ago. The question now for Nutley Republicans is what they intend to do about it in a county where they are still dwarfed by Democrats and where Corzine beat Christie by a margin of 67% to 28%. In short, can the Essex GOP use Nutley as traction to take a message into 2011's contests for 5th District freeholder and for senator in the District 36? (Pizarro, PolitickerNJ)

Codey officially delays marriage equality vote

Senate President Dick Codey (D-Roseland) announced this evening that he will delay tomorrow’s senate vote on marriage equality at the request of the bill’s primary sponsors, state Sen. Loretta Weinberg (D-Teaneck) and Ray Lesniak (D-Elizabeth). “Senator Weinberg and Senator Lesniak have expressed their earnest desire to postpone tomorrow’s vote until there has been adequate time to vet the bill before the Assembly Judiciary Committee,” said Codey. “I understand their desire to make sure this bill receives the thorough attention it deserves and therefore I have agreed to postpone tomorrow’s vote until further notice.” Marriage Equality advocates reportedly hope to have the bill heard in the assembly first, where support is more solid than in the senate. Assembly Speaker Joseph Roberts (D-Camden) said that “while I’m disappointed that the sponsors have decided to delay the Senate vote, I certainly understand the view that the public should have an opportunity to be heard in the Assembly.” Roberts said that no hearing has been scheduled yet, but offered a supportive statement on the bill. “At this point, this much is clear – our civil union law has failed to live up to even the most modest of hopes and encourages unequal treatment of same-sex couples and their children,” he said. (Friedman, PolitickerNJ)

Lou Magazzu, the survivor

After a brutal reelection campaign, Louis Magazzu can put a new title on his resume: survivor. "It's easy to be cocky now, but certainly there were some people who really thought I was on the ropes – particularly the Republicans and the renegades," said Magazzu, the Cumberland County freeholder director and county Democratic chairman. "Two elections in a row they've made a referendum on me: last year, when I wasn't on the ballot, and this year, when I clearly was." There were eleven candidates running for freeholder this year: three Democrats (two of whom, including Magazzu, were incumbents); three Republicans; three independent former Democratic freeholders (The "renegades" Magazzu referred to) and two other independents. But the election was really just about Magazzu, whose outsized personality and iron grip on local politics have made the central player in this relatively small, rural and often overlooked county. Magazzu has consistently been the top vote-getting freeholder over the years, but in the run up to this year's election things appeared to be shaping up differently. The Cumberland County Republicans, smelling blood, savaged Magazzu with daily press releases over the $81,000 fund he set up to pay for an unsuccessful bid for a leadership position in the National Association of Counties (NACo), even calling for an investigation from the Attorney General's office. And threatening to splinter Magazzu's Democratic base were the candidacies of the former freeholders who hit him on his "awful vindictive and vicious management style." (Friedman, PolitickerNJ)

New Jersey Senate gay marriage vote canceled

The battle over a bill that would legalize gay marriage in New Jersey shifted locations unexpectedly late Wednesday as sponsors of the legislation canceled a vote scheduled for Thursday in the State Senate, where the measure appeared headed for defeat. The sponsors, Senators Raymond J. Lesniak and Loretta Weinberg, both Democrats, withdrew the bill from the agenda in the Senate session, saying they wanted to first allow a hearing in the General Assembly, where support for same-sex marriage is believed to be stronger. But opponents were outraged by the last-minute switch and accused Democrats of abusing their leadership positions to force a controversial issue through the Legislature during the waning days of the session. The bill was passed narrowly on Monday by a Senate committee. “It makes a mockery of the legislative process,” said John Tomicki, president of the New Jersey Coalition to Preserve and Protect Marriage. “They’re using the Legislature as a propaganda tool. They didn’t have the courage to bring the issue up before the election, and now they’re playing games to do things that the public doesn’t approve of at the very last minute.” Ms. Weinberg, of Bergen County, brushed aside accusations that the postponement was a tactical maneuver to avert defeat in the Senate, saying that the issue had generated so much public interest that residents deserved more time to give it thorough consideration. (Kociniewski, The New York Times)

NJ Senate delays vote on gay marriage bill

The state Senate’s dramatic vote on gay marriage will have to wait. In a last-minute move, the Senate today called off Thursday’s planned vote as supporters scrambling for votes said the controversial measure would have a better chance by shifting it to the Assembly for more debate. The surprise announcement by the bill’s prime sponsors, Sens. Ray Lesniak (D-Union) and Loretta Weinberg (D-Bergen), came as both sides turned up the heat on senators by flooding their office with phone calls — and, in some cases, picketing their homes. Supporters are trying to get the measure passed before the legislative session ends next month. Senate President Richard Codey (D-Essex) said a Senate vote would not be held until "there has been adequate time to vet the bill before the Assembly Judiciary Committee." "I was looking forward to a really thoughtful, incisive debate on a very serious issue of moral conscience," Codey said. "So what happens from here remains to be seen." The move came as a surprise to many top Democrats, who had girded for a Senate showdown and were lukewarm to the idea of going through the Assembly first. Assembly Speaker Joseph Roberts (D-Camden), a supporter of the bill, said he was "disappointed that the sponsors have decided to delay the Senate vote." Assembly Democrats could not say last night when the bill will be up for debate in the Assembly Judiciary Committee. (Margolin/Fleisher/Megerian, Star Ledger)


Possible Truce Between New Jersey Arenas Could Come at a Cost to Fans

New Jersey sports and music fans could soon have to pay a surcharge to see Devils and Nets games and concerts. A complex deal is being brokered to end a landlord-tenant dispute as well as a price war between the arenas at the Meadowlands and in Newark, according to multiple people involved in the negotiations. The two arenas, the aging Izod Center at the Meadowlands and the Prudential Center in downtown Newark, have been undercutting each other to attract bands and other acts since the Prudential Center opened in 2007, state officials say.


Governor-elect Christie approves borrowing of $1.2B for N.J. transportation projects

Less than a week after warning bondholders not to cash their checks, Gov.-elect Chris Christie's team signed off on more than $1.2 billion in state borrowing for transportation projects. On Tuesday, the Transportation Trust Fund Authority approved selling $1.2 billion in bonds to pay for previously approved transportation projects through June 30 — the end of the fiscal year and six months after Christie takes office. The sale was more than five times the planned $225 million bond sale and means Christie, a Republican who campaigned on promises of reducing state debt and property taxes, won't have to approve the borrowing when he takes office Jan. 19. "We had been in discussions with the transition team about the importance of this project and it was agreed that the most prudent thing to do was increase the size" of the bond sale, said Treasury Department spokesman Tom Vincz. "They didn't convey any concerns about that offering." On Dec. 2, Christie put bondholders on notice as he pledged to scale back and scrutinize all state borrowing. "Any projections of future borrowing that is scheduled to happen after Jan. 19, if you're the investment bank on that, don't spend the fees yet," he said. "We're going to re-evaluate everything and make sure that we have folks look at it and tell me whether or not this is something that is absolutely necessary in light of that burgeoning debt problem." Christie spokeswoman Maria Comella said that the transition team was consulting with Democratic Gov. Jon S. Corzine's administration "on a number of issues, including this one." Vincz said the transition team and treasury officials "jointly determined" the decision. "We all shared the view that this was the right thing to do," he said. (AP)

E-mail: Christie team had urged delay on application for $400M in education funding

Governor-elect Chris Christie’s transition team urged the outgoing Corzine administration to delay applying for up to $400 million in federal education aid nearly two weeks before Christie’s spokeswoman faulted the governor for not seeking the money. A Nov. 19 e-mail to state Education Commissioner Lucille Davy from a representative of Christie’s team said “it makes more sense to leave to the new administration the development of the application.” Last week, a Christie spokeswoman complained that the Corzine administration was not submitting the application because it was “completely unprepared” and that Christie’s transition was “completely frustrated” by the inaction. At issue is funding for Race to the Top, a highly competitive federal program designed to use $4.35 billion in stimulus funds to help fix America’s schools. New Jersey could get between $200 million and $400 million if it submits a successful application by Jan. 19. After that, the state would have to wait until June for another crack at the funding. Last week, The Record cited state education officials who said they had been planning to submit an application before the election, but held back after Christie defeated Corzine and the governor-elect’s transition team asked them not to. (Reitmeyer, The Record)

Recount reaffirms election outcome in Monroe

A recount in the Monroe Township Council election on Wednesday has upheld the original result. But the vote count was dozens short of the tally reported last month as election officials determined that one batch of ballots had apparently been counted twice. The recount, which took place at a voting-machine warehouse in Roosevelt Park in Edison, determined that Ward 3 Republican Michael Leibowitz defeated Democrat Steve Dalina for a four-year Township Council seat by 34 votes. That worked out to 2,039 votes for Leibowitz and 2,005 votes for Dalina. After the Nov. 3 election, it was reported that Leibowitz had won by 35 votes, including provisional ballots. The original vote count was 2,069 for Leibowitz and 2,038 for Dalina, including absentee ballots. Provisional votes bumped the numbers up slightly to 2,075 for Leibowitz and 2,040 for Dalina. The voting machine numbers all matched up Wednesday. The one vote discrepancy was found in the mail-in ballots for Ward 3. Jim Vokral, administrator at the Middlesex County Board of Elections, said the overall vote count was different because the mail-in numbers were wrong. He said that the person who was feeding the tabulation machine likely put through a batch of ballots in twice. "It's human error," said Vokral. The win for Leibowitz marked the first time in nearly 25 years that a Republican has won a Township Council seat in Monroe. (Sparta, Gannett)

Lenders take over NJ's 1st casino for nonpayment

Don't pay your mortgage, and eventually the bank will own your home. That's what's likely to happen to Resorts Atlantic City, which enjoys a special spot on the national gambling scene as the first U.S. casino outside Nevada. Unable to make debt payments for more than a year, Resorts was concluding the process late Wednesday of handing itself over to a newly formed company consisting of its main lenders, including Wells Fargo. The ownership transfer follows Resorts' agreement to let its lenders have the casino if they cancel nearly $381 million in debt. Documents were being exchanged and signed Wednesday evening, but a spokesman for the state Casino Control Commission said all the necessary paperwork may not be signed until Thursday morning. The new company, RAC Atlantic City Holdings LLC, says it wants to sell Resorts Atlantic City as quickly as possible. But with financing still extremely tight and consumers, including gamblers, still holding onto their wallets, that may not happen soon. Analysts said Resorts had no option but to give the bank the keys , a tactic other businesses, including many hotels, have employed lately."You're in a hotly competitive environment in which every operator, not just in New Jersey but in every market, is going to fight for every dollar and every customer," said Michael Pollock, managing director of Spectrum Gaming Group, a New Jersey consulting firm. "The competitive landscape is just brutal." (Parry, AP)

Albright: What will Christie be giving to those who fought for him?

For sheer delight, there is nothing like the circus, especially the clowns – those nameless vagabonds of mirth. Is it a perversion of nature, or the flight of the human spirit fueled by ambition, that compels a man to work, and run, almost to the point of exhaustion to inherit an $8.2 billion budget deficit identified by the Corzine administration. In his 34 budget-reducing proposals this summer, Christie promised to "end pension abuses by the removal of more than 300 political appointees who are part of . the system . being paid to attend monthly boards and commissions." He also pledged to eliminate pension and health benefits for all part-time employees. It is traditional for a new administration to reward party loyalists with a position. Christie takes over Jan. 19. But how will he balance his campaign rhetoric with his Statehouse responsibilities? Republican Gov.-elect Christopher J. Christie has had his share of delightful childhood memories. Now he tests his political courage. He must keep his promises. (Albright, Jersey Journal) Morning News Digest: December 10, 2009