Morning News Digest: December 14, 2009

At mayoral kickoff, Segura charges up Trenton troops with state-level supporters

You don't usually just get a high five with At-Large Councilman Manny Segura. You get a high ten. Hard. Followed by the embrace. And that's on a day when he isn't announcing his run for mayor. On Sunday afternoon, in the midst of a driving rainstorm threatening to turn into ice, Segura at the front end of a five month campaign in New Jersey's capital city brought his own usual energy level, amplified by a statewide constellation of new blood stars vigorously backing him in his 2010 mayoral run. Positioning himself as the change candidate following the 20-year era of Mayor Doug Palmer, the widely grinning Segura, a former minor league ballplayer now in his 50's who years ago twice talked to the Cincinnati Reds, jogged into Roman Hall to the strains of the Black Eyed Peas "I Gotta' Feeling, hand clutched and slapped his way to the head of the banquet hall and shouted, "It's good to be alive. It's beautiful to be a Trentonian! "I've spoken with many people – good people, working people, family people, young people – and it's sad when you hear them talk about what Trenton has come to be," said the candidate, standing in front of a blown up photo of the bridge across the Delaware with the old Industrial Revolution boast visible from the floor: "Trenton makes, the world takes." (Pizarro, PolitickerNJ)

Emerson police chief says he’ll seek GOP sheriff nod

On the ballot next year, Bergen County Sheriff Leo McGuire will be sandwiched between county executive and freeholder candidates in what are expected to be tight, hotly contested races. But McGuire says the sheriff's race will be different."The office of the sheriff, as a constitutional office, is not viewed upon as a political football that other positions might be regarded as," said McGuire, who plans to seek a third three-year term in 2010. "And while we each advocate for our individual parties and support candidates, politics has no place in the sheriff's office." Right now, there are two Republicans who have expressed an intention to run against McGuire for sheriff: Emerson Police Chief Michael Saudino, who is about to become president of the Bergen County Police Chiefs Association; and Dominick Polifrone, an ex-ATF agent who took down Richard "The Iceman" Kuklinski, a mafia hitman from Dumont. Saudino confirmed that he is running, but wanted to keep the rhetoric down for now. "It's early in the game and I'm the last guy to sling mud," he said, adding "I don't believe the Bergen County taxpayers are getting our money's worth. I think there's too much money being spent and we're not getting enough in return." (Friedman, PolitickerNJ)

Running on his record against no visible opponent, DiVincenzo makes most of backdrop

Theater matters to the minions of the North Ward Center, who learned political stagecraft in part from master director Steve Adubato, Sr., who sat in the front row of a sectioned off basketball court this afternoon and observed his longtime friend, ally and protege Essex County Executive Joe DiVincenzo launch his bid for an unprecedented third term without the benefit of the backdrop of Veterans' Memorial Park. “While we have achieved a great deal during our first two terms in office, there is more that I would like to accomplish to benefit our residents. Our job to do what is best for Essex County residents is not yet complete. That is why I am asking voters to support me for another term,” DiVincenzo said. “Putting Essex County First has been more than just a slogan. For me, it is a reminder of why I became an elected official and an inspiration to continue our work on behalf of our 800,000 Essex County residents. “Our work has touched every segment of our residents’ lives," he added. "We have improved all of our parks, modernized our infrastructure so that we are prepared for the future, preserved our historic sites and lent a helping hand to those in need. All of this is the result of an unprecedented spirit of cooperation that we fostered with our 22 municipalities, park conservancies and community groups. We hope to continue those partnerships as we move ahead during the next four years." (Pizarro, PolitickerNJ)

Donovan on verge of county executive candidacy

Bergen County Clerk Kathleen Donovan is sounding a lot like a candidate for county executive. The five-term Republican sent a letter yesterday to members of her party that strongly signals she intends to run for the Republican nomination for the county's top post, though she says that she will not make a final decision until early January. "I believe as you do that we need to put forth the strongest possible Republican candidate who can win back the County's top post in November, to help restore accountability and a fiscally responsible county government to taxpayers," wrote Donovan. "My record of running and winning six county-wide races, and earning more votes than any other candidate of either party on the county level in 2008, while President Obama won by nearly 40,000 votes – shows that I can win-over independent and Democrat cross-over voters crucial to a Republican county-wide victory. This is particularly important given our Party's significant registration deficit." The current county executive is two-term Democrat Dennis C. McNerney, who plans to seek re-election. The letter's disclaimer says it was paid for by a campaign committee called Friends of Kathe Donovan for County Executive, which does not yet appear in electronic filings with the Election Law Enforcement Commission. (Friedman, PolitickerNJ)

Sen. Ray Lesniak vs. Attorney General Anne Milgram; Charlize Theron, John Lennon and Kermit the Frog for N.J. governor?

Attorney General Anne Milgram is on the way out. But her political nemesis, Sen. Ray Lesniak, won’t let Milgram and her top aides go quietly. About 10 days ago, Lesniak (D-Union) dispatched an e-mail to David Szuchman, Milgram’s director of consumer affairs, raising concerns about budgeting and staffing practices at the Consumer Affairs Division based on an anonymous letter. Lesniak attached the letter to the e-mail and then copied it to key members of the state Senate as well as The Star-Ledger. Long at odds with Milgram, Lesniak has been a constant critic of Szuchman and tried unsuccessfully to block his nomination. “I got this anonymous letter — that I am told has substance to it — about promotions despite a freeze on such actions,” Lesniak said, “and equally important, minorities being discriminated against. I think we need to have an answer. Whether he’s leaving or not, we’ve got to have an answer.” Szuchman declined comment. In his place, Milgram spokesman David Wald issued an angry response. (Star Ledger)

Morris County GOP reenergized as Gov.- elect Christie takes office

After a decade-long political freeze out, Morris County’s Republicans are back in Trenton with a bit of political clout, thanks to the victory of favorite son Chris Christie of Mendham Township as Governor-elect. Christie’s transition team includes a host of Morris County Republicans, including some former freeholder colleagues dating to his one term as a county freeholder in the 1990s, and some current and former heads of county agencies in what is arguably the state’s GOP stronghold. Also, some people under consideration for high ranking state posts in his administration are from Morris County’s official Republican ranks, say political insiders. "Happy Days are Here Again,’’ sang state Sen. Anthony Bucco (R-Morris) when asked about Christie’s election. "We should have better access to the governor and his commissioners, which should help this county.’’ While they don’t expect a fiscal windfall, especially in tough fiscal times, county Republicans feel they will have an attentive audience on issues of regional importance, such as the Highlands, Lake Hopatcong, the old Greystone Park Psychiatric Hospital campus and a host of road and transit projects. (Ragonese, Star Ledger)

In Essex County, politics is done Joe DiVincenzo’s way

Joe DiVincenzo slapped a single sheet of paper on the table, then leaned back in his chair to soak up the credit. "That’s my report card, right there," he said. "When I took over, our bonds were rated as junk. Now they’re A-1." Joe D., as he’s known, is a Newark kid, a former football player, a workaholic, and a tyrant to those who work for him. He wears nice suits, but still speaks in the style of his working-class neighborhood where the plural of "you" is "youz." After two terms as Essex County executive, he wants another. And unless something wild happens, he’s going to get it. There are two reason for that, one good and one not so good. He’s scored solid successes as county executive, keeping taxes under control while making undeniable progress on everything from parks to prisons to the county zoo. He’s one of the few Democrats to confront public worker unions. And he rakes in big money from Trenton by lobbying relentlessly, his voice amplified by the vote-getting machine of his mentor and ally, Steve Adubato Sr. The catch is that DiVincenzo is an old-school machine politician in every way. He broke his promise to end pay-to-play donations, and has built a $1 million campaign war chest with the help of money from firms that do business with the county. This time around, he’s not even promising to change that. (Moran, Star Ledger)

Christie and Corzine at odds over lame-duck appointments

Gov. Jon Corzine and Gov.-elect Chris Christie, though publicly committed to a "smooth" transition of power, are locked in a behind-the-scenes battle over nominations to posts ranging from judgeships to coveted spots at state authorities. In the waning days of his term, Corzine intends to nominate dozens of people to paid and unpaid posts and has privately notified Christie and key legislative leaders. That process began 10 days ago when the governor — without warning to the Christie team — submitted the name of his chief of staff, Ed McBride, for a judgeship in South Jersey. But Christie has balked and is threatening to use public opinion and his allies in the state Senate to block as many of the nominations as he can — including McBride, according to legislative leaders. "The incoming governor and outgoing governor are going to have to work together to come to a compromise," said Senate Judiciary Committee chairman Paul Sarlo (D-Bergen). "What the Corzine administration is trying to do is, they’re trying to be reasonable here. I don’t think they’re going to come to an agreement." Sen. Tom Kean Jr., the Republican leader in the Senate and a Christie ally, said the governor-elect would go along with some last-minute patronage appointments, but Corzine’s plans are unacceptable.(Star Ledger)

Paul Fishman, U.S. attorney for N.J., will be officially inducted in Newark

Paul Fishman, a prominent defense lawyer and former federal prosecutor, will be officially inducted Monday as U.S. attorney for New Jersey at a ceremony at Rutgers Law School in Newark, a report in said. U.S. Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito Jr., who is also a former U.S. attorney in New Jersey, will administer the oath, according to the report. Fishman has done the duties of the state's top federal prosecutor job since mid-October. After being nominated by President Obama in May, Fishman,53 was confirmed by the Senate in October. He had been recommended for the U.S. Attorney post in February by Frank Lautenberg and Robert Menendez, New Jersey's two Democratic U.S. senators. He succeeds Ralph Marra, who has been acting U.S. Attorney since Chris Christie stepped down to run for governor. Fishman served 11 years as an assistant U.S. Attorney in New Jersey and was chief of the office's criminal division. Under U.S. Attorney Michael Chertoff, he was the office's second-highest ranking official and was responsible for its day-to-day operations. He also was a senior Justice Department adviser to U.S. Attorney General Janet Reno from 1994 to 1997. As a defense lawyer, he has focused primarily on civil and white-collar criminal cases. (Star Ledger)

NJ gay marriage vote unlikely until new year

The Assembly sponsor of gay marriage legislation said today he believes that after a volatile week in Trenton, further action on the bill could wait until after the holidays. Assemblyman Reed Gusciora (D-Mercer), said the earliest it would appear in the Assembly Judiciary committee is Jan. 4, which would give the issue "a rest until after the Christmas holiday." It’s their desire to have it the first week in January," he said. But Gusciora said "anything was subject to change" in Trenton, acknowledging a plan to put the bill to a full vote in the Senate was scrapped earlier this week when there were not enough votes to pass it. Assembly Judiciary Committee chair Linda Greenstein could not confirm the date for the hearing. "At this time nothing has been scheduled," said Derek Roseman, a spokesman for Assembly Democrats. The committee is scheduled to meet Jan. 4 and the Assembly has a full voting session scheduled twice that week. New Assembly members take office Jan. 12. Gay marriage proponents are still reeling from events that threw the movement into damage control this week. Protesters on both sides had targeted lawmakers and a full Senate vote scheduled for Thursday was pulled Wednesday by its sponsors, Sens. Ray Lesniak (D-Union) and Loretta Weinberg (D-Bergen) when it did not have sufficient support. (Fuchs, Star Ledger)

NJ elected officials back Association of Counties exec, group

Elected officials who oversee a private lobbying group defended its executive director Friday, bypassing questions about compensation, use of counties’ annual dues and yearly transfers of hundreds of thousands of dollars from a non-profit foundation. The New Jersey Association of Counties, in a resolution unanimously approved, said it “fully supports” Celeste Carpiano and her five-member staff. The resolution came after an 80-minute closed-door executive meeting prior to the group’s transportation conference in Jamesburg, Middlesex County. The group also said it would work on disclosing records, with plans to post budgets on its Web site. And it said the board now must approve any decisions made by subcommittees. President Carol Clark, an Essex County freeholder, would not comment on whether the board routinely would post minutes, expenditures, audits and other financial information — some of it denied even to trustees who had made requests this year. “The resolution is the resolution,” she said. The vote came after The Record detailed how the group has given Carpiano a 58 percent pay increase over six years, plus the use of a Lexus luxury sedan, as municipal and county budgets are in crisis and the state is anticipating a budget shortfall of at least $8 billion. Several board members told The Record they were unaware that Carpiano’s pay had reached $205,000 this year, from $130,000 in 2003. Some members of its Personnel Committee didn’t know that the organization has leased a Lexus for her use for at least four years. (Young, The Record)

Stile: Donovan might run again for county executive

Republican Bergen County Clerk Kathleen Donovan’s holiday greeting letter mailed out last week also puts the political community on notice that she is "strongly considering" a third try for the county executive job next year. "Because of the kind words of encouragement from so many Republican county members, elected officials, supporters and grass-roots activists, I also plan to call you personally to get your advice and listen to your thoughts about my potential candidacy," Donovan’s letter reads. It ends with a disclaimer, "Not paid for at taxpayers expense. Paid for by Friends of Kathe Donovan for County Executive." Donovan said she formed an exploratory committee and filed the paperwork with the Election Law Enforcement Commission last week. Eleanore Nissley, the Ridgewood businesswoman and longtime Donovan ally, will serve as chairwoman, and Fair Lawn Councilman Ed Trawinski, who briefly considered his own candidacy for county executive, is treasurer. Donovan, 57, mailed out the letter last week after the positive reaction she received from party regulars who packed the "Victory Breakfast" at The Seasons in Washington Township last Saturday, an event headlined by Republican Governor-elect Chris Christie. "I started talking to people about running, the feedback was so good … that we got the letter out and we got lots of things going," she said. (Stile, The Record)

Mulshine: The beast that ate the GOP – Republicans here in N.J. share the blame for creating the deficits they decry

You can’t starve a beast by stuffing money down its throat. That is the message of Bruce Bartlett’s latest book, "The New American Economy." Bartlett is a 1973 Rutgers grad who served in the administrations of Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush. Doing so gave him a close-up look at the way in which Republican thinking on budget deficits has evolved over the years. Bartlett’s verdict: Not well. Traditionally, Republicans have despised deficits and espoused balanced budgets. But over the past couple decades, the GOP has embraced a strategy that has come to be known as "starve-the-beast." The politician employing this tactic promises specific tax cuts but unspecific spending cuts. The theory is that if the government is deprived of revenue, spending cuts will follow. The beast of government will starve.Unfortunately, that theory has been disproved over the years. It is now totally discredited thanks to the second President Bush, says Bartlett. "The real problem is there really isn’t any pressure to balance the budget," said Bartlett when I called him the other day at his Virginia home. "Dick Cheney said deficits don’t matter." (Mulshine, Star Ledger)

Torres: Heavy decisions for the Hamlet of Hudson

I n several columns I've mentioned how the Hudson County Democratic Organization is desperate to resurrect the moribund political machine. I have been referring to what was once a juggernaut in state politics as the HCDeadO, part in jest and mostly to convey to the reader how far these "leaders" have allowed the Fraternity of Hague to descend. What I did not realize is just how beyond frantic the situation has become for those who desire re-election in 2011. Chief among these is Hudson County Executive Tom DeGise, who really serves at the whim of the mayors. It may come as a surprise to many that the future of the HCDeadO may depend on having the man the established Democrats wanted to destroy several years ago become their chairman and leader. U.S. Sen. Robert Menendez wants Union City Mayor and state Sen. Brian Stack to revive the HCDeadO. Menendez is one of those coming up for re-election and he's not going into a race in a home-base vehicle with no tires or steering wheel. He believes Stack can create a countywide mirror image of the 33rd District/Union City political operation that is capable of producing giant mutant numbers.(Torres, Jersey Journal)

Ingle: Your suggestions for cutting the costs

From union membership to the school system and the motor vehicles department, you touched them all when you answered the call for suggestions to pass on to Gov.-elect Chris Christie about how to trim the state budget. Stephen in Vineland wrote that millions are being spent on school construction and questions if it's needed based on population growth. He suggests Christie put a halt on all school building projects not started and evaluate whether they're really needed. Someone requesting his name not be used said he was hired as a county employee and required to join a union. "I am currently earning a tad over $32,500 annually after seven years at my position. During this time I have seen politically connected employees rapidly advance and sub-standard workers remain employed in order to finance the incompetent and greedy." He said all government employees should be allowed the option of joining a union. A fellow named Dave noticed the schools in his town use local police to work as security at all events. "I believe they are paid at time and a half. We have a police force of over 200 cops. Why can't they cover events while they are on duty? I can understand if they are doing it for a private company or event. When they do it for our own township, it is totally wasting taxpayer money …" (Ingle, Gannett)

McCarthy: Nothing lame about lame-duck session in Trenton

So much for having a lame, lame-duck session in New Jersey’s Legislature. A plethora of bills have been up for debate in the weeks since the election. Perhaps none getting more attention than the state’s gay marriage bill. After barely squeaking through the Senate Judiciary Committee, the bill was scheduled for a full vote. That is now on hold while the proposed legislation tries to get the support it needs in the Assembly. Assembly Speaker Joseph Roberts Jr. has yet to schedule the bill in the lower house for debate. New Jersey does have legislation in place that allows for civil unions, but some legislators are looking to do more. “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,” Roberts said in a statement this past week. The Senate decided to wait because there is uncertainty as to whether it could pass. Several South Jersey Democrats have been mum on their stances. Asked about it this week, Senate Majority Leader Stephen Sweeney, D-3, of West Deptford, stayed with that trend. “Wouldn’t you like to know?” was all Sweeney would say. Monday is the earliest it could go before the Assembly Judiciary Committee. (McCarthy, Newhouse) Morning News Digest: December 14, 2009