Morning News Digest: December 18, 2009

Launching from church basement, Sayegh vows grassroots campaign for Paterson unity Sign Up For Our Daily Newsletter Sign Up Thank

Launching from church basement, Sayegh vows grassroots campaign for Paterson unity

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Reveling in his Paterson roots and running on a slogan of unity, Ward 6 Councilman Andre Sayegh tonight promised a gym packed with supporters that they would be part of a "grassroots campaign of historic proportions" as he formally kicked off his 2010 mayoral run. "They say we're trying to divide the vote," said Sayegh, evidently a reference to the jagged demographic lines occupied by incumbent Mayor Jose "Joey" Torres and Council President Jeffrey Jones. "Look around this room," the councilman urged a crowd of blacks, whites, Latinos and Arabs gathered in the basement gym of St. Anthony's Church. "We're not dividing. We're here to unite. There's been too much division. Now it's time for some vision. This race is not about race. …It's time to unite, for a new quality of life. From Lakeview to River Drive, from Crooks Avenue to Straight Street." With each delivered line the crowd cheered the 35-year old first term councilman, a former School Board president who teaches at William Paterson University in addition to running a coalition of nonprofits in his hometown. "Do you remember what the city was once?" said Sayegh of Passaic County's county seat, where residents voted in favor of a curfew to clamp down on crime. "Do you remember what it was?" An older woman groaned with the memory next to the current reality. He reminded residents of his successful rallying cry to close two go go bars: Charlie's Angels and Alex's Playground. (Pizarro, PolitickerNJ)

At Paterson City Hall, Jones picks up his petitions for mayor's race

On Thursday afternoon, City Council President Jeffrey Jones picks up his petitions to run for mayor of the state's third largest city. "I've heard the point made that I need to reach out to constituents who are not of African American descent," said Jones. "Of course, it's important to dispel the myth that I don't reach out to everyone. As the 2nd Ward leader, that question never came forward. I'm not surprised the question's out there, but I serve all of Paterson's wards. I'm a Marine, and in the Marines I depended on people of all ethnic backgrounds just as I served them. "I am who I am," added the William Paterson University political science teacher. "I pledge to support all Patersonians. A level playing field is my obtective. My platfrom remains the same: redcue crime, taxes and increase human services." Like the other candidates in this emerging contest, Jones needs to collect 666 signatures, or one percent of the total voters, and return them to the clerk in April. The other mayoral candidate who obtained petitions this morning was Ward 6 Councilman Andre Sayegh. A third person, Ramon Lee, picked up petitions for the mayor's race. It was immediately unclear whether he is himself a candidate or working for incumbent Mayor Jose "Joey" Torres or At-Large Councilman Rigo Rodriguez. (Pizarro, PolitickerNJ)

Passaic GOP prepares to fight for control of Freeholder board

Two nights ago, Passaic County Republicans held a fundraiser at a catering hall in Hawthorne. Assemblyman Scott Rumana (R-Wayne), the county GOP chairman, wouldn't say exactly how much was raised. But it was a lot more than what the party was able to scrape together around this time last year, he said. "It's a much rosier picture than it ever has been in the three years we've been trying to put this party back together. Much rosier than in the last five or six years," said Rumana. Passaic County Republicans came out of obscurity last month with a stunning sweep of county offices, winning three freeholder seats and the county clerk office. In November, Republicans only need to unseat one of the two Democratic incumbents – Terry Duffy and Pat Lepore – to win control of the freeholder board. Now that they're in striking distance, the cash is flowing and prospective candidates are lining up, according to Rumana. "I'm seeing so much interest at this point. It is going to be a great opportunity to sift through and decide what's going to be the best direction for the party to take, as opposed to before when you had to twist someone's arm to run," he said. But Rumana is keeping quiet about who has expressed interest in running, saying only that he hopes to reach out to the large Hispanic communities in Passaic County's principle cities: Paterson and Passaic. In addition to the two freeholders, Sheriff Jerry Speziale, a Democrat who has $584,000 in his campaign account, is up for reelection. The name of just one Republican potential candidate to run against him has surfaced: Little Falls Mayor Michael DeFrancisci, a former agent with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and the Drug Enforcement Administration. (Pizarro, PolitickerNJ)

Mariano Vega indicted on eight counts

Jersey City Councilman Mariano Vega was slapped with an eight count indictment today for allegedly taking $30,000 in bribes from an FBI informant and making false statements to federal investigators. Vega allegedly conspired with Maher Khalil, another Jersey City official who was arrested in July and has since pleaded guilty, to deposit three $10,000 bribes from faux real estate developer Solomon Dwek into his campaign account through a series of straw donors. In return for the money, prosecutors contend that Vega promised Dwek help with development approvals for a make believe residential high rise development project on Garfield Avenue. Vega, was council president when he was arrested along with dozens of other Hudson County officials, politicians and consultants in July’s massive corruption sweep. He has since stepped down from the leadership post post, but maintains his innocence and remains in his council seat. Adding a new wrinkle to the case against Vega is the false statement charge. FBI agents met with Vega on July 22 – the day before he and 43 others were shuffled off buses and frog marched into the federal court house in Newark. In the interview, Vega claimed not to recognize Dwek when agents showed him his photograph, despite having shared meals with him six times over the course of five months – including a meeting just two weeks prior. (Friedman, PolitickerNJ)

Codey: now is not the time for U.S. senate vacancy legislation

Senate President Richard Codey (D-Roseland) today essentially struck a death blow to Democratic efforts to change the way U.S. senate vacancies are filled. Codey said that he would not post a bill addressing the issue in his final weeks leading the state senate. “I do believe that whoever replaces the United States senator should be of the same party,” said Codey. “But having said that, any party could have changed this at any point in time… it just looks strictly partisan and is the wrong message at this time.” The idea took on life after Republican Gov.-elect Chris Christie beat incumbent Democrat Jon Corzine last month, jolting Democrats into the realization that Christie could appoint a Republican in the event that one of the two Democratic incumbents leaves office early. Left unsaid was the real motivating factor behind the legislation: U.S. Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-Cliffside Park), though by all accounts healthy, is 85 and has five years left in his term. Currently, the governor is allowed to appoint anyone he wants to the post regardless of political party, or to leave it vacant and instead call a special election. But Democrats, noting that New Jersey voters have not elected a Republican to a U.S. senate seat since 1972, came up with two separate bills that would prevent Christie from naming a Republican to the post. Three weeks after Christie’s election, Assemblyman John McKeon (D-West Orange) introduced legislation that would do away with the option to call a special election and force the governor to appoint a replacement from the same political party as the departing senator. (Friedman, PolitickerNJ)

Stack doesn't rule out HCDO leadership post; nor does Smith, say sources

Whether either one sticks in the end or not, at least two names continue to circulate as potential successors to embattled Hudson County Democratic Organization (HCDO) Chairman Jerramiah Healy, whose two years at the helm get assessed next June – a year in front of legislative and freeholder elections. The first and much more wildcard possibility is Union City Mayor Brian P. Stack, who core HCDO insiders refuse to accept as a serious prospect. The second is organization man Bayonne Mayor Mark Smith. There are probably others – everything's in flux now because it's early, and no one has any evidence that Healy, from his power projection platform as mayor of Jersey City, won't in the final shakeout among the county's 12 mayors prove the most logical leader capable of uniting Hudson's various strands. "That's always been up to the mayors," said Healy, who won his re-election handily in May but in the succeeding months watched members of his political team gobbled up in a federal corruption sting. "If they want me to do it again, I'm willing to do it again," added the mayor/HCDO chairman. "If they don't, I'm not going to fight. I don't know that there is a great human cry to get rid of me." But sources – and columnist Augie Torres first reported this last week in the Jersey Journal – say no less than U.S. Sen. Robert Menendez (D-Hoboken) would be open to Stack in the command chair as the U.S. Senator prepares for his 2012 re-election in an atmosphere now made more troublesome for Menendez by the invigorated presence of Gov.-elect Chris Christie. (Pizarro, PolitickerNJ)

Gov.-elect Chris Christie's transition team readies for change

They were ready for a recount, not a transition. David Samson and Jeff Chiesa arrived at Chris Christie’s Election Night headquarters on Nov. 3 with their attache cases filled with legal briefs, prepared for every possible scenario that could send the neck-and-neck governor’s race to court. When Christie won going away, his top attorneys got an entirely different challenge: Build a government almost from scratch. "I didn’t know if I was going to have to go to Staples and get pads and pencils and seat cushions and computers," Chiesa said. Six weeks later, the legal briefs have been replaced with piles of resumes and drafts of policy plans. But Samson and Chiesa remain in charge — and just as intense — as Christie shifts from surviving a ferocious campaign to running a fiscally strapped state. After their slow start, the transition team this week unveiled two marquee cabinet nominations while fighting a backstage war over nominations by Gov. Jon Corzine. A month remains until Christie’s inauguration. "Every day you miss is one day you can’t get back," Samson said during a lengthy interview last week in the spartan transition headquarters down the block from the Statehouse. "The intention is, across the board, to get out of the gate quickly." Unlike Christie, many past governors — even those in unpredictable elections — started substantive transition work well before the victory party. Even Gov. Christie Whitman, who squeaked by Gov. Jim Florio in 1993, quietly wrote a transition plan that October. We could’ve torn it up afterwards, but fortunately we didn’t have to," said Hazel Gluck, a Republican lobbyist who ran Whitman’s transition. "This is tough stuff. Chris Christie has a hell of a job on his hands, and everyone he appoints is going to have a hell of a job on their hands."” (Heininger/Margolin, Star Ledger)

U.S. Sen. Menendez says transportation remarks from N.J.

Gov.-elect show 'lack of understanding' Gov.-elect Chris Christie showed a "lack of understanding" when he criticized New Jersey’s congressional delegation for failing to get enough federal money for transportation projects, U.S. Sen. Bob Menendez said today. Menendez (D-N.J.) said Christie, whose remarks were reported today in The Star-Ledger and the Record, has to "exit campaign mode," work as a partner with the state’s two U.S. senators and understand how federal funding works."We’re going to have to work together," Menendez said. "That will require getting on the same page instead of throwing around wild and inaccurate accusations." Menendez was responding to Christie’s remarks that New Jersey will have to turn to the federal government for more help to fix the state’s aging and deteriorating transportation infrastructure. The newspapers reported that New Jersey can’t afford to inspect bridges, repair drainage systems or even fill potholes, so it’s pushing off nearly $70 million in routine repairs onto a trust fund that is nearly bankrupt. Christie, a Republican, has called for restructuring state government — through layoffs and eliminating departments — to help provide the funding that would pay for routine maintenance work. He emphatically ruled out raising New Jersey’s 14.5-cent-per-gallon gas tax — the fourth lowest in the nation — to produce more revenue for the trust fund. (Davis, Star Ledger)

Mulshine: Paula Dow! How? Chris Christie channels his inner liberal

When I heard that Gov.-elect Chris Christie had picked Essex County Prosecutor Paula Dow as his attorney general, I immediately called Paul Bangiola and told him the news. “Who?” He asked. “Paula Dow? Paula Dow the Essex County prosecutor?” Yes, that Paula Dow. The same Paula Dow who was in the midst of that controversial 2007 series of events that led me to first become acquainted with Bangiola and his political ally, outgoing Morristown Mayor Don Cresitello. Though both are Democrats, they managed to position themselves well to the right of Christie and Dow on illegal immigration back then. During the recent campaign, Christie claimed to be a conservative. But I’ve been skeptical of that claim ever since the summer of 2007, when Cresitello was pushing for Morristown to be awarded federal 287(g) status. That status would permit local cops to report the detention of illegal immigrants to the feds. The mayor earned a tongue-lashing in the local paper by then-U.S. Attorney Christie for “grandstanding” after Cresitello spoke at a downtown rally run by opponents of illegal immigration. Unfortunately for Christie, that article appeared the same day news broke of a horrific crime in Newark that might not have happened if Essex County officials had taken the tough stance Cresitello had advocated. The shootings of four students in a Newark school yard were linked to a gang led by an illegal immigrant from Peru who had been arrested the year before on an assault charge and then released. (Mulshine, Star Ledger)

Ingle: Corzine’s last stand

There’s a lot of speculation about when Corzine officially jumped the shark. Some think it was that speech he got a lobbyist to write, despite a taxpayer-paid speech-writer on staff, that said pigs would fly over the Statehouse before enough waste could be cut out of government to balance the budget. The amateur speech writer and Corzine probably thought they hit one out of the park right up until Casey Bartholomew and Ray Rossi, 101.5 FM’s Jersey Guys, organized a rally in front of the Statehouse, and, thanks to the wind’s cooperation, inflated pink pigs flew across the aforementioned public building. But I think the end was in sight much sooner, when Corzine addressed a state employee rally, waved his fist into the air and shouted, “I stand with you.” That signaled he didn’t get it, that he works for the people, not union leadership. His employer decided to terminate that relationship Nov. 3. Come Jan. 19 Corzine is a free agent and can be a union organizer, if he thinks that’s his calling. This came to mind after a business meeting this week in which we learned 10,900 New Jerseyans lost their jobs in the private sector in November but local government added 1,500 new jobs. Local governments are as out of touch as Corzine and they need to suffer the same fate at the polls. (Ingle, Gannett)

NJ councilman indicted in corruption probe

Jersey City's former council president on Thursday became the latest public official arrested in last July's massive federal corruption sting to be indicted. The eight-count indictment against Mariano Vega Jr. announced by the U.S. Attorney's Office charges him with four extortion-related counts, three bribery counts and one count of lying to authorities. According to the indictment, Vega accepted a total of $30,000 from a government cooperating witness posing as a corrupt developer looking to influence public officials in northern New Jersey, then lied to the FBI about knowing the man. Vega was interviewed by the FBI on July 22, the day before he and 43 others were arrested in a dual corruption and money laundering investigation that netted nearly two dozen public officials in addition to prominent rabbis from Brooklyn and Deal, N.J. Nine people have pleaded guilty in connection with the investigation, seven of whom had ties to Jersey City. One, former city health official Maher Khalil, admitted at his plea hearing in September that he accepted bribes from the government cooperator and converted them into illegal contributions to Vega's political campaign. Vega stepped down as council president in October. His attorney, Peter Willis, did not return a message left at his office Thursday evening. (AP)

Morning News Digest: December 18, 2009