Morning News Digest: December 21, 2009

In Passaic, GOP County Clerk might keep Democrat as deputy

One of the upsets of the year came in Passaic County, where Republicans won the County Clerk post and three Freeholder seats, despite a messy intra-party fight and even though Democratic Gov. Jon Corzine's won the county 53%-44%. Corzine's numbers in Passaic County fell short of his performance in 2005, when he won 60%-40% against Republican Douglas Forrester. Corzine received 61,803 votes in 2005 and 57,010 in 2009; while Forrester received 41,532 votes, Christie's total was 48,500. In Paterson, which makes up nearly 20% of the total votes cast in the county, Corzine's margin over Christie was 15,121, about the same as his 15,550 vote win over Forrester. Christie did a better than Forrester in Passaic and Clifton, but it was the suburbs that boosted his numbers: he carried Wayne by 3,623 votes – more than three times Forrester's margin (1,066) four years ago. He quadruped Forrester's margin in Hawthorne, and doubled them in Totowa, West Milford. Christie turned a 183 vote loss in Little Falls into a 359 vote win. The key to the county GOP victories: huge drop-offs in the cities – Corzine received 5,213 more votes in Paterson and Passaic than the Democratic candidate for County Clerk – and GOP County Clerk-elect Kristin Corrado taking in just 899 votes more than Christie overall; solid wins in the north county towns; and a 52%-48% win in Clifton. Corzine won Clifton 50%-46%. (Edge, PolitickerNJ)

DOD appropriations bill to send $15M to N.J.

Nearly $15 million in federal funds will go to New Jersey-based defense projects and programs following the U.S. Senate's passage of the Department of Defense Appropriations bill, Sens. Frank Lautenberg and Robert Menendez announced this morning. Included in the bill, which now awaits President Obama's signature: $3 million to the Jersey Department of Military and Veterans Affairs, to help successfully transition over 3,300 currently deployed members of the National Guard back into civilian life; $3.6 million to the Bayonne Local Redevelopment Authority for the reconstruction and stabilization of a decaying bulkhead and eroding shoreline at the area of the former Bayonne Military Ocean Terminal; $2 million to Valley Hospital in Ridgewood as part of a DOD partnership as they study a program to improve hospital efficiency; $1.5 million to Englewood Hospital for The Institute for the Advancement of Bloodless Medicine; $2.4 million to Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital for the Mass Casualty First Responders Disaster Surge Technology Program; and $2 million for Rutgers University to establish a partnership with Picatinny Arsenal to develop nano-based technologies for homeland defense and counter-terrorism applications. "Our state is home not only to thousands of brave men and women who serve our country overseas, but also to critical defense installations and programs that help protect our freedom. A grateful nation helps ensure that those who have been serving on the battlefield can have as smooth a transition back to civilian life as possible, which is why it was a particular priority to secure funding for that purpose in this bill," said Menendez. (Editor, PolitickerNJ)

Who caused appointment delay?; Little cheer for Dems this year; Comings and goings at Statehouse

As the battle over Gov. Jon Corzine’s lame-duck nominations grows increasingly nasty, Sen. Tom Kean Jr. (R-Union) has criticized the outgoing governor both for making moves at the last minute and for allowing such a backlog of unfilled positions to build up. Kean, who leads the Senate’s GOP caucus, has focused on the commissioner post at the Board of Public Utilities, which Corzine plans to fill with his energy adviser, Kenneth Esser. Kean and Gov.-elect Chris Christie say Christie should be allowed to build his own energy team. Kean also criticized Corzine’s delay in filling the BPU spot. But The Auditor has learned the Republican himself prompted it. Earlier this year, the senator invoked "senatorial courtesy" to block Corzine’s planned nomination of Assemblywoman Linda Stender (D-Union) to the post. All that was publicly known was that Corzine wanted to put Stender on the board, but backed off without explanation. She would have been easily confirmed if the nomination were allowed to go through. "Talk about hoisting yourself up by your own bootstraps," said Kean’s fellow senator from Union County, Democrat Ray Lesniak, who supported Stender’s BPU nomination. Lesniak noted that back in the 1980s he was criticized by Kean’s father, the popular governor, for blocking nominations. "Governor Kean called me ‘the King of Senatorial Courtesy’," Lesniak said. "I guess I’ve passed the mantle to his son." Kean Jr. had little to say to The Auditor on the topic. "I take very seriously," he said, "my responsibility to ensure that qualified people are installed at every level of government." (Star Ledger)

N.J. attorney general nominee Dow heralded for toughness, outsider status

When Essex County Prosecutor Paula Dow called her first strategy session with Joe Santiago early this year, the new Irvington police director didn’t make a good impression. He was late. "She made it real clear to me that’s not how she does her business," he said. "I never did it again. I’m not the kind of guy who’s afraid of most people. But you don’t want to disappoint her." Beneath Dow’s calm exterior lies a straight-shooting prosecutor who prefers to build bridges but is also comfortable speaking her mind. It’s the tough side Republican Gov.-elect Chris Christie emphasized when introducing Dow, a Democrat, as his nominee for attorney general last week. Christie recalled that when he took over the U.S. Attorney’s Office in 2001, Dow was an assistant prosecutor handling criminal prosecutions and corruption cases. In their first meeting, she chewed his ear off about the office’s lack of diversity. Afterward, Christie told his deputy, "She just spent half an hour insulting me. We have to find a job for her." Dow became his counsel. She laughed when reminded of the conversation. "I’m not sure I was a supporter when he first came in," she said. "But I was a supporter by the time I left." If approved by the state Senate, Dow, 54, will become the first African-American woman to be New Jersey’s attorney general — and the first soccer mom. A divorced mother of two boys, she teaches Sunday school, ferries her older son to soccer practices and attends Pinewood Derby races. At home in Maplewood, she tracks their progress on homework. (Megerian, Star Ledger)

Union City property owner accuses officials of playing politics with zoning projects

The one-story brick building on busy Palisade Avenue in Union City is an empty, unremarkable structure, once home to a kids day care center. More recently it has been covered in angry graffiti by its current owner. "Union City politicians want to steal this property!" he scrawled across the red facade. Ralph Lieber has been waging a fight in federal court over the city’s refusal to give the approvals he needs to build residential condos on the site. On the surface, the dispute might seem like little more than one man’s fight against city hall. But the civil lawsuit filed by Lieber, a developer from Leonia, has led to surprising statements by several former Union City officials, who claim zoning decisions in the densely populated Hudson County community are made long before anyone votes on them. One former official has testified under oath there were never any discussions about the merits of any project, and he voted as he was instructed. Another said he received handwritten notes from the mayor on how to vote. Other board officials have denied it, as does Mayor Brian Stack, a Democrat who also serves as a state senator. The allegations in the long-running litigation coincide with a widespread federal probe of corruption and money laundering that has swept through Hudson County. That three-year investigation, which included a massive sting operation that led to the arrests of more than 44 people, began in Union City, according to criminal complaints filed in the case. (Sherman, Star Ledger)

Gov. Corzine loss to N.J. Gov.-elect Christie puts state employees on job hunt

Scott Kisch would love to remain chief of staff at the Office of Homeland Security and Preparedness after Chris Christie becomes governor. But just in case, the former Marine Corps officer keeps his résumé and other supporting documents close — on a flash drive in his pocket. "I’m not messing around," he said. "I’m serious about being prepared for what might happen. And if the new administration agrees to keep me, I’ll happily do that, too." Kisch is one of hundreds of employees in state government who found themselves abruptly facing a job hunt after Democratic Gov. Jon Corzine lost to his Republican challenger Nov. 3. Behind the scenes in Trenton, lots of jobs are up for grabs as policymakers and political players relinquish their posts, clearing the way for the next governor to hire his own people. The change of party control is likely to mean even more turnover, although Christie has tapped some Democrats, including Essex County Prosecutor Paula Dow, his choice for attorney general. Those leaving traditionally compete for the same jobs as their co-workers at law or lobbying firms, or elsewhere in government — places that could put them in position to return if their party regains the governorship. "It’s not going to be easy," said Rich Lee, who went through transitions with Gov. James E. McGreevey. "Given the present economy, I imagine it’s going to be pretty difficult for those people who are out of work." (Fleisher, Star Ledger)

Essex County lawmakers want in on nomination talks of next prosecutor

Officially, the task of appointing county prosecutors in New Jersey falls to the governor. Traditionally, the state’s chief executive has followed the recommendation of local state senators, which often leaves the process fraught with political haggling. In 2003, when Essex County Executive Joseph DiVincenzo Jr. recommended Paula Dow as the county prosecutor to the governor, then-Gov. James E. McGreevey, ignored tradition and made the selection. Sharpe James — who was then the mayor of Newark and a state senator — and two of his fellow Essex County senate colleagues, Ronald Rice and Nia Gill, blocked Dow’s confirmation for 20 months before she was sworn in as prosecutor in July 2005 because they felt they were not consulted on the decision. Undoubtedly, Gov.-elect Chris Christie, a Republican who nominated Dow, a Democrat, as the next state attorney general on Tuesday, will try to avoid that kind of acrimony when he makes his nominations, including that of Essex County prosecutor. He said as much at Tuesday’s news conference to introduce Dow, stressing that senatorial courtesy will be considered. Christie said he would use the "appropriate level of respect and consultation" with Senate leadership and individual lawmakers. Potential candidates for prosecutor have already emerged, chief among them Marc Larkins, executive assistant U.S. Attorney. "That’s the name I keep hearing," DiVincenzo said. "That’s the hot one." While Larkins’ name has been discussed by people close to Christie and his senior advisers, they may be eyeing the well-regarded federal prosecutor for another post, likely in state government. (Friedman, Star Ledger)

Incoming governor Chris Christie makes his first big mistake

Last year, during the annual budget crisis, Democrats passed a new tax that applied only to families earning more than $400,000 a year. They called it temporary, and everyone scoffed. Because when a toddler gets his little paw around a piece of candy, he is never going to let go, no matter what he was promised. Same with Democrats and taxes. But everything changed when Republican Chris Christie won the election. He promised to kill that tax, and his senior aides said this week that he will not negotiate over it. "There is no give on that," says Bob Grady, a senior transition advisor and possible nominee as Treasurer. Mark this down as Christie’s first big mistake. Because he has just given his opponents a legitimate reason to resist his budget cuts, and a chance to seize the moral high ground. Every time he cuts spending now, his opponents can point to that tax cut for the rich, which is worth roughly $1 billion. "He’ll give millionaires a tax cut, but he doesn’t want to give more aid to food pantries?" says Sen. Steve Sweeney, who will take over as senate president next month. "We will definitely point that out." The pity here is that New Jersey really does have to cut its spending, with or without this tax cut. You can make a clean case for that based on the hard reality that we are broke. And Christie is now clouding the argument by rolling in this tax cut. This will get ugly, and it’s coming to your home town soon. Because if you remember one thing about the state budget, make it this: Only 20 percent of the money is spent on state government operations. The bulk of it goes to schools, towns, and health programs. (Moran, Star Ledger)

Ex-Eagle Runyan ready for S.J. congressional race

Former Eagles offensive lineman Jon Runyan is "100 percent committed" to running for Congress from South Jersey – after the Super Bowl. From a San Diego hotel room, the new Chargers tackle yesterday undertook his first interviews as a Third District congressional aspirant, in a burst of telephone calls with political reporters. He said he was ready to take on a "dumb-jock" stereotype Democrats were likely to push. And as soon as football season ends, on Feb. 7, he will spend time talking to voters about the issues. He criticized President Obama for fixing a withdrawal date on the latest surge of troops into Afghanistan. He said that proposed health care legislation won't cut costs enough, and that he doesn't believe government should be involved in the business of health care. The 36-year-old Mount Laurel resident also said that – with the benefit of hindsight – he probably would have voted for the bank bailouts and restricting executive pay, because those strategies seem to have worked. After announcing they had gotten Runyan to run for the House, Burlington County Republicans had kept the political novice under wraps. Runyan repeatedly failed to return calls from reporters seeking details on his agenda and his positions on issues. Even yesterday's brief chats were recorded and monitored by Runyan's political handlers, who are grooming him for what is likely to be one of the most competitive congressional races in the country. In New Jersey, where politics is the leading blood sport, the race also is likely to be one of the ugliest. The Third District runs through Burlington and Ocean Counties, and includes Cherry Hill in Camden County. It had been held by Republicans for much of the last century, until last year, when a well-financed John Adler, then a Democratic state senator from Cherry Hill, won it. (Burton, Inquirer)

Stile: Corzine nominee runs afoul of Christie pet peeve

Republican Governor-elect Christopher J. Christie staked out two positions in unambiguous terms last week — Governor Corzine should not make any lame-duck nominations to important, policymaking boards and officials should hold only one public job. That should put Philip B. Alagia, who served as political director for Corzine's reelection campaign, in the cross hairs. Corzine nominated Alagia to serve on the board of directors of Horizon Blue Cross-Blue Shield of New Jersey, the Newark-based health insurance giant whose long-discussed conversion from a non-profit to a privately held enterprise is likely to resurface as a Christie administration priority. And Alagia is a double-dipper — he earns $118,000 a year as chief of staff to Essex County Executive Joseph DiVincenzo and $10,000 as an aide to Sen. Teresa Ruiz of Newark. The three-year appointment could yield Alagia another bounty — a $47,500 a year stipend from the board — which is only $2,000 less than a legislator's salary. He would also receive $1,750 for each meeting he attends. Christie has not ruled out asking Republican senators to use their senatorial courtesy privilege to blackball nominations of people who live in their home counties if an agreement is not reached on some of the 180 names Corzine submitted to the Senate since losing the Nov. 3 election. Republican Sen. Kevin O'Toole of Cedar Grove would be in a position to block Alagia's nomination. O'Toole, who has reportedly refused to sign off on developer and Democratic donor David Steiner's reappointment to the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, did not respond to two requests for comment on Friday. Christie refused to single out examples of nominees that he wanted scratched, and his spokeswoman, Maria Comella stressed that point when asked about the Alagia nomination. "We're not going to go out and start putting targets on anybody's heads,'' she said. (Stile, The Record)

Ingle: It’s the Camden math

Sen. Gerald Cardinale is urging logic and common sense in the planned demolition of the Riverfront prison in Camden which is why Camden politicians will ignore him. While they plan to tear down the relatively new prison, they have to build a new Camden County jail not far away or expand the old one which has 1,100 prisoners in a unit planned for 400. State officials expect to receive $2 million for the 17 acres of riverfront land after taxpayers pay for the prison demolition, Cardinale said, adding it would take at least $100 million to renovate the Camden jail. Cardinale said he learned of the jail overcrowding when Camden County Freeholder Jeffery Nash, a tool of Boss George Norcross’ machine who double dips as Delaware River Port Authority vice chairman, came to testify before the New Jersey Commission on Capital Budget and Planning. Cardinale proposed that the the demolition be delayed but that was not passed. Why tear down a prison when they have to deal with expanding or building a new jail in the same area? Gov. Corzine says the retail and housing units people will be flocking to in Camden will provide more and better employment. Would Corzine lie to us? (Ingle, Gannett)

Ingle: Corzine attempting to keep his policies going

One of the major complaints about Gov. Corzine was his slowness to make appointments, as if he didn't think it was important. What a difference losing an election makes. In one week he nominated almost 200 people, some of them to paid positions and jobs that influence public policy. Bottom line, Corzine is packing state commissions and agencies with his backers, cronies and friends as he prepares to leave the state in a monumental mess. It must be hard for a guy with an ego like Corzine's to come to grips with his second high-profile firing, he probably still smarts from that Goldman Sachs booting, but the fact is the people said on Nov. 3 they were tired of Corzine, his policies and his administration. For Corzine to make appointments that extend beyond Jan. 19, when Chris Christie starts his administration, is spitting in the face of New Jerseyans who called for change. Were Corzine not so arrogant and insensitive he might understand. Were he not surrounded by political hacks trying to stay at the public trough they might explain to him how history is going to judge him for the damage done to New Jersey. Christie told a news conference the behind-the-scenes battle over appointments isn't about individuals, it is the simple principle that on Nov. 3 the voters of this state spoke loudly and clearly. Appointing people to terms that can exceed even Christie's term is ignoring that vote and trying to perpetuate the Corzine administration the voters turned out. At least one candidate had the grace and integrity to not take part. Sen. Phil Haines, a Republican, got notice Corzine was nominating him for a judgeship, something Haines has wanted. But, he asked his name be removed, via a letter to Corzine and Senate President Dick Codey, because Haines didn't want to be a part of Corzine's last-minute nominations frenzy: "I am writing today to respectfully ask that you remove my name from consideration for a judgeship at this time. While I am humbled by this nomination to the bench and thank both of you for this high honor, I am concerned by the manner in which this and other last minute nominations and appointments are being handled in Trenton." (Ingle, Gannett)

Torres: Will it be DeGise telling Healy his days as HCDeadO leader are over?

Last week's column apparently got people talking. There followed more speculation and the usual semi-denials by lesser-lights who called it musings of a columnist – sort of like when I said there would be a Democratic civil war in the county. What do you want – what everyone ordered for breakfast at the usual IHOP meeting when it was proposed that Union City Mayor and state Sen. Brian Stack accept the chairmanship of the Hudson County Democratic Organization? OK, let's do some more on the subject. It wasn't worth mentioning Bayonne Mayor Mark Smith because his name came up in this column more than a month ago as a potential HCDO chairman candidate. Imagine, for this illustration, North Bergen Mayor and state Sen. Nick Sacco and Stack are talking about what a mess the county Democrats has become. These two are known for having well-run political machines. Neither is pleased with the job Jersey City Mayor Jerramiah Healy, the present HCDeadO chairman, and most of the county government are doing. Here is the simulated conversation: Sacco: Brian, why don't you become chairman? You'll be great. Stack: I don't know, Nick. I'm busy right here with my city and the Senate is enough of a chore. I know, why don't you become chairman? Sacco and Stack: Mark Smith may be a good choice. Everyone else: Yeah, Smith sounds good. (Torres, Jersey Journal)

Editorial: Build a better watchdog – Strengthen the New Jersey Comptroller's office

When the office of state comptroller was created in 2007, the law made clear it would be an independent position with authority to audit state and local spending, review the performance of government agencies and even clear contracts over $10 million before they are completed. All except for deals that allow private developers to build on public land, that is. State Comptroller Matthew Boxer has no authority to review those before they’re agreed upon, thanks to lobbying by Hudson County legislators back in 2007. He can only audit the contracts after the fact. That should change. Voters are demanding accountability in public spending, and with reason: They’re roaring mad at government waste. These times demand a state comptroller unfettered by limits on where he can look, and when.Deals that open public land to private development are long overdue for more stringent review before a shovel hits the ground. The notorious EnCap project was supposed to turn a landfill in the Meadowlands into a golf village with private capital. But the North Carolina development firm behind the project sought and won more than $300 million in state loans by misleading regulators and evading oversight. The whole scheme, now being investigated by the state and federal authorities, has left New Jersey holding the bag for at least $50 million. (Star Ledger)

Editorial: Stuck in the swamp – Time to reconsider future of Izod Center, NJ Sports Authority

It’s time to rename the Meadowlands. How about Fairyland? Fantasyland? Or Delusion, N.J.? Because politicians and bureaucrats keep trying to fool taxpayers into believing they can somehow fix the economic disaster the sports complex has become. Case in point: The “arena truce,” billed as a way to make both the Meadowlands’ Izod Center and Newark’s Prudential Center profitable without additional public money, sounded like a good idea. Until we learned it was built on another way to pick the public’s pockets — extra fees tacked onto ticket prices. Now that deal is on hold, awaiting the new governor. Once he settles in, Chris Christie should challenge every taxpayer dollar that goes into the New Jersey Sports and Exposition Authority. Taxpayers are tired of picking up the tab for sports venues that can’t pay for themselves. The Meadowlands Racetrack is losing $10 million a year. Izod Center is still standing only because it, too, is being propped up by transfusions of cash from taxpayers. The NJSEA is hemorrhaging millions. Xanadu might be Xanadon’t. The NFL stadium is the only viable site in the marshes. Rather than face facts, elected officials keep coming up with cockamamie schemes. The latest is the ticket surcharge proposed by state Sen. Richard Codey of up to $3 per seat on events at the Izod and the Prudential. The money raised would help keep Izod open. But why, when there is a brand-spanking new arena about 10 miles to its south? (Star Ledger)

Mulshine: John Edwards suit –The Rielle Hunter hunter becomes the hunted

I am not among those who gets all worked up about the sex lives of politicians. If Jim McGreevey had been serious about bringing a Michigan-style property-tax relief plan to New Jersey, as he promised, my property taxes would be half what they are now. So if he'd kept that promise, I wouldn't have cared how many boyfriends and/or girlfriends he had on the side. The same goes for John Edwards. As a senator, he was among a pack of big-spending liberals who got us into the mess we're in today. As a vice-presidential and presidential candidate, he was laughable. What could be more comedic than the spectacle of a sleazy multi-millionaire lawyer posing as the candidate of the working man? I got a further laugh when he was caught by the National Enquirer running around with a ditzy New Age astrology/mysticism freak called Rielle Hunter. And I was the first journalist at a major newspaper to write about it, entirely on the theory that it would have been on the front pages if the pol in question had been a Republican rather than a Democrat.My fellow journalists at the time said the information was unreliable because it came from the Enquirer. Nonsense. The presentation in the Enquirer may be trashy, but the reporting is absolutely first-rate. Edwards' career was over the minute he locked himself in that men's room in Hollywood with Enquirer reporters outside. And now we come to the denouement of the Democrat's dilemma – and it involves a lawyer from my own Ocean County who will now be doing to Edwards what Edwards did to so many doctors. (Mulshine, Star Ledger)

McCarthy: Corzine reminisces on South Jersey legacy

When Gov. Jon Corzine was in Camden this week, it marked what could be his last visit to South Jersey as the state’s leader. In January, Corzine will end his term as governor. The governor was in town to watch the beginning of the demolition of River Front State Prison, which was shuttered to make way for development. We asked Corzine what he thought his legacy would be in South Jersey.”This has all been about real renewal, new schools, work at (Cooper) hospital,” Corzine responded. “I think we’ve worked with the community groups and that’s really been evident, especially in what you see here today.” The governor has also been involved in expansion efforts at Rowan University, and he came down earlier this year to mark the beginning of work on the Port of Paulsboro project and the proposed light rail line through Gloucester County. With Gov.-elect Chris Christie set to take the reins in January, it will be interesting to see what the Republican leader will do to keep South Jersey on the map. Stepping in. Gloucester County Republican Party Chairman Bill Fey took things to the next level late this week in calling for Democrat Chairman Michael Angelini to resign his post. The call for action came Friday, just days after Angelini was the subject of a scathing report related to the West Deptford attorney’s pension. The state Inspector General’s office released a report on Tuesday that uncovered what it calls pension padding on the part of Angelini, who has held as many as seven political jobs at one time. Angelini would qualify for a nearly $100,000-a-year pension from the state. (McCarthy, Newhouse) Morning News Digest: December 21, 2009