Morning News Digest: December 23, 2009

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The Wake Up Call will be returning on Tuesday, December 28th.

In letter to AG, Vega counsel argues petition maladies warrant criminal look-see

Not resting on simply seeing challenger Dr. Felix Roque fail in his bid to force a special election, counsel representing West New York Mayor Silverio "Sal" Vega went on offense this afternoon with a letter to Attorney General Anne Milgram and Hudson County Prosecutor Edward J. DeFazio. "I write today on behalf of the Recall Defense Committee for each of the commissioners to specifically draw your attention to no less than ten instances of forgeries appearing in those petitions," wrote attorney William Northgrave. In addition, he cited Town Clerk Carmela Riccie's documentation of "numerous instances of forgeries, to make it appear that the requirements of the Uniform Recall Election Law have been complied with when in fact there was no such compliance. "While it appears to the Recall Defense Committee that this matter demands a criminal investigation into what are, at a minimum, ten instances of indisputable forgery, I commend to your discretion how to proceed." For his part, Roque today reaffirmed to his intentions of legally challenging Riccie's findings concerning those recall petitions he and his allies submitted to her office earlier this month. (Pizarro, PolitickerNJ)

Christie promises review of Angelini report

Governor-elect Christopher Christie has yet to read the Inspector General's report on alleged pension abuse for Gloucester County Democratic Chairman Michael Angelini, but he's getting to it. Christie said the 62-page report, which outlines how Angelini worked 12 different part-time public jobs over the course of 27 years to accrue a pension of over $100,000, is part of the "pile on my night stand." But Christie has read news stories summarizing the report, and the disclosure that Angelini often sent associates to do work for him reminds him of his prosecution of former state Sen. Wayne Bryant (D-Camden) as U.S. Attorney. Bryant was convicted of pension fraud for his $50,000-a-year salary and pension credits at the Gloucester County Board of Social Services (Angelini testified for the defense at Bryant's trial). "I don't know whether that's the case with Angelini. I've got to read the report. But certainly if that's the case it's among the pension reforms that need to be made. This stuff drives people crazy. It drives people crazy," said Christie. Incoming Senate President Stephen Sweeney (D-West Deptford) last week defended Angelini for the practice, noting that legislation reforming the way pensions are awarded was passed in 2007. Angelini, he said, did nothing illegal at the time. Christie made the comments in during a press conference after addressing students at Daytop Village – a high school for children with a history of drug abuse located in his hometown of Mendham. Christie sat on the school's board for almost five years until he became U.S. attorney in 2002 announced today that the school will be one of three charities to benefit from his inaugural celebrations. He called the school "a place where miracles happen." (Editor, PolitickerNJ)

EMT lawsuit sparks flashpoint in developing Paterson mayor's contest

Embroiled in a nascent re-election bid the day after EMTs filed a lawsuit against him and the city, Mayor Jose "Joey" Torres naturally absorbed additional campaign trail criticism of his efforts to consolidate the city's emergency management services. Already bewailing the seven-year absence of a contract for the EMTs, Angelo Bisceglie, attorney for the Paterson Emergency Medical Technicians Association, said Torres's plan would eliminate EMTs and replace them with firefighters at three times the cost. "Torres's plan is dangerous, irresponsible, and simply wrong," the attorney said. "We are confident that the courts will uphold the contractural obligations the City of Paterson has to its ambulance operators." Torres said the lawyer has it wrong."This group has changed the collective bargaining agreement three times," said the mayor, who insisted that he has no intention of phasing out part-time EMTS. "If I was going to do that, why is the money in the budget?" Torres wondered. But Council President Jeffrey Jones, who's running against Torres next year, said the plan that could ultimately eliminate 16 part-time EMTs from the ranks of 34 total on-the-street healthcare professionals, exemplifies the mayor's callousness. "I would actually consider expanding some of their work and make it a contractural obligation," Jones said. "This is a decision that directly impacts the working poor. Joey Torres needs to leave the administration and become a developer, and leave humanitarian issues to those of us who care. These are people doing a service we need." A second declared candidate in the mayor's race, Ward 6 Councilman Andre Sayegh also said he opposes a consolidation plan. (Pizarro, PolitickerNJ)

Corzine, Christie unveil plans to slash N.J. budget deficit

Gov. Jon Corzine unveiled his final spending cuts today and Gov.-elect Chris Christie warned the state could run out of money by March unless even more programs and services disappear. Hours after it was revealed that Christie’s transition team is compiling plans to slash state agency spending by as much as 25 percent next year, Corzine released $839 million of his own current-year cuts, including $260 million to schools. But the Democratic governor, who leaves office Jan. 19, also delivered a welcome surprise to towns and community arts groups by lifting a freeze on state aid that had them scrambling to pay their bills. That was a reversal for Corzine, who last week said he’d leave it up to Christie to decide what aid to dole out. As he put the final stamp on a term swallowed by the recession, Corzine said he restored the aid to towns to keep his commitment to property tax relief — a main theme of his failed re-election campaign. He noted his final budget is now $28.6 billion, $220 million smaller than the year before he took office. Christie, though, said he is still inheriting "a horrible bag of problems" as state revenue flows suffer. "Understand this: We have in New Jersey a situation now where in March of this coming year — if projections remain where they are — we won’t have the money to meet payroll," Christie told reporters at Daytop Village, a drug-rehabilitation center in Mendham. "That’s the level of crisis we’re talking about here." The Republican’s transition team has asked cabinet members and agency directors to identify possible cuts ranging from 15 percent to 25 percent — on top of the cuts imposed by Corzine — and is urging them to eliminate or consolidate programs, according to a Dec. 18 internal memo The Star-Ledger obtained today. (Fleisher/Megerian, Star Ledger)

Mulshine: Corzine tries a McGreevey maneuver

Gov. Corzine’s office just released a statement detailing how he plans to close the gap in this year’s state budget. The release makes it clear Corzine will be pulling a stunt right out of the Jim McGreevey playbook: “The plan includes a proposal involving excess surplus balances that have been accumulated by school districts across the state. Under the proposal, which would require enactment of legislation, beginning in February 2010 districts would be required to use a portion of those excess surplus balances – totaling $260 million — in place of state aid payments. Since these surplus balances represent funds in excess of those needed in districts’ operating budgets, substituting the excess surplus balances for state aid payments should have no impact on school district programs, school operations, or local property tax bills.” This is complete nonsense. Every budget should have a small surplus built in to it. And the surplus money in the budget is exactly the same as the rest of the money in the budget. It can be used for either of two purposes: To fund programs. Or to reduce property taxes. Period. It therefore follows that if you eliminate that surplus, the district must either cut programs or raise property taxes. Or both. Jim McGreevey tried this same stunt back in 2003. In that instance, the administration also argued the cut wasn't really a cut because the districts could simply use up their surpluses to make up for the lost aid. Here’s how I described it in a column back then. (Mulshine, Star Ledger)

Former Jersey City candidate pleads not guilty

A former Jersey City housing official who was an unsuccessful candidate for City Council has pleaded not guilty to charges stemming from New Jersey's massive federal corruption probe. Lori Serrano entered her plea in federal court in Newark Tuesday. The 37-year-old Democrat is charged with one extortion-related count for allegedly accepting a $10,000 bribe from a government cooperating witness in exchange for promising help in getting development approvals. Serrano's lawyer, Raymond Hamlin, did not immediately return a call for comment. Hamlin told The Star-Ledger of Newark his client will be vindicated. Serrano was arrested July 23 with 43 others in a corruption and money laundering investigation. She faces up to 20 years in prison if convicted. (AP)

Ex-N.J. mayor applauds hate-crime conviction

South Harrison Township's first black mayor, who received death threats laced with racial epithets during his tenure, said yesterday that he was glad to learn a white supremacist who he said harassed him last year was convicted of hate crimes over the weekend. A Roanoke, Va., jury on Friday found William White, who headed a neo-Nazi organization and Web site, guilty of four of seven hate crimes after a nearly two-week trial. Though White was acquitted in U.S. District Court of threatening New Jersey's Charles Tyson via telephone and e-mail, Tyson said he was pleased with the verdict. "At least he got convicted," Tyson said. "This guy was a terrorist, and these kind of people should be put in jail." White faces up to 35 years in federal prison, according to the Roanoke Times. Tyson was among numerous witnesses, who included a civil-rights lawyer from Canada, a nationally syndicated news columnist from Maryland, a University of Delaware administrator, and a bank employee from Missouri. Several testified that White called or e-mailed them after hate crimes against them made the news. White's defense was that the First Amendment protected his speech. Tyson said he thinks the jury acquitted in the cases in which White did not directly threaten to kill someone. According to Tyson, in a phone call shortly before midnight March 1, 2008, and in a subsequent e-mail, White warned Tyson against ruling "over white people" and also said that he knew where Tyson lived. But, Tyson said, White stopped short of saying he would come after him. During his mayoral tenure between 2007 and 2008, other callers threatened to kill him, Tyson said, and his campaign signs were spray-painted with KKK and racial epithets. No arrests have been made in those cases. Tyson stepped down as mayor in January, citing family concerns over the racially motivated incidents. He stayed on as a committeeman in the rural Gloucester County community until last month, when he resigned, saying he was frustrated with the lack of arrests in the other incidents and with bitter politics. (Hefler, Inquirer)

HCDO wins ruling; didn't defame man with'07 flier

The Hudson County Democratic Organization did not defame a man by circulating fliers about a criminal conviction that had been expunged, judges ruled Monday. In the first published decision in the case, three Superior Court Appellate Division judges dismissed a defamation case against the county Democrats, several of its ranking members and political consultants. A former aide to state Sen. Brian Stack, Union City's mayor and then an assemblyman, filed the suit in 2007 after two fliers, paid for by the county Democrats, called him a "coke dealer" and displayed his picture. The aide argued his conviction was off limits because it had been expunged. "The case was about whether an expungement can alter the truth," said Bill Northgrave, an attorney for the defendants. "The Appellate Division found that it does not, and cannot, because a person always has a First Amendment right to rely on truth as an absolute defense in a defamation case." Charles Cohen, an attorney representing the aide, identified only as "G.D.," said he could not comment. In its decision, the appellate panel said that although the records were expunged in 2006, the charges against G.D. still appeared on the state Department of Corrections Web site until 2008, when they were removed due to the lawsuit. The decision also notes that 16 years had elapsed between the original arrest and the expungement. At the center of the issue is a 2007 primary battle between Stack and then-Sen. Bernard Kenny, who at the time was also chief executive officer of the Hudson County Democratic Organization. Kenny dropped out of the race and was replaced on the party line by West New York Mayor Silverio "Sal" Vega, but Stack won the 33rd District primary. (Hayes, Jersey Journal)

Morning News Digest: December 23, 2009