Morning News Digest: December 29, 2009

Veteran Dem chairman to run again in Monmouth

Bothered by his party’s failure this year to retain the majority on the freeholder board and the bruising beating that Gov.-elect Chris Christie gave to lame duck Jon Corzine on Nov. 3rd, Monmouth County Democratic Party Chairman Vic Scudiery nevertheless said he intends to run again for a two-year term as chairman when his party reorganizes next year. “I’m definitely running again,” Scudiery told “I put my heart and soul into this, and I just celebrated my 20 years as chairman.” At the county level, incumbent Democratic Freeholder John D’Amico plans to seek a second term, Scudiery said. “And we’re leaving it open for (this year’s vanquished freeholder candidate and Middletown Committeeman) Sean Byrnes to run again,” added the chairman, a native of Newark who moved to Monmouth as a young man and became the anchor of Hazlet’s Airport Plaza. “Our strength lies in municipal elections,” Scudiery said of the Democratic Party in Monmouth. “We have to work the municipalities and bring more coordination between local and freeholder campaigns. It never entered my mind not to run for another two-year term.” One local race the chairman will be eyeballing with particular interest in 2010 is the Long Branch mayor’s race, where veteran Mayor Adam Schneider faces challenger Councilman Brian Unger. (Pizarro, PolitickerNJ)

Gloucester Dems reserve comment on Angelini

While the political furor over Gloucester County Democratic Chairman Michael Angelini’s alleged pension padding continues to rage, his future as chairman of the county’s dominant party is uncertain. Gloucester County Democratic insiders, for the most part, will not go on the record on whether they think Angelini should stay or go as chairman. The county’s most influential Democrat is incoming Senate President Stephen Sweeney (D-West Deptford). Two weeks ago, Sweeney said, “I don’t think this is a reason for him not to be a chairman.” Today, he declined to comment any further on the matter. Off-the-record conversations with several of the county’s Democratic insiders reveal mixed opinions on whether Angelini should resign, remain as chairman but choose not to run again when his term expires in June, or seek reelection to the post. They are loathe to condone the practice of collecting pensions for multiple part-time public jobs that, according to IRS standards should be classified as independent contractor arrangements, but argue that it was not illegal when Angelini did it and note that the chairman was the only attorney targeted in the report for what was considered a fairly common practice. What is clear is that there is no organized movement to push Angelini out, but his future as chairman is not completely secure. Assemblyman Paul Moriarty (D-Washington Twp.), a Gloucester County resident, announced today a pension reform bill intended to close a loophole that allows certain members of several government lobbying organizations to draw public pensions. Moriarty said that he had not yet read the inspector general’s report on Angelini and will withhold comment on it until he does. Moriarty did read media accounts of the report, but said they were “conflicting” on information about Angelini’s salaries. (Friedman, PolitickerNJ)

Mill Hill community activist gets in Trenton’s North Ward council contest

Community activist Marge Caldwell-Wilson today formally launched her campaign for the North Ward council seat currently occupied by two-term Councilman Milford Bethea. That makes her the first candidate to announce in the North Ward at a time when Trenton observers don’t know for certain whether or not Bethea intends to run for a third term. Born in Scotland and a 30-year resident of Trenton’s Mill Hill neighborhood, Caldwell-Wilson is the former president of Communications Workers of America Local 1087 in Monmouth County. “I do have an understanding of budgets, as I’ve handled state budgets and I have a lot of one-on-one understanding of the community as one of the organizers who helped start the Jersey Street Community Association,” said Caldwell-Wilson. “In 2008, the city relied on one-shot revenues like Capital City Aid, Municipal Property Tax Assistance, the sale of interest in Trigen and the sale of Bus Terminal to fill the city’s budget gap,” the candidate noted in her kick-off announcement at the Marriott. “In 2010, one-time revenue will not be available. Experts predict a budget shortfall of $27 million while still contending with debt service, pension costs, workers’ compensation and realty insurance costs. “I believe our common desire to do what is right for this city will prevail.” Trenton’s predominantly African American North Ward extends from Sovereign Bank up to Battle Monument and into the traditionally Polish section around Mill Hill, and includes pockets of Latinos and Eastern Europeans. Caldwell-Wilson is running unaligned with any of the declared and emergent candidates for mayor, she said. “At this point right now, I haven’t seen the entire field in action and I need to focus on getting myself out there,” explained the candidate. “I have good organizing skills. I guess that comes from my labor background.” (Pizarro, PolitickerNJ)

Vitale stands behind ‘Jersey Shore’ comments

When state Sen. Joseph Vitale (D-Woodbridge) fired off a press release condemning MTV’s “Jersey Shore” for promoting negative stereotypes about Italian-Americans and a letter to Viacom asking them to “pull the plug” on the show, he didn’t quite anticipate the scale of the media response. The release was almost instantly picked up by the regional press – including New York City radio and television stations – leading to write-ups on countless blogs across the country. Vitale, who is chairman of the legislature’s Italian-American caucus, was inundated with emails about his statement over the holiday weekend, which he described as half supportive and half critical of his stance. “People are offended by the fact that I find it offensive that Italian-Americans are referred to in a manner that is disparaging,” said Vitale, who took exception to the show’s frequent use of the term “guido” and “guidette.” “Rightfully so, no other ethnic group would sustain those kinds of words if it were applied to them. The roof would probably blow off f it were to happen.” “At the end of the day words matter,” he said. Vitale pushed back against critics who said his request for the state to investigate the employment and wage practices and the tax status of the “Shore Store” — where the show’s cast is employed – was heavy handed. “They’re living for what appears to be free in what appears to be a very expensive beach house for the summer, and yet they’re working it off in their landlord’s t-shirt shop? There has to be some declaration of income or some declaration of something. And is MTV paying these kids as well? I just want to know the answer,” he said. (Friedman, PolitickerNJ)

Sweeney won’t make push for senate vacancy legislation

Incoming Senate President Stephen Sweeney (D-West Deptford) said today that he was unlikely to post legislation changing the way U.S. senate vacancies are filled during the one week between his swearing in and Republican Gov.-elect Christopher Christie’s. “I don’t think so. I think there are too many things that would have to happen,” said Sweeney in a phone interview. “The senate president has the ability to do that bill if he wants. For whatever reason he’s chosen not to, and it’s his call right until I become senate president. I’m not going to second guess him and challenge his authority.. it’s his authority.” Sweeney’s statement douses any hope Democrats might have had of passing one of the two proposed bills that restrict the governor’s ability to appoint U.S. senators in the event of a vacancy – an idea that took on some urgency after Christie was elected governor. Current law allows the governor to appoint anyone he or she wants, regardless of political party, to fill a vacant U.S. senate seat, or to leave the seat vacant and call a special election. Outgoing Senate President Richard Codey (D-Roseland) said earlier this month that he would not post the legislation, which Christie denounced as “garbage” at a Dec. 1 press conference. That more or less killed the two bills kicking around in the assembly, although it was technically possible – though highly unlikely – that Sweeney could post one of the bills immediately after his swearing in on Dec. 12. For the legislation to become law, it would need to clear the assembly and senate state government committees, pass both houses and be signed by Gov. Corzine before Christie’s Dec. 19 swearing in. (Friedman, PolitickerNJ)

Lartigue launches Trenton mayoral campaign

Burnishing her administrative training and city council service as arguments for why she’s best poised to revitalize Trenton, West Ward Councilwoman Annette Lartigue put the formal punctuation mark on her campaign for mayor at the Marriott on Saturday night at a well-attended holiday ball. “We’re going to run a people’s campaign,” said Lartigue, who stood with her family at the front of the room. “The poet Maya Angelou said: ‘All great achievements require time and trust.’ I ask you now for that partnership of ‘time’ and ‘trust,’ with which I believe we can further realize the potential for great achievements in and for this city. We can make it happen with the strength and hope of every resident in this city. We must work together to reach every resident, hear every voice and provide every opportunity within our power for the betterment of our community. “To you, my fellow Trentonians, I pledge that my administration will work hard to both earn and honor your trust. We will continue in the spirit of the (West Ward Advisory Board)to meet monthly with residents to share and dispense information.” The third-term councilwoman, a Trenton native, Trenton High School graduate, and chief of Administrative Services for the Mercer County Board of Social Services, promised to run a “clean, issues-focused campaign.” “We are what Trenton needs to get through this transition and the difficult times ahead,” Lartigue told the crowd scattered among circular tables. “Let’s get this party started. Let’s rock Trenton.” (Pizarro, PolitickerNJ)

The Auditor: Spreading holiday jeers; How many governors does it take to handle a snowstorm?; Christie gets some horse power

It may be the height of the holiday season, but there is still no sign of peace between outgoing Gov. Jon Corzine and Gov.-elect Chris Christie. They remain at an impasse over Corzine’s lame-duck appointments. Corzine contends it’s his right to populate all manner of state boards and commissions, and he’s not doing anything differently from past outgoing governors. Christie says that doesn’t make it right and has called Corzine’s actions an effort to extend his administration. As the two sides wait to see what will happen on the issue once the Legislature reconvenes in January, Corzine allies have been working behind the scenes to portray Christie and the Republicans as political opportunists crying foul only because it suits their purposes at the moment. Democrats point to Jon Hanson, a former chairman of the Sports and Exposition Authority who is leading Christie’s transition committee examining the Meadowlands. Christie opponents point out that Hanson, a real estate executive who was Gov. Tom Kean’s campaign finance chairman, was himself a lame-duck appointee to the sports authority board. He was nominated by then-Gov. Brendan Byrne in the final days of Byrne’s term nearly 30 years ago. (Star Ledger)

2 Somerset County towns to gain GOP majority at January reorganization meetings

For the first time in 15 years, the Borough Council will have a 4-to-2 Republican majority when newcomers Rich Onderko and Sherri Lynn are sworn into three-year seats during the annual reorganization meeting on Saturday. The meeting is scheduled for 11 a.m. at Borough Hall. Republicans Onderko and Lynn defeated Democrats Joe Lukac and Ron Skirkanish in the Nov. 3 general election.”I am excited about the opportunity to serve all residents of Manville for my term on council,” Onderko said. “I am looking forward to the challenges ahead.” Onderko said one of his priorities upon joining the council will be to look at existing borough ordinances and resolutions and decide whether they are in the best interests of property taxpayers. Lynn said she has spent more than 20 hours in recent weeks becoming acquainted with borough businesses and attending local events to meet more residents. She said she looks forward to being appointed to borough committees. During their campaign, Onderko and Lynn said they would push to have a feasibility study by the Army Corps of Engineers completed on what flood-control measures might be best for Manville. In recent months, borough officials and Rep. Leonard Lance, R-Clinton Township, announced the House of Representatives has included $150,000 in an appropriation bill to help fund the study. “A flood committee meeting will be scheduled in the new year for a clear time line of the Army Corps of Engineers’ milestones and remaining funding concerns to complete the “study phase,”‘ Onderko said. (Sroka-Holzmann, Gannett)

Golden in line to become new Monmouth sheriff

Monmouth County Undersheriff Shaun E. Golden is the front-runner to be named sheriff by Gov.-elect Chris Christie, according to ranking county Republicans who spoke on the condition of anonymity because a formal announcement has not been scheduled. Christie and Lt. Gov.-elect Kim Guadagno, who is the current Monmouth County sheriff, will be sworn into the state offices Jan. 19. Guadagno will resign as sheriff, creating a vacancy at the head of the county law enforcement agency with 640 officers and employees. Golden, 42, of Howell is a former Toms River police officer. He had campaigned against Guadagno for the GOP party line for sheriff in the 2007 election but backed Guadagno after losing to her at the county party’s nominating convention. After Guadagno won the general election against Democrat Jack Hill and took office in January 2008, she hired Golden as an appointed undersheriff. Golden had been with the Toms River police department since 1996. Golden’s current base salary is $85,000 annually. He is in charge of the Sheriff’s Office communications division. The salary for sheriff is $120,000. Though Christie — whose spokeswoman, Maria Comella, could not be reached for comment — under state law is responsible for appointing Guadagno’s successor, the decision has been closely reviewed by the Monmouth County Republican organization. The person selected would be appointed for the rest of the sheriff’s current term, which expires at the end of 2010. However, he or she can run for a full, three-year term in the November 2010 election. (Jordan, Asbury Park Press)

Lawmaker wants to ban taxpayer-funded pensions for non-government employees

Future hires of three private lobbying groups should be excluded from New Jersey’s taxpayer-funded pension system, a lawmaker said Monday. Assemblyman Paul Moriarty, D-Gloucester, said he will introduce legislation to alter a 1950s-era law that permits non-government employees to collect public retirement benefits. The pension fund has a $30 billion unfunded liability, and a state audit issued last week suggested that pension overseers reduce operating costs and apply the savings — potentially millions of dollars — to that liability. Moriarty’s proposal would cut off future employees of the privately run New Jersey School Boards Association, the state League of Municipalities and the New Jersey Association of Counties. It would not affect workers currently on the payroll. The groups get their operating budgets from taxpayer-funded membership dues and from corporate sponsors. They say that they provide their members with valuable guidance on regionalization, shared services, legal liability, ethics and other issues, and that their expertise ultimately saves taxpayers millions of dollars a year. Right now, taxpayers give $1.3 million a year to 62 retirees of the three organizations, The Record reported last month. An additional 107 current employees have pensionable salaries of more than $7 million. The groups were allowed to participate in the pension system many decades ago, when lawmakers determined they were acting in the interest of taxpayers. Since then, the associations have greatly enlarged their staffing and salaries, and all have expanded to offer annual conferences, training sessions and other services that taxpayers help to finance in the form of fees and travel. (Young, The Record)

McCarthy: Ringing in the new year with some resolutions

Now that the holidays are wrapping up, it marks the time of year when people celebrate the new year with a resolution. It might be to lose weight or spend more time with family, but New Year’s resolutions are some of the hardest promises to keep. As we do most years, we’ve asked a handful of public officials to divulge their resolution. This way, if they don’t stick to them, you’ll know about it. So, without further delay, here is what we were told. Gloucester County Freeholder Director and soon-to-be state Senate President Stephen Sweeney has been known to be a busy man who still makes time for the gym. This year, Sweeney, who admits to not usually making a resolution, vowed to “be more consistent in the gym.” “My work schedule is making it harder and harder to get into the gym,” said Sweeney. Oak Knoll Elementary School Principal Bruce Sheppard, who is retiring after nearly 40 years in the Monroe Township school district, has resolved to take it easy. “I resolve to slow down a step and spend quality time with my wife, my children and especially my granddaughter,” said Sheppard. “I resolve to take my retirement seriously and play a lot of golf, lose some weight, take care of myself. I also resolve never to lose my love of schools, students and teachers. They are what makes my world go round.” Freeholder Joseph Brigandi Jr., who also serves as administrator in Glassboro, admitted he had not taken the time to think of a resolution until he was contacted. “I’ve been on a regiment where I go to the gym three times a week and count calories,” Brigandi offered. In that time, Brigandi said he has lost about 12 pounds, but wants to drop another 10 in 2010. His resolution is to “continue the pattern of working out and eating properly to lose additional weight to help me feel healthy so I can do my jobs as effectively as I can.” (McCarthy, Newhouse)

Editorial: Senate succession – Bad idea won’t get any better

State Senate president Richard Codey says he won’t post a bill that would have allowed the Democrats to padlock their two U.S. Senate seats in case something happens to Frank Lautenberg or Robert Menendez. The bill was a transparently partisan lame-duck maneuver by Democrats, so Codey made the right call. While he deserves a pat on the back for that, maybe we shouldn’t be so hasty. Codey also said he hopes the flawed bill can be passed at a later date. Under the current law, when there’s a vacancy for U.S. senator, the governor can decide not to fill the seat before the next election cycle; appoint an interim to fill the position until the next election, or call for an immediate special election. In any of those scenarios, with Republican Chris Christie as governor, the Democrats could lose the seat. So Assemblyman John McKeon (D-Essex) proposed a bill that would have eliminated the special election and required the governor to appoint the new senator within 30 days. But the governor could choose only from the party of the departing senator. Not only would the bill strip voters of their right to pick the next senator, but Christie, a Republican, would have to pick a Democrat. Codey shelved the bill — for now. “It’s the wrong time for it,” Codey said. To which we’d like to add: There’s no good time to call an end-around on voters. While there’s some merit to replacing a Democrat with a Democrat, the best way to honor the voters’ wishes is to ask them — with a special election. (Star Ledger)

Mulshine: Cost of living’s a killer in the health-reform deal

Many of my readers have written me to express outrage over the sweetheart deal that a certain Democratic U.S. Senator from Nebraska got in return for agreeing to support the health-care reform package in the Senate. They don’t know the half of it. The half I’m talking about is the cost-of-living differential between states like Nebraska and New Jersey. That differential will have a disastrous effect on Garden State residents if the package is passed in its current form. As it happens, I recently got some firsthand knowledge about Sen. Ben Nelson’s state. A month ago I drove across the northern part of Nebraska during a trip out west. After I bought coffee in a small-town store, I got to looking at a bulletin board full of ads. There was one ad for a pleasant-looking little house, one that seemed nicer than a couple of houses that I have owned over the years here in Jersey. I was startled when I saw the asking price: $18,900. A family of four living in such a house might be able to achieve a middle-class lifestyle on perhaps $40,000 a year. And if that family happened to lack health insurance, they’d make out just fine under the plan now going to a House-Senate conference committee. A federal government subsidy would help them buy an insurance policy worth $11,080 for a mere $1,828 a year in premiums. Nice work, senator. You’ve done a great job for Nebraska. As for the Democrats in our congressional delegation, they’ve done a great job, too — for Nebraska. But they’ve done a terrible job for New Jersey. Imagine you’re the head of a household of four trying to achieve a middle-class standard of living in a typical North Jersey suburb. Add up housing prices, property taxes, insurance, etc., and you might be lucky to attain on $90,000 a year the same standard of living a Nebraska family might achieve on half that amount. (Mulshine, Star Ledger)

Mulshine: No-fly list? How about a no-idiot list?

Every time I fly I thank the Lord above that I have a unique name. As far as I know, I am the sole “Paul Mulshine” on Earth, apparently thanks to some immigration official back during the days of the Irish potato famine who shortened the ancestral name from “Mulshinnock” or some similar spelling common to southwest Ireland. If I had a more common name like Robert Johnson or Gary Smith, I might have ended up on a no-fly list assembled by some moronic federal employee who fails to recognize that there just might be more than one Robert Johnson or Gary Smith in this country. While these bozos were busy chasing down all those innocent American citizens with common names, they somehow neglected to notice a Nigerian citizen named Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab who’d been reported as a terror threat and who bought a ticket with cash. As this article notes, “Abdulmutallab had been placed in a U.S. database of people suspected of terrorist ties in November, but there was not enough information about his activity that would place him on a watch list that could have kept him from flying.” In other words, these idiots feel free to harass every American citizen named Robert Johnson, even though that citizen has every right to move freely around this country. Yet they give the benefit of the doubt to a Nigerian suspected of terrorist ties? And note that U.S. officials didn’t merely permit him on the plane when he showed up at the airport. They granted him a visa, a process that requires application many days in advance of the flight. And then we have Homeland Security secretary Janet Napolitano stating “One thing I’d like to point out is that the system worked.” (Mulshine, Star Ledger)

Albright: May Christie find solutions under his tree

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to our dear readers. And season’s greetings to Gov.-elect Christopher J. Christie, a Republican, and Gov. Jon S. Corzine, of Hoboken, the outgoing Democrat. And what would Christie like in his Christmas stocking? How about relief from the $33.9 billion state debt, looming $8.2 billion state budget shortage, and easing of the 9.7 percent unemployment rate. And for Corzine: a top-level position in the U.S. Treasury in the Obama administration. And congratulations to the Quinnipiac University Poll that on Nov. 2 forecast a 42 to 40 percent Christie victory, which came closest to Christie’s 4.3 percent victory margin based on his 86,714-vote plurality. To Republicans, these numbers are better than winning the state lottery. (Albright, Jersey Journal)

Ingle: Nominate a real hero

One of the Trenton Press Row amusements is when members of the Legislature depart after years of creating havoc for the state and a golden retirement for themselves but are praised, sometimes for hours, by their colleagues. There is some of that coming up, stayed tuned. They like to give each other slaps on the back. Once a guy who had to leave because of his indictment. One of his colleagues said he hoped that wasn’t too much of a black mark on his career. Yep, these lawmakers love themselves and like to raise each other high on a pedestal. But there really are heroes in this state, people who make a difference and largely go unnoticed. That’s why an idea from Gov. -elect Chris Christie caught my eye. He is asking for nominees for the New Jersey Heroes program. Anyone can nominate anyone who is making a difference. The nominees will be mentioned on the 2010 Inaugural Committee web site and a group of them will be attending inaugural festivities Jan. 19. The address for nominations is here. (Ingle, Gannett) Morning News Digest: December 29, 2009