Morning News Digest: December 31, 2009

Codey calls for Napolitano to resign

Acting Gov. and outgoing Senate President Richard Codey (D-Roseland) penned a letter to U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano today asking her to resign based on her response to the attempted bombing of a U.S. airliner. “Based on the handling of this entire affair, I think it’s time for you to consider stepping down and making room for an individual with more law enforcement and counterterrorism experience to take the reins at the Office of Homeland Security,” wrote Codey in the letter, which was copied to President Obama. Codey said that the “entire affair,” including the intelligence bungling about warnings about the alleged terrorist, Umar Farouk Abdul Mutallab, was “handled poorly” and faulted Napolitano for her subsequent statements. “After the Christmas Day near-miss, your public statements seemed more focused on public relations than closing the gaps in our nation’s security safety net that allowed a terrorist to board an international flight for the United States,” he wrote. Codey served as acting governor from 2004 to January, 2006 – during that time, Napolitano, a fellow Democrat, was governor of Arizona. Codey is New Jersey’s acting governor this week because Gov. Jon Corzine is out of state. Continue for full text of letter. (Friedman, PolitickerNJ)

‘A family matter:’ Bucco insists he does not hold a grudge against Cabana

A year ago they gritted their teeth through the white and dark meat at Thanksgiving, hovered dutifully in each other’s company through Christmas cocktails, sustained by the Irish and Italian traditions blended in familial harmony even as they felt the tractor beam of a coming political campaign hauling them toward their inevitable showdown. They figured when it was all over, regardless of who had won, they would be able to go back to the long table as – if not chummy friends – at least respectful brothers-in-law. But Assemblyman-elect Tony Bucco, Jr. (R-Boonton Twp.) and Doug Cabana, the Morris County freeholder, couldn’t easily return to the same fold this year, skipping over Thanksgiving and Christmas, if one is permitted to read between the lines. There were too many hurts left over from their District 25 campaign, which Bucco won after enduring a Marquis of Queensbury contest run amok, in his opinion, that resulted at its worst in his father, state Sen. Anthony Bucco (R-Boonton), spending at least one overnight visit in the hospital with chest pains. Neither Bucco nor Cabana will talk about the fracture, which could have bigger implications than the present silence between them. “I don’t harbor any hard feelings against Doug,” said Bucco, amid preparations for the opening of his western Morris County district office. “As far as I was concerned the day after the primary, it was over. I don’t hold any hard feelings. I saw him at a Toys for Tots drive and shook his hand and wished him a Merry Christmas.” Cabana, whose sister is Bucco’s wife, wouldn’t comment, only to say, “This is a family matter that needs to be resolved.” (Pizarro, PolitickerNJ)

Kasparian speaks and blasts Yudin

Bergen County Democratic Chairman Michael Kasparian today accused his Republican counterpart of engaging in a “political witchhunt” by asking incoming Attorney General Paula Dow to investigate the Bergen County Improvement Authority over an investigative report by The Record. “Once again Bob Yudin is attempting to politicize law enforcement, using career law officers as pawns to score political points and generate news for his political agenda. It is demeaning to career professionals and an insult to the integrity and process of both the U.S. Attorney’s Office and the newly appointed New Jersey Attorney General,” said Kasparian, who noted that Yudin used to call for investigations of county agencies by the U.S. Attorney’s Office when it was headed by Gov.-elect Chris Christie. Now that Christie is about to move into governor’s office, Yudin has started addressing his pleas to Christie’s pick for Attorney General, Essex County Prosecutor Paula Dow – a Democrat who formerly worked for Christie in the U.S. Attorney’s Office. “The reckless politicizing of law enforcement raises many serious concerns, and makes it clear that the only investigations Yudin wants is one run by a Republican appointee,” said Kasparian. “These investigations are costly and political witch-hunts are an insult to all career law enforcement officers and taxpayers.” Yudin chalked the change of venues to his prior suspicion that his pleas would fall on the deaf ears of the office of outgoing Attorney General Anne Milgram, who was appointed by Democratic Gov. Jon Corzine. “”My call for an investigation by the Attorney General’s Office is based on an article in the record, which speaks for itself… The reason I always went to the U.S. Attorney’s office was because I had absolutely no faith in the Democratic administration and the office of the Democratic attorney general conducting a legitimate independent investigation of the corruption that was taking place in Bergen County,” said Yudin. “Now that we have a new governor who for years, as U.S. Attorney, made it clear that whether you’re a Republican or Democrat, corrupt politicians would be pursued, I feel that there’s absolutely no qualms now of asking the attorney general based on what was put in print.” (Friedman, PolitickerNJ)

In primary challenge to Smith, Bateman says he’s raised at least $15k

Alan Bateman, the Republican who plans to challenge U.S. Rep. Chris Smith (R-Hamilton) in this year’s primary, does not think that Smith’s headline-generating trip to Brazil diminishes his chances against the 29-year incumbent. “Chris’s record on human rights is unquestionable, but so is his support for card-check, cap and trade, the bailouts, cash for clunkers, and programs like that,” said Bateman, a businessman and former deputy mayor of Holmdel who challenged his own district’s congressman, 12th District U.S. Rep. Rush Holt (D-Princeton), in 2008. “He won’t be able to hide behind the good that he has done when it comes time to talk about his damaging votes on the economy.” Smith just returned from a trip to Brazil, where he helped Tinton Falls resident David Goldman secure custody of his nine-year-old son in a case that was widely followed by the national press corps. It was not the first time Smith made an overseas trip to reunite a family. In 2008, in the midst of his reelection campaign against a spirited, if long-shot challenge by Democrat Joshua Zeitz, Smith traveled to the Republic of Georgia after its invasion by Russian troops to bring home two young Monmouth County girls who were there visiting his grandparents. That kind of publicity plays tends well in general elections, but Bateman thinks the conservatives who dominate the primary electorate have other priority issues, and that not even Smith’s status as one of Congress’s most vocal abortion opponents will save him. “Yes, he’s pro-life, but I’m also pro-life. But I also am pro-life in the womb as well as out of the womb,” said Bateman. “His voting record of more and more government is just eliminating and taking away opportunities for families.” (Friedman, PolitickerNJ)

Longtime Torres foe won’t run for mayor, admits Paterson headed in right direction

In what amounts to a solid coup for the incumbent, Paterson Second Ward Councilman Aslon Goow said he won’t run for mayor again next year and likely won’t back anyone who runs against Mayor Jose “Joey” Torres. A fierce, longstanding antagonist of Torres’s who was defeated in the 2002 mayor’s race and in 2008 withstood an onslaught by the Torres political machine, Goow stopped just short of completely embracing the mayor today in a conversation with “I think the mayor we have now is moving the city forward ahead in the right direction,” said Goow, who has a civil rights lawsuit pending against the city that stems from an incident in which the citizen lawmaker spearheaded a car pursuit of burglary suspects beyond city limits. “Whether I get behind him or endorse him down the road is another story,” added Goow, who lives in the same ward as Torres. “It is what it is. He’s addressing public safety and complying with my recommendations for new fire trucks. We’ve invested millions in fire equipment, which resulted in Paterson being named the number one fire department in the country for response time. We’ve got a new canine unit now, a gun detection unit. This mayor has hired more police officers and promoted more police officers than anyone. We have a new radio command center and cameras throughout the city. He’s on top it, let me tell you. We’ve had renovation of fields and parks, more roads repaved under this guy, the Route 20 corridor, and downtown redevelopment with the City Center project and Loews and Home Depot.” So far, Council President Jeffrey Jones and Ward 6 Councilman Andre Sayegh are the two formally declared challengers to Torres in the 2010 mayor’s race. (Pizarro, PolitickerNJ)

Murphy calls Runyan another Lynn Swann

Regardless of whether the Burlington and Ocean County Republican organizations go to war in the 3rd Congressional district, there will be a primary. Justin Murphy, a former committeeman from Tabernacle Township in Burlington County who had a surprisingly strong showing in the 2008 primary, says he will definitely run again. And he’s not cowed by Jon Runyan, the football star who the Burlington County GOP has recruited and already rolled out to seek the party nod to challenge U.S. Rep. John Adler (D-Cherry Hill). “Two words come to mind: Lynn Swann,” said Murphy, referring to the football hall-of-famer who ran as a Republican against Democrat Ed Rendell in the 2006 Pennsylvania governor’s race. He wound up losing by 20 points. “He was a good looking candidate, gave a good first impression, had some money, but was a disaster. That was an embarrassing double digit loss for the Republicans,” said Murphy. Right now, Murphy and Runyan are the only declared Republican candidates in the 3rd Congressional District. It remains to be seen whether the powerful Ocean County Republicans – buoyed by producing a 70,000 vote plurality for Gov.-elect Christopher Christie on Election Day – will run a candidate, although Toms River Councilman Maurice “Mo” Hill is seeking their support and says he will run if he gets it. That support hinges almost entirely on county Republican Chairman George Gilmore. (Friedman, PolitickerNJ)

N.J. Senate President calls for resignation of Homeland Security Secretary Napolitano

Senate President and acting Gov. Richard Codey today waded into the national furor over the attempted airline bombing on Christmas Day, firing off a letter calling for the resignation of U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano. “Based on the handling of this entire affair, I think it’s time for you to consider stepping down and making room for an individual with more law enforcement and counterterrorism experience to take the reins at the Office of Homeland Security,” Codey (D-Essex) wrote. “The entire episode was handled poorly, from start to finish.” Codey is serving as governor while Gov. Jon Corzine is out of state for the holidays. Corzine’s office declined to comment. Napolitano, the former governor of Arizona, also previously served as U.S. attorney for Arizona and the state’s attorney general. White House officials have said President Obama remains confident in her. “Secretary Napolitano brought to this office a sterling record as a US Attorney, state attorney general and one of the most respected and successful governors in America,” Obama senior adviser David Axelrod said yesterday in a statement. “And she’s done an outstanding job at Homeland Security on issues from terrorism, to border security to the H1N1 flu. She has the President’s absolute confidence.” Codey joined national Republicans and other critics who have targeted Napolitano following the failed plot, saying the incident should have been prevented. Napolitano has been criticized for saying the “system worked” when passengers and airline personnel helped thwart the attack, though she and White House officials later said the remark was taken out of context and called the lapses a product of systemic and human failure. Codey said in an interview he is “not questioning her service or her intelligence or anything else,” but believes Napolitano — like former Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Ridge, head of Homeland Security in the Bush administration — lacks the necessary counterterrorism expertise. “In New Jersey, we’ve seen firsthand the cost of terrorism from the September 11 attacks, and we’ve been rightfully outraged over political appointees involved in our own State’s security and anti-terrorism efforts,” Codey’s letter said. “We live in dangerous times, and we cannot afford mistakes when it comes to state or federal homeland security decisions.” Codey served as governor for 14 months after Gov. James E. McGreevey resigned in 2004. McGreevey admitted to a gay affair with Golan Cipel, an Israeli citizen he appointed as homeland security adviser three months after 9/11. (Heininger, Star Ledger)

Decade in review: Time for U.S. to snap out of political stupor to solve big challenges

In a recent Pew survey, most Americans rated this decade as the worst in their lifetimes. When asked to find a single word to describe it, the leading answer was “downhill.” So as we move on to the next decade, you have to wonder: Has America lost its mojo? Are we going the way of the British Empire? Is our political system so broken that we can’t answer the most pressing challenges we face? “This refusal to solve big problems has been going on for some time.” says former Gov. Tom Kean. The health reform on its way to President Obama’s desk is historic, so that’s a sign of life. But other big challenges go unanswered, year after year. Climate change. Immigration. Social Security. Stagnant incomes. A scary level of national debt. So here’s the Big Question: Will we snap out of our political stupor and turn things around during the next decade? Or will we continue to drift? Ross Baker, a professor at Rutgers University, looks at history and concludes that it will take something big, and probably awful, to spark us into action. “It has always taken calamities of almost Biblical proportions to shake this country out its smugness and complacency,” he says. The Revolution gave us George Washington. The Civil War gave us Abraham Lincoln. And the Great Depression gave us Franklin Roosevelt, whose sagging fortunes in the late 1930s were revived only when the Nazis crossed the border of Poland. “In 1939, Americans were being lectured by Walter Lippman about how they had lost the ingredients of greatness,” Baker says. “In a remarkably short period of time, things began to turn around.” Kean offers a caveat. He looks at Teddy Roosevelt and sees a man who reshaped the country even without a calamity, giving birth to the environmental movement, breaking up monopolies, protecting workers rights, and asserting musuclar American leadership for the first time. (Moran, Star LedgeR)

Stile: 2009 an unusual year even for politics, corruption

In New Jersey, where political upheaval and corruption are a matter of course, 2009 was still an unusual year. The state’s reputation as a redoubtable Democratic bastion was thrown in doubt. Voters dumped an incumbent Democratic governor in favor of a centrist Republican who was nicknamed “Big Boy” by President George W. Bush and took campaign advice from Karl Rove. Trials of North Jersey operatives filled the federal court docket, revealing a political culture dominated by greed and laissez faire ethics. And despite it all, reform stubbornly inched forward. Here is a look at 10 events and issues that helped shape the political landscape — and what’s to come for years. 1. Christopher J. Christie’s election. Christie’s primary win over right-wing activist Steve Lonegan of Bogota and his defeat of Governor Corzine was also a victory of the moderate party establishment over the restive right wing, an internecine battle that hobbled the state GOP for years. Christie will be the most socially conservative governor in modern state history, but he has signaled his intention to govern as a center-right pragmatic. 2. Multiple job holders on the defensive. These pension padders, a fixture of the New Jersey political culture, became pariahs in 2009. The reappointment of Secaucus’ Nicholas Fargo to the Hudson County tax board was scuttled after a Republican senator complained of Fargo’s three other public jobs and two separate pensions. Senate President Dick Codey blocked Democratic operative Philip B. Alagia’s nomination to the Horizon Blue Cross-Blue Shield of New Jersey board of directors. Alagia, who makes $118,000 from two public jobs, stood to earn an additional $47,500-a-year stipend. Payback is behind Codey’s opposition — Alagia is a confidante of Essex County Executive Joseph DiVincenzo, who helped orchestrate Codey’s ouster as Senate President. But Codey and others also know that voters are tired of subsidizing payroll abuse while they stand on the unemployment line. (Stile, The Record)

Ex-Cherry Hill mayor accepts job with Cooper Foundation

Susan Bass Levin will leave her $291,000-a-year job as deputy executive director of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey next month to run Cooper Hospital’s fundraising arm, the Cooper Foundation. As foundation president and CEO, Levin will be expected to increase the foundation’s current assets of $17.2 million and manage a new, four-person staff. Cooper declined to disclose her salary. “We are honored to welcome her superior expertise in business strategy, project management and infrastructure reform. Her knowledge, as well as her extensive contacts in this region and statewide, will enhance our goals over the next five years,” said Dr. Edward D. Viner, who chairs the Cooper Foundation. Gov. Jon S. Corzine appointed Levin to the port authority in May 2007. The authority has 7,000 employees and a $5.5 billion annual budget. A lawyer by trade, Levin was mayor of Cherry Hill for 14 years before holding Cabinet posts for former governors James E. McGreevey and Richard Codey, and Corzine. She was commissioner of the New Jersey Department of Community Affairs and chaired the New Jersey Housing and Mortgage Finance Agency and the New Jersey Redevelopment Authority. At Cooper, Levin will also take charge of the hospital’s community redevelopment efforts in the Cooper Plaza/Lanning Square neighborhoods and the business district along Broadway. “We have been working with our neighbors to make sure that their health and their lives are improving,” said Cooper President and CEO John P. Sheridan, Jr. “By expanding our efforts within our foundation with Susan’s rich experiences and proven leadership, we will make sure that collaborative projects are followed to completion and progress continues within the city,” he said. The Cooper appointment is Levin’s second job that brings her back to South Jersey since the November election. (Stilwell, Gannett)

Albright: Christie’s honeymoon will be short

The Army recruiting slogan urges “Be the best you can be” – appropriate admonition for Democrat and Republican alike as New Jersey enters its first politically divided house in 28 years. Just as Republican Gov. Thomas H. Kean faced a Democratic Legislature in 1982, the same fate awaits Republican Gov.-elect Christopher Christie on Jan. 19. As is customary, Democrats and Republicans will genuflect before the altar of bipartisanship, which will be as enduring as an egg under the foot of an elephant. Christie announced his game plan election night: “I’ll turn Trenton upside down.” The topsy-turvy ride will test the imaginative powers of his as yet unnamed state treasurer, budget-minded Republicans, and the goodwill of wary Democrats. On Jan. 12, Stephen M. Sweeney of Gloucester County will be sworn in as Senate president, replacing fellow Democrat, Sen. Richard J. Codey of Essex. Sweeney could become Christie’s toughest adversary. Political handicappers think Sweeney would like to run for governor in 2013. But first, there’s the campaign-toughened Christie, who doesn’t hesitate to speak his mind. Refreshing. (Albright, Jersey Journal) Morning News Digest: December 31, 2009