Morning News Digest: December 7, 2009

The Auditor: Stephen Edelstein worked for a crook, now counsels Gov.-elect Chris Christie

Talk about your strange bedfellows. Fifteen years ago, attorney Stephen Edelstein was named an “unindicted co-conspirator” in the money-laundering and extortion case that sent Essex County Executive Thomas D’Alessio to the slammer. It was a case prosecuted by the U.S. Attorney’s Office. Now, Edelstein is general counsel to the transition team of Gov.-elect Chris Christie, who ran the U.S. Attorney’s Office for most of the last decade. And the coincidences don’t stop there: the D’Alessio case was prosecuted by Kim Guadagno, then an assistant U.S. attorney and now the incoming lieutenant governor on Christie’s ticket. “That is amazing. Another of New Jersey’s ironies,” said Sen. Loretta Weinberg (D-Bergen), who was Gov. Jon Corzine’s running mate. “I guess he knows what everybody should steer clear of.” Edelstein was Essex County counsel from 1991 to 1994 and chairman of the Essex County Improvement Authority. During D’Alessio’s heyday, Edelstein was a key adviser to the former sheriff and county executive. But they had a falling out and wound up on opposite ends of a civil lawsuit after D’Alessio was convicted. (Star Ledger)

Editorial: Filling N.J.'s vacant Senate seats: A transparent attempt to tie Gov.-elect Chris Christie's hands

Before they hand the state over to a Republican governor, the Democrats want to padlock their two U.S. Senate seats in case something happens to Frank Lautenberg or Robert Menendez. So Assemblyman John McKeon (D-Essex) has hurriedly written a bill that would eliminate special elections and hamstring the governor in filling a Senate vacancy. Under McKeon’s proposal, the governor would have to appoint a replacement within 30 days — but could choose only from the same party as the departing senator. In other words, Republican governor Chris Christie, who will take office in January, could select only a Democrat should either of our current senators need to be replaced. That, McKeon says with a straight face, "would serve the will of the people." If McKeon wants to sell something this transparent, he should be working for Victoria Secret. Under current law, the governor can decide not to fill the seat before the next general election cycle, appoint an interim senator to fill the position until the next election or call for an immediate special election. In any of those scenarios, the Democrats could lose the seat. So, they’re backing a bill that guarantees they won’t. (Star Ledger)

Middlesex County appoints purchasing department member as coordinator of shared services

In a rancorous meeting, county freeholders tonight appointed a current member of the purchasing department as coordinator of shared services. By a 6-1 vote, freeholders appointed Marc Boyler, a 20-year employee of the county purchasing department, to the new post, and eliminated the separate Shared Services Department. Freeholder H. James Polos, who had overseen that department since its inception in 2006, criticized the board for eliminating the department. "I have never seen a freeholder board take away a freeholder’s department. I would even go so far as to say to viciously undermine another freeholder," said Polos, who has spearheaded many county interlocal agreement efforts. Deputy Freeholder Director Christopher Rafano said the board was consolidating positions and putting shared services in the purchasing department. Although the purchasing department is overseen by Freeholder Director Stephen "Pete" Dalina, Rafano said Polos could continue working with the coordinator. "There is no intent for you not to be involved in shared services," Rafano told Polos. After the meeting, Rafano said Polos’ "statements and conduct simply represented that he is not happy about not getting his way." (Haydon, Star Ledger)

New Jersey nears vote on letting gays marry

A petition in New Jersey signed by more than 2,300 Democratic officials, advocates and residents has helped sway members of the State Senate Judiciary Committee to call for a vote on a bill to legalize same-sex marriage. But the bill has a long way to go, and recent votes against same-sex marriage in a Maine referendum and in the New York State Senate led opponents of the New Jersey measure to say that the political tide had turned against it. Still, Senator Raymond J. Lesniak, a Democrat from Union County, said the petition, circulated by the Progressive Change Campaign Committee, a liberal political advocacy group, produced a strong “momentum change” for the bill after it had appeared to be stalled in recent weeks. Many prominent officials signed the petition, including Mayor Cory A. Booker of Newark; Ronald K. Chen, the state’s public advocate; and J. Frank Vespa-Papaleo, director of the state’s Division on Civil Rights. Mr. Lesniak is a member of the Judiciary Committee, which plans to vote on the bill on Monday. A large turnout for the vote is expected by those on both sides of the issue; gay couples are planning to testify about what they believe are shortcomings in the state’s civil union law, which was passed in 2006. (Kelley, New York Times)

New Jersey teachers’ union tries to make ties with Christie

It was August 2008 and the New Jersey Education Association, the powerful teachers union, was at the zenith of its influence. The union's then-president was a delegate to the Democratic National Convention, hobnobbing with the country's political elite: senators, business leaders, would-be cabinet members. At the same time, Gov. Jon Corzine publicly defended the union and his close ties to it after agreeing Ð without telling lawmakers Ð to a controversial NJEA-favored pension maneuver. Today, after two decades at the top of New Jersey's political establishment, the world has turned upside down for the NJEA. Corzine lost the election to Republican Chris Christie, who waged a public battle against the NJEA and other public-sector labor unions during the campaign. He says his mandate to bring a new era to Trenton will include a clampdown on the teachers union and education agenda that may advocate changes the NJEA will not welcome, So the 200,000-member union now finds itself in the unusual position of trying to make nice to someone it was tearing apart only a month ago. Shortly after the election, NJEA president Barbara Keshishian, who has never met Christie, said the union contacted his office to offer congratulations and set up a meeting. None has been scheduled. "The NJEA and groups like it had a very good run for the better part of a decade or more," said Sen. Joe Kyrillos, R-Monmouth, who chaired Christie's campaign. "It's going to change." (Margolin, Star Ledger)

HPD Chief Zisa answers his critics

Hackensack Police Chief Charles Kenneth Zisa and his family believe in America. The chief’s ancestors arrived in 1909 from Sicily, seeking a better life just like thousands before and after them. The Zisas went on to build their American dream in Hackensack, creating what some have called a small but strong political empire in Bergen County’s seat. But now, this so-called kingdom is being threatened. A group of 10 current and former Hackensack police officers have filed a series of federal and civil lawsuits against Zisa and the department that he heads. The lawsuits allege a pattern of retaliation and harassment for failing to support the chief’s political candidacies and those that he supported. Additional legal skirmishes, including an ongoing internal affairs hearing that will determine the fate of Officer Anthony Ferraioli, the recently elected president of Policemen’s Benevolent Association (PBA) Local 9, have only heightened the bitter battle for the soul of the Hackensack Police Department. (Bonamo, Hackensack Chronicle)

Trouble for Dwek donors as IRS follows the money

It was only a matter of time before the IRS began looking at the master informant behind a massive money laundering and corruption sting that led to the arrests of dozens of elected officials, rabbis and political operatives in July. The tax inquiry, however, could also be a ticking bomb for anyone else who gave money and expected kickbacks from the religious institutions and schools at the focus of the ongoing criminal probe. Solomon Dwek, 37, agreed to serve as an informant after authorities accused him of a $50 million bank fraud. He pleaded guilty in October to federal and state criminal charges. According to court filings, the Internal Revenue Service, in a civil proceeding, is now looking closely at the financial details behind Dwek’s fraudulent transactions — and also at the millions of dollars in contributions Dwek made to the Deal Yeshiva, a school where he once served as vice president. The tax probe could have much further repercussions if others contributed money to the charities involved in the case and subsequently received kickbacks, as Dwek did as part of the sting. (Sherman, Star Ledger)

Hunterdon GOP selects freeholder

Hampton mayor Rob Walton was chosen by Hunterdon's Republican party leaders today to be the county's fifth freeholder. Walton, who was selected at today's 1 p.m. meeting, will be sworn in sometime before the Dec. 15 meeting, according to freeholder director Will Mennen. He will take the seat of Erik Peterson, who resigned Tuesday. Peterson was elected to represent the 23rd legislative district – all of Warren and most of Hunterdon – in the state Assembly this fall. He is assuming his Assembly job a few weeks before the end of the year because of a domino-effect occurring as members of the county GOP move up one seat. For the rest of December, Peterson will serve out the term of Michael Doherty, who was elected to the state Senate this fall. Doherty stepped into his Senate role early because, following state election rules, the seat had to be given up in November by the party appointee, Marcia Karrow, who has served since Leonard Lance left it for the U.S. House of Representatives at the start of 2009. Doherty defeated Karrow for the position in the primary election, and went on to win the general election in November. At the start of 2010, Peterson will start his elected Assembly term. Back in Hunterdon, Walton will need to defend his appointed freeholder position in the June 2010 primary and the following general election. (Slaght, Star Ledger)

Tributes pour in for former Bayonne mayor, Dennis P. Collins

Tributes are pouring in for former Bayonne Mayor Dennis P. Collins who died this morning at 85, Bayonne Now is reporting. Bayonne's longest serving mayor is being hailed as man who loved Bayonne and dealt with the mundane details of running the city — such as getting sewage pumped out of town, maintaining the water pipes, and building senior citizens centers and parks — that makes a city a place people want to raise their kids. "He loved Bayonne and he loved the people of Bayonne," Ed Collins, 62, tells Bayonne Now. "The people of Bayonne are losing a trusted and beloved leader, and a gentleman." Former mayor Joseph V. Doria Jr. called Collins, his mentor, a "true leader." "He was probably the most recognizable figure in the city of Bayonne since the 1906s. He was beloved." The last time Doria spoke to Collins was on Thanksgiving. "He (Collins) was weak. He had been going through a lot with dialysis. But he was still very sharp," Doria said. "(But) he was concerned seniors and others had some place to go on Thanksgiving. The BEOF (Bayonne Economic Opportunity Fund) was running their traditional dinner. That was still a concern of his." (Conte, Jersey Journal)

Mulshine: New Jersey’s financial crisis means crunch time for Gov.- elect Chris Christie

Have you been keeping an eye on New Jersey’s credit rating? Perhaps not. But Wall Street has. And it’s not a pretty sight. A recent Bloomberg report revealed New Jersey had the biggest jump of any state in the cost of its credit-default swaps. A credit-default swap is a form of insurance that the state will make the payments on its bonds. Untill recently, the cost of this insurance was nominal. That has changed; we are now second to only California. The reason for our poor performance is simple: "There exists the real possibility that a future Legislature will not make an appropriation for the payment of principal or interest on one or more of the contract bonds. In such a scenario, the bondholders would be without recourse against the state or its assets." The above quotation aptly summarizes our current crisis. But it comes from long ago: the Whitman administration, to be precise. It was part of the administration’s defense against a lawsuit challenging the issuance of so-called "contract debt" — debt that has not gone before the voters and is therefore not backed by the full faith and credit of the state. Back in 2001, this was all theoretical. But now there’s a real chance the state could fail to appropriate funds to pay off those bonds. That’s why Wall Street wants insurance. (Mulshine, Star Ledger)

Ingle: Potty-mouth Sarlo rides again

Recall that Senate Judiciary Chairman Paul “Potty Mouth” Sarlo became upset when he couldn’t ram through an appointment for a double-dipper named Nicholas Fargo, of Hudson County. Sarlo wants him to be on the county tax board. That’s in addition to Fargo’s jobs as a paid employee (CFO and treasurer of school funds) of Wood Ridge where double-dipper Sarlo just happens to be mayor. Fargo also is the business administrator of the Hudson County School of Technology. Some senators had a problem with one guy having so many public jobs and paychecks in a time when lots of people have having trouble getting one job. Republicans voted “no” and were joined by some Democrats. After the majority voted “no” Sarlo says “bullsh**”. Then to Bill Baroni, who rightly objected to the nomination, Sarlo says, “That’s bullsh** Bill. Guess what: Fargo’s appointment is on the agenda again for consideration Monday. That it is being brought up again probably means the Democrats have agreed to go along. And people like Sarlo complain that this state is a national laughing stock. Sarlo has been an ally of Senate President Dick Codey which is how he got the chairmanship of the committee. (Ingle, Gannett)

McCarthy: Comparing Dems to Republicans is like apples and oranges when it comes to spending

The Democrats in Gloucester County spent $19,696.29 on food for Election Day and a senior citizen breakfast the prior weekend. They spent another $5,875 to reimburse those who helped with get-out-the-vote efforts. Each “volunteer” received $50 or $75 for their efforts. To put that in perspective, the Republican freeholder candidates collected $21,911.87 – mostly from the family of one of the candidates and through other donations of less than $300. In all, the Democrat freeholder candidates raised $262,193 and spent all but $8,724 on the campaign, according to recently released post-election campaign finance reports. “Our party is about less government,” said county GOP Chairman Bill Fey. “It’s not about frills or getting the message out. It’s about making sure that government runs efficiently. … People heard our message loud and clear with our $20,000.” Fey’s Democrat counterpart, Chairman Michael Angelini, says the money his team spent was all justified. Food has always been provided on Election Day for those working all day to help get out the vote, said Angelini. “When you have a lot of bodies out there, it does add up,” said Angelini. As for the post-election celebration at Auletto Caterers, Angelini said it’s important to keep morale up – especially this year – with a tough election for Democrats. (McCarthy, Newhouse)

Stile: Round 2 in battle for patronage

The historic battle over legalizing same sex marriages in New Jersey will dominate the Senate Judiciary Committee’s agenda Monday. But Sen. Paul Sarlo, the committee’s chairman, still set aside time for a patronage push. Sarlo will make a second try at winning approval for Wood-Ridge crony and quadruple-public dipper Nicholas Fargo’s reappointment to the Hudson County Board of Taxation. And this time, he expects to secure enough votes — and do so without a profanity-packed outburst. "Mr. Fargo is on the agenda," said Chris Eilert, Sarlo’s chief of staff. "The senator believes that [committee members] now have a full explanation of his employment history." Sarlo, who chairs the committee, was caught off-guard last week when Republican Sen. Bill Baroni of Mercer slammed the Fargo appointment as an example of public payroll abuse that has fueled public anger at Trenton. Fargo, who lives in Secaucus, earns a combined $192,104 for his four taxpayer-funded posts — $154,374-a-year as full-time business administrator for the Hudson Schools of Technology, $15,376 for his part-time role as chief financial officer for Wood-Ridge Borough Hall, $2,308 for treasurer of funds for the Wood-Ridge Board of Education and $20,046 for serving on the Hudson County tax board. He is enrolled in two separate public pension funds, but is vested in neither. (Stile, The Record)

Ingle: Christie press conferences a lot more fun

If this past week is any indication, press conferences with Chris Christie are going to be much more fun than with previous governors. That "tell it as it is" style held over from his days at U.S. Attorney makes it hard to not hang on every word. "We're now up to 1.8 million votes, just based on the people who said they voted for us. We went from 1.1 to 1.8 in just the last four weeks," he joked. Actually, the official tally was 1,174,445 for Christie, 1,087,731 for Gov. Corzine and 139,579 for Chris Daggett. Christie's remark came during a explanation how his life has changed since the election, now that most everyone knows who he is. Middlesex County Sheriff Joseph Spicuzzo is "probably the singular most unqualified candidate for the Sports Authority you could find … he's being pushed through for purely political reasons." During his hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee Spicuzzo said Xanadu would bring jobs to Middlesex County and had to be reminded the controversial stalled project is in Bergen County. "I don't know how much more evidence you need of someone being unqualified." Assemblyman John McKeon has a bill to force a governor name a replacement for a U.S. senator within 30 days of his departure from the Senate and require that the person be from the same party as the senator who vacated the seat. McKeon said he did it to save the state a $10 million special election. "This is garbage. It's garbage. It's political lying, is what it is. This whole fallacy of it's going to save money. Well, Jon Corzine replaced himself and didn't feel the need to call for a special election." (Ingle, Gannett)

Torres: Expect public debates over public art

Art is in the eye of the beholder, they say. Figuratively, public art can also poke you in the eye. Art played a role in Hudson County's need for more space for its ever growing government. The apparent solution for more offices was to buy the old Block Drug building located at the disappearing end of the Palisades. Besides the real estate price tag, it required millions of dollars in renovations. The politicians renamed the structure to reflect its form and function. It is now Hudson County Plaza. A definition for plaza explains that we are talking about a public square. Since the complex is drab, someone decided that what is needed is some eye-catching public art. The Hudson County Public Arts Commission picked a winning artist in a competition that not many people knew about – OK, I didn't. The winner is metal sculptor Alice Aycock, a world famous enough name and Douglass College alum whose art can be seen in many cities. But, we're talking Hudson County here. The administration of county Executive Tom DeGise is big on cult-cha. He re-introduced his constituents to folk music by holding a seasonal concert series under the dome of the old Brennan Court House. (Torres, Jersey Journal) Morning News Digest: December 7, 2009