Morning News Digest: December 8, 2009

Arrested in Union City, Stack adversary doesn't rule out running against mayor Union City

Police today confirmed that they arrested Frank R. Scarafile, a political opponent of Mayor Brian Stack and five of his allies on Friday night and charged them with forgery, falsifying records, harassment, and violation of the city's ordinance against distributing flyers. Scarafile is the Little Ferry Superintendent of Schools and the former principal of Emerson High School. According to a police department release issued late in the day Monday, police received information from a confidential source that a "group of people would be distributing a flyer falsely purported to be from Stack, the mayor and a Democratic State Senator. A copy of the document was also obtained. Mayor Stack saw the copy of the flyer and was able to confirm that he neither produced it nor authorized its production. The flyer contained a photo of the mayor and what appeared to be the mayor's signature on the bottom. It also contained the mayor's office and mobile phone numbers." (Friedman, PolitickerNJ)

Sarlo: Prepare for a long night

Members of the Senate Judiciary Committee are preparing for a late night. Shortly before the committee took up debate on marriage equality, its chairman state Sen. Paul Sarlo (D-Wood-ridge), said that he expects testimony to last as much as eight hours. “Many people have waited a long time for this bill to be hard and taken a day off from work,” said Sarlo, who is on the record as personally opposed to the legislation. “Those who want to be heard are going to heard today, so we can be here long into the evening.” When he opened the discussion, Sarlo did not argue for or against the legislation. Instead, he admonished those in attendance to refrain from clappin, cheering or any emotional outbursts. "Everyone's position deserves respect, compassion and understanding," he said. “…Let’s show the nation and let’s show the world that New Jersey citizens are capable of having an honest and intelligent debate about a social issue of immense importance.” (Friedman, PolitickerNJ)

Marriage equality legislation clears Senate Judiciary committee

Advocates of marriage equality savored a victory tonight after the Senate Judiciary Committee voted to pass same sex marriage legislation on to the full senate. The vote was seven in favor and six opposed. The bill's ultimate passage, however, is far from certain. The Senate will take it up on Thursday in a vote that is expected to be close and not strictly along partisan lines. Two Democrats on the Judiciary Committee voted against forwarding the bill for a vote of the full Senate – Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Paul Sarlo (D-Wood-ridge) and Vice Chair John Girgenti (D-Hawthorne), while one Republican – state Sen. Bill Baroni (R-Hamilton) voted in favor of moving it.The committee also unanimously voted to accept Baroni's amendment expanding the scope of protection from legal culpability for refusing to perform, give space or solemnize gay marriages from just clergy to religious societies, institutions and organizations. Baroni called it the "most profound, far reaching religious protection amendment anywhere in the country." State Sen. Christopher "Kip" Bateman – who was said to be a possible vote in favor of the legislation until he faced conservative pushback – tried to find a middle ground, saying that although he would voted against the legislation, he would work to rectify shortcomings in the current civil union law. (Friedman, PolitickerNJ)

In Trenton, Palmer says it’s his time to go

Even though it was out there in the political beehive that Trenton Mayor Doug Palmer wouldn't pursue a sixth term next year, until he actually made a formal announcment today saying he's done, a lot of insiders pictured him not being able to say goodbye. Surely at the last moment, he would jump on top of his desk and refuse to let go. But whether in elected office or not, Palmer said his dedication to the town of his birth remains the same."No matter what I do, Trenton is me, and I'm Trenton," said the retiring pol. "The people in this city helped mold me and helped give me the character and values to be mayor. I hope and pray the people vying for this job truly understand that this is a real commitment and it will take real perseverance. There are always problems in any city – it's about how a person goes about managing them." Palmer's been a fixture in the mayor's office for nearly 20 years -just the third executive since 1962, when New Jersey's capital city went to a strong mayor's form of government. But it's happening. He's going. With more than a half a year left on the clock, Palmer today didn't want to talk about his legacy or his future in a conversation with (Pizarro, PolitickerNJ)

Newark will host much of N.J. Gov.-elect Chris Christie's inauguration events

Gov.-elect Chris Christie will spend most of his Inauguration Day in Newark after campaigning on a pledge to focus on New Jersey’s aging urban areas, according to two people with direct knowledge of the plans. Christie and his transition team have decided that his Inauguration Day schedule will begin with a morning Mass at Cathedral Basilica of the Sacred Heart, headquarters of the Newark Archdiocese, and conclude with an evening event at the Prudential Center arena. Details are to be released as early as Tuseday, but have not yet been made public. Christie has only said he will take the legal oath of office Jan. 19 at the War Memorial in Trenton. Transition officials in the past five days have worked on details for the Inauguration Day events, which will see Christie — a Newark native — and his family return to the state’s largest city after the noontime swearing in. There will be no inaugural parade in Trenton. Dress for the nighttime affair will be suits and ties as opposed to tuxedos and gowns in deference to those New Jersey families suffering economic distress, Christie said last week. The ball will not be a sit-down dinner, but instead a smorgasbord with a "Taste of New Jersey" theme designed to highlight cuisine from around the Garden State. (Margolin, Star Ledger)

Senate panel in NJ approves gay marriage bill

The battle over same-sex marriage in New Jersey headed toward a legislative showdown Monday night, when a bill that would allow such unions narrowly cleared a key legislative committee and was set for a vote by the full State Senate.The 7-to-6 vote by the Senate Judiciary Committee — which came after years of efforts by gay rights advocates and a day of emotionally charged testimony by dozens of supporters and opponents of the bill — was the first time any legislative body in the state had ever approved a gay marriage bill. The approval brought cheers from hundreds of supporters who crammed the State House committee room. But the measure faces an uphill fight when it is put up for a vote on Thursday before the full Senate, where even supporters concede that they do not yet have the 21 votes needed to pass it. If it does pass, it will go to the Assembly, where passage is considered more likely. Speaking to jubilant supporters after the vote, Steven Goldstein, executive director of Garden State Equality, said that gay rights advocates had a lot of work to do in the next 72 hours, but said that momentum and history were on their side. “The marriage-equality movement in America starts again right here,” Mr. Goldstein said, as the crowd erupted with, “Right here.” But opponents of the bill said they had expected the committee to approve it and were confident that it would be defeated when it reached the Senate floor. (Kocieniewski, New York Times)

Editorial: NJ Attorney General Anne Milgram picked up the pace on corruption

There was a time, a generation back, when state prosecutors kept pace with federal prosecutors in the fight against political corruption. That balance tipped over time, to the point where nearly every significant case was coming out of the U.S. Attorney’s Office, with the FBI as lead investigators. The problem is that the feds need help. Sadly, there is plenty of corruption to go around. Former U.S. attorney Chris Christie, now the governor-elect, often encouraged the state to pick up its pace, saying there were enough fish in this pond for both offices to feast. Attorney General Anne Milgram must have heard that call. Her most recent move was the indictment of five more campaign workers on voting fraud charges in Essex County’s 29th Legislative District during the 2007 election of Democratic Sen. Teresa Ruiz. Among those charged was Samuel Gonzalez, a Democratic freeholder and Ruiz’s husband. That case goes squarely at the Democratic establishment in Essex, one of the party’s pillars. So much for those who said a Democratic administration would never kill its own. Milgram has begun to right the balance between the state and federal efforts. The feds still have the lead by far, but that’s no great surprise. They offer better salaries, they have larger staffs, and the FBI reports to them. (Star-Ledger)

Mulshine: Why not trust the people? Put the N.J. measure on the ballot

The people who showed up by the hundreds in the Statehouse yesterday wearing those matching T-shirts that read "Garden State Marriage Equality" all seem like sincere enough sorts. But they’re up against an intractable problem: They’re looking for a moral victory. But there are no moral victories in a lame-duck session. The term "lame-duck" originated in the London stock market of the 1800s to describe a trader who’d gone broke and could not repay his debts. The term was picked up by Americans to describe an equally dubious character, a politician who has lost an election but still has some time left in office. During that time such a politician, though "lame," can still do a lot of damage. The reason the political version of this term did not arise in Britain, by the way, is that the Brits wisely dissolve their parliament before the elections. But we Americans have a nasty habit of permitting our politicians to remain in office for weeks and even months after the voters have rendered their verdict. In the case of our governor, that verdict is clear. Democrat Jon Corzine campaigned as a backer of same-sex marriage. Republican Chris Christie campaigned as an opponent. The voters chose Christie. Ergo, to the extent the voters can be said to have considered the issue of same-sex marriage, they rejected it.(Mulshine, Star Ledger)

New Jersey will apply for federal stimulus money for education

The Corzine administration reversed course Monday and said it would apply in January for the first round of competition for federal stimulus money that could bring more than $200 million to New Jersey’s public schools. The change in direction came after reports in The Record revealed that the state’s decision to wait for the second round had upset some educators who were afraid New Jersey might lose out. Stiff competition for $4.35 billion in Race to the Top funds is designed to spur major reform. Last week the New Jersey Department of Education said it would sit out the first round so that incoming Governor Chris Christie could set his own agenda in applying for the grant in the second round in June. The first deadline is Jan. 19, the day Christie takes office. Although New Jersey was one of the few states planning to skip the upcoming round, the department repeatedly insisted that the state had nothing to lose by waiting. However, advocates, lawmakers and Christie’s own transition team criticized the department for delaying amid concerns that the state might lose out on money it sorely needs. On Monday Education Commissioner Lucille Davy said her staff would now work with the transition team to get the application ready for January. (Brody/Alex, The Record)

Ingle: Cryan shows what a hack he is

Nothing speaks to the quality and character of the people the Legislature selects as leadership better than this: Assemblyman Joe Cryan, who will be the majority leader in the upcoming Legislature, is proposing that a governor’s reorganization plan cannot take effect unless approved by the Legislature within 60 days of transmittal. What’s Cryan afraid of? That Chris Christie might can some of his hanger-on trough-swilling buddies? Is he afraid Christie might keep his word and cut government down to size? Cryan, who also is state Democratic Party chairman and a deputy sheriff in addition to being in the Assembly, is slapping the face of every voter who pulled the lever for Christie. There is no need for this legislation and certainly no need to rush it now. Currently, executive reorganization plans become effective after they’re filed by the governor. Any lawmaker who touches this should be targeted for defeat. We’ll keep you posted. (Ingle, Gannett)

Another council member steps down in Middlesex Borough

For the second time in less than three weeks, a Borough Council member has resigned. Councilman Robert Edwards, a Democrat, delivered his letter of resignation to Borough Clerk Kathleen Anello on Friday, according to Ron DiMura, the borough's Democratic chairman. DiMura said Edwards cited a new job and a resulting schedule change as the reason for his departure. Edwards had been absent from council meetings in recent weeks and DiMura said he was not surprised by the resignation."It was something that needed to be dealt with because of his absenteeism," he said. Michael Venuto, another Democrat, resigned from the council on Nov. 19. Venuto's term ends at year's end and he did not seek re-election. The Borough Council will meet Tuesday to formally accept Edwards' letter of resignation. At that point, the borough's Democratic Committee will have 15 days to submit three possible replacements to the Borough Council. DiMura said he plans to submit that list by Thursday. (Kaltwasser, Gannett)

DRPA unveils proposed 2010 budget

In an "austere" budget with no pay increases scheduled for most of its workers, the Delaware River Port Authority plans to spend $295.7 million in 2010, a 5 percent increase over this year's $281.5 million operating budget. Most of the increase will go for higher payments on the DRPA's growing debt. The proposed budget for actually operating the four Delaware River toll bridges and the PATCO commuter trains is $129.9 million, up 1.2 percent. The proposed capital budget, for such things as bridge maintenance and PATCO railcar improvements, is $142 million, up from $104 million this year. DRPA officials unveiled the proposed 2010 budgets yesterday. The agency's board is to vote on the budgets tomorrow. John Matheussen, chief executive of the DRPA, called the new budgets "very lean" and described them as "reflective of what the entire economy is going through." The operating budget will keep salaries and wages at 2009 levels, except for 230 PATCO train operators and mechanics represented by the Teamsters union, whose contract provides for a 3 percent wage hike in 2010. Contracts for the DRPA's three other groups of union-represented employees expire at the end of this month, and chief financial officer John Hanson said, "it is not our intent to negotiate any contract increases." (Nussbaum, Inquirer)

6 charged with forgery in anti-Stack files

Six people have been charged with forging and distributing a flyer that pretends to be a letter from Mayor Brian Stack apologizing for alleged shortcomings, police said yesterday. Acting on a tip, the six people were arrested at 9:30 p.m. Friday as they distributed the flyer – titled "Formal Apology" – in the TD Bank parking lot at 3601 Kennedy Blvd., said Union City Police Chief Charles Everett. They were charged with forgery, falsifying records, harassment, and violating the city ordinance against distributing flyers, Everett said. The group includes Stack's longtime political nemesis Frank Scarafile Jr., who ran unsuccessfully for a commissioner's seat three years ago. "This is your basic political retaliation in Union City," Scarafile said yesterday. "Naturally, we take any charges seriously." The 50-year-old Sip Street resident said he could not comment further until he knows more about the charges. The former principal of Emerson High School in Union City from 2000 to 2003, Scarafile has been superintendent of schools in Little Ferry for seven years. The flyer, which had already been given out on the 600 block of 36th and 37th streets, refers to the mayor's public and personal life, and was apparently designed to destroy the mayor's reputation, said Everett, who did not release a copy of the leaflet. Stack was shown a copy of the leaflet and confirmed he did not write it, nor did he authorize its production, police said. (Conte, Jersey Journal)

Prosecutors fight motions on Joe Ferriero’s behalf

Former Bergen County Democratic boss Joe Ferriero was properly indicted and convicted on federal corruption charges, prosecutors say in urging a judge to reject the latest battery of defense motions seeking his acquittal, or a new trial. In a 57-page reply brief filed late Friday, Assistant U.S. Attorneys Thomas J. Calcagni and Rachael A. Honig argue there was ample evidence to support the jury’s Oct. 22 finding that Ferriero conspired with Dennis J. Oury in a scheme to exploit Oury’s position as the borough attorney in Bergenfield in 2002 to profit from a grants-writing business they secretly owned. Ferriero was found guilty of conspiring to use the U.S. mails in a scheme to defraud Bergenfield and its citizens of their right to Oury’s honest services as borough attorney, and two of seven mail fraud counts. Oury, who never disclosed his financial stake in Governmental Grants Consulting to the council, nor disqualified himself from matters involving the firm, pleaded guilty on the eve of trial to the conspiracy count and failing to file a tax return. He later testified that he and Ferriero kept their roles hidden while marketing the firm to towns where they had connections. (Sampson, The Record) Morning News Digest: December 8, 2009