Morning News Digest: January 13, 2010

Oliver’s call for vote on auditor sparks sudden battle at joint session

 The Statehouse mood this afternoon turned sour, and in the words of some of her allies, cast a pall over her historic rollout as the first African American woman in the state’s history, when newly sworn-in Speaker Sheila Oliver (D-East Orange) abruptly called for a vote to appoint Steven Eellis as state auditor. The call for action in the joint chamber following lame duck Gov. Jon Corzine’s farewell address, sparked surprise from legislators, and Senate Minority leader Thomas Kean (R-Westfield) objected to the motion, subsequently sparking a press corps feeding frenzy around the Republican leader and melting down smiles on the faces of a bipartisan leadership team that had otherwise been ceremonially buoyant all day. Newly sworn-in Senate Majority Leader Barbara Buono (D-Metuchen) interpreted Kean’s dumbstruck response to a procedural vote as counter productive. “There’s a lot of rhetoric about working together in a bipartisan way, but this really poisons the well,” said Buono. “(The Republicans) blew a procedural issue out of proportion. It’s very disappointing. I’m offended that a procedural rule was used to try to embarrass (the new speaker). This can’t continue.” Kean stood his ground. “My objection was not about the individual’s qualifications,” said the minority leader. “My simple question was about procedure and why there wasn’t proper notice. Senate Majority LeaderBuono and (Assembly Majority Leader Joe) Cryan agreed with me that there wasn’t proper notice. With all due respect, what was biting about asking for a point of personal privilege to ask what was going on? Mr. Eellis received bipartisan support in the past. He is a career professional who does his job well. This is not about that, it’s about 120 members of the legislature not being given any notice this was happening today.” Kean said today’s outcome – jointly delaying consideration ofEellis until March 16 – was the proper one. Eellis will continue as acting auditor until then. “The exact right thing happened in the end,” said the minority leader. Buono pointed out that Kean sat on the commission signing off on Eellis, and so questioned his explanation. But veteran state Sen. Ronald L. Rice (D-Newark) didn’t, defending Kean from across the aisle. (Pizarro, PolitickerNJ)

 Sweeney makes preparations for swearing-in

 A roar from the gallery and down below on the floor greets the imposing, suspenders-clad figure of Sen. Steve Sweeney (D-West Deptford), an ironworker turned lawmaker who is briefly visible outside the second floor senate president’s office moments before he gets sworn-in as the senate president in this 214th session of the legislature. He poses for pictures in the ante-chamber of his office with members of the Gloucester County Freeholder Board. “Gloucester County has moved up in the world,” says Sweeney. “Senator,” says an aide, in between camera flashes, “it’s time.” Outgoing Senate President Richard Codey (D-Roseland) swoops past on his way to his old digs, and moments later, Sweeney materializes downstairs where a bearded Senate Minority Leader Tom Kean (R-Westfield) jaws with him on one side of the rostrum and the senate is right at the edge of the Sweeney era. Now the bagpipes sound and the ceremony begins. “I nominate Sen. Kevin J. O’Toole for the office of temporary senate president,” says Sen. M. Teresa Ruiz (D-Newark). An ally of Ruiz’s mentor, North Ward Democratic Committee Chairman Steve Adubato, Ruiz’s move to put O’Toole on the throne of power and his subsequent appearance on the rostrum has the double impact of wounding outgoing Senate President Richard Codey (D-Roseland) and flexing the long arm political muscle of Adubato’s organization. Having fulfilled that function over the course of several minutes, O’Toole hands off to Sweeney, who, still operating in his role as senate majority leader, swears in Sen. Nia Gill (D-Montclair) as president pro tempore. (Pizarro, PolitickerNJ)

Burlington Dem feud boils over

 Alice Furia, the acting chairwoman of the Burlington County Democratic Committee, is not ready to concede to Assemblyman Herb Conaway’s (D-Delanco) push to hold an election for county chairman on February 4. In a memo to county committee members she plans to send today, Furia calls a previous letter Conaway sent to them about the upcoming election “null and void.” “In my 35 years experience with elections, we as a party have never had a candidate call the election, pick the date, time and place,” said Furia. “This was done in a very improper manner.” Burlington County Democratic leaders had originally planned to hold Furia over as acting chairwoman until June, when the party would elect a successor for a full two-year term. But at Thursday night’s county committee meeting, Conaway pushed for and narrowly passed a resolution to bump the election up to Feb. 4. Furia said that proper protocol was not followed because she and members of the committee were not given a paper copy of Conaway’s resolution beforehand. Instead, she said, the resolution was read aloud, quickly. Those who showed up to support Conaway had a copy of the resolution, Furia said, but nobody else did. “The people that voted on it did not have a copy of it to know what they were voting on,” she said. The Burlington County Democratic Committee has been in turmoil since August, when former chairman Rick Perr resigned over his involvement in a controversial political action committee. The feud between Furia, Conaway and their allies has at times boiled down into a he-said, she-said spat. Today, Furia denied Conaway’s claim that she asked him to run for chairman, and gave a different account of the Nov. 17 meeting with Conaway and Riverside Municipal Chairman Gary Haman. Conaway, she said, called her on November 14 to offer to pay the rent on a new headquarters for the party. “When he said to me that he would pay for that, he didn’t blink an eye, and Herb is kind of tight with his money,” said Furia, who said she instantly suspected that Conaway was interested in running for chairman. Three days later, Conaway, Furia and Haman met at Furia’s home for less than an hour. According to Furia, Conaway outlined some party officers he wanted to replace and discussed who would support his bid for the chairmanship. Furia said that neither she nor Haman pledged to support Conaway. (Friedman, PolitickerNJ)

Outgoing N.J. Gov. Corzine’s State of the State addresses the economy, legacy in office

In the final sweep of his last state-of-the-state address, Gov. Jon Corzine discussed the values that drove him, a multi-millionaire “old-time banker,” to get into politics. “For me, deficits should be measured in more than dollars and cents,” he said. “There are also deficits of decency, opportunity, security, and hope. Deficits that can threaten our future as gravely or even worse than a failure on a balance sheet. It is this belief that guided my every action over the past four years. If we fail to invest in our children, if we shirk our responsibility to provide them with the full blessings of citizenship, then we don’t just fall short in our moral responsibility, we undermine our long-term future for selfish, generational gain,” he said. He spoke about the “cornerstone” of his legacy – improving education, holding out Oliver Street school in Newark and Park Avenue elementary school in Orange as examples. “These new schools aren’t just abstractions in a debate,” he said. “They offer hope to the lives of real people, to our kids. … New Jersey’s students out-perform the rest of the nation in reading, writing, and math. They graduate and attend college at rates that exceed those of nearly every other state in the nation.” Corzine talked about the 100,000 children who were added to Family Care, a health insurance program for the working poor. “These are the priorities I have championed as your governor,” he said. Corzine called New Jersey a “beacon for progressive government” by tripling the number of housing vouchers, adding food assistance, adding paid leave time for workers who are taking care of sick relatives or new children, and passing legislation such as access to medical marijuana. He reiterated his support for gay marriage, saying he had listened to the “compelling argument that separate institutions can never be equal.” “Marriage equality, in my view, is an idea whose time has come,” he said. He choked up in tears as he neared the end of his speech, which lasted 35 minutes and during which he was interrupted by applause 22 times. “I didn’t accomplish everything I set out to do. I didn’t execute the job flawlessly,” he said. “I’m certainly not as quick with a quip as Gov. Byrne. Or as polished a politician as Governor Kean. But I tried and, I hope, in some good measure, succeeded in making this state a more humane place for its children and families.” With that, the entire room – consisting of Supreme Court judges, ex-governors, the state Assembly, the state Senate, his cabinet and others – stood and applauded. As a coda, Corzine described watching President John F. Kennedy’s inauguration when he was 14 years old. (Fleisher, Star Ledger)

 N.J. Governor Admits Failure on Tax Burden

In a farewell address tinged with more wistfulness than Wall Street bravado, New Jersey Gov. Jon S. Corzine on Tuesday acknowledged his inability to solve the state’s mounting fiscal problems and said he hoped that he would be remembered for his commitment to the state’s children. Mr. Corzine a former chief executive at Goldman Sachs who has referred to himself as an old banker, expressed regret that he was unable to provide enough government streamlining and economic growth to ease New Jersey’s persistent budget deficits and onerous tax burden as the state struggles through the recession. Before a joint session of the State Legislature for his fourth and final State of the State address, Mr. Corzine bluntly admitted that he was leaving behind the same problem he had inherited: “Let’s face it: Everyone’s property taxes are too damn high.” But Mr. Corzine said he was proud to have made enduring improvements to the lives of millions of the state’s most vulnerable residents by dedicating billions to rebuild dilapidated schools, paying for preschool education for 50,000 children and health care for 100,000 children. “As a father and a grandfather,” he said, his voice wavering, “I believe that the first priority of government after providing for domestic safety must be to protect the health and welfare of our children. That means all of our children. Not just those who were fortunate enough to be born into strong and loving families. Not just those whose parents have wherewithal.” Mr. Corzine, who was never warmly embraced by the state’s Democrat establishment, which he helped bankroll, was greeted by sustained applause when he entered the chamber and a polite, though hardly rousing, standing ovation. While his voice appeared to break at several points during the 30-minute address, there were few other signs of emotion outside the rows where Mr. Corzine’s family and closest friends were seated. The governor did not hesitate to thank the elected officials gathered there for their bipartisanship and teamwork. He praised lawmakers for helping to pay for a new tunnel for commuter trains to Manhattan, approving a ban on so-called pay-to-play, instituting other ethics reforms, making the state a leader in wind and solar energy, and financing programs to help former convicts adjust to society. Mr. Corzine offered congratulations to Governor-elect Christopher J. Christie, who defeated him in November, and urged the state’s residents to unite behind him. But he also challenged Mr. Christie not to close the state’s $8 billion budget deficit on the backs of its neediest residents. “For example, we can all understand that scaling back Family Care could bring budget savings in the here and now, but that might well come at a steep cost in the not-too-distant future in children’s lives,” he said. “Under-resourcing our new education funding formula might help balance the books today, but it will limit our children tomorrow while running the risk of a return to court-mandated educational policies.” (Kociniewski, New York Times)

N.J. Gov. Corzine signs bill changing waiting period for state officials to take casino jobs

 As members of his own administration search for new jobs — and the incoming governor tries to fill his cabinet — Gov. Jon Corzine today signed a law permitting former state officials to go to work for companies that do business with casinos. Corzine signed the bill (S3163) along with several others that cleared the Legislature on the final day of its lame-duck session Monday. The legislation allows law firms and other companies that do business with casinos to continue that work after they hire former state employees, but it imposes a two-year waiting period during which the ex-state employees themselves cannot deal with casinos. The bill cleared the Senate 23-11 and Assembly 42-31, despite the objections of lawmakers who said it would pose conflicts and bridge the longstanding divide between government and Atlantic City casinos. “It is wrong in a state that deals with so much corruption,” said Assemblyman Vincent Polistina (R-Atlantic). “It is wrong for the industry, it is wrong for Atlantic City, it is wrong for the state of New Jersey.” Supporters said the old rules were antiquated and prevent qualified people from going into government for fear of being restricted when they leave. “There was criticism that this was done to help leaving administration employees leave and find something else,” said Assemblywoman Joan Quigley (D-Hudson), who sponsored the bill along with Sens. Raymond Lesniak (D-Union) and Bill Baroni (R-Mercer). “It’s also being done to help the new administration attract employees who may not want to spend the rest of their careers in government.” Quigley and Lesniak said they were asked to propose the bill by Corzine’s office but not as a favor for any particular official. Critics said the bill was designed for Jerold Zaro, Corzine’s economic czar and a friend of Gov.-elect Chris Christie’s. “It looks like the administration wanted to open up the revolving door for a golden parachute,” said Jeff Tittel, head of the Sierra Club’s New Jersey chapter who has clashed with Zaro on environmental moves. Zaro said he has “no present plans” after leaving government but declined to elaborate. He stressed “the public is protected” by the two-year waiting period. “This is a favor to the people of the state and future governors,” he said today. (Heininger/Margolin, Star Ledger)

 In final address, N.J. Gov. Corzine defends legacy, acknowledges promises unkept

One of the most accomplished businessmen to ever hold the New Jersey governorship said farewell Tuesday in a wistful speech that defended his legacy but acknowledged promises unkept. Governor Corzine invoked Napoleon, Martin Luther King and two of the late Kennedy brothers to mark the conclusion of 10 tumultuous years in New Jersey politics even as he admitted his leadership was not equal the tasks he undertook as the 54th governor. He spoke for 35 minutes, was interrupted for applause 22 times and choked back tears to close his final State of the State address. “As a 14-year-old kid, watching JFK’s inauguration, I could never have imagined that I’d one day enjoy the awesome privilege of serving in the United States Senate with his youngest brother,” Corzine, who was a senator before becoming governor, told a jampacked Assembly chamber in Trenton. “My friend Ted Kennedy taught me a lot about public life.” Corzine cast his administration in Ted Kennedy’s famous quote from the 1980 Democratic National Convention. “Bruised but not beaten, in words far more eloquent than I could ever summon he said: ‘For all those whose cares have been our concern the work goes on … the cause endures … the hope still lives … and the dream shall never die,’” Corzine said. “As I leave Trenton for the next chapter in my life, you can be sure that I will always continue to speak up for the principles that I championed in the public square. When it comes to standing up for a kinder, more progressive world, when it comes to raising my voice for our children who represent our common future, your cause still endures in my heart … And your dream of a more just and equal world will never die.” A self-made millionaire who led storied investment bank Goldman Sachs, Corzine traded in a view of the New York Stock Exchange for a seat in the U.S. Senate in 2001. Five years later, became governor after campaigning on the pledge he could fix the state’s longstanding fiscal woes. On Nov. 3, New Jersey voters rejected the Democrat in favor of Republican Chris Christie. In the weeks since the election, Christie continued hammering Corzine for his spending and management patterns as the outgoing governor stressed important accomplishments not fully communicated. (Heininger/Margolin, The Record)

Sheila Oliver becomes first African-American female speaker of N.J. Assembly

 Sheila Oliver became New Jersey’s first black female Assembly Speaker this afternoon at a swearing-in ceremony at the Trenton War Memorial near the Statehouse. After New Jersey Chief Justice Stuart Rabner administered the oath of office at 1:10 p.m., Oliver (D-Essex) received a standing ovation from her Assembly colleagues and audience members who filled the auditorium. “It goes without saying that this is an overwhelming and historic day,” Oliver said. “I will work very hard every day for the people of New Jersey and I vow to make certain that your faith in me will be rewarded.” Oliver paid tribute to people who inspired her when she was growing up in Essex County: Shirley Chisholm, the first black female elected to Congress, and Fanny Lou Hamer, a civil rights leader who was not permitted to join the Democratic National Convention in Atlantic City in 1964. “She did not take this sitting down,” Oliver said, who recalled watching the convention coverage. “Her words reached a young girl sitting in her Essex County living room.” Oliver succeeds former Assembly Speaker Joseph Roberts (D-Camden), who retired as of noon today, when the 213th Legislature expired. She will lead the 80-seat lower house. In formally nominating Oliver for Speaker, Assemblywoman Nellie Pou (D-Passaic) predicted Oliver would “make history throughout her tenure.” “Her achievement is a celebration of our diversity,” Pou said. Republican Gov.-elect Chris Christie and Lt. Gov.-elect Kim Guadagno attended the ceremony, as well as many of the state’s top Democrats: former Govs. Brendan Byrne and Jim Florio, U.S. Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.), and U.S. Reps.Frank Pallone (D-6th District), Donald Payne (D-10th), Rush Holt (D-12th), and Albio Sires (D-13th). (Livio/Graber/Ackermann, Star Ledger)

Sen. Stephen Sweeney sworn in as N.J. Senate president

Sen. Stephen Sweeney was sworn in as Senate president today, making him the second most powerful leader in New Jersey government and the highest-ranking official in the Democratic party. Sweeney, 50, replaces Sen. Richard Codey, 63, who he ousted in a sweeping political power play. In his first remarks after taking the oath of office, Sweeney vowed to prioritize fiscal responsibility and economic growth. “The state needs a total makeover,” he said. The Senate president, responsible for steering legislation and enforcing party discipline, controls which bills and appointments reach the chamber for a vote. Codey (D-Essex) lost control of the Senate presidency in the fall when Democrats, including key senators from North Jersey, backed Sweeney (D-Gloucester). The leadership switch was put in motion following the retirement announcement of Assembly Speaker Joseph Roberts (D-Camden). Sweeney secured support by working with Codey opponents and Essex County political leaders such as county executive Joseph DiVincenzo and power broker Stephen Adubato Sr. In return, Assemblywoman Sheila Oliver (D-Essex) was backed to become the next Assembly speaker. Sen. Nicholas Scutari (D-Union) was one of the lawmakers who backed Sweeney. “He’s an aggressive agent for change,” he said. “We need that.” Sweeney was officially nominated by a vote of the 23-member Democratic caucus in November, while all 17 Republican senators backed Sen. Tom Kean (R-Union). Today senators confirmed Sweeney as Senate president by a unanimous vote, 36-0. When the vote was announced, Sweeney’s daughter wrapped her arms around him and planted a kiss on his cheek while senators gave him a standing ovation. (Megerian, Star Ledger)

 N.J. Sen. President Stephen Sweeney discusses goals in his post

The walls are still bare in Sen. Stephen Sweeney’s new office overlooking the Statehouse’s Senate chamber. “I don’t know where my stuff is,” he said, glancing around the room. Hours after being sworn in as Senate president, Sweeney (D-Gloucester) sat down for an interview with reporters to discuss his goals as the state Democratic Party’s top official. That includes not passing on big votes. Sweeney said he should have voted for gay marriage instead of abstaining when the bill failed 20-14 last week. “Leaders don’t take passes,” he said. “I’ve never done it in my life, and I regret not voting for it.” Asked why he abstained, Sweeney, a Catholic, said he struggled with the issue and didn’t want to vote for the bill when it didn’t have enough support to pass. “I was really torn with my beliefs,” he said. “Part of me was thinking, we’re going to take this vote, and it’s not going to happen, and I’m not going to have anything to show for it.” Sweeney also ticked off other policy objectives, including consolidating government services. He also wants to repair the state’s pension system with a constitutional amendment requiring the state to make regular payments into the struggling fund. “We must re-engineer New Jersey’s business model, and we must provide incentives for job creation in the private sector as we reduce jobs in the public sector,” he said in a speech earlier in the day. “We must reduce the size of government.” The goals echoed the fiscal conservatism of the incoming Republican governor, Chris Christie, who was in the audience when Sweeney was sworn in. Sweeney took the Senate presidency from Codey by forming a coalition of northern and southern New Jersey senators. The deal also installed Sheila Oliver (D-Essex) becoming Assembly speaker. Codey said Sweeney will have to serve as the “watchdog” now that the governor is from the opposing party. “If you bark too much, everyone tunes you out,” he said. “You have to pick your spots.” Christie chose Statehouse veteran Richard Bagger as his chief of staff last month, signaling his desire for a working relationship with the Legislature. Sweeney, a regional director for a national ironworkers’ union, said it’s beneficial to have strong people on all sides of the debate. “I negotiate for a living,” he said. “You hope that when the other team comes in, they bring the best people to run the government.” (Megerian, Star Ledger)

N.J.’s new legislative leaders set targets on property taxes

 Newly sworn legislative leaders revived a forgotten list of money-saving ideas Tuesday, saying its recommendations may solve New Jersey’s most vexing problem: property taxes. Most of that list’s 98 recommendations — from a 2006 special legislative session on property-tax reform — were never enacted. Lawmakers now say that session’s findings still could reduce the country’s highest property taxes. Today, the average New Jersey property tax bill is $7,045, the highest in the country. North Jersey’s burden is even greater, an average $8,500. “We hear the public and we know what the main issue is, and it is property taxes,” said Assemblywoman Valerie Vainieri Huttle, D-Englewood. “I think this has to be the topic of the day for the next two years.” Lawmakers in both houses — which swore in new members and elected new leadership — said they were eager to return to reports from that special session. Governor Corzine had campaigned on tax relief and called the special session, which met during lawmakers’ traditional summer recess. Corzine, in his final State of the State address, said he, too, was frustrated. “Let’s call it like it is: Everybody’s property taxes are too damn high. They are,” he told Assembly and Senate members. Senate Majority Leader Barbara Buono, D-Middlesex, said the special session’s work won’t go ignored. “It’s our responsibility to make the major repairs that need to be made to our broken property-tax system,” said Buono, speaking for the first time in her new role. Steve Sweeney, the Gloucester County Democrat who now is Senate president, said he will focus on consolidating redundant services to find savings for property taxpayers. That idea was among the 2006 recommendations. Sweeney has been pushing consolidation initiatives using his home county as a test market for pilot programs, including one that created a countywide tax assessment system instead of the current practice, which relies on hiring tax assessors in nearly every municipality. “We will have to find ways to make government do more with less,” he said. “We can no longer ignore the savings we can create by consolidating government services.” “I’m somebody that will not shy away from a good fight,” he said. Sweeney is taking over a leadership post that had been held by Sen. Richard J. Codey, D-Essex, since 2004. Codey’s tenure brought the implementation of 4 percent spending caps on local governments that were designed to control property taxes where they are driven — at the local level. (Reitmeyer/Young, Star Ledger)

Editorial: The Corzine Years – History will be kinder than the polls

On the day Gov. Jon Corzine said goodbye, a new poll showed he is more unpopular than ever, as if people want to kick him on his way out the door. He deserves some of that. He is not a talented politician, and the warm personality his friends describe rarely showed itself in public. His convoluted style of speaking was a crippling defect. He often seemed more loyal to public employee unions than he was to the taxpayer. He used his personal fortune to buy political friends, a habit that crippled his efforts to clean up the state’s politics. And he backed away from too many fights. But let’s give the man his due: He is a thoroughly decent human being in a state where a lot of pols are not. He was always guided by a powerful drive to help those in need, especially children. And he worked on the job nonstop when he could have been lounging on a yacht in the Caribbean while his staff peeled grapes for him. History will be far kinder to Corzine than the latest polls would lead you to believe. He will not go down as a great governor. But let’s not forget his accomplishments. He was a liberal who could do the math. He reduced state spending for two consecutive years, and in one term deposited more into the state pension fund than other governors did in the previous 15 years combined. He negotiated tough contracts with state workers and forced them to share health costs for the first time. While previous governors complained about the Abbott decision on school funding, Corzine changed it. He persuaded the Legislature to divert more aid to middle-class towns, and then persuaded the Supreme Court to give its blessing. He cut taxes on the working poor and expanded health coverage to another 100,000 needy children. He finally fixed the agency charged with protecting children from abuse and finding them adoptive homes. And he expanded and improved preschool programs to great effect. He established paid family leave, abolished the death penalty, and appointed record numbers of women and minorities to judgeships and other posts. He signed a law providing civil unions for gay couples, a big step forward even if it did fall shy of full equality. This week, he signed a reform that softens the destructive law mandating long prison terms for nonviolent drug offenders, and another that removed barriers to their successful return to society. He forged an agreement with Washington and New York to build a new tunnel under the Hudson River, the state’s most pressing infrastructure need. And he broke stubborn opposition in the Legislature to win passage of ethics reforms that at least nudge us in the right direction. Yes, that list leaves a lot undone. Property taxes remain a nightmare. And to say he was better on the budget than his predecessors is not saying much. We remain in a deep hole. Corzine’s biggest move stands out as perhaps his worst: the clumsy attempt to raise tolls in order to pay down the state debt. That was not a terrible idea, and it’s worth noting that no one else has come up with a better one. But Corzine blew the politics badly. When he played professor at his 21 town meetings, you wanted to shield your eyes from the spectacle. (Star Ledger)

Stile: Corzine is leaving his stamp on NJ, despite missteps

A departing governor now nervous about his own place in history invoked Theodore F. Randolph, a forgotten Reconstruction-era governor of New Jersey. “I don’t know where his portrait hangs,” Governor Corzine said Tuesday in his final State of the State speech, recalling a visit to a dilapidated Newark school built in 1869, Randolph’s first year in office. “Probably right where mine soon will be.” That’s not going to happen. Corzine’s portrait — assuming he’ll sit for one — will likely find a prominent wall-space in the governor’s outer office, near modern predecessors Codey, McGreevey, Whitman and Florio. The brush-whiskered Randolph — best remembered for inventing a stitching machine and a steam typewriter — peers out from a quiet nook on the State House rotunda’s second floor. Nor will the rocky Corzine tenure be a forgotten footnote. Corzine will leave an indelible stamp on New Jersey life almost in spite of his political ineptitude, his failure to connect with voters and his misguided decision to recruit equally obtuse Goldman Sachs alumni for key spots in his administration. He will be remembered for his incomprehensible “monetization” scheme to lower state debt by raising highway tolls that would have spun Einstein’s eyes counterclockwise. Corzine’s PowerPoint presentation scared voters — and political bosses knew the plan translated into political doom. He seized the public attention with his famous weeklong government shutdown, but he let his momentum slip away — back into the status quo with his hastily arranged special session on property taxes. But Corzine also plunged into unglamorous tasks — like persuading the Supreme Court to loosen its grip on the public school funding formula — and resurfaced with hard-fought victories. He nudged the boss-controlled Legislature to ban dual office-holding for officials elected after February 2008. Future state employees will be forced to wait until age 62 before full retirement and contribute more to their health insurance plans. He curtailed the annual distribution of budget-season pork. He pushed for an annual cap on property tax increases. His attorney general, Anne Milgram, made political corruption a priority, quietly and stubbornly turning her investigative zeal on Corzine’s Democratic Party allies. None of this made Corzine popular with public employee unions who supported his election, nor the party bosses, legislators who depended on the annual pork spending or urban leaders who feared that the school funding reforms would leave them with less. They abandoned Corzine in his time of political need even though his checkbook could be counted on in their time of need. Nor did it help matters that Corzine pursued his tasks like a grim chief operating officer, feared and unpopular with his employees, not a slick politician. (Stile, The Record) Morning News Digest: January 13, 2010