Morning News Digest: January 14, 2010

Christie picks Schundler as Education Commissioner

Bret Schundler, a former Jersey City Mayor and gubernatorial candidate who attracted national attention for his support of school vouchers and charter schools, is Gov.-elect Christopher Christie’s choice to head the state Department of Education. Christie waged a public battle against the state teachers unions during his campaign for governor, and the New Jersey Education Association (NJEA) spent a huge amount of money in a bid to re-elect Gov. Jon Corzine. Christie has continued to toss barbs at the teachers union since Election Day. Schundler, 50, also feuded with the NJEA during his nine years as mayor and as the Republican nominee for governor in 2001. In 1993, a Wall Street Journal editorial identified Schundler as the National Education Association’s “Public Enemy #1” because of his school voucher initiative. “I want to save inner-city public schools by forcing them to improve,” Schundler told the WSJ, in comments echoed fifteen years later by Christie. “They may have a monopoly now, but no one enjoys working in them. They are an urban tragedy.” After graduating Harvard in 1981, Schundler worked as a congressional aide before embarking on a successful Wall Street career. He ran a strong but unsuccessful race for State Senator in the heavily Democratic 31st district in 1991, and then won a special election for mayor in Jersey City in 1992 after Gerald McCann was removed from office following his criminal conviction. Schundler was re-elected in 1993, and again in 1997 against then-Municipal Court Judge Jerramiah Healy. Schundler was the GOP nominee for governor in 2001, but lost to Democrat James E. McGreevey by a 56%-42% margin. He ran again in 2005, but was narrowly defeated in the GOP primary. He is a Professor at The Kings College, a small Christian school in Manhattan, and serves as the school’s chief operating officer. (Editor, PolitickerNJ)

Sacco in ‘wait and see’ mode on Schundler appointment

Never having honed a personal friendship or political relationship with Republican Bret Schundler when Schundler served as mayor of Jersey City, old school Democrat North Bergen Mayor/State Sen. Nicholas Sacco can’t confess to a high degree of comfort with Gov.-elect Chris Christie’s selection to run the state Department of Education. But he insists he’s open to Schundler. “It’s not surprising because of his strong school voucher support,” the 32nd District senator told “I don’t know what his expertise in education is, or whether he has any. “I’m in wait and see mode and interested to learn what type of knowledge he has,” Sacco added, before deadpanning, “I thought they might be looking toward a former superintendent of education.” Sacco serves as assistant superintendent of public schools in North Bergen. Although doubtful himself about their merits, the veteran senator said he doesn’t see himself shutting out Schundler based on the former mayor’s vouchers advocacy. “In certain organizations, teachers unions, of course, vouchers send out alarm bells,” Sacco admitted. “We would need to understand his vision on educational programs, including how he perceives the funding formulas. As you know, there was a lot of disagreement between myself and Gov. Jon Corzine on education testing programs. What does Bret Schundler feel about some of those issues? The bottom line is we need an improved school environment for kids. “I have a completely open mind,” the senator added. “I have issues i would like to talk to him about. We never really developed a personal relationship. Nothing negative, we just never really had an opportunity to work together.” (Pizarro, PolitickerNJ)

At campaign kickoff, Sipprelle makes the case that he has the resolve and means to defeat Holt

Venture capitalist Scott Sipprelle kicked off his campaign for the 12th District Republican nomination by railing against government bailouts of the financial sector, the federal deficit and foreign debt. “America needs to find a path back to job creation, a path that rewards work, innovation, and investment. But instead of empowering individuals to accomplish that goal, Washington persists in propping up bankrupt enterprises,” said Sipprelle in his speech at the Regency Hyatt, where about 150 people attended his well-choreographed event. Sipprelle, a Mercer County Republican committeeman and author of a recently published Wall Street mystery novel, has never held office before. Tonight was the first public appearance of a campaign in which he is expected to face a competitive primary from Fair Haven Mayor Michael Halfacre, who has been campaigning for the GOP nomination for the better part of a year and has already sewn up a significant amount of support from the Republican establishment. The two will then compete to take on an entrenched incumbent, U.S. Rep. Rush Holt (D-Princeton), who is running for his sixth term. Although Holt enjoys a large Democratic registration advantage in the district, Republican Gov.-elect Chris Christie beat Gov. Jon Corzine there by 10 points. Republicans acknowledge an uphill battle against Holt, but believe that they may have a shot at winning if they can harness a national Republican wave similar to the one in 1994. Since the 2002 redistricting, Holt has consistently won reelection against nominal Republican challenges. Despite his background as a hedge fund manager and former executive at Morgan Stanley — where, after leaving the firm he started a movement that ousted its CEO, Phil Purcell – Sipprelle struck a populist tone. He mentioned his middle-class roots, putting himself through college with student loans, called the federal deficit “a national disgrace and a sad symbol of our legislative decay,” and said that most politicians “are so focused on their own careers that they don’t listen to the concerns, the wisdom, and the solutions that bubble up from the American people living in the real world.” Halfacre, for his part, issued a press release two hours before Sipprelle’s event listing the support of over 50 elected and party officials. (Friedman, PolitickerNJ)

To lead schools, Christie picks voucher advocate

 The man once described by teachers’ union leaders as “the antithesis of everything we hold sacred about public education” was chosen to serve as state education commissioner by Governor-elect Christopher J. Christie on Wednesday. The nomination of Bret D. Schundlerto the post underscored the governor’s determination to press ahead with his push for school vouchers, morecharter schools and merit pay for teachers. It was the first selection by Mr. Christie to suggest even the possibility of a confirmation battle with Democrats, who control both houses of the Legislature. Thus far, the governor-elect has chosen nominees heavy on managerial experience, if lacking in drama or outsized personalities, and drawn bipartisan praise for his selections. Mr. Schundler, 50, was a favorite of the conservative wing of the Republican Party and a leading voice for school-choice advocates during his nine years as mayor of Jersey City, but he failed in two runs for governor, in 2001 and 2005. “We agree on the type of significant reform that needs to happen in our educational system here in New Jersey,” Mr. Christie said in making the announcement at the State House. “I want a strong, reasonable, bold leader who’s going to help me implement those policies.” Still, some of the ideas that made him a polarizing figure to unions and Democratic leaders have become more mainstream, with even President Obama signaling interest in merit pay and promoting the expansion of charter schools. On Wednesday, the teachers’ union issued a statement that refrained from criticizing the choice. His nomination — made as the Rev. Reginald Jackson, director of the Black Ministers Council, looked on approvingly — captivated New Jersey’s political class on Wednesday. “Wow! Are you serious?” Senator Raymond J. Lesniak of Elizabeth said when told of Mr. Schundler’s selection. Mr. Lesniak said he was thrilled. Mr. Lesniak, a Democrat who has broken with the powerful New Jersey Education Association in sponsoring a bill to create a pilot school-voucher program, said Mr. Schundler’s fate would depend largely on the three Democratic senators from Hudson County. The nominee’s name is submitted to those senators, as a formal courtesy, but they could break with custom and block it if they choose. (Halbfinger, New York Times)

N.J. approves $121M in special aid to distressed cities

The state approved more than $121 million for five distressed cities today, despite objections from Republicans who said the decision should wait until Gov.-elect Chris Christie takes office next week. Christie, who has criticized the move as an effort by lame-duck Gov. Jon Corzine to “keep shoveling money out the door” in the final hours of his administration, vowed to review the allocations once he becomes governor. “All options are on the table,” he said today during a Statehouse news conference. The Local Finance Board approved multi-million dollar grants for Jersey City, Union City, Paterson, Camden and Bridgeton. Mayors told panel members they needed the money to stave off steep tax hikes and prevent layoffs of public safety officials. “We’re doing everything we can to get our budget under control,” said Jersey City Mayor Jerramiah T. Healy, whose city was approved for $14 million. “We think that this aid is very much necessary.” Jersey City will furlough employees for 12 days this year to cut costs, said Healy, a Democrat. But even with the extra aid, property taxes will increase $480 this year for an average assessed home at $150,000. The increase would have nearly doubled without it, he said. State Sen. Steven Oroho (R-Sussex), a member of the budget panel, asked members to hold off on approving aid until Christie takes office. He said the state faces a $9 billion deficit. “My issue is, why is this happening today?” said Oroho. The board approved $67 million for Camden; $27 million for Paterson; $11.3 million for Union City; and $2.25 million for Bridgeton. This came days after a state legislative committee funneled $44 million into the special municipal aid fund, sparking criticism from Christies. Susan Jacobucci, Local Finance Board chair, said she believed the allocations to cities experiencing “cash flow problems” were appropriate. “This budget is Corzine’s budget,” she said. “Understand that when Gov.-elect Christie gets in, he will set his own policy.” Corzine’s administration has said spending cuts announced last month created a $550 million surplus in the budget, $500 million of which remains. The governor asked the Legislature to allocate some money from that pot to help cities struggling to pay bills. Christie has vowed to eliminate special aid for cities. He said he’ll consider each municipality’s case individually when reviewing the latest aid approvals, but did not rule out freezing the money once he takes charge. “I am told … that the governorship of New Jersey is among the most powerful in the nation. And we will see any number of times, over the course of the next four years, tests of the limits of that power,” Christie said. (Graber/Megerian, Star Ledger)

N.J. Gov- elect Christie announces new education, environmental protection chiefs

 Filling two more cabinet spots, Gov.-elect Chris Christie today announced he will nominate former Republican gubernatorial candidate Bret Schundler as education commissioner and business consultant Bob Martin as leader of the state Department of Environmental Protection. With each nomination, Christie emphasized his campaign vows to promote charter schools, combat teacher unions and protect the environment while making the state more business-friendly. Schundler, who gained national attention in the 1990s as Republican mayor of the Democratic bastion of Jersey City, is a longtime advocate of school choice. Schundler said there’s bipartisan support for charter schools and merit pay for teachers, despite opposition from the teachers’ union, the New Jersey Education Association. “We are at the moment in history … when you have politicians on both sides of the aisle willing to make changes that will make a difference in the lives of our students,” he said. Christie introduced Schundler as a public servant passionate about education. “We agree on the type of significant reform that needs to happen in our educational system here in New Jersey,” he said. “I want a strong, reasonable, bold leader, who’s going to help me implement those policies.” Schundler, currently chief operating officer at The King’s College, a Christian liberal arts school in Manhattan, lost the 2001 governor’s race to Democrat James E. McGreevey and was defeated by Doug Forrester in the 2005 GOP gubernatorial primary. His nomination was backed by Rev. Rev. Reginald Jackson, executive director of the New Jersey Black Ministers Council, and a school choice advocate. “It looks good in terms of reforming public schools and implementing school choice,” Jackson said said. “And I don’t think you can have one without the other.” Jackson said the NJEA needs to “wake up to the fact” that poor and urban families want more school choice. Steve Baker, a spokesman for the NJEA, said the organization is looking forward to working with Schundler but is opposed to taxpayer-funded private school vouchers. “We may not agree on every issue with the incoming commisioner, but we don’t want to prejudge that,” he said. Martin, Christie’s pick to head DEP, advised the governor-elect on energy and environmental policy during the campaign after retiring from the consulting firm Accenture. He said he will focus on enforcing the state’s environmental laws on clean air and water and toxic waste cleanup, but said it takes too long to award development permits and finish inspections. “We need to change and transform the DEP,” he said. “We need to make it better.” David Brogan, vice president for environmental policy at the New Jersey Business & Industry Association, said he’s encouraged. “We want to see more of a balance between economic growth and environmental protection,” he said. “Up until now, that’s been lip service.” Jeff Tittel, director of the New Jersey chapter of the Sierra Club, said he’s concerned that “streamlining” the department could result in weaker regulations. He also pointed out that Martin lacks a government and regulatory background. “We know he will be good at running the department,” he said. “The question for us is, where does he stand on the major issues?” (Star Ledger)

Christie taps new DEP commissioner

 A retired utility consultant was tapped by Governor-elect Chris Christie on Wednesday to lead the state Department of Environmental Protection — an agency that may face severe cuts by the incoming administration. Bob Martin, of Hopewell, was Christie’s energy and environmental policy advisor during the gubernatorial campaign after retiring as a partner with Accenture LLP, a business & technology consulting firm. At a State House news conference Christie said Martin was “acutely aware of the connection between economic interests and environmental interests.” Martin said his goals will include preserving open space, cleaning up toxic waste and reforming the permit process, which can drag on for years. “It takes too long to get permits through,” Martin said, echoing Christie’s criticism of the agency. “Too long to get inspections done.” If confirmed by the state Senate, Martin will take over an agency in the middle of a sea change. The DEP is slowly implementing a new program where private consultants will oversee the cleanup of 20,000 contaminated sites across the state. The DEP could also be facing job cuts. Christie said in August that the DEP would be the first place he would trim the state payroll, saying the agency often acts as a hindrance to business growth with permit delays and fines. The DEP has 3,200 employees, about 1,000 fewer than its high of 20 years ago. Christie praised Martin on Wednesday for developing his environmental platform, which centers on attracting renewable energy businesses to New Jersey. During the campaign, Christie said he would offer generous tax credits to any wind turbine and manufacturing facility that locates in New Jersey. He would also move much of the economic development efforts from the Board of Public Utilities to a new office called “Renew NJ,” which would market the state and offer loans to energy companies. David Pringle, of the advocacy group New Jersey Environmental Federation, said Martin’s experience in the private sector puts him “in a great position” to meet the challenges of the job during the budget crunch. Others said they were surprised Christie picked someone with no government or environmental experience. “You’re starting out with someone who is a good manager, which is what the DEP needs, but where he stands on the issues is the big question,” said the Sierra Club’s Jeff Tittel. Martin has never held elected office. A Republican, he ran for state Senate in Mercer County in 2007, but lost to Democratic-incumbent Shirley Turner. (Fallon/Young, The Record)

 Taking oath, Chiappone hoping new Assembly leadership will restart his pay

Despite being under indictment on corruption charges, Assemblyman Anthony Chiappone of Bayonne was one 80 members sworn in for a new term in Trenton yesterday. And according to, Chiappone wants the new Assembly speaker, Sheila Y. Oliver, to reinstate his pay, benefits and committee responsibilities. Her predecessor, Assembly Speaker Joseph Roberts, D-Camden, had cut off his pay and benefits after he was indicted in August. “There is a change in leadership with a new speaker and I am hopeful that there will be a new point of view,” Chiappone said yesterday. “They are aware that people want me in the capacity as the representative of the 31st District.” Chiappone, who represents Bayonne and a southern portion of Jersey City and is a former Bayonne councilman, was easily re-elected in November. Last month, Chiappone and his wife Diane pleaded not guilty in Mercer County Court to charges they pocketed paychecks issued to legislative aides. The Chiappones are accused of depositing state checks worth more than $7,000 issued to legislative aides into their personal bank account and Chiappone’s 2005 campaign fund. Assemblymen L. Harvey Smith, D-Jersey City, and Joseph Vas, D-Perth Amboy, were also indicted on corruption charges but did not seek re-election. Even though he’s not getting paid, Chiappone said yesterday it his responsibility to keep his Assembly office open to serve constituents. He also has continued to attend voting sessions. Chiappone maintains the charges against him were politically orchestrated by his opponents with the intention of getting him to resign. “I was looking forward to inauguration today and my next duty is to get exonerated,” Chiappone said. “I enjoy public service and I’m happy to serve the people in the Assembly again. I look forward to getting this behind me.” Oliver could not be reached for a comment yesterday. Jersey City Mayor Jerramiah T. Healy, who doubles as the chair of the Hudson County Democratic Organization, said he was reserving comment. Jason O’Donnell, chairman of the Bayonne City Regular Democratic Organization, said former speaker Roberts sent a clear message by suspending Chiappone’s pay. But any decision to reinstate Chiappone’s pay is up to the new majority leaders. “That is a matter for the speaker of the Assembly to decide. It is not for us to decide,” O’Donnell said. (Hack, Jersey Journal)

Mainor, a police detective, takes Assembly oath to represent Jersey City and Bayonne

 Newly sworn Assemblyman Charles Mainor said he hopes to join with other lawmakers to solve problems faced by all state residents. Mainor, 42, a Jersey City police detective, was one of four first-time Democrats who took the oath of office at the start of the 214th Legislature yesterday. He joins Assemblyman Anthony Chiappone, D-Bayonne, and Sen. Sandra Cunningham, D-Jersey City, in representing the 31st District. “I look forward to applying my experience in law enforcement and community advocacy to my work fighting for Bayonne and Jersey City residents in a government arena,” he said in a statement. Mainor replaces L. Harvey Smith, who ran unsuccessfully for Jersey City mayor last year and did not seek re-election to the Assembly. Smith was one of 44 people charged on July 23 in a sweeping federal political corruption and money laundering sting. Jersey City Police Director Sam Jefferson called Mainor, “the right fit at the right time.” “Now he can lobby and support many of the initiatives that we as a law enforcement body have been developing,” Jefferson said in a statement. “With his background as a community man, this is his chance to shine even more and I have full confidence he will do just that.” Mainor has been a detective for 10 years, but has served with the Jersey City Police Department for more than 23 years. He is also director of the department’s “Safe Haven” program, which provides children ages 5 and older with free after-school programs and activities. He also runs the department’s anti-gang program and a first-time juvenile offenders program that mentors juveniles arrested for minor offenses. Jersey City Mayor Jerramiah T. Healy said he’s happy to have a lifetime city resident in Trenton. “We think Charlie has a great knowledge of our city and its needs and a peculiar knowledge of public safety issues, street policing and the need for sensible gun legislation to stop the flow of illegal guns into cities, the suburbs and rural areas,” Healy said in a statement. “We look forward to working together to improve our city and the city of Bayonne.” Mainor said he is humbled to serve his district. “The issues that face Bayonne and Jersey City residents are the same issues that are faced by New Jerseyans across the state and I hope to forge a consensus with my legislative colleagues to bring about progress for New Jersey families, communities and businesses,” he said. (Hayes, Jersey Journal)

Ingle: Law changes relationship with casinos, former state officials

 On his way out of the door, Gov. Jon “Hold Me Accountable” Corzine signed a law to allow former state officials to work for companies that do business with casinos. Or, putting it another way, businesses that do business with casinos can hire former state employees, important to many as they leave the Corzine administration. It has a two-year period before former state employees can do business directly with casinos. “It is wrong in a state that deals with so much corruption,” Assemblyman Vincent Polistina told the Star-Ledger. “It is wrong for the industry, it is wrong for Atlantic City, it is wrong for the state of New Jersey.” Critics said the bill was designed for Jerold Zaro, Corzine pal and his economic czar who also is a friend of Gov.-elect Christie. Zaro told the Star-Ledger he has no “present” plans to leave government with Corzine next Tuesday. The law’s authors, Sen. Ray Lesniak and Assemblywoman Joan Quigley, say the administration asked them for the bill but it was not directed at anyone in particular. (Ingle, Gannett)

Albright: Update those resumes for Christie jobs

Resolutions and resumes. The first is by choice, the second by necessity. So many residents make new year’s resolutions to improve their lives and those around them. But here in the Statehouse – and in other state executive offices – employees who backed Gov. Jon S. Corzine of Hoboken in the Nov. 2 election turn to their computers to update their resumes. The goal: To obtain a satisfying new job as Republican Christopher J. Christie takes over on Tuesday. Friends made in the last four years have been clearing their desks and computers, removing pictures of loved ones from desk tops. The ritual never ends: Professionals who set and carried out administration policies make room for as yet unnamed successors. The party out of power is always waiting in the wings to claim their election night victory. And so once again, Happy New Year and fond farewell to those you counted as friends the last four years. (Albright, Jersey Journal)

Mulshine: The Harry Reid controversy is the silliest squabble ever

The comedy troupe Monty Python had a memorable sketch featuring the “Ministry of Silly Walks,” a branch of the British government that paid people to develop funny ways of walking. I’m beginning to suspect that somewhere in Washington there’s an American version, a Ministry of Silly Talk. Its minions pay journalists to promote pointless controversies, thereby directing attention away from the ways the feds are making life more difficult for us. That would explain the otherwise inexplicable controversy over Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s remarks about Barack Obama. We’re almost a week into the controversy, and so far the talking heads who talked it upstill can’t quite figure out just what poor old Harry got wrong. Was it his use of the word “Negro?” Perhaps. But that term is part of the name of such august organizations as the United Negro College Fund. And it’s slated to appear on the 2010 census form as a term by which American citizens can choose to describe themselves. Or maybe it was the cynical calculation behind Reid’s statement, which implied that Americans would be more likely to vote for an African-American if he was light-skinned and had no accent. As it happens, candidate Barack Obama himself weighed in on both the race question and the dialect question in his 2008 primary race against Hillary Clinton and John Edwards. “Will there be some folks who probably don’t vote for me because I’m black?” Obama said at a campaign stop. “Of course. Just like there would be some of you who wouldn’t vote for Hillary because she’s a woman and some who wouldn’t vote for John Edwards because they don’t like his accent.” I suspect Obama had a polling firm working on those exact questions at that exact moment. Every political reporter is aware that pollsters make big bucks figuring such things out. And they all know that behind closed doors politicians speak frankly about the poll results, as Reid did. Still, that didn’t prevent “Meet the Press” from inviting Republican National Committee chairman Michael Steele to blast the “racist” nature of Reid’s remark. But just what was racist about it? Here Steele explains, verbatim: “This, this term — this, you know, you know, like he’s going to pass, for example, for, for white America because he’s, you know, got this Negro dialect that he can turn on or turn off, and he’s light-skinned, that’s anachronistic language that harkens back to the 1950s and ’60s, and it confirms to me a mindset that is out of step with where America is today.” (Mulshine, Star Ledger)

Morning News Digest: January 14, 2010