Morning News Digest: January 15, 2010

Former New York finance chief made NJ state treasurer

Governor-elect Christopher Christie today introduced Andrew Sidamon-Eristoff, a former Republican New York City councilman and finance commissioner, as his nominee to be the next state treasurer. If confirmed by the state senate, Eristoff will take the helm of the Department of Treasury in the face of a budget deficit that is expected to be anywhere from $6 to $10 billion. “The way that we’ve been going for the last decade or more has proven to be a failure,” said Christie while introducing Eristoff at Seton Hall Law School. Eristoff, 46, lives in Manhattan but said that he plans to move his family to New Jersey. He kept his remarks brief and made a request to reporters to go easy on him for today. “I would ask that before you attempt to stump me with arcane financial questions, that you allow me just a few hours, if not days, to be fully briefed up on the minutiae of New Jersey’s current circumstances,” said Eristoff, a city councilman from 1992 to 1999. He was New York City Commissioner of Finance under Mayor Rudy Giuliani, from 1999 to 2002, and Commissioner of the New York State Department of Taxation and Finance under Gov. George Pataki from 2003 to 2006.Eristoff did say that he was looking to institute a “fundamental restructuring and reform of New Jersey’s state finances” and that the job gave him “an incredible opportunity to serve at the front lines of what I believe will be a nationally significant movement to restructure state government as we know it.” Since his nomination of Paula Dow as attorney general and Lt. Gov-elect Kim Guadagno as secretary of state, all of Christie’s cabinet appointments so far have been white males, drawing some scrutiny from reporters. Eristoff, for instance, is the descendent of Georgian nobility (the Eurasian republic, not the American state), a Princeton alum and great-grandson of a business partner of Andrew Carnegie, according to his 1996 New York Times wedding announcement. (Friedman, PolitickerNJ)

Slammed for public speaking gigs, Booker says money went to charity

 Criticized for accepting money to speak at The College of New Jersey (TCNJ) last fall, Newark Mayor Cory Booker contributed the speaking fee he received to Newark charities, according to his spokesperson – who when asked did not deny that Booker receives speaking engagement dollars from public institutions which are not in New Jersey. About a month in front of Booker’s 2010 reelection kickoff, local political opponents of the mayor’s questioned a sitting elected official’s judgment in receiving speaking fees anywhere – at institutions public or private – and in hiring the Manhattan-based Greater Talent Network (GTN) to help him land speaking gigs. The issue surfaced this week when a story about Booker in The College of New Jersey’s “Perspective” newsmagazine written by Gary Edwards Bethea pointed out that Booker spoke at the college last year and received $10,000 in return.”It seems a bit contradictory that the mayor would require taxpayer-funded TCNJ to hand over thousands of its scarce, tuition-garnered dollars for a ninety-minute presentation – especially in the midst of an ongoing recession that has forced the College to furlough professors and cut services,” Bethea opined. Booker communications chief Desiree Peterkin Bell denied that Booker pocketed the money, and tried to explain the mayor’s sensitivity to the potential public school conflict. The mayor has never accepted an honorarium from New Jersey public institutions,” said Bell. “The money from The College of New Jersey was donated to soup kitchens, homeless shelters and other Newark nonprofits.” Bell said Booker made the charitable donation immediately following his appearance last fall, and not in the wake of those criticisms that came to light in Bethea’s Jan. 11th piece. Asked if Booker’s no-fee policy for public institutions applied beyond the borders of the Garden State, his spokeswoman said, “The mayor has talked throughout the State of New Jersey and never taken any honorarium for speaking engagements.” Stung by a city crime wave that resulted in a shooting death this week, veteran state Sen. Ronald L. Rice (D-Newark) recoiled at the news. “You can’t run a city government on tweeter and twitter and runnig on and off airplanes, not a city like Newark,” he said. (Pizarro, PolitickerNJ)

Montayne won’t run from GOP affiliation, but says her independence matters most

Charon Motayne knows her opponents will bank on invoking one word to blow up her candidacy for Central Ward council. “Republican.” It’s already happening. Bring up the name “Motayne” to anyone in either city government or politics and before too long he or she mentions the fledgling candidate’s party affiliation by way of hitting the ejector button. Anyway, they insist, while turning to what many regard as much more competitive territory in the South Ward, Central Ward Councilman Charles Bell is virtually unbeatable. Bell had Adubato muscle behind him in 2008, combined with some state Sen. Ronald L. Rice (D-Newark) street heft when he beat Booker’s union-assisted candidate. Now, Bell has joined the Booker team, effectively sapping the ward of any significant political rift. But Motayne, 52, believes Bell’s affiliation with the mayor has weakened – not strengthened – him, and vaunts her own party creds in this overwhelmingly Democratic Party-run and registered city as a show of true independence. And she has other weapons to be reckoned with, she argues. “Everyone knows I have been a Republican since the day I was registered to vote,” says the CPA and Central Ward diehard, daughter of Essex County Freeholder Blonnie Watson (a Democrat), who is running as a May 11th muncipal elections ally of Booker challenger Clifford Minor.” “I have a disdain for how Democratic politics work in Essex County,” Motayne says. “I know African Americans are shaky with a Republican, but the people know me for being a person who advocates for the community. Democrats have no problem voting for Republicans when they have their little feuding and fighting, which is the only reason Jim Treffinger became county executive. Our mayor championed (Republican turned independent) Mike Bloomberg over in New York City. When you have a community activist getting things done, party affiliation is irrelevant. Given the real disconnect between the Democratic Party and the people, in Essex County there is no reason for people to feel spooked.” Bell’s decision to align with Booker now means the entire city council backs the mayor, a situation Motayne believes deprives citizens of checks and balances. “The main reason I’m running is to see absolute representation on the council,” says the candidate. “There needs to be kind of independence between mayor and council so the council does not feel beholden. “Yes, I’m aligned with Cliff Minor (and council candidates) John James (son of the former mayor), Ras Baraka, Juliana Blackburn-Maldonado, David Blount, and Carole Graves, but we are not running as ‘The Minor Team,’ as are our opponents are running as ‘the Booker Team.’ We are ‘Newark’s Choice.’ “We’re not going to be rubber stampers for Cliff Minor,” she adds. “I hope Cliff Minor is successful. But, realize this, Booker has the attention of the national media and he’s bringing the resources to his team members. (Pizarro, PolitickerNJ)

Gov.-elect Chris Christie picks former aide to Rudy Giuliani as treasurer

 Gov.-elect Chris Christie today introduced an economic team to help revive the “failing business” he says is New Jersey, including a pick for treasurer who served in finance positions for New York city and state government. Treasurer nominee Andrew Eristoff, who worked under former Mayor Rudy Giuliani and former Gov. George Pataki, has two months to put together a state budget that resolves an estimated $10 billion structural deficit. Christie said Eristoff’s philosophy aligned with his views, but he did not divulge specifics of how they would balance the state’s budget without raising taxes or fees. Instead, he again hammered on his now-familiar themes: New Jersey is overtaxed and over-regulated. “The way that we’ve been going for the last decade or more has proven to be a failure,” Christie said. “We’re the most overtaxed state in America, with a stagnant economy that continues to lose jobs, with a growing public sector that we can no longer afford, with a pension system that’s out of balance and health benefit costs that’re out of control.” Eristoff said he wanted to turn New Jersey’s serious challenges into “opportunities for fundamental restructuring and reform of New Jersey’s state finances,” but admitted he needed time to get up to speed. “I would ask that before you attempt to stump me with archane financial questions that you allow me just a few hours, if not days, to get fully briefed up on the minutae,” he said to reporters in Newark. While the treasurer’s most visible role is in budget negotiations with the Democratic-controlled legislature, if confirmed by the Senate, Eristoff will also be in charge of taxation, pensions, investments, public contracts and the state’s $33 billion debt. Eristoff made tax policy more transparent and modernized tax collections, said Charles Brecher, research director at the Citizens Budget Commission, a New York nonprofit watchdog. Eristoff, 46, is something of an unknown to Trenton leaders and lobbyists, but several business officials said on paper, his mix of political and managerial experience looks right. A Princeton graduate, Eristoff spent six years in the New York City Council before Giuliani picked him for finance commissioner. In 2003, he went to work for Pataki as taxation commissioner. He has spent the past few years in private consulting. “If you were going to craft a resume for the perfect treasurer’s candidate, this guy has it,” said Art Maurice, vice president of the New Jersey Business and Industry Association. (Fleisher, Star Ledger)

Cabela’s CEO says Xanadu store ‘highly unlikely’

Cabela’s, a cornerstone partner of the Meadowlands Xanadu project since 2004, is unlikely to ever open a store at the site, the company’s chief executive told potential investors at an event in California on Wednesday night. The comments by Tommy Millner at the ICR Xchange — a two-day event at which dozens of businesses tout their assets to institutional portfolio managers, investment bankers and private equity leaders — raise serious questions about the viability of the struggling, $2 billion shopping and retail project. “We also have told the street that we have a store planned at the Xanadu project in East Rutherford, New Jersey,” CEO Tommy Millner told the audience at a resort in Dana Point, Calif., after first addressing other new store plans. “That has been a very, very troubled development, and it is highly unlikely that store will open either in 2010 — or probably ever. Not of our doing — of development problems.” Colony Capital, Xanadu’s developer, dismissed Millner’s comments. “We have a signed commitment from Cabela’s and have every reason to believe that they will honor that agreement,” said Peter Fair, chief operating officer for Meadowlands Xanadu. Cabela’s, which Millner called “the world’s foremost outfitter of hunting, fishing and camping gear,” with annual revenues of more than $2.6 billion — had once touted the Xanadu location for the potential of becoming the foremost store in its chain, building at least 150,000 square feet of space to sell its goods in the nation’s largest market. But during a 15-minute pitch to investors Wednesday, Millner never mentioned Xanadu. His comments came in response to the first question from the audience. The news about Cabela’s comes just days before the inauguration of Republican Chris Christie as governor. Christie is a critic of the project who said during the election campaign that he was skeptical that the project could ever find the additional $500 million in funding it needs to open. Governor Corzine and New Jersey Sports and Exposition Authority officials have expressed optimism that the money was just around the corner, but that hasn’t happened so far. A spokesman for the sports authority did not offer a comment on Millner’s remarks Thursday. But Millner’s comments led state Sen. Richard Codey, a former Democratic governor, to sarcastically refer to Xanadu as “Neverland.” “This is pretty clearly a knife in the heart,” Codey said. “I’d love to see it open tomorrow, but ‘tomorrow, tomorrow’ has been promised for years,” Codey said. “I feel like ‘Annie.’ We’re getting close to the point where we’ve got to look at what’s best for the [sports] complex — to have this ugly-looking building lie vacant or … then what do we do?” A segment of the Xanadu exterior matches the Cabela’s signature green coloring, and the company has been a key public piece of the Xanadu landscape since its intention to occupy a store there since October 2004. Then-Gov. James McGreevey accepted an oversized, game-show-style check from now-defunct Mills Corp. for $160 million for the first 15 years rent for the project as part of an elaborate press event that included a 33,000-square-foot “village” and a 32-foot ski jump with faux snow, a tribute to the planned indoor skiing area that also has been a signature component. (Brennan, The Record)

New website lets you track NJ spending

New Jersey taxpayers can now more easily track how the state spends money using a Web site Governor Corzine has launched during his final days in office. The Web site,, was launched Thursday afternoon by Corzine, who leaves office on Tuesday. “This is a common-sense measure that enables the citizens of New Jersey to be fully appraised of how taxpayer funds are spent,” Corzine said. The site lets anyone search through databases of state spending, revenue and purchasing. Searches can be done across state departments, or by isolating individual departments. The site includes complete data for the last seven fiscal years. Lawmakers from both parties have been seeking a Web site to enhance the transparency of state finances since 2008, but the legislation that would do so has yet to make it out of the Legislature. Corzine said his administration had been working on the site since last year. The legislative effort to enact a Web site, led by Sens. Joseph Pennacchio, R-Morris, and Richard J. Codey, D-Essex, should continue to ensure future governors maintain the site, the governor said. “I encourage the Legislature to pass the bi-partisan legislation making this a permanent part of state government,” he said. (Reitmeyer, The Record)

Joseph Cardwell is latest Jersey City figure indicted in bribery sting

A Jersey City consultant was indicted yesterday on charges he accepted $30,000 in bribes and tried to influence a city official to help a developer. Joseph Cardwell, 68, is charged with using $10,000 to bribe a Jersey City official to fast-track a project for FBI informant Solomon Dwek, who was posing as a developer. Cardwell is one of 44 people initially arrested July 23 in a massive political corruption and international money laundering scheme. “We’ve been expecting the indictment since he was arrested in July and now we look forward to receiving the evidence that the government is obligated to give us,” said Cardwell’s attorney, Henry Klingeman. Klingeman said Cardwell plans to plead not guilty. No longer consulting, Cardwell is still a Jersey City Municipal Utilities Authority commissioner and receives city health benefits. Jennifer Morrill, a spokeswoman for Mayor Jerramiah T. Healy, said the city Law Department sent a letter to Cardwell’s attorney July 29 on behalf of the mayor asking him to resign. On Sept. 15, Cardwell notified the city he would not resign. Morrill said the mayor planned to work with the City Council to begin the process to remove Cardwell, which includes drafting charges and holding a hearing. The nine-page indictment accuses Cardwell of accepting $10,000 cash payments in July and August 2008 from Dwek in exchange for using his influence to help fast-track proposed high-rise condominiums on Garfield Avenue. Cardwell allegedly accepted a third $10,000 payment in August 2008 on behalf of a Jersey City official whose help Dwek sought. Carl Czaplicki, director of the Jersey City Department of Housing, Economic Development and Commerce said in July he is the official. Czaplicki has not been charged. According to the indictment, Cardwell arranged a meeting between Dwek and “JC Official.” The official declined to accept the $10,000 payment from Dwek. “Rather than accepting cash directly, the JC Official had requested that Cardwell handle the payment by using the money to purchase tickets for fundraising events benefiting another Jersey City Official,” the indictment states. If convicted, Cardwell faces up to 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine. (Hayes, Jersey Journal)

Sweeney fills NJ governor’s shoes – for a while

Senate President Stephen M. Sweeney became a self-proclaimed “trivia question,” this week by filling the shoes of governor while Jon S. Corzine, just two hours after his State of the State Address, left the country for a trip abroad. Corzine’s absence and Sweeney’s succession marks the end of era where the state senate president steps into the role when the governor is out of state. Starting Tuesday, the position will now be covered by New Jersey’s very first lieutenant governor, Kim Guadagno, who will take over any time Gov. Chris Christie is away. But should both Christie and Guadagno both be out of state, the job will briefly again be Sweeney’s. It was only Tuesday when Sweeney, who represents Salem County in the state Senate, was elected Senate president. Just hours later he was sworn in by Sen. Fred H. Madden and former Assembly Speaker Joseph J. Roberts Jr., both from South Jersey and close friends of Sweeney’s, as acting governor. Since he has kept himself busy, issuing a statement urging New Jersey residents to support Haitian relief efforts, attending a church service in North Jersey with Haitian residents and by taking the opportunity to sign into law several bills that had been waiting on the agenda. Montclair Professor of Political Science and Law Brigid Harrison called his actions common. “I think that what we’ve seen in the past,” Harrison said, “is anytime (anyone has) been sworn in as acting governor, they’ve garnered state-wide media attention. They’ll often take on pet projects with the support of the governor. The acting governor and the elected governor will usually work together.” Sweeney did take on one particular project that held special meaning for him and the people before which he signed one of eight bills on Thursday. Thursday night was the 43rd Annual Gloucester County Fire Chiefs Association Dinner, and Sweeney signed into law at that dinner the Emergency Responders Employment Protection Act, which effectively eliminates repercussions volunteer emergency first responders may face for being late or missing work when they’re absence is cause by an emergency to which they were responding. (McAneny, Newhouse)

Mulshine: Uh-oh, does this mean more toll schemes?

Buried at the bottom of a New York Times article about the Bret Schundler appointment is this nugget of information about Chris Christie’s choice for transportation commissioner, James Simpson: “Interestingly, he gave high praise in 2008 to Mr. Corzine’s ill-fated plan to raise turnpike and parkway tolls 800 percent to pay for transportation improvements, calling it courageous and giving it the Bush administration’s endorsement. But Mr. Christie, as a candidate, ridiculed the plan and has ruled out both toll and tax increases. Mr. Simpson, at a news conference on Monday, showed he had trimmed his sails: he said taxes were off the table and spoke instead about cost-cutting and public-private partnerships.” Public-private partnerships? I’ve been following the toll issue closely for almost a decade now, and that’s code for those nutty schemes promoted by foreign toll-road companies to charge you based on all sorts of new criteria, such as traffic density. This is the sort of thing you read in Reason Magazine, which pretends to be a journal of libertarian thought but is in reality the propaganda front for the toll interests. And those interests are not partisan. Both Democrats like Gov. Jon Corzine and Gov. Ed Rendell of Pennsylvania have pushed toll schemes. Meanwhile the Bush administration was pushing the biggest toll scheme on Earth, a plan to turn Texas into a toll state. The argument these guys make is always the same: We can’t afford to raise the gas tax, so we need tolls. There are some people dumb enough to accept this argument, but all must have failed fifth-grade math. The current cost of New Jersey’s gas tax is about half a cent a mile in a typical car. Meanwhile tolls can exceed 15 cents a mile. That’s 30 times as much tax just to cover the same distance. So keep an eye on this guy. The pols of both parties are simply salivating over the prospect of putting tolls on such roads as I-287, I-78 and I-80. Don’t let them pretend that this is not a tax hike. And by the way, note this gem from the Reason website: “When toll road opponents claim toll rates will be $1.60 or $2 per mile in the year 2050, they fail to tell you that your own salary will be comparably higher by that year.”

Morning News Digest: January 15, 2010