Morning News Digest: January 19, 2010

Baroni switches to Sipprelle

Fair Haven Mayor Michael Halfacre had state Sen. Bill Baroni’s (R-Hamilton) endorsement for the Republican nomination to run against U.S. Rep. Rush Holt (D- Hopewell) in the 12th Congressional District. Until Princeton venture capitalist Scott Sipprelle decided to run. “I think Mike Halfacre is great. I think he’d make a great congressman,” said Baroni, who today formally endorsed Sipprelle and called him a “game changer.” “I have the opportunity, however, to have a Mercer County Republican go for Congress. I know Scott Sipprelle and I’m supporting him.” Baroni’s withdrawal of support became apparent Wednesday night, when Sipprelle formally kicked off his campaign with a rally in Princeton. Halfacre, who spent about a year toiling on the campaign trail unopposed by any fellow Republicans until Sipprelle’s interest in the race became known a few weeks ago, countered with press release listing dozens of elected and party officials who supported his candidacy. Baroni’s name – still trumpeted on Halfacre’s Web site – was gone. “It’s not a statement on Mike’s candidacy. It’s not a statement on Mike in any way. I think the world of him. And if he is the nominee, I will work just as hard,” said Baroni. “I just think Scott Sipprelle’s background as a businessman and someone who can go down to Washington as a Congressman on day one and get to work.” For Baroni, the clincher was the fact that Sipprelle is a fellow Mercer County Republican – not, he said, Sipprelle’s donation of $250,000 to his own campaign, or his pledge to match the first $1 million in donations. But Sipprelle’s pocketbook has not hurt him with at least some of the people who will have a say in whether he will get the coveted county lines in the five counties that make up the district: Mercer, Middlesex, Monmouth, Hunterdon and Somerset (which has half of one town, Franklin, in the district). (Friedman, PolitickerNJ)

Dangerous when wounded: Gerbounka on alert against Bunk and Dems in Linden mayor’s race

A couple of retired cops who ended up on opposing sides of the industrial political landscape in Linden now prepare to rush each other headlong in the 2010 mayor’s race, which pits the maverick incumbent – best known most recently as the man who stopped an alleged thief in a 911 rundown late last year -against a wounded county Democratic organization that has something to prove after last year’s Hillside humiliation. Mayor Richard Gerbounka, an independent who four years ago beat John Gregorio, believes he can handle Gregorio ally Council President Robert Bunk, but he knows Bunk’s going to have a bundle of Union County Democratic Committee money to spend against him, in part because Democrats want to try to ameliorate Joe Menza’s independent win in Hillside and the impact of Gov.-elect Chris Christie’s statewide win. “The city Democratic Party and Union County Democratic Party, I guarantee you, will dump tons of money into this campaign to defeat me, but Linden voters are smarter that,” said Gerbounka. “They know we’re in the mess we’re in because of this political machine, which gave jobs and excessive salaries to loyal democratic workers. I’ll be outspent two or three to one.” Council president here for the last 16 years, Bunk said he wouldn’t have a problem with receiving that kind of party organizational support to oust Gerbounka. “I’ve always wanted to be mayor,” he told “I wanted to be mayor 12 years ago, but I didn’t run out of respect for John Gregorio, my good friend. “I would hope to get the party’s backing, but I have not sat down and discussed my running with them one way or the other,” he added. “That will be in the coming weeks. I’m working on it. Onetime home to General Motors, a factory city where 100,000 people everyday went to work, Linden, pop. 40,000, now gets by with Citgo gas company and a couple of trucking companies and refineries. (Pizarro, PolitickerNJ)

Chargers’ loss to the Jets means Jon Runyan will return to N.J.

The San Diego Chargers’ playoff loss to the Jets yesterday means that Chargers tackle Jon Runyan is about to shift into full-time campaign mode for the Republican congressional nomination in the 3rd District. But don’t expect to see him at Gov.-elect Chris Christie’s inauguration tomorrow. “It’s highly unlikely that he would be able to attend the inauguration, because there are some obligations over there he has to fulfill first,” said Runyan campaign manager Chris Russell. “Frankly I think he would have been excited to do it.” Russell said that Runyan, a Mount Laurel resident who has been living in a San Diego hotel while finishing up his career with the Chargers, still has some administrative issues to take care of with the team, including an exit physical, before he can hop on a plane back to New Jersey. He is not expected to return until at least mid-week. “When he gets back we’ll sit down and (plan) things out,” said Russell, who was not sure when Runyan’s first public appearance would be. “He’s really focused on trying to get the support of all three county parties.” Runyan has been working the phones from California to shore up support for his run. He has the all-but-official endorsement of the Burlington County Republican Committee, but it remains to be seen whether the powerful Ocean County Republican Organization will field a candidate. Toms River Councilman Maurice “Mo” Hill, a dentist and retired Navy Rear Admiral, is the favorite of that organization’s insiders. David Liebowitz, a former assistant U.S. attorney in the southern district of New York, and Toms River businessman Joseph Rullo also plan to screen in Ocean County. Former Tabernacle Committeeman Justin Murphy, who ran in the 2008 primary, plans to run again. (Friedman, PolitickerNJ)

N.J. set to inaugurate Chris Christie as 55th governor

Republican Chris Christie will become New Jersey’s 55th governor today, taking the oath of office on a day crammed with ceremonies, rituals and personal touches. The official inauguration ceremony is in Trenton, but Newark, Christie’s birthplace and the state’s largest city, will play the starring role. The day begins with a mass at the Cathedral Basilica of the Sacred Heart, the mother church for the area’s Catholic archdiocese, and ends with a big reception at the Prudential Center. Christie, who prefers informality and has chafed when staff and friends call him “governor,” said today’s pomp and circumstance will help cement the reality of his new role. “It’s an important moment that cloaks the regular human being with a certain sense and appearance of authority,” he said in a recent interview. “One of the things that makes the inaugural ceremony not only nice, but important and necessary, is that it helps you to make that transformation. Symbolism and ceremonies are important in governance.” For the Cathedral Basilica, it will be its first inaugural mass, although a prayer service was held for Gov. Christie Whitman in 1998. “In view of the huge problems we face in the state, I thought asking the Lord’s blessing was a good idea,” Archbishop John Myers said. Planners expect 1,500 people to gather under the church’s soaring ceilings today for the invitation-only mass, which will be led by about 30 bishops and priests. Christie’s oldest son Andrew, 16, will read a passage during the service. “It is an implicit prayer for all of our public officials to have the gift of wisdom,” Myers said. Although he was raised in suburban Livingston, Christie stressed his Newark roots during the campaign and advanced an urban agenda. His first stop after his victory was at the Robert Treat Academy, a charter school run by Newark Democratic powerbroker Steve Adubato Sr. “Newark was rediscovered as the state’s premiere city for grand civic events about 10 years ago,” said Clement Price, a history professor at Rutgers University-Newark. “A lot of this has to do with a transformation in the thinking about the city with every governor since Tom Kean.” (Megerian, Star Ledger)

For Christie, a Swearing-In That’s Light on the Pomp

He made his name by indicting New Jersey politicians. He rose to the apex of the state’s political hierarchy by warning residents of the painful measures he would have to impose to bring New Jersey back from the brink of financial ruin. But when he is sworn in as the state’s 55th governor on Tuesday,Christopher J. Christie, 47, will ask taxpayers and elected officials alike to join him in rebuilding a state government besieged by budget shortfalls, a culture of corruption and crippling public debt. Since defeating Gov. Jon S. Corzine in November, Mr. Christie has struck an uncharacteristically self-effacing tone when speaking about being sworn in as governor, and the events planned for his inauguration reflect a similar modesty. Rather than surround himself with celebrities or political luminaries, Mr. Christie has chosen to celebrate the accomplishments of people he calls New Jersey heroes: volunteers who run soup kitchens and food banks and children who participate in a youth hockey program in Newark. “This isn’t about big names or political celebrities or glamorous symbolism,” said Maria Comella, his spokeswoman. “It’s about the working people and the families of New Jersey.” After talking for years about the corrosive influence of money on New Jersey politics, Mr. Christie agreed to have his inaugural committee abide by the state’s recently enacted ban on so-called pay-to-play practices and restricted vendors who do business with the state from making contributions of more than $300 for the event. And acknowledging the tough economic times that many state residents are enduring, Mr. Christie’s celebration at the Prudential Center in Newark will be pared down to look less like a black-tie gala than a street fair held indoors. Business attire will be encouraged rather than formalwear, and the festivities, which will have a “Taste of New Jersey” theme, will feature food stations from an assortment of caterers and restaurants from around the state. Most of the proceeds from the $500-a-ticket event will be donated to charities. “When people are worrying about their jobs and their taxes, it just would have felt wrong to have people in tuxedos and gowns,” Todd J. Christie, the governor-elect’s brother and the chairman of his inaugural committee, said in an interview last month. “So this will be a way to celebrate some of the great things about New Jersey.” Given Mr. Christie’s promise to “turn Trenton upside down” in his quest to close a budget gap of $8 billion, the celebration on Tuesday may seem like a momentary oasis of calm. Much of the new governor’s day will be spent in Mr. Christie’s hometown of Newark, starting with an 8 a.m. Mass at the Cathedral Basilica of the Sacred Heart to be said by Archbishop John J. Myers. Mr. Christie, a Roman Catholic, will be accompanied by his wife, Mary Pat, and their four children. (Kociniewski, New York Times)

Newark cathedral, businesses prepare N.J. Gov.-elect Christie inaugural events

The workers at Hobby’s Delicatessen started this morning assembling corned beef and pastrami on rolls. By Tuesday night, there will be 600 sandwiches lined up for Gov.-elect Chris Christie’s inaugural ball at the Prudential Center in Newark. “We have never worked on an inaugural event before,” said Hobby’s co-owner Michael Brummer. “We are honored to be a part of it.” Hobby’s is one of several restaurants around the state contributing food to the inaugural ball, the last of three events tomorrow marking Christie’s inauguration as the state’s 55th governor. Preparations were in full swing today. At the Cathedral Basilica of the Sacred Heart in Newark, where a mass will be held tomorrow morning, workers spent hours assembling floral arrangements and television crews laid wires across the marble floor. About 30 bishops and priests will participate in the services, and copies of the Bible for those leading the Mass were already set aside and opened to the appropriate passages. The church has never held an inaugural mass before in its 55-year history. “In view of the huge problems we face in the state, I thought asking the Lord’s blessing was a good idea,” Archbishop John Myers said. After the mass, Christie will be whisked south to Trenton for the official swearing-in ceremony. In a departure from tradition, Christie and outgoing Gov. Jon Corzine will not make the traditional walk from the Statehouse to the War Memorial for the ceremony. “We structured the inauguration in a way that would permit us to have a great day and permit everyone else to enjoy the day the way they wanted to enjoy it,” Christie said. During his inaugural address, Christie plans to broadly outline his response to the state’s fiscal crisis. “This job is about renewing people’s confidence in the fact that government can actually work,” he said. “That’s the way I see the challenge now.” After the ceremony, the day’s events will continue at the Prudential Center. Despite several overtures from Christie’s transition team, Jersey rock legend Bruce Springsteen — Christie’s favorite musician and an avowed liberal — will not be making an appearance. Instead, a cover band will play at the event. Other scheduled performers include Newark Boys Chorus, a teen jazz trio and Michael Dutra, a Sinatra tribute act. (Megerian/Heininger, Star Ledger)

Christie prepares to join the N.J. governor’s club

Chris Christie recently grabbed lunch with an eclectic group of six who wanted to talk to him about becoming a member of their highly exclusive club — those who have served as New Jersey governor. “It’s one of those moments that actually moves you closer to being governor,” he said of his lunch with former Govs. Brendan Byrne, Jim Florio, Thomas Kean, Christie Whitman, Donald DiFrancesco and Jim McGreevey. While he declined to divulge specifics on what was said at Friday’s meal, he called them each “incredibly generous in their advice.” On Tuesday, he joins their ranks to take over one of America’s most densely populated states, where the property taxes are the highest in nation and an upcoming budget deficit could reach $10 billion by the start of the 2011 budget year in July. The 47-year-old Republican will take charge of a government dominated by Democrats waiting to see exactly how he will balance the budget without breaking his campaign pledge to not raise taxes and to roll back several of them. Christie also promises a far different style of communicating than his predecessor, Democratic Gov. Jon S. Corzine. Unlike Corzine, a former Wall Street executive who can seem wordy and hard to read, Christie leaves no question about what’s he thinking. After the New York Times reported in October that Corzine said he would consider reviving an unpopular plan to lease the New Jersey Turnpike to raise money for the cash-strapped state, Corzine said his position was mischaracterized. He said he meant that he may generate revenue by allowing advertising on some turnpike properties, like rest stops. “Corzine always seemed to be trying to remember what it was he was supposed to say. Christie is unfiltered,” said Peter Woolley, a political scientist and pollster at Fairleigh Dickinson University. Christie, the former U.S. attorney for New Jersey, seems most comfortable behind a podium and has shown no hesitation in throwing down a gauntlet and criticizing those standing in his way. Since being elected, he has fought with Corzine to stop the Democrat from filling seats on powerful boards and authorities and ripped lawmakers for pushing through last minute spending bills. “So, Chris went off again today. He does enjoy his rants,” former Senate President and one-time Gov. Richard Codey said after Christie’s attack on the spending bills. Codey, who did not make the Friday lunch, predicted: “This ain’t going to last that long.” (AP)

Inaugural events expected to draw large number of Central Jerseyans

When President Barack Obama was sworn into office a year ago, thousands went to Washington, D.C., to witness the historic events and celebrate the first Democratic president in eight years. Tuesday’s inauguration here of Chris Christie as the state’s 55th governor, coming at a time when the state is facing a fiscal crisis, will be relatively low-key. And Christie has decided to return to his hometown of Newark for two events to mark the day. The day’s events will begin with an 8 a.m. Mass at the Cathedral Basilica of the Sacred Heart in Newark. The final event will be a cocktail reception from 6 to 10 p.m. at the Prudential Center also in Newark. Sandwiched between the two events will be the actual inauguration where Christie and Lieutenant Governor-elect Kim Guadagno will take their oaths of office at noon in the Trenton War Memorial. Attendance at the church service and the inauguration are by invitation only because of limited seating. Tickets to the cocktail reception at the Prudential Center are $500. Enthusiasm for the day’s activities varies on geographical political leanings. Traditionally Republican Somerset County will send a legion to this city and to Newark while Middlesex County, dominated by Democrats, will be sending fewer. “It’s an exhilarating experience, and it doesn’t matter what party is being sworn in to power. I just think it’s a compelling demonstration of democracy and I enjoy it very, very much. I’m looking forward to being there,” Somerset County Freeholder Director Jack Ciattarelli who will be attending the inauguration. Because of his children’s activities, Ciattarelli and his wife Melinda only will be attending the inauguration itself. Somerset County Republican Chairman Dale Florio said he wants to attend all three major events. “I hope to go to the swearing in at noon, and also the evening reception, which will be a little bit different than past inaugural social events,” Florio said. “It will be a bit low key in keeping with the times and quite frankly to be able to accommodate all the folks that want to go, it’s just easier to do a larger reception than trying to do a black tie dinner.” (Deak/Racz, Gannett)

Stile: Christie hoping to cut teachers union’s clout

Governor-elect Chris Christie’s bull-in-a-china-shop battle with the New Jersey Education Association, whose 200,000-strong militia of teachers makes it the state’s most powerful union, has been a colorful sideshow to this transition period. But when Christie formally becomes New Jersey’s 55th governor today, the skirmish will morph into something else — the organizing principle of Christie’s new administration. Christie has taken a bold, strategic gamble by taking on the biggest guy on West State Street. But if he is able to force NJEA to buckle, then the rest of Trenton’s high council of special interests – state worker unions, politically connected hospitals, business groups — will follow. Those special interests will read the writing on the wall and negotiate an early peace rather than slug it out in the Legislature or in the court of public opinion, where they are not that popular, anyway. That could open the door to pension reform, municipal consolidation and a whole host of other issues that have languished for years. “If he is to slay this dragon early, his credibility increases enormously and other labor unions … and the entire bureaucracy will be trembling,” said Brigid Harrison, a political scientist at Montclair State University. And by taking them on early, Harrison said, any negative fallout could be forgotten by the time he seeks reelection in 2012. To make it work, the NJEA will have to give ground on line-in-the-sand issues they have fiercely opposed for decades, such as taxpayer-subsidized “vouchers” to help pay a city student’s tuition at a private school. Christie also wants teachers to compete for merit pay increases. He has called for reforming teacher tenure, which makes it difficult for schools to prune incompetent teachers from the payroll. And he wants to increase the number of charter schools, an effort that stalled under Governor Corzine. In an interview last Friday, Christie dismissed the bellwether theory, although he said that if it does have that effect, all the better. His attack reflects the long-simmering sentiments of social conservatives, suburban parents and now a growing chorus of African-American leaders that the union power has kept city children trapped in failed public schools. Reforms, Christie said, would give many aspiring students and their middle-class parents an escape and a choice. (Stile, The Record)

Ingle: And the beat goes on

Don Norcross will have one of the shortest tenures in the state Assembly. No sooner was he sworn in than he was tapped by Camden County Democrats to fill the Senate seat left vacant when Dana Redd became mayor of Camden. Norcross, the younger brother of Camden County Democrat Boss George Norcross, co-chairs the county party. The other chair is Jim Beach, a state senator and long time cog in the Norcross political machine. None of this comes as a surprise. It started when Steve Sweeney decided to take on Dick Codey as Senate president. Since you can’t have two South Jersey people running the Legislature, it meant Speaker Joe Roberts had to move on ( but not far, Corzine appointed him to the Rutgers Board of Governor, so he gets a say in all that money they spend). That left his Assembly seat open and Don Norcross got it. But when Redd was elected that opened up a Senate seat. Filling Norcross’ barely used Assembly chair will be Gilbert “Whip” Wilson, long-time Camden pol. (Ingle, Gannett)

Mulshine: Chris Christie’s inaugural – Guitars, sure, but spare us the violins

I suspect everyone in New Jersey knows by now that Chris Christie will have a Bruce Springsteen cover band playing at his inaugural ball this evening. But what of his big speech earlier in the day? Will we be hearing imaginary violins? That’s been the case with most governors in recent memory. The typical candidate of either party campaigns for office promising all sorts of things. Then once safely under oath, the new Guv promptly discovers a heretofore unknown fiscal crisis that will make it impossible to keep those promises, which were not made under oath. We journalists don’t carry Bibles, but perhaps we should. Until we start, however, let me propose a constitutional amendment. It would require that a chamber music ensemble be hired to play music in a minor key during all the major speeches of a new governor’s first year in office. Then we’d at least have a pleasant accompaniment to the sad song. The tune I fear we’ll be hearing from Christie will be a variation on a theme by Brendan Byrne. Byrne ran for office in 1973 stating he saw no need for an income tax. But before long he was singing in harmony with the state Supreme Court and we had our tax. Every governor since has sung the same tune, with slight variations. So taxpayers should listen closely to the tune Christie sings today. If he starts singing the budget blues, you know what comes next. And that’s the abandonment of all those promises he made when he began his campaign almost a year ago. There weren’t many of them, so they’re easy to remember. Slash state spending. Cut income taxes for every family. Restore property tax rebates. The first promise is largely meaningless. As Jon Corzine proved, you can slash billions from state spending by simply foregoing contributions to the pension fund. Christie plans to do so as well. Throw in a token furlough or two and a cutback here and there and that promise can be considered kept. It’s the second and third promises that matter. Here I urge you to ignore the music and listen to the lyrics. I expect you’ll hear a line about “declining tax revenues” either today or in the near future. (Mulshine, Star Ledger)

Morning News Digest: January 19, 2010