Morning News Digest: January 27, 2010

Phone prank in New Orleans is latest project for N.J. conservative activist  
The four men accused of trying to tamper with Democratic U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu’s office phones, including a Bergen County native and Rutgers University graduate, share a common experience as young ideologues writing for conservative publications. Federal authorities said two of the men posed as telephone workers wearing hard hats, tool belts and flourescent vests when they walked into the senator’s office inside a federal building in New Orleans on Monday. The other two were accused of helping to organize the plan. (Associated Press, 01/27/10)

Lonegan unhappy with Donovan as GOP exec candidate

The chronically divided Bergen County Republican Organization has united around County Clerk Kathleen Donovan’s county executive campaign, but at least one prominent conservative has not taken warmly to it. “I consider Kathe Donovan to be the Dede Scozzafava of New Jersey. There’s no more far left liberal running as a Republican than Kathe Donovan,” said former Bogota Mayor Steve Lonegan, referring to moderate upstate New York Republican assemblywoman who last year suspended her special election congressional campaign after a challenge from the right doomed her chances. Lonegan, who sought he Republican gubernatorial nomination in 2005 and 2009 and runs the New Jersey chapter of the anti-tax organization Americans for Prosperity, said that the Bergen GOP only rallied around Donovan because “they really had no choice.” “There was a desperate behind the scenes effort to find another candidate, but nobody would run,” he said. “I was asked to run. My interest didn’t lie there.” Donovan, a moderate former assemblywoman, briefly a GOP state chair, kicked off her campaign this month on a fiscally conservative note, vowing to cut the size of county government and lower taxes. Donovan’s references to putting “taxpayers first,” raised some eyebrows among Lonegan supporters at the rally. It’s the title of Lonegan’s 2007 book, and he used it as his gubernatorial campaign slogan. “I certainly don’t have a copyright on the slogan, but it’s kind of funny coming off my campaign in New Jersey,” he said. “I really hyped that brand, so to speak. It was on all my literature, signs, radio and TV spots, my book. I don’t think it was a mistake. But hey, God bless her.” Donovan and Lonegan have a history of bad blood. When the Bogota council voted to put a non-binding resolution on the ballot to make English the borough’s official language, she blocked it, citing a legal opinion from attorney Jack Carbone saying that state law did not grant the borough authority to act on such matters. Although he acknowledged that Donovan could win in November given what so far is shaping up to be a politically environment favorable to Republicans, Lonegan blamed the Republican Party for not trying harder to recruit more conservative candidates. (Friedman, PolitickerNJ)

Key Rone/Booker ally appeals to Christie for Rone clemency

South Ward political brain Carl Sharif said he hopes Gov. Chris Christie and Acting Attorney General Paula Dow consider removing the conditions of pardon imposed on former Central Ward Councilwoman Dana Rone – and do it now. “I would hope they would look at this and decide that this is not the way to go,” said Sharif, a supporter of Mayor Cory Booker’s and longtime ally of Rone’s, whose son, Darren Sharif, is now pursuing the Central Ward council seat once occupied by Rone and now held by Councilman Charles Bell. “The punishment far exceeded the violation,” said Sharif, in reference to Rone. After intervening in a 2006 traffic stop on behalf of her nephew, Rone left city hall in August of 2008 when a judge deemed her actions unacceptable and imposed a lifetime ban from public office. As he departed the governor’s mansion last week, former Gov. Jon Corzine granted clemency to Rone, but parole board papers that arrived in the hands of Rone allies last Friday indicate that clemency doesn’t kick in until Jan. 1, 2014. While he said he had no coversations with Corzine, Sharif said he was very much in support of Rone’s pardon and “talked to people around the governor” about getting it done. Delighted when the pardon came through early last week, the veteran political operative admitted that news of the condition “came as a surprise.” “It’s a very odd circumstance,” said Sharif. “It’s almost as though she’s on probation for her pardon. (Pizarro, PolitickerNJ)

Meadowlands’ mission a top issue facing N.J. Gov. Christie

Governor Christie didn’t have much time to celebrate his inauguration last week, given the daunting list of state issues he faced — including a constellation of problems at the New Jersey Sports and Exposition Authority. He responded quickly, with a series of reports last week that lays out some of the details and offers some solutions — but the work is just beginning. “With a horse racing industry losing tens of millions of dollars, the Devils gone, the Nets leaving and a poor deal with the Jets and Giants with their new stadium, the entire mission and future of the [sports authority] must be entirely rethought, not simply tweaked,” the report on state authorities said. The report also conceded “the authority will require immediate drastic cuts or capital infusion from supplemental sources simply to preserve its existence within the first quarter of 2010.” Throw in a seemingly dormant Xanadu shopping and retail complex, and it’s clear that Christie will have to devote a significant amount of time to sports authority matters in the first weeks and months of his administration. Christie intends to do it with the same pugnacious style that marked his campaign. “This will be a blunt, direct, straightforward, no-nonsense administration,” Christie said this month at a Morristown press conference. A key decision, both symbolically and for practical reasons, is who will run the sports authority board. The most plausible option among current board members for Christie to choose as chairman would be Vice Chairman Joseph Buckelew, the only remaining board member appointed by a Republican governor. Buckelew was chairman once before, in 2001-02. However, the unpaid — yet prestigious — post of chairman typically goes to a major campaign contributor. Christie also will be able to fill three board seats almost immediately. The four-year terms of Carl Goldberg, who is the current chairman, and commissioners Pamela Miller of Hackensack and George Castro have expired. Christie, who has not spoken publicly about the chairmanship, could choose to keep Goldberg for the short term, given his eight years of experience as chairman. Jon Hanson — the agency’s chairman from 1982 until 1990 — is not expected to reprise that role, even though he has been advising Christie on sports authority matters during the transition period. (Brennan, The Record)

N.J. Gov. Christie supports continuation of Sec. of Agriculture Douglas Fisher in post

Gov. Chris Christie today said he supports Douglas Fisher continuing as Agriculture secretary. “Secretary Douglas Fisher has proven to have a deep appreciation for New Jersey’s agricultural community,” Christie said. “I support his position as secretary for the New Jersey Department of Agriculture and look forward to working with him to promote and protect our state’s natural assets.” Unlike administration officials whom the governor selects, the secretary of Agriculture is appointed by the State Board of Agriculture. Fisher’s appointment was approved by former Gov. Jon Corzine on Feb. 10, 2009, according to his biography in the New Jersey Legislative Manual. A 62-year-old Bridgeton native, Fisher served in the General Assembly before replacing Charles M. Kuperus as Agriculture secretary. He received a bachelor’s degree in business administration from Bryant College in Rhode Island, served in the New Jersey National Guard and owned a supermarket for 30 years. He also was a Realtor and owned The Entrepreneur’s Source, which aids people seeking business and franchise opportunities. Fisher, a Democrat, was a four-term assemblyman from the 3rd District. He also previously served on the Cumberland County Board of Freeholders, where he was director from 1996 to 2000; the Bridgeton City Council; the South Jersey Economic Development District; and the South Jersey Transportation Planning Organization. He and his wife, Bonnie, have three children. (Ackermann, The Star Ledger)

Edison’s new mayor asks business, union and township leaders to work with her

Not even a full month into office, the township’s first elected female mayor gave her first State of the Township Address to an audience of 300 local business leaders, public officials and residents gathered Tuesday evening at Pines Manor banquet hall. Mayor Antonia “Toni” Ricigliano acknowledged the current economic difficulties and called on both businesses and municipal unions to work with her to find “”viable solutions” to get through the uncertainties that lie ahead. Ricigliano, a former Democratic councilwoman, listed each administrative department head by name and briefly explained how she has asked each to evaluate services and efficiency. She also mentioned that municipal recycling collection would expand to areas of the township currently serviced by private contractors. She noted that five collective bargaining agreements with township employee unions have expired — two in December, two in 2008 and one in 2007. “An integral part of ensuring public safety is to conduct good faith negotiations,” she said, adding that the unions must also recognize the township’s financial limits. Ricigliano vowed she would not layoff or furlough employees unless absolutely necessary and recapped recent cost-saving measures, including halving her own salary, freezing salaries of directors, repealing police and fire promotions made by her predecessor and “identifying $2 million in positions that may not be filled.” Ricigliano called on businesses to help raise more money to restore the crumbling Edison Memorial Tower and Museum and to help beautify the street and walkways outside the municipal building. “You the business leaders are citizens of this community. You pay taxes to this community and you get the benefits of this community as well,” she said at an event sponsored each year by the Edison Chamber of Commerce. “As good corporate citizens you have discretionary budgets where you can benefit the community through coordination with the municipality.” (Bichao, Gannett)

Ingle: Sweeney to revisit pension reform

Four years ago lawmakers tried to overhaul the state pension system, which is now underfunded by $34 billion. It never happened because Gov. Corzine said he would work it out in negotiations. That never happened, either. Senate President Steve Sweeney, himself a union leader who knows a thing or two about keeping pension plans solvent, says it’s time to make another run at pension reform and this time he has backing from a governor. He said, “Unless we take action now, New Jersey’s pension system will implode leaving thousands of rank and file workers penniless in retirement.” That’s why this effort needs the support of state workers. If this fails, they will be in retirement without a pension. (Ingle, Gannett) Morning News Digest: January 27, 2010