Morning News Digest: January 4, 2010

The Auditor: Counting chickens; Do as I say; Party on; Corzine’s farewell tour Buried deep within the Statehouse file on Counting Your Chickens Before They’re Hatched, The Auditor found this tidbit:

As Gov. Jon Corzine sought a second term, he was preparing to take over the chairmanship of the Democratic Governors Assocation. The catch, of course, is he would have had to win re-election in the Garden State. The association, which raises money for Democratic governors around the country and aids their campaigns, played a significant role in Corzine’s unsuccessful effort and is going to be even more active this year as most of the nation’s governorships are up for grabs. According to two confidants, Corzine believed he had secured the necessary support from his gubernatorial colleagues to get the job and return to the national fund-raising circuit. It was on the money trail in 2004 where Corzine, chairman of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, first got to know then-candidate Barack Obama and helped the future president line up the support he needed to win the Illinois Senate seat he was seeking. “He would have been good at it,” one ranking Democrat said of Corzine’s goal to lead the governors group. “The only thing in politics he was successful at was as chairman of the DSCC.” A Corzine spokesman declined to comment. Do as I say . . . With Corzine and Gov.-elect Chris Christie clashing over Corzine’s right to make lame-duck nominations, Senate president and former governor Richard Codey has played the statesman, publicly lamenting the “cold” relationship between Christie and Corzine. The Essex County Democrat also invoked his own authority to block a political foe, Corzine nominee Phil Alagia, saying Alagia already has a paying public job. But Codey’s involvement doesn’t stop there. The Auditor has learned he recently made more than a dozen of his own appointments and re-appointments to authorities, boards and commissions, even though he himself is a lame duck who will be unseated from the Senate presidency by Sen. Stephen Sweeney (D-Gloucester) on Jan. 12. Among Codey’s picks are Democratic senators Joe Vitale of Middlesex County, Shirley Turner of Mercer County and Ron Rice of Essex County — allies who may lose their committee chairmanships under Sweeney’s rule of the caucus. Sweeney said it’s still Codey’s prerogative to make appointments, but Codey never gave him a heads-up. (Star Ledger)

NJN reporter will be new senate secretary

Senate President-designate Stephen Sweeney (D-West Deptford) has named a veteran public television reporter as the new Secretary of the Senate. Kent St. John, who has been with New Jersey Network (NJN) News since 1987, will take office when the Senate reorganizes on January 12. He will replace Ellen Davenport, a former Essex County Freeholder who was named to the post by Senate President Richard Codey after Democrats took control of the Senate in 2003. St. John will become the first African American to hold the Senate Secretary post. “Kent brings with him a thorough knowledge of the State legislative process through his work as anchor, reporter, and producer at New Jersey Network News and twenty-nine years of diversified broadcasting experience,” Sweeney said. “He will serve the Senate with great capability and dedication.” A resident of Lindenwold, St. John is the chief of NJN News’ South Jersey bureau. He has served as the morning news anchor for WDAS in Philadelphia and as columnist for the Philadelphia Sunday Press. (Edge, PolitickerNJ)

Roberts will not post marriage equality in assembly without action in the State Assembly

Speaker Joseph Roberts (D-Camden) says that the Assembly Judiciary Committee will not hold a vote on same sex marriage legislation and would wait to see what the Senate does before posting it for a vote in the lower house. “After more than seven hours of testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Dec. 7 and continued public debate in the weeks since, we’ve certainly had a chance to hear all sides on marriage equality legislation,” said Roberts in a statement released this afternoon. “I believe ample opportunity has already been given for all views to be heard and additional Assembly committee debate is not needed” Roberts said that he told the bill’s senate sponsors, state Sen. Loretta Weinberg (D-Teaneck) and state Sen. Ray Lesniak (D-Elizabeth), that he will post the bill if it passes the senate. Steven Goldstein, the chairman of Garden State Equality, issued a statement saying Codey and Roberts should post the bill for a vote. “We’re far from dead – in the long and winding road in this marriage equality battle, anything and everything has happened. On an issue like marriage equality, which thousands of key players in the Democratic party support so passionately, you predict at your own peril,” Goldstein said. “Remember, earlier this month, we won a major victory in the Senate Judiciary Committee when no one thought the bill would even go to any committee. We call on Senator Codey and Speaker Roberts to bring the bill to a vote before their respective houses, and in the meantime, we will continue to work day and night for victory soon.” (Friedman, PolitickerNJ)

The man behind Gov.- elect Christie’s transition team

The groggy morning after Chris Christie was elected governor of New Jersey, his exhausted aides wondered what to do first. Did they need to rent an office? What about equipment? Where would the money come from? Two days later, they were cracking open the door to a fully stocked Trenton headquarters, armed with $250,000 to cover transition costs. In between, they found Chuck Chianese. Chianese, 49, is a state employee and the behind-the-scenes thread running through every gubernatorial transition since 1989. His assist – months of planning in the making – brought relief to the Christie team. But he’s not taking any bows. “He just did it with his classic professional, casual, ‘Here it is, don’t worry about it, I have it covered,’ ” said Jack Fisher, chairman of the New Jersey Building Authority, where Chianese serves as executive director along with doing his transition work. “He’s a very discreet person. He’s not false modesty. He doesn’t play for the limelight.” That approach has carried Chianese through seven administrations, an eternity in Statehouse years. While the politicians and fireworks come and go, Chianese quietly shifts the gears of government to ensure a smooth handoff. “With every transition, it is a matter of trust and confidence. I take my job very seriously, and there is absolutely no politics in anything that we do,” Chianese said in an interview. “It’s always a surprise, a very good surprise, that everything is ready to go and literally you’re able to hit a switch and they can begin functioning as the office of the governor-elect.” Eloquent and sharply dressed, Chianese cuts the profile of the Wall Street professional he once thought he might be. His job mixes the glamorous and mundane, bringing him into the orbit of New Jersey’s political elite while dealing with their sometimes quirky requests. In 2001, for example, incoming Gov. James E. McGreevey decided he wanted to bring his desk from the mayor’s office in Woodbridge with him to the Statehouse. But the state and township both would have had to go through the onerous public bidding process to make the purchase official, so Chianese had to turn McGreevey down, said Woodbridge Mayor John McCormac, who became McGreevey’s treasurer. (Heininger, Star Ledger)

N.J. laws aimed at improving quality of life take effect in new year

Got your New Year’s resolutions? New Jersey has its list — a collection of laws aimed at improving the state’s quality of life by tackling gun violence, insurance coverage for autism and transparency at psychiatric hospitals. Much of the legislation is geared toward helping people who suffer from a variety of ailments. Students with diabetes will be able to spend more time in the classroom than in the nurse’s office. Citizens worried about safety at state-run psychiatric hospitals will be able to find out the number of assaults and deaths at each. Starting today, unless you’re a legitimate gun dealer, state law now prohibits you from buying more than one handgun every 30 days. That applies to individuals, not dealers or collectors, and it doesn’t place restrictions on the number of rifles or shotguns a person can buy with a firearms purchaser identification card. New Jersey becomes the fourth state to enact such legislation, motivated by the police chiefs and mayor of Jersey City who approached Assemblywoman Joan Quigley (D-Hudson), one of the primary sponsors of the bill. She received mail from around the country denouncing the measure. “All of the out-of-state mail was opposing the bill and telling me that I was stupid, that I hated guns, and that I hated gun owners,” she said. Bryan Miller, executive director of Ceasefire NJ said he believes the law will reduce gun violence. “By limiting individuals to the purchase of no more than one handgun in 30 days, you dramatically reduce the ability of traffickers to make a profit,” he said. Rachel Parsons, a spokeswoman for the National Rifle Association said there is no evidence that gun rationing of any kind reduces crime, and the laws need to be geared toward criminals, not people who obtain guns lawfully. (Golson, Star Ledger)

Dana Redd takes office as Camden mayor

It was a hot August day in 1976 when the 8-year-old Camden girl, newly orphaned following her parents’ deaths just two weeks earlier, was blessed by none other than Mother Teresa. Wearing bows in her hair and a white dress she had worn only once before, Dana Redd took a lei made from flowers grown in the garden at her school, Sacred Heart in Camden, and handed them to the school’s visitor, the world’s most famous nun. “And Mother Teresa embraced her with great affection and blessed her,” remembered Msgr. Michael Doyle, longtime pastor of Sacred Heart Church. “That blessing was important in that child’s development.” Raised by her grandparents, Redd would develop into one of the most prominent politicians in New Jersey in a remarkably short time: a state senator and councilwoman until today, and the vice chair of the state Democratic Committee for another month. Just after 12:01 a.m. today, the 41-year-old Redd was to take her next political step and become the first new Camden mayor in nine years, ushering in a younger era in the troubled city. She replaces retiring Mayor Gwendolyn Faison, 84. “Camden is my passion and life’s work,” Redd said in a 90-minute interview yesterday in her now-vacant City Council office. “Literally, I wake up every day and say, ‘What are we doing for Camden today?’” (Katz, Inquirer)

N.J. Assembly Speaker says no action on gay marriage bill until Senate votes

A bill to legalize gay marriage was left in limbo today when the state Assembly speaker tossed it back to the Senate, while supporters and opponents watch time run out for it to become law. Speaker Joseph Roberts (D-Camden) said he would call a vote on the measure only if the Senate approved the bill first. That sent the bill’s Senate sponsors scrambling to get a vote scheduled before Gov. Jon Corzine leaves office. His successor, Gov.-elect Chris Christie has said he will not sign a same-sex marriage bill. Roberts’ move came three weeks after the Senate Judiciary Committee passed the measure. Instead of setting a Senate vote, leaders there then called upon the Assembly judiciary committee to debate the issue. Today, the bill’s sponsors in the upper house, Sen. Loretta Weinberg (D-Bergen) and Sen. Raymond Lesniak (D-Union), said they asked Senate President Richard Codey (D-Essex) to hold a vote on Jan. 7. But the urgent political maneuvering may not be enough. Codey (D-Essex) today said the bill (S1967) was not dead but is “in limbo, at best.” “Obviously there’s a lot of punting going on,” he said. “Sounds like a ball game, and somebody’s got to decide who’s going to take the kick.” Codey said he will talk with other senators, but added they may not be willing to vote because of a perceived lack of support in the Assembly. Many legislators have refused to say publicly where they stand on the matter and how they would vote. Lesniak today said he wants a vote next week, even if the outcome is unclear. “I don’t believe we’ll know for certain” until voting starts, he said. (Fuchs/Fleisher, Star Ledger)

Former NJ assemblyman convicted of fraud granted early release

A former assemblyman and mayor of Orange who began a five-year state prison term last January for falsifying expense receipts was released just before Christmas after serving less than a year. He was allowed to return home after being accepted into a state early-release program. Mims Hackett Jr., 68, who also served time for a separate federal corruption charge, left Mid-State Correctional Facility in Burlington County on Dec. 22, said his attorney, John Azzarello. The early release came after a three-judge panel approved Hackett’s application to the state Intensive Supervision Program, which is for certain nonviolent, first-time offenders. It is under the direction of the Administrative Office of the Courts, and is more strict than ordinary probation. On Christmas Day, Hackett and his wife celebrated their 48th wedding anniversary at their home in Orange. “He was elated and his family was overjoyed,” Azzarello said. Hackett did not return calls for comment. A state Department of Corrections spokeswoman confirmed his release. Hackett pleaded guilty in May 2008 to state charges he forged $5,700 in receipts for dinners at restaurants in and out of New Jersey. The state Attorney General’s Office, which prosecuted the case, would not comment on the early release. Hackett’s state prison term ran concurrently with a separate federal corruption charge for which he also pleaded guilty. In September 2007, he was among 11 New Jersey politicians arrested in an FBI bribery sting, and eventually admitted to accepting a $5,000 bribe to steer an insurance contract to a company that federal investigators had created. This past October, Hackett completed a 9-month federal prison sentence on that conviction, said Edmund Ross, of the federal Bureau of Prisons. Hackett was then taken to the New Jersey prison, where he was eligible for parole in June. (Friedman, Star Ledger)

Mary Pat Christie readies for role as state’s first lady

Chris Christie seemed to have lost all momentum in his race for the governorship. It was the start of the home stretch, and Gov. Jon Corzine had him on the ropes, charging that the challenger, who supported no-frills insurance policies, was anti-woman and anti-mammogram. Turmoil reigned in the Christie camp as the Republican candidate’s lead shrank in the polls. Christie wanted to depart from the mapped-out election strategy and run ads fighting back. Key advisers said no, arguing Christie needed to stay on message. Christie disagreed and finally aired a bare-bones TV spot that accused Corzine of “desperately trying to hold on to power” by mischaracterizing Christie’s position. The commercial is seen as pivotal — the moment Christie began to regain his footing on the way toward an Election Day victory. What was not seen, however, was who besides the candidate had pushed for the TV spot. In a series of calls and strategy sessions, one of the most forceful voices was the candidate’s wife. Mary Pat Christie rarely takes the microphone in public, and she doesn’t come across as particularly tough. But privately, it’s an entirely different story for the next first lady of New Jersey. “Mary Pat’s very respectful, and it’s not like she’s going to scream or curse. But Mary Pat’s not the type of person to back down,” said Chris Christie’s brother, Todd, who was in on the campaign’s strategy discussions. “She will get in your face.” At 46, Mary Pat Christie is about to become New Jersey’s ambassador of good will, a representative of the governor and one of the more recognizable people in the state. First lady is a position the finance-industry executive and mother of four did not seek or prepare for. She won’t be paid and has no idea what’s in store. But she said she will find a way to make her mark over the next four years. (Margolin, Star Ledger)

Ingle: Bet they didn’t see that coming

Senate President and Acting Gov. Dick Codey got straight to the point. He wrote a letter to U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano asking her to resign based on her response to the attempted bombing of a plane from Amsterdam to Detroit. The Napolitano response was a typical government spin effort, something some public relations flak pulled out of his butt because they needed something, anything no matter how stupid. “After the Christmas Day near-miss, your public statements seemed more focused on public relations than closing the gaps in our nation’s security safety net that allowed a terrorist to board an international flight for the United States,” Codey said. “Public relations spin to the contrary, I believe there are 300 airline passengers who were onboard Flight 253 and would disagree with your assessment on how well the system worked. “It was by sheer luck and mechanical malfunction of the bomber’s equipment that the United States was able to avoid tragedy, not through homeland security training and planning.” The system certainly didn’t work. He’s right. But, there is plenty of blame to go around. Since the department was created it has been headed by people whose anti-terrorism and common sense credentials left a lot to be desired. The Katrina aftermath, for instance, would have been laughable were the consequences not so dire. We are long past the time for playing around and putting political correctness and sensitivity before safety. Why do you suppose this guy had the explosive sewed into the crotch of his underwear? Do you think he would have been searched there? Nobody does, that’s why he did it. Super-sensitive people need to get over it or stay home. Many of the 911 Commission’s recommendations still have not been implemented. Why is that? It says this administration and the last — Bush/Cheney had plenty more time to do it — haven’t made air safety a priority. We’ll know that has changed when serious efforts, not public relations to make us feel better or the government to look better, are in place and people who get tips that aren’t acted on are fired. Starting with the people that dropped the ball on this latest one. (Ingle, Gannett)

Stile: 10 people to watch in 2010

It will be another two weeks before Republican Christopher Christie formally begins backing up his promise of change with real power. Here are 10 North Jersey political figures to watch in 2010, and in the first years of the new Christie era. Sen. Kevin O’Toole, R-Cedar Grove. O’Toole positioned himself over the past year to exploit the bipartisan Axis of Opportunity created by the Christie victory and Dick Codey’s ouster as Senate president. O’Toole has close ties to Newark Democratic boss Steve Adubato, mentor of Essex County Executive Joseph N. DiVincenzo Jr. (and Christie “friend,” for the time being). O’Toole is also the Senate GOP’s unofficial envoy to Codey’s successor, Stephen Sweeney, of Gloucester, an O’Toole ally from the budget committee. And O’Toole is leading the Senate Republican’s redistricting plans, which also bolsters his power and will put him in a coveted seat at the table when New Jersey’s 40 legislative districts are redrawn in 2011. Bergen County Republican Organization Chairman Bob Yudin. After seating two Republicans on the all-Democratic freeholder board last year, 2010 looms as a bigger challenge if, as expected, Yudin’s intraparty rival, Bergen County Clerk Kathleen Donovan, runs for county executive. Expect Yudin allies to launch an Anybody But Donovan recruitment drive to stop her from winning the party’s nod in March. If Donovan wins the BCRO line and then the June primary, her supporters will likely move to oust Yudin in the chairmanship election a week after the primary. As it stands now, Donovan has a clear path to the nomination. (Stile, The Record)

McCarthy: A little humor at year-end freeholder meeting

The lighter side of politics typically comes out during the Gloucester County freeholder board’s year-end meeting. The last-minute business gets done during these short meetings – the one this week lasted some 15 minutes. But the freeholders all take time to joke with each other. It seems that around the holidays, Freeholder Warren Wallace enjoys inviting everyone out to the home of Freeholder Joseph Brigandi Jr. for a party. This year was no different, for Wallace, who chided Brigandi for showing up late. “I was going to invite everybody to Joe’s for the New Year’s Eve gala at his home,” Wallace said. Moments later, Brigandi fired back. “The party starts whenever you get there, Warren,” he said. A few years back, when Brigandi was absent from a meeting just before the Fourth of July holiday, Wallace decided to invite all in attendance to the freeholder’s Glassboro home. The following meeting, Brigandi said he was baffled nobody visited. Other antics this past Wednesday included Freeholder Frank DiMarco looking at the light agenda – he had no ideas up for consideration – and asking for an early dismissal. “I would like to ask for permission to leave,” DiMarco said. “Thank you, freeholder,” said Director Stephen Sweeney. “You can leave now. Don’t let the door hit you on the way out.” Change is near – maybe. With Freeholder Director Stephen Sweeney set to take on a new leadership role in his other job as a state Senator, his departure from the all-Democrat board is inevitable. For now, however, he has stayed on as director following this most recent reorganization meeting. The questions remain. When will Sweeney step down? And, who will assume the top spot following his departure? (McCarthy, Newhouse)

Torres: My, oh, my how things have changed

Because I’m home watching some college bowl games, here’s a look at some Insider Notes that ran in 2009, and they are followed by end-of-the-year comments. March 23: I can’t take credit for this because it’s an original from Hudson County Administrator Abe Antun, who used it in reference to a certain freeholder (Bill O’Dea). But someday wouldn’t you want to see either former Assemblyman Lou Manzo of Jersey City or Assemblyman Anthony Chiappone of Bayonne elected mayor just so you could hear them denounce themselves? Insider observation: Isn’t it ironic that since this ran, Manzo and Chiappone have each been indicted. There was something to complain about. March 28: Ward B Councilwoman Mary Spinello is named to take over the Parking Authority directorship on Wednesday. What a surprise – not. Ever since Spinello voted for the AMB cube warehouse, a Healy pet project, her days as an elected official were numbered. She voted contrary to the wishes of her constituents, who do not want a business that attracts more trucks to their neighborhood. Was the Parking Authority a reward for taking a bullet for the mayor? Insider observation: Isn’t it ironic? Spinello has Bayonne neighbors and AMB Warehouse ain’t getting built. Will the Healy administration deny this or are they waiting to get a big-box store to replace it before any announcements? What’s happening? (Torres, Jersey Journal)

Morning News Digest: January 4, 2010