Morning News Digest: January 6, 2010

25-year-old takes the reins in Springfield

Springfield Township became the municipality with the youngest serving mayor in New Jersey on Tuesday night. Mayor Ziad Andrew Shehady, 25, was sworn into office by Lt.-Gov Kim Guadagno along with newly elected Republican councilmen Marc Krauss and Jerry Fernandez, whose campaigns Shehady managed. “I am giving the oath of office to someone half my age,” joked Guadagno, 50. Shehady is four years older than Harry Zikas, Jr. was when he became mayor of Alpha at the age of 21, serving two terms from 2000 to 2007. The traditionally Democratic town is now under Republican control with a majority of 3-2 in the town’s governing body, which elects the mayor. Shehady was elected to the township committee in 2008 and in 2009 served as chair of the finance committee of the township council. He urged that the governing body would “put Springfield first” as a “productive and responsible team” to create a government organized as a business. The new mayor said he plans to consolidate various boards and committees to simplify processes and ameliorate what he described as poor communication between departments. The new mayor said he is also excited to undertake new beautification and eco-friendly initiatives. In addition, Springfield will soon boast its own public access channel to improve communication and transparency between the government and its constituents. U.S. Rep. Leonard Lance (R-Clinton Twp.), Assemblywoman Nancy Munoz (R-Summit), Senate Minority Leader Tom Kean (R-Westfield), Senate Minority Whip Jon Bramnick (R-Westfield), Garwood Councilman Anthony Sytko (R-Garwood), and Union County Clerk Joanne Rajoppi attended. Deputy Mayor Bart Fraenkel, the former mayor, said that the new administration will be working diligently to accomplish “the things that we’ve been talking about for years: get bipartisanism out of the way, get government first.” (Quintanilla, PolitickerNJ)

Corzine and Christie reach agreement on nominations

Outgoing Gov. Jon Corzine and Gov.-elect Christopher Christie have broken a long impasse on appointments and nominations that has troubled the gubernatorial transition, Corzine announced today. “The Governor-Elect and I concur that incoming and outgoing administrations should identify their priority appointments and come to an amicable and balanced agreement, and that’s exactly what we’ve done here,” said Corzine in a statement. The agreement, which has been in the works for about one week, essentially keeps current members of the state’s important policy-making boards and agencies – some of whom have deep political connections – on holdover status until Christie takes office on January 19. Corzine has agreed not to make any new appointments. Those agencies include the Board of Public Utilities, the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, the Turnpike Authority, the New Jersey Sports and Exposition Authority, New Jersey Transit, the Horizon Blue Cross/Blue Shield Board of Trustees, the State Investment Council, and the Council on Affordable Housing. The reappointment of several officials has become a sticking point between Corzine and Christie. Sports and Exposition Authority Chairman Carl Goldberg was re-nominated by Corzine last month, but he will now remain on holdover status until after Christie takes office. The same goes for labor leader Ray Pocino, who Corzine re-nominated to the Port Authority in December, and South Jersey Bishop David Evans, a political ally who Corzine re-nominated to the Turnpike Authority, among others. In turn, Christie will disourage Republican senators from holding up other nominations through the unwritten rule of Senatorial Courtesy. Although Corzine was criticized for failing to fill hundreds of vacancies until the last minute, Corzine’s allies have argued many were held up by Republicans. (Friedman, PolitickerNJ)

New Jersey governor’s brother: an asset and a risk

If he weren’t the younger brother of New Jersey’s newly elected governor, Todd J. Christie might be seen as just another freewheeling, risk-taking, deep-pocketed Wall Street trader. Todd Christie earned more than $60 million when his stock specialist firm was bought by the investment bank Goldman Sachs in 2000; he later became implicated in a federal fraud investigation, and yet ultimately emerged with reputation intact and enough money to found his own trading company and continue running his family’s charitable foundation. But because his older brother is Christopher J. Christie, nearly everything about Todd Christie is viewed by some through a political prism. He is his brother’s most exuberant supporter, a source of advice and financial support who has served in every campaign capacity short of confetti shredder. And along the way he has also resigned himself to being regarded as a walking political vulnerability. “Politics is a rough business, so it’s not surprising,” Todd Christie said in an interview this week. “But you do whatever you have to do to help. And for me, I’ve been most effective working behind the scenes.” In the weeks since Christopher Christie was elected, his brother has taken a prominent role in planning the incoming governor’s inaugural celebration Jan. 19, and that public profile has raised a tantalizing question in New Jersey political circles about what happens come January 20. Given Todd Christie’s business interests, and his brush with federal investigators, some political analysts warn that if he is closely involved in state government, his brother’s administration could quickly find itself confronting conflict-of-interest concerns. “Both Christies need to step very carefully,” said Brigid C. Harrison, a political science professor at Montclair State University. “With the political climate, the public concerns about the financial services industry, and Chris’s reputation as someone who fights corruption, if there’s even the insinuation that Todd was receiving information from inside government that benefited his business, it would be very damaging to the new governor.” (Kocieniewski, New York Times)

Faced with Torres’ politics and Sayegh’s work rate, Jones stays focused on his goal

Council President Jeff Jones doesn’t see the vision of doom gathering in the candidacy of fellow mayoral candidate Andre Sayegh, the ward six councilman who today saw his petitions certified and who wants to turn the contest into a conflagration between incumbent Mayor Jose “Joey” Torres and himself. Jones contemplates his own vision of Paterson, the city where he was born and raised. “It’s so early, it means absolutely nothing at this point,” Jones said of his rival’s achievement today. “He turned in some papers, let’s try not to get too excited.” Intent on going after Torres at his own pace and with his own set of arguments, Jones sees himself as emphatically the alternative to the incumbent and rightful purveyor of a people power message. But the candidate also doesn’t settle for sound bites, and that may prove to make Jones, if not the most enigmatic mayoral candidate on the Paterson trail this season, perhaps the most challenging. An ex-Marine who pulled duty in Europe and the Middle East in the late 1970’s and early 1980’s and served as a crewmember of assault amphibious vehicles, Jones the political science professor and emergent political leader cuts a complex figure on a ward-scape that Torres and Sayegh are early attempting to control with guile and pragmaticism (Torres) and energetic sloganeering and accelerated work-rate (Sayegh). Ask him to talk about why Torres’s emphasis on development has been damaging to Paterson, and instead of spitting back a simple sentence answer, Jones reaches back to the beginnings of western civilization for context. (Pizarro, PolitickerNJ)

Machand’s road to judgeship seems blocked

For Arthur Marchand, 2009 was a rough year. The former Cumberland County surrogate started the year off still stinging from his November, 2008 reelection loss to Doug Rainier, which he described to friends as being “Obamatised” along with the rest of the county’s Republican slate. Soon, Marchand decided to run for the State Assembly in the 3rd District after getting the state Republicans who recruited him to pledge to help fund his campaign. But owing to a party schism in neighboring Gloucester County and what he said was bad ballot placement, Marchand and running mate, George Shivery, lost the Republican primary to two political neophytes. So Marchand, ready to retire from politics, was set to be nominated as a Superior Court judge from Cumberland County. The process, which began in the summer, started off smoothly. The Cumberland County Bar Association approved Marchand, who served as county prosecutor before he became surrogate, and he passed the State Police background check. But the nomination hit a wall over matters intensely personal and private when it got to the State Bar Association, whose Judicial and Prosecutorial Appointments Committee must green light nominees before they proceed on to legislative approval. “I’m not supposed to talk about it. It’s supposed to be all secret,” said Marchand. Although Marchand declined to comment, multiple sources said the hold-up was at least partly due to a family dispute involving his brother over the handling of their late mother’s estate. There were no lawsuits or legal actions filed in the dispute. (Friedman, PolitickerNJ)

Dems support Norcross for state senate

Assemblyman-elect Donald Norcross has not yet been sworn in to the lower legislative house, but he already appears to have a clear path to move up to the state senate. Close to 100 Democratic Party leaders, elected officials and labor leaders from in and around the 5th Legislative District closed ranks around Norcross to take over the state senate seat vacated by Camden Mayor Dana Redd, and Camden Councilman Gilbert “Whip” Wilson to take over the assembly seat that Norcross was elected to fill. Norcross is the South Jersey AFL-CIO president, co-chairman of the Camden County Democrats and brother of South Jersey power broker George Norcross. “Donald Norcross and Councilman Wilson will be outstanding representatives of the people of the 5th District,” said U.S. Rep. Rob Andrews (D-Haddon Heights). “They will do what needs to be done to reduce government spending, hold the line on taxes and improve the quality of life for those who live and work here.” Norcross will serve in the state assembly for four days before Democratic committee members from the district hold a special election on Jan. 16 that will almost certainly send him on to the state senate. (Friedman, PolitickerNJ)

McNerney ready for race vs. Donovan

Democratic Bergen County Executive Dennis C. McNerney is girding for a tough race against Republican County Clerk Kathleen Donovan, who so far appears to have a clear path to the GOP nomination to run against him for the county’s top post. But McNerney says he’s no stranger to a challenge. “In 1998 I ran for freeholder and it was a 7-0 Republican freeholder board. In 2001, I ran again and won but my running mates lost. And then the next day, I got up and ran for county executive. So I’ve had nothing but tough elections and winning,” said McNerney. “My wife Cathy supports this race, too, so that’s important.” McNerney won his first term in 2002 against then-state Sen. Henry McNamara (R-Wyckoff) in a relatively close race. In 2006, he easily won reelection over Republican Todd Caliguire. But Donovan, the top county-level vote getter in in 2008, an otherwise favorable year for Democrats, and a 20-year incumbent, is expected to be a formidable opponent. And McNerney has lost his staunch political ally: former Bergen County Democratic Chairman Joseph Ferriero, who was convicted on three corruption counts in October. Ferriero, a prolific fundraiser, helped raise the millions of dollars McNerney spent on his two campaigns. Still, McNerney does not think his campaign will be tainted by Ferriero’s conviction. “Look at the former Republican chairman, Berek Don. A convicted felon and he was the Bergen County Republican chairman under Kathe. I guess you have to ask her that question,” said McNerney, referring to Don’s 1999 guilty plea to, among other things, illegally funneling cash into former U.S. Sen. Robert Torricelli’s (D-Englewood) campaign account. (Friedman, PolitickerNJ)

N.J. Gov.-elect Chris Christie to announce choice for head of homeland security

Gov.-elect Chris Christie plans to announce his choice as the leader of the state’s homeland security effort Wednesday afternoon, tapping another former colleague from the U.S. Attorney’s office for his cabinet. Senior Assistant U.S. Attorney Charles McKenna will be introduced as Christie’s choice to direct the state Office of Homeland Security and Preparedness, according to two officials who have been briefed on Christie’s selection. McKenna is currently the chief of the criminal division at the federal prosecutor’s office and was the executive assistant U.S. attorney for much of Christie’s time running the U.S. Attorney’s Office. As a federal prosecutor, McKenna was a key member of the team responsible for shaping the case against the Pakistani militant indicted for the murder of Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl. He also coordinated the interaction between the U.S. Attorney’s Office and other federal agencies, including those handling counter-terrorism functions. McKenna, of Short Hills, declined to comment tonight. McKenna will be the third Christie Cabinet member introduced . The first two were Essex County Prosecutor Paula Dow as state attorney general and Lt. Gov.-elect Kim Guadagno who will double as secretary of state. Like McKenna, Dow and Guadagno had high-profile careers at the U.S. Attorney’s Office. The McKenna announcement will be made during a 1 p.m. news conference at Dow’s office in Newark. The Office of Homeland Security and Preparedness was established in the wake of the 9/11 terror attacks. McKenna would be the second director of the agency, replacing Richard Canas, who was brought in by Gov. Jon Corzine. The position is not subject to Senate confirmation. (Margolin, Star Ledger)

NJ Senate to vote on gay marriage bill

After a month in legislative limbo, a controversial bill to allow gay marriage in New Jersey will get a vote in the full state Senate Thursday, Senate President Richard Codey said today. The decision sets up another dramatic day in Trenton as supporters concede they won’t know if the measure will pass until the votes are tallied. Senators will make a decision a month after Codey called off a vote when sponsors worried there wasn’t enough support — and a week after Assembly Speaker Joseph Roberts said his house won’t vote on gay marriage until it passes the Senate. “Given the intensely personal nature of this issue, I think the people of this state deserve the right to a formal debate on the Senate floor,” Codey said. With many legislators refusing to say where they stand, Sen. Loretta Weinberg (D-Bergen), a sponsor, said the vote forces them to “stand up and be counted on how they feel about equal rights.” “They can’t be hesitant anymore,” Weinberg said. “They have to come to the realization that we were elected to take sometimes difficult stands, but we were not elected to only worry about the next election.” Sen. Gerald Cardinale (R-Bergen), an opponent of the bill, said there isn’t enough support in either house to pass the measure but declined to say it would fail in the Senate. “I have no way of getting into anybody’s head and saying how they’re going to go,” Cardinale said. “Maybe they’re hoping that the debate will inflame people or that there will be folks who say outrageous things.” Senate Majority Leader and incoming Senate President Stephen Sweeney (D-Gloucester) declined to say how he would vote, but said gay marriage supporters “have made a very strong case about civil rights — one that’s hard to ignore, to be perfectly honest with you.” (Fuchs/Heininger, Star Ledger)

Stile: GOP’s shot at winning turns foes into allies

Has glasnost finally come to the notoriously dysfunctional Bergen County Republican Organization? It’s starting to look that way. Former intraparty combatants Kathleen Donovan, the Bergen County clerk, and Bob Yudin, the BCRO chairman, were holding peace talks over the quiet holiday week, including a Dec. 28 sit-down at Solari’s Restaurant in Hackensack. They met again three days later at the office of longtime Donovan adviser Alan Marcus. State Sen. Gerald Cardinale of Demarest, a Yudin adviser, also attended. United Nations monitors did not participate, as rumored. By most accounts, everybody behaved themselves. There was no rude slamming of doors in each other’s face (like Donovan did to Yudin after her swearing-in ceremony last January), no paranoid accusations of political skullduggery (like Yudin publicly accusing Donovan of orchestrating a nasty legal ballot brouhaha in Franklin Lakes last June) or no public sniping by their surrogates (such as fliers from Donovan supporter Eleanor Nissley accusing Yudin of dishonesty). “Our meetings and conversations are very productive,” Yudin said Monday. “Whatever Bob said, I agree with,” Donovan said. Given the level of toxicity between the two rivals, this joint statement of cooperation might strike North Jersey political soap opera devotees as a miracle, but winning — or more precisely the possibility of winning the county executive seat in November — has a strange way of turning enemies into allies. And it has become increasingly clear that Donovan is best positioned to dislodge two-term Democrat Dennis McNerney in the fall. Despite distrust over her moderate-to-liberal leanings and criticism that she has acted at times as her own political sovereign, some in the Old Guard are slowly conceding that there is no other legitimate choice than Donovan. Other possible rivals who have flirted with a bid for the county executive nod, like former Hackensack Mayor John “Jack” Zisa, have beat a retreat, while others, like Rochelle Park township committeeman Joseph Scarpa, have pledged fealty to Donovan. (Stile, The Record)

Ingle: Agreement on lame duck appointments

Looks like outgoing Gov. Corzine and incoming Gov.-elect Christie have reached agreement on appointments during the lame duck period, a time when hangers-on and public trough-swillers on the inside are traditionally moved to other jobs to keep in the pension game. Corzine: “The Governor-Elect and I concur that incoming and outgoing administrations should identify their priority appointments and come to an amicable and balanced agreement, and that’s exactly what we’ve done here.” He said certain board and commissions should remain unchanged for now. Those boards and commissions include the Board of Public Utilities, the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, the Turnpike Authority, the New Jersey Sports and Exposition Authority, New Jersey Transit, the Horizon Blue Cross/Blue Shield Board of Trustees, the State Investment Council, and the Council on Affordable Housing. Okay, so how many cronies does Corzine get to pad the payroll with? (Ingle, Gannett)

Gov. Corzine nominates 15, including three from Passaic County, for judgeships

Governor Corzine on Tuesday announced the nominations of 15 people, including three from Passaic County, for judgeships, hours after striking a deal with his successor over lame-duck appointments. Tahesha Way, the outgoing director of the Passaic County Freeholders, was nominated for an administrative law judgeship, as was Michael Antoniewicz, a lawyer and tenant advocate from North Bergen. Esther Suarez of Wayne, who serves as the Bergen County counsel, was nominated for a Superior Court judgeship. A third Passaic County resident, Vicki Citrino of Clifton, was nominated for a post as a workers’ compensation judge. The nominations were made public shortly after Corzine’s office issued a statement announcing an agreement with Governor-elect Christopher Christie on gubernatorial nominations. Corzine agreed not to name new members to seven agencies, including the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey and the New Jersey Sports and Exposition Authority. Christie, who will be sworn in on Jan. 19, agreed in exchange not to challenge Corzine’s other appointments, including judicial nominations. The agreement virtually assures confirmation of Corzine’s judicial appointments by the state Senate before the lame-duck session wraps up next week. Way, an attorney with Totowa law office of Steven F. Varano, had been considered a rising star in Passaic County Democratic circles until she was defeated for reelection in November. The Bronx-born daughter of working class parents, Way graduated from Brown University and received a law degree from the University of Virginia. The Wayne resident is married to former Giants running back Charles Way and has three children. She entered politics when she was appointed to the Passaic County Freeholder Board in June 2006. County Executive Dennis McNernery appointed her county counsel in 2003. (Lamb/Cowen, The Record)

Camden Mayor Dana Redd takes oath of office, says goal is to return local authority

Dana Redd took the oath of office as mayor today with pledges to restore pride and take back local control of the troubled city. Redd, a 41-year-old Democratic state senator elected in November, replaces Gwendolyn Faison, who served as mayor for nine years. Her powers are restricted, however, because Camden is due to remain under state control until 2012. Redd said she will meet in the coming days with Gov.-elect Chris Christie, who has said Camden should be free to manage its own affairs before 2012. She declined to give a timetable but said her goal is to “transition local authority back to the office of the mayor” when the city can “effectively deliver services.” “Camden needs to be able to lead, but it’s going to take time to achieve that moment,” Redd said, adding that even under state rule she can make change. “I don’t see the office as being symbolic,” she said. “People respect the mayor’s office, and I’m looking to raise Camden’s profile, and also gain respect back for the city of Camden.” Senate Majority Leader Stephen Sweeney (D-Gloucester), who will become Senate president next week, said he would “get legislation done to enable the mayor to be the mayor.” “We’ve got to let her govern the city,” Sweeney said to applause during the lengthy swearing-in ceremony before a crowd of 650 at Rutgers University’s Camden campus. Other speakers included U.S. Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ), Gov. Jon Corzine, Assembly Speaker Joseph Roberts (D-Camden), Newark Mayor Cory Booker and Philadelpha Mayor Michael Nutter. (Heininger, Star Ledger)

Huttle sworn in as Englewood’s newest mayor

Frank Huttle became the city’s newest mayor Tuesday night, replacing Michael Wildes, who served for 11 years as councilman and mayor. The ceremony began with a performance by the Community Baptist Church choir and was followed by Huttle being sworn by state Sen. Loretta Weinberg. The new mayor told a standing-room only crowd of more than 200 that stabilizing taxes would be one of his main goals going forward. “It’s time to put politics aside and work together to make Englewood live up to its potential as one of the greatest in the nation,” Huttle said. He added that the economic crisis was a wake-up call and that the city’s high tax rate had become a huge burden on residents. Huttle, head of the Englewood-based BergenPAC, is husband to Assemblywoman Valerie Huttle and a partner in the Teaneck law firm DeCotiis, FitzPatrick, & Cole LLP. Also sworn in was Lynne Algrant, who replaced Gordon Johnson as council member at large. Johnson stepped down to focus full-time on his role as a state assemblyman. Councilman Scott Reddin, who lost to Huttle in a narrow June primary election, was appointed council president, replacing Councilman Ken Rosenzweig. Wildes and Johnson, who were honored with a special plaque, said they were grateful for the opportunity to serve the residents of Englewood. Longtime Councilman Jack Drakeford commented on the large crowd — some parked a half-mile away and walked to the public safety complex — saying he wished that many people showed up for budget meetings, considering the city’s economic health was more important than a swearing-in ceremony. Reddin, Rosenzweig and Councilwoman Charlotte Bennett Schoen said they looked forward to serving in the new year, despite a number of challenges ahead. (Fabiano, The Record)

Ron Dobies again removed as Middlesex Borough administrator

Ron Dobies has been removed as borough administrator, the victim of a changing of the political guard in this majority Democrat town where Republicans now control both the Mayor’s Office and the Borough Council. Members of the new GOP advantage denied politics was behind the move. “A clerk/administrator handled it (the duties) from January to August (2009), and I saw no difference,” said recently installed Republican Borough Council President Debra DeVuyst. “Everything moved smoothly.” But Robert Schueler, the Democrat who served as council president prior to DeVuyst, disagreed, noting that Dobies had been rehired July 28, 2009, after agreeing to work for $1 a year. “It doesn’t seem like the most financially prudent course of action.” Borough Clerk Kathleen Anello will handle the duties of administrator, along with her regular duties, similar to her role last year, before Dobies was brought on. As was the case in early 2009, Anello will receive no salary increase. The borough’s mayor for 26 years, Dobies became administrator in 2006. He was terminated in April 2008 but sued the municipality, claiming the council acted improperly by failing to pass a resolution formally removing him from the job. A judge sided with Dobies, and ordered the borough to pay him through April 8, 2008, plus 90 days’ pay, plus pay for vacation and sick days that Dobies would have earned. He was then given the job back after offering to return at the nominal $1 annual salary, saying he wanted to give back to the borough after years at its helm. DeVuyst and fellow Republican Michael Class voted at the time against rehiring Dobies, and Class said Tuesday night that it was time for a new approach after a year in which the town was criticized for not spending and managing its resources efficiently. “We need a fresh start. We need to rework our budget and get this town moving in the right direction,” Class said. (Grant, Gannett)

Former N.J. assemblyman pleads not guilty in massive corruption sting

A former assemblyman from Ocean County pleaded not guilty today to charges of taking bribes from the FBI informant at the crux of last summer’s money-laundering and corruption sting. Daniel M. Van Pelt, a Republican elected to the Legislature in 2007, is charged with accepting $10,000 in exchange for promising to help the informant secure environmental approvals for a real estate project in Ocean Township. He was among scores of defendants charged in July in the epic sting that hinged on a failed Monmouth County developer who began wearing a wire for federal investigators after being charged in 2006 with bank fraud. The informant, Solomon Dwek, spent more than two years secretly working for federal prosecutors, targeting rabbis who supposedly laundered money and public officials who allegedly took bribes. Van Pelt, 45 served 11 years as mayor of Ocean Township and resigned from the Legislature days after being arrested. His trial is scheduled to begin Feb. 18. If convicted, Van Pelt faces up to 20 years in prison. (Ryan, Star Ledger) Morris County freeholders seek budget advice from public The county freeholders will hold a special public meeting on the evening of Jan. 13 to consider advice and suggestions from the public on the county’s 2010 budget. The freeholders’ budget committee, which is now formulating the spending plan, will be available to meet with any county resident, mayor or member of any local governing body who would like to share ideas about county government spending next year.The session will be held at 6:30 p.m. in the Knox Room on the fifth floor of the Administration and Records Building on Court Street in Morristown. Residents who cannot attend the session can send written comments to the Morris County Administrator’s Office, P.O. Box 900, Morristown, N.J., 07963-0900. Comments can also be e-mailed to the freeholders in care of the county public information office at The county had a $298.5 million budget in 2009, and the freeholders have said they are trying not to increase the budget this year. (Ragonese, Star Ledger) Morning News Digest: January 6, 2010