Morning News Digest: January 7, 2010

Lautenberg and Menendez have not talked to Christie since election This morning, on the northern end of Newark, Gov.-elect Chris

Lautenberg and Menendez have not talked to Christie since election

This morning, on the northern end of Newark, Gov.-elect Chris Christie attended the North Ward Center’s Three Kings celebration at the Cathedral Basilica, while U.S. senators Frank Lautenberg and Robert Menendez took turns at a podium in front of the ticket counters at Newark Liberty Airport and called for beefed up security measures at the site of a holiday breach. “This can be attributed to a management failure,” Lautenberg said of Sunday’s incident, when a man walked through an exit door and left undetected and unidentified. “An individual wasn’t doing his duty, and you can’t have that kind of breakdown,” added Lautenberg. “We’re not going to have an execution out here, we’re going to make sure we understand what took place.” “Failures are unacceptable,” Menendez said. Although they haven’t yet in the context of their updated relations – beyond back and forth chest thumping in the newspapers over transit funding, soon the paths of the two Democratic senators will converge with that of Christie. “We have to work together,” Lautenberg said. “There’s no room for bickering.” Menendez has the rockier history with Christie ever since the former U.S. Attorney dropped a subpoena on him in the middle of his 2006 senate campaign against state Sen. Tom Kean – a subpoena that could have fragged Menendez’s candidacy, but ultimately went nowhere. “I called the governor-elect or day or two after he won the election,” he told “That’s the only communication I’ve had with him. “I look forward to working with him,” added Menendez, who’s more than alert to Christie’s empowerment of office. Up for re-election in 2012, the senator continues to eyeball the Hudson County political landscape with some measure of alarm, according to sources. Eviscerated in the wake of Operation Broken Boards, the Hudson County Democratic Organization (HCDO) bears little resemblance to the Hague constructs of old, with wobbly operations in Jersey City and hardly stunning countywide results recorded last year by defeated Gov. Jon Corzine, whose Hudson performance couldn’t offset the GOP’s Ocean County output. (Pizarro, PolitickerNJ)

GOP prepares for primary in race to challenge

Holt Venture capitalist Scott Sipprelle brings financial oomph and a deep resume to the 12th Congressional District race, but his path to the Republican nomination is far from clear. Fair Haven Mayor Michael Halfacre, who has been laying his own campaign’s groundwork for close to a year and has raised about $60,000 so far, does not plan to roll over for the wealthier candidate. “I am fully committed to this race. A big checkbook is not going to scare me off,” said Halfacre in a phone interview. The contest has the makings for an intensely competitive primary to earn the right to run against U.S. Rep. Rush Holt (D-Princeton) in the general election, which will be a tall order for any Republican. Neither candidate can claim the full support of the Republican establishment, and the contest pit some of the state’s top Republican consultants, fundraisers and pollsters against each other. Halfacre’s campaign is managed by Tom Fitzsimmons, a strategist central to the 2007 victory of then-Assemblywoman Jennifer Beck’s (R-Red Bank) over state Sen. Ellen Karcher (D-Marlboro). His finance chair is Larry Bathgate, a prominent national fundraiser who was a finance co-chair of John McCain’s presidential campaign, and he’s hired The Traz Group to do his mail pieces. His pollster is Adam Geller, who did the internal numbers for the campaign of Gov.-elect Chris Christie. Sipprelle has brought on Chris Russell – who used to work for the Traz Group – as his general consultant, and has hired Jamestown Associates, a prominent GOP firm that did Christie’s direct mail, for his media campaign. His pollster is Jim McLaughlin, who has worked on many high profile New Jersey campaigns. Halfacre said that he first heard that Sipprelle was weighing a run about three weeks ago — unwelcome news for someone who had long been toiling on the campaign, attending small Republican gatherings and chicken dinners. “I started hearing rumors three weeks ago that there was a Wall Streeter sniffing around the race from Princeton. I found out his name and met him,” said Halfacre. When asked if he felt the sudden entrance was unfair, Halfacre said “I don’t know if unfair is the right word.” “I consider this my district and I’ve been working very hard to make it my district. I’ve been out crisscrossing this district for months,” he said. (Friedman, PolitickerNJ)

Payne stops short of endorsing Booker, but family ties in bind

U.S. Rep. Donald Payne wouldn’t endorse anyone for mayor of Newark when given the chance today at Newark Liberty International AIrport, where he joined senators Frank Lautenberg and Robert Menendez to call for more airport security improvement. “There’s been much better communication between our offices now in the past year since the conflict,” Payne said of the office of Mayor Cory Booker. The referenced conflict was the 2008 South Ward district leader battle in which Booker tried to take down the elder statesman and ended up getting soundly whipped. “Things have improved,” Payne admitted. Although old school Newarker Clifford Minor, Booker’s challenger in the mayor’s race, is courting Payne, it’s unlikely the congressman will break from Booker. No great personal affection or history binds the two men. As with the candidacy of Essex County Executive Joe DiVincenzo, there’s a key family member in the middle of the drama. With DiVincenzo, it’s Bill Payne, the former assemblyman, who serves as DiVincenzo’s deputy chief of staff. He’s the congressman’s brother, a presence that makes Payne’s backing of anyone other than DiVincenzo – assuming there’s even a credible challenger – highly unlikely. Blood dictates: a dictum that proves true as well in the local race, where Booker heads a ticket that includes Councilman (and County Freeholder) Donald Payne, Jr. The congressman stopped short of outright endorsing DiVincenzo – “not yet,” but he’s all but affixed his imprimatur to the county exec’s cause in county committee meetings. Asked if it was conceivable for him to endorse a split ticket at the local level; say, Minor for mayor and a slate of city council candidate allies of Booker’s, including his son, the congressman said he still anticipates political meetings with son, brother and Party Chairman Phil Thigpen before he decides. An advocate of the public healthcare option, Payne in other news said he didn’t like the U.S. Senate’s holiday compromise bill that sliced the public option off the table. “It’s too bad the senate caved,” he said. “We wil try to get it (the public option) in the final bill, but if we don’t succeed, what we will have still means we have come a long way.” As with his fellow Democratic lawmakers present today, Payne faces the coming era of Gov. Chris Christie with apprehension. (Pizarro, PolitickerNJ)

N.J. Gov.-elect Christie blasts Democrats for lame-duck actions

With two weeks left until he takes office, Gov.-elect Chris Christie isn’t exactly thrilled with how Democrats are rolling out the welcome mat. Christie today ripped into ruling Democratic lawmakers and Gov. Jon Corzine for a litany of moves during the lame-duck legislative session, accusing them of tying his hands in a fiscal crisis. Among his concerns are bills that would legalize in-state college tuition rates for undocumented immigrants, reform prisoner re-entry programs, and allow towns to defer pension payments, as well as what he called “discretionary” spending by the Corzine administration. “They continue to pursue the old Trenton ways. Those old Trenton ways have to be over. That’s what people voted for on Nov. 3,” Christie said during a wide-ranging news conference in Newark, after introducing Charles McKenna as his director of homeland security. “We can’t do it. We’re broke…The governor and members of the Legislature who are pushing these type of bills are hurting the state’s economy and are hurting our ability to be able to come forward with a balanced, responsible budget,” he said. Elected on a platform of smaller government, Christie has said he will face a deficit of up to $9.5 billion in his first budget after he’s sworn in Jan 19. While the Republican governor-elect was careful to say that some Democrats agree with him on the need for spending restraint, “some have not gotten the message.” Democrats said it’s Christie who’s out of line. “The Legislature and its members are just as aware of the state of the state, as much as or more so than the incoming governor,” said Assembly Majority Leader Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-Mercer), sponsor of the prisoner reform bills, which she said have been narrowed so they will not cost the state anything for the first two years. Christie said they would cost “in excess” of $10 million. “This is about governance, and he needs to pay attention to the substance,” Watson Coleman said. “The world is not going to stand still between now and Jan. 19. Neither is the state.” Senate President Richard Codey (D-Essex) defended the agenda in the upper house, and pointed out that the bill to allow towns to skip pension payments lacks the support to go forward. “Before he criticizes any of them, he should wait and see whether or not they pass,” Codey said. “But in any event, he’s entitled to his opinion, which he has no problem sharing.” (Heininger, Star Ledger)

N.J. Gov.-elect Christie names federal prosecutor to homeland security post

Governor-elect Chris Christie formally announced his pick for homeland security chief on Wednesday, once again choosing someone he worked with at the U.S. Attorney’s Office for a prominent post in his administration. Senior Assistant U.S. Attorney Charles B. McKenna, who heads the criminal division at the federal prosecutor’s office and was executive assistant U.S. attorney under Christie, will become the next director of homeland security for New Jersey. No Senate confirmation is needed. Other former prosecutors joining Christie’s team include his choices for attorney general, chief counsel, deputy chief of staff and lieutenant governor. His former spokesman at the U.S. Attorney’s Office has also been tapped to become Christie’s press secretary. Christie, a Republican, said the former prosecutors selected were appropriate for the posts and have a few things in common: “They are extraordinarily competent, they have an incredible work ethic — I’ve watched them work — and they have my trust.” Christie will be sworn in Jan. 19. Senate President Richard Codey, D-West Orange, joked Wednesday: “I enjoy seeing a reunion of his former employees. Maybe some will think it’s excessive, but it’s people who he’s grown comfortable with, and I have no reason to believe any of the people selected so far can’t do the job.” Christie’s strategy isn’t new. Democratic Governor Corzine also drew from Wall Street and the global investment firm he headed when creating his Cabinet in 2006. Bradley Abelow, who served as Corzine’s treasurer and then chief of staff, and Gary Rose, who was the governor’s economic growth expert, both came from Goldman Sachs. Corzine also tapped hedge fund financier Orin Kramer — one of the top Democratic donors in the country — as the chairman of the State Investment Council. Christie’s announcement of a homeland security chief comes as New Jersey’s U.S. senators slammed federal authorities over a security breach at Newark Liberty International Airport over the weekend in which an unidentified man entered Terminal C through an exit door and was not seen by the Transportation Security Administration officer assigned to the area.(AP)

N.J. Gov. Corzine files nominations before exiting office

Days before stepping down as New Jersey governor, Jon Corzine has nominated 15 state judges and one county prosecutor, doing so on the same day he ended weeks of wrangling with Gov.-elect Chris Christie over the selection of higher-profile posts. In exchange for allowing the judicial nominations and dozens of others, Corzine abandoned several high-profile nominations, leaving it to the governor-elect to name new members to the Board of Public Utilities, the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, NJ Transit and the New Jersey Sports and Exposition Authority, and others. The agreement between Corzine and Christie almost assures that the state Senate will approve all 16 nominees — four Superior Court judges, seven administrative law judges, four workers’ compensation judges and a prosecutor — before the session ends next week. If they pass the Senate Judiciary Committee, they would then go to the full Senate for consideration. The Superior Court judges Corzine announced Tuesday are Hany Mawla and Alberto Rivas from Middlesex County, Robert Kirsch from Union County and Esther Suarez from Passaic County. Mawla, 36, is a partner at Greenbaum, Rowe, Smith and Davis in Woodbridge. He serves on the state Commission on Civil Rights and on the Arab and Muslim Advisory Committee for the state Attorney General’s Office. Mawla, of North Brunswick, is a lecturer in Middle East studies in Rutgers University’s Department of Political Science in New Brunswick. Rivas, 49, of Perth Amboy, is a partner in the Newark law firm Lite, DePalma, Greenberg & Rivas. He served as a federal prosecutor, becoming deputy chief of the criminal division under then-U.S. Attorney Samuel Alito, who is now associate justice of the U.S. Supreme Court. Rivas was city attorney for Perth Amboy under former mayor and Assemblyman Joseph Vas. He briefly represented former Perth Amboy city official Melvin Ramos, who was indicted along with Vas, on corruption charges. Kirsch, 43, of Westfield, is an assistant U.S. attorney specializing in white collar fraud. He is expected to fill the vacancy created by retired Superior Court Judge John Triarsi, who served in the criminal division. After serving as a trial attorney in the U.S. Department of Justice, Kirsch joined the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Newark, where he has handled dozens of white-collar fraud cases. (Friedman, Star Ledger)

N.J. Gov.-elect says struggling cities to no longer receive state aid

Gov.-elect Chris Christie said today he will cut off state funding to struggling cities, saying they must cut spending and no longer rely on Trenton. But before Christie takes office, the state is set to give about $72 million to Camden, Bridgeton, Union City and Paterson in aid designed to keep property taxes from rising while maintaining basic government services. Christie also said cuts to the $1.5 billion in regular give-backs to cities and towns across the state are “on the table” as he prepares a painful budget due March 16. The state budgeted $141.9 million this fiscal year in aid for struggling cities and towns, down from $170.3 million, but Christie said he is putting municipalities “on notice” the money will not be there at all next year. “You better budget based upon what you can raise, because we don’t have the money to continue over and over again to shovel out extraordinary, special municipal aid to municipalities who have not responsibly budgeted, no matter where you’re located in the state,” he said. “The state can no longer be your court of last resort. We are broke.” The programs targeted are designed to help towns and cities keep property taxes lower while still maintaining services, with “extraordinary aid” aimed at municipalities with short-term problems and “special aid” for longer, structural problems, said Susan Jacobucci, chair of the local finance board and director of local government services in the Department of Community Affairs. Bridgeton, for example, a town where the average income is $31,000 and the average home is worth $58,000, is asking for $2.5 million. Mayor Jim Begley said the Cumberland County seat has been making progress, seizing property from people who do not pay taxes and lowering the police force’s target payroll. The next step would be closing libraries and senior citizen programs. But he doubts the new governor will be able to practically cut payments completely to cities such as Camden. (Fleisher/Heininger, Star Ledger)

N.J. Senate prepares for gay marriage debate, vote

When the State Senate scheduled a vote on gay marriage in early December, Sen. Joseph Vitale (D-Middlesex) conceded it would be one of the few times he’d walk into a session not knowing how he stood on a major piece of legislation. After that vote was called off at the last minute, Vitale had a month to think it over. It didn’t help. He said Wednesday he’s still unsure what he’ll do when a vote is called on the controversial bill Thursday. “I’m just undecided for a number of reasons, personal and professional,” he said. As opponents and supporters of gay marriage made a last-ditch effort to sway senators Wednesday, lawmakers are preparing for a dramatic day of debate. And unlike most times in Trenton, this bill gets a vote even though legislative leaders are not sure it will pass. Senate President Richard Codey said he doesn’t “know of anyone who necessarily has changed their opinion” since last month, when the sponsors concluded there wasn’t enough support and requested it be pulled from a vote. “Unless someone is doing something in terms of saying ‘Yes’ to one group and ‘No’ to another group, there’s nothing to be ashamed of. You want every person to vote their conscience, and nothing less and nothing more,” said Codey. A State House Bureau survey of senators shows supporters have an uphill fight. Only 13 senators publicly said they’ll vote for the measure, far short of the 21 needed for passage. And two who were undecided won’t be voting: Sen. Diane Allen (R-Burlington), who is too ill, and Dana Redd, who gave up her Senate seat when she became Camden mayor this week. Steven Goldstein, chair of Garden State Equality, said he believes the bill can pass, but conceded its chances changed dramatically after Governor Corzine, who supports it, lost the November election to Republican Chris Christie, who opposes it. “The political calculus obviously changed. It went from a sure thing to fifty-fifty. And we do believe it’s fifty-fifty on the eve of the vote,” said Goldstein. Opponents said they believe the bill’s fate is already sealed. “I think it’s about where it was two, three or four weeks ago,” said Sen. Christopher Bateman (R-Somerset). “I haven’t heard of anyone changing their minds. Unless something drastic happens, they don’t have the votes to pass it.” (Fuchs, The Record)

Gov-elect blasts NJ lawmakers over spending bills

Republican Gov.-elect Chris Christie won’t get control of the state checkbook until Jan. 19 but he’s already telling the Democratic majority Legislature to stop spending and he is putting cities on notice that they shouldn’t expect extra aid next year. On Wednesday, Christie blasted lawmakers for considering bills in the lame duck session that he said would cost upward of $10 million , a figure disputed by Democratic leaders. The governor-elect criticized bills to make it easier for ex-prisoners to re-enter society, allow deputy attorneys general to unionize, grant in-state college tuition rates for illegal immigrants, and allow towns to defer pension payments again this year. “Some have not gotten the message,” Christie said. “We are broke. We are not going to make payroll in March.” Democrats said they have a duty to push measures that they sponsored. “We have a responsibility to do the work we were elected to do. It would seem to me that we were falling down on our jobs if we didn’t,” said Democratic leader Bonnie Watson Coleman of Ewing, who proposed a series of legislative and administrative changes aimed at reducing recidivism among ex-prisoners. She said Christie didn’t have his facts straight because the initial cost of the bills was pared down and at last glance the proposals were budget neutral. “This is about governance and he needs to pay attention to the substance,” she said. Senate President Richard Codey also disputed Christie’s $10 million figure, saying the measure to defer pension payments was dead and a bill to allow prosecutors to unionize wouldn’t necessarily cost the state money because the union would be bargaining with Christie’s administration. “The right to unionize doesn’t cost any money,” Codey, D-West Orange, said. The state is constitutionally required to keep a balanced budget but faces a projected deficit of at least $9 billion for the fiscal year that begins July 1. Christie has asked his transition team to prepare to cut state spending as much as 25 percent next year and has asked Democratic Gov. Jon Corzine to halt all discretionary spending in the meantime. Christie also said municipalities should not factor in any state aid when creating their next budgets. The extra money, known as extraordinary aid or discretionary aid, is supposed to be available to towns facing sudden, unexpected money problems but often the same towns get the money and many have come to rely on it for yearly spending. Christie said money will not be doled out to any “municipalities who have not responsibly budgeted,” adding “you better budget based upon what you can raise.” (DeFalco, AP)

Albright: New speaker will stand on big shoulders

History will repeat itself in a dramatic moment Tuesday as the Legislature reorganizes for its 214th annual session. Essex’s Sheila Oliver will become the first female African-American Assembly speaker in state history. Oliver, 52, of East Orange, will follow in the historic footsteps of the Rev. S. Howard Jr., D-Mercer, who became the first black speaker in 1974-75. Oliver, who entered the Assembly in 2004, joins rarefied leadership ranks nationally. Karen Bass, of Los Angeles, was elected as the first black speaker in the California Assembly on Feb. 28, 2008. Oliver also follows Marion West Higgins, R-Bergen, the first woman Assembly speaker in 1964-65. Oliver also has historic company: Madaline A. Williams, D-Essex, the first African-American elected to the Assembly in 1958-60; Walter A. Alexander, D-Essex, the first black installed in the Assembly in 1921. Hudson County has had its share of speakers – Edward Kenny, 1911; Joseph Greenberg, in 1932; Thomas G. Walker, 1937; Maurice V. Brady, in l960 and again in 1966; Frederick H. Hauser in 1966; Joseph A. LeFante in 1976; Christopher J. Jackman in 1978-81; Joseph V. Doria Jr., 1990-91; and Albio Sires, 2002-05. (Albright, Jersey Journal)

Editorial: Gov.-elect Chris Christie’s smart move on appointments

Chris Christie’s first big fight since winning the election is over, and he won it by a knockout. Good thing. The dust-up was over Gov. Jon Corzine’s attempt to stuff major policy boards with his appointments during his final weeks in office, a move that would knee-cap the new governor. This kind of tacky behavior is a tradition in American politics that dates back to President John Adams, who appointed 16 “midnight judges” in the final hours of his presidency. New Jersey’s champion was former acting governor Donald DiFrancesco, who appointed an army of loyalists during his final weeks. Christie was concerned mainly about the major policy-making boards, like the Sports and Exposition Authority, the Council on Affordable Housing, and the Board of Public Utilities. Voters chose him to shake things up, so he needs his people in those seats. In this fight, Corzine had all the big weapons. His party controls the Senate, which must confirm the appointments, and he still has the power of his office. But let’s face it — he has never had a knack for the game of politics. So Christie played hardball. He enlisted GOP senators to block nearly all of Corzine’s nominations through the use of senatorial courtesy. Not just the seats on the policy boards but other appointments that were dear to Corzine, like the judgeship for his chief of staff, Ed McBride, and plum spots for two other close advisors. For weeks, this standoff produced nothing but a series of tense meetings. The tone of the transition took a nosedive. Then, finally, Corzine caved. They are calling the deal a compromise, but don’t believe it. This is a clean kill. Corzine will get his judgeships, including several that Republicans were blocking before the election. He’ll get the lower-level appointments, too, mostly unpaid posts to minor boards.But Christie got exactly what he wanted — control over the major policy boards. This was well-played. Now let’s see if he can balance the budget. (Star Ledger)

New Ocean County freeholders director warns of ‘tough choices’ in 2010

The Ocean County Board of Freeholders convened its annual organizational meeting for 2010 on Wednesday with a new director who took over the center seat on the dais with a message to residents: “This is probably the easy meeting for this year,” observed Freeholder Director James F. Lacey, as he began his public remarks before a packed house as the ex officio chairman of the all-Republican, five-member board. While the county is “in great shape financially,” Lacey said, the current global economic crisis would result in “some very tough choices to make.” Neither Lacey nor his colleagues offered specifics. Each freeholder in their public remarks offered his own optimism attached to a caveat.”I don’t want to be doom and gloom because I’m really not that way,” Lacey said. “We’re going to get through this, like everybody is going to get through it. But what I think what people need to understand is that we cannot grow government, that we cannot fund programs that have been funded from other sources and make up that deficit.” Freeholder John P. Kelly, appointed deputy director, said the board would keep the county tax rate as close as possible to the 2009 level of 25.4 cents per $100 of assessed property value. “We did cut some 65 positions already in 2009, and we’re going to have to do the same thing — at least — in 2010 through attrition,” Kelly said. “But when we talk about cutting bodies, it also talks about cutting services.” For example, the operation of the Mobile County Connection, a traveling bus introduced in 2004 that provides constituency services, would be reduced because of a smaller staff. “We all know that these are difficult times, and while we need to meet needs, one of the needs that people have is the need not to take too much money out of their wallet because they need that at home to pay their bills,” Kelly said. (Larsen, Gannett) Morning News Digest: January 7, 2010