Morning News Digest: January 8, 2010

After Senate vote, marriage equality supporters will go back to court

After watching marriage equality legislation go down 14-20 in the state senate, proponents of same sex marriage today vowed to take their fight to court. “We are not waiting out the term of any new Administration to bring equality to same-sex couples in our state,” said Garden State Equality Chairman Steven Goldstein. Goldstein says that the legislature defaulted in the “constitutional obligation to provide same-sex couples in New Jersey equal protection, noting a 2006 New Jersey Supreme Court decision that told the Legislature it could “enact marriage or another structure that provides the equal protection of marriage.” “But the civil union law failed to do that. Too often, civil union couples too often cannot visit loved ones in hospitals, make medical decisions for their partners or receive equal health benefits from employers,” said Goldstein. “Hospitals and employers have treated civil union couples differently because they’ve been labeled differently. Children have been treated differently at school because their families are labeled differently. Lambda Legal will join with Garden State Equality in filing a suit. “In other words, though we didn’t achieve our final victory today, we’re better positioned than we were a few months ago to win marriage equality. So if you’re wondering how we feel, it’s complicated,” Goldstein said. “On the one hand, we resent, more than you can imagine, remaining second-class citizens a bit longer. On the other hand, the ball has moved forward. The public record for the courts is mighty, and we’re closer than ever to winning.” The lopsided defeat in the senate was a blow to gay rights activists, but not a crushing one. Momentum for the bill lost steam in November, soon after Republican Gov.-elect Chris Christie, who has pledged to veto the legislation, beat Democratic Gov. Jon Corzine, who has said he will sign it. Advocates of same-sex marriage watched support dissipate from a claimed 24 votes to just 14 today, after several sympathetic moderate Republicans whose support the group counted on bowed to conservative pressure and voted no. (Friedman, PolitickerNJ)

Bramnick to co-chair GOP campaign committee

Assembly Republican Leader Alex DeCroce announced today that Assemblyman Jon Bramnick (R-Westfield) will serve as co-chairman of the Assembly GOP’s campaign committee, Assembly Republican Victory 2011. “Jon has demonstrated real leadership in strengthening and moving our caucus forward,” said DeCroce (R-Parsippany). “We need to build on our successes and prepare for the next Assembly elections in 2011 and I am pleased to have Jon as Co-Chair of this important committee over the next two years.” According to a GOP release, ssembly Republican Victory 2011 (ARV) is the political arm of the Assembly Republican Caucus that is designed to help fund competitive Assembly GOP campaigns. “I am honored and proud to serve beside Leader DeCroce as Co-Chair of Assembly Republican Victory 2011,” said Bramnick. “Through hard work and dedication, we will build on the momentum that our party has achieved. I look forward to working toward an Assembly Republican majority in 2011.” (Pizarro, PolitickerNJ)

New Jersey Senate defeats gay marriage bill

The State Senate on Thursday rejected a proposal that would have made New Jersey the sixth state in the nation to allow marriages involving same-sex couples. The vote was the latest in a succession of setbacks for advocates of gay marriage across the country. After months of intense lobbying and hours of emotional debate, lawmakers voted 20 to 14 against the bill, bringing tears from some advocates who packed the Senate chambers and rousing applause from opponents of the measure, who also came out in force. The vote ends the effort to win legislative approval of the measure, and sets the stage for a new battle before the New Jersey Supreme Court. “We applaud the senators for upholding a time-tested institution: marriage,” said Len Deo, president of the New Jersey Family Policy Council, which has argued that gay marriage would weaken the social fabric by redefining one of society’s bedrock institutions. Supporters of gay marriage had hoped to win approval for the measure before Jan. 19, when Gov. Jon S. Corzine, who promised to sign it, will be replaced by Gov.-elect Christopher J. Christie, who opposes it. With the effort to win legislative approval now dead, supporters of same-sex marriage vowed to focus their efforts on the state’s highest court, which in 2006 ordered lawmakers to give same-sex couples the same rights as others whether or not they called such unions marriages. The Legislature responded by enacting a civil unions law, but gay-rights leaders say that the measure still leaves them subject to discrimination when applying for health insurance or trying to visit partners in hospitals, and that they will ask the court to grant them equal treatment. “Even our opponents in the Legislature acknowledge that the civil-union law has not provided equal protection,” said Steven Goldstein, chairman of Garden State Equality, who has led the lobbying for the past six years and wept as the bill’s sponsor, Senator Loretta Weinberg of Teaneck, introduced it. The defeat in New Jersey, which has widely been viewed as one of the nation’s most socially tolerant states, was a significant setback for advocates of gay marriage. Last month, a similar measure was defeated in New York’s Legislature, and in November voters in Maine repealed a gay-marriage law in a referendum. (Kocieniewski, New York Times)

Christie selects former New York City official as head of prisons

Gov.-elect Chris Christie today announced he will nominate Gary Lanigan, a former New York City prison official and current fiscal officer for the city’s transporation authority, as leader of the state’s prison system. “Gary Lanigan has the experience, know-how and determination needed to effectively manage and focus to our corrections’ system,” Christie said. “Gary will bring to the New Jersey Department of Corrections an understanding and care that is needed to not only protect the public, but ensure positive reintegration of those currently in the system.” If confirmed by the Senate, Lanigan, a financial guru, will replace George Hayman as commissioner of the $1.1 billion department responsible for about 25,600 inmates. Riverfront State Prison in Camden was shut down last year to make room for development, and the department now operates 13 prisons. Although the inmate population has dropped in recent years, state prisons hold about 400 people more inmates than they were designed for, and another 5,000 inmates are being held at other facilities such as county jails. The department has faced criticism since a May report from the State Commission of Investigation said it has failed to crack down on gang activity. Lanigan has worked for several New York City agencies, always in a financial capacity. After leaving the Navy in 1975, he worked in for the mayor at the Office of Management and Budget. He served as assistant commissioner for financial affairs at the New York City Police Department before joining the city’s Department of Corrections in 1994. Lanigan rose to the position of first deputy comissioner in 1998, overseeing a $792 million budget and 12,400 uniformed and civilian employees. He joined New York City’s Metropolitan Transportation Authority in 2003 as the director of budgets and financial management, responsible for financial planning at the authority, which has an $11 billion budget and 70,000 employees. The fourth cabinet member named by Christie, Lanigan lives on Staten Island and plans move to New Jersey after the school year is over, Christie spokeswoman Maria Comella said. All cabinet members are required to live in the state. Hayman has applied to retire on April 1, according to Treasury spokesman Tom Vincz. He started his career at the department in 1983 as a social worker in New Jersey State Prison in Trenton, and became commissioner in 2006. (Megerian, Star Ledger)

N.J. Assembly approves measure moving non-partisan elections to November

The Assembly today sent a bill allowing New Jersey towns to move nonpartisan elections to November to Gov. Jon Corzine for his signature. Currently, nonpartisan municipal elections are held on the second Tuesday in May. “Allowing towns that hold May nonpartisan elections to move those elections to November without jeopardizing their nonpartisan status is a win for everyone,” said Assemblyman Patrick Diegnan Jr. (D-Middlesex). Diegnan and Peter J. Barnes III (D-Middlesex) sponsored the bill.The bill (A-351) allows any of the 86 municipalities that currently hold nonpartisan municipal elections to move, through passage of an ordinance, the election to the same date as the general election, the Tuesday after the first Monday in November. According to published reports, the move could save Spotswood Borough in Middlesex County up to $25,000 in election-related costs. For a city such as Newark, the savings would approach $1 million. The Assembly cleared the measure 49-25, with two abstentions. (Star Ledger)

Stile: Even defeat could benefit gay marriage advocates

Same-sex marriage advocates lost the vote but got exactly what they wanted. They didn’t get a historic law extending the right and dignity of marriage to gay couples. That was not going to happen Thursday, and every supporter who swarmed the State House for one last charge at a legislator’s conscience knew it. No raw, emotional rendering of family history, no persuasive argument as a descendant of the Civil Rights struggles from slavery to women’s suffrage and the 1960s Civil Rights movement, was going to convert enough “no” votes into the needed 21 “yes” votes. That works well in sentimental Frank Capra movies of the 1930s, but not in Trenton, where the conscience is no match for political survival. So why badger legislators with a final full-court press of lobbying knowing that defeat was all but certain? The process produced two strategic consolation prizes for their certain return to the court. And those prizes, advocates believe, will become invaluable ammunition for the next phase of the crusade. First, the debate forced foes of gay marriage to admit that the current civil union law, enacted three years ago to comply with a Supreme Court ruling, simply isn’t working. Republican Sen. Gerald Cardinale of Demarest and Democratic Sen. John Girgenti of Hawthorne, argued that the civil union law made the gay marriage proposal unnecessary, but they conceded that it needed more work. “For each of the problems [with the civil union law] there is a solution if we put our minds to it, and there is a solution without doing violence to marriage,” Cardinale said during his speech. But that’s another way of saying the fix needs fixing. Or put another way, gay couples continue to face discrimination despite the civil union law, which was supposed to confer the same legal rights and benefits on gay couples that heterosexual couples get through a civil marriage. The 2006 court decision, which led to the civil union law, punted on the question of marriage and said it was for the Legislature to decide. Well, the Democratic process has, for all intents and purposes, run its course. That makes the tally sheet of Thursday’s vote an important document: It puts a final stamp on a legislative process that failed to comply with the court order. Gay marriage advocates believe the court will be more likely to answer the question of “marriage” instead of deferring to the Legislature. (Stile, The Record)

Stile: GOP’s Christie brings new style to Trenton

Chris Christie issued a warning to the warring Bergen County Republicans: If you don’t knock it off, I’m going to come back and knock a few heads. “I said, ‘Don’t make me have to come up here and settle it,’ ” Christie said Tuesday night, talking about the blunt threat he made at a postelection breakfast in Washington Township in November. He talked about it moments before delivering the oath of office to two incoming Paramus councilmen. “The time for the blame game is over.” Although Christie doesn’t take office for another 12 days, the former federal prosecutor flashed his “shock and awe” style that will roil Trenton. It’s best summarized this way: Pummel foes (and occasionally your allies) with a headline-grabbing attack. Leave them reeling, their eyes bulging with surprise and uncertainty. In most cases, they will seek relief and a quick resolution, anything to get Christie to clam up. That is when Christie’s negotiators slip unnoticed into the boardroom to negotiate. Those negotiators — the respected ex-lawmaker Richard Bagger, chief counsel Jeffrey Chiesa and veteran political lawyer David Samson — will dial down the rhetoric and speak in the calm voice of institutional Trenton. They will listen — up to a point. They will leave the room with a deal that the bombastic boss can live with. The “smash-mouth” strategy was deployed in the recent furor over lame-duck appointments. Christie shattered the veneer of postelection civility by publicly criticizing Governor Corzine for pushing through 180 or so appointments and nominations to state boards and agencies. Christie took particular aim at nominations to prominent, policymaking posts with terms that would last throughout his term and beyond. Those seats should be filled by the winner of the Nov. 3 election, not the loser cleaning out his desk, he argued. He was ready to deploy Republican senators to blackball some of Corzine’s choices if his demands went unheeded. Democrats dismissed Christie’s “principled” arguments as tantrums, and noted that the Corzine appointment list was in the range with previous lame-duck governors. Still, the attack cornered Corzine into the ironic position of defending Trenton patronage, a practice he disdained over the past four years, much to his detriment. (Stile, The Record)

Corzine nominates outgoing Assembly Speaker Joseph Roberts for Rutgers’ board

Gov. Jon Corzine announced five more nominations to boards and commissions this morning, including putting outgoing Assembly Speaker Joseph Roberts (D-Camden) up for the governing board of Rutgers University. The nominations come less than two weeks before he is scheduled to leave office and just after he settled a squabble over nominations and appointments with Gov.-elect Chris Christie. The nominations include: • Edith Hunt to the state commission on higher education • Dennis Drazin to the state racing commission • Maurice Fitzgibbons to the state council on the arts • Lloyd Henderson Jr. to the Pinelands commission. These nominations must be approved by the Senate. The Roberts nomination is particularly significant because Rutgers is a major employer and a critical presence in Roberts’ hometown of Camden. He is likely to face little if any opposition after his long tenure as both a leader in the statehouse and a former chairman of the state Democratic party. The Democrats control the state Legislature. (Margolin, Star Ledger)

New Montgomery mayor sworn in; GOP majority takes over council

A new mayor has been sworn into office and for the first time in eight years, the Township Committee now has a Republican majority. Republican Mark Caliguire was appointed mayor by municipal officials during Thursday’s annual reorganization meeting at the municipal courtroom. Republican Kacey Dyer was appointed deputy mayor. Republican newcomer Thomas Carter was sworn in to serve a three three-year term. Carter and Caliguire had defeated Democrats Mike Fedun and Keith Hovey in the November general election. In his mayoral address, Caliguire told the public the township committee in 2010 will find ways to cut costs by “doing more with less.” He noted one way will be utilizing shared services with neighboring municipalities. “Our neighbors not only deserve it, they need it,” he said. “Lets cut costs and continue to lead … public service is a privilege. I am honored to serve the people of Montgomery.” Dyer, who will now be serving her second year on the township committee, said she also wants to eliminate “wasteful spending” and wants residents to share thoughts and concerns with her on the issue. During his campaign, Carter, a Montgomery High School graduate, said he knocked on the doors of township homes and learned from the residents about their concerns. Some included property taxes rising, debt increasing and township surplus depleting, Carter said. “I heard the same thing over and over again, ‘Montgomery hasn’t been living up to our potential,’ ” he said. “Our friends and neighbors feel that we have been going down the wrong path and that if we are to reach our great potential we must change course, enlarge our vision and make difficult decisions to ensure that we reach higher ground.” Carter then added, “Now we stand at a difficult crossroads and people are depending on us to change course and live up to our potential as leaders. We plan on doing just that. To do this, we must put aside the partisan bickering that comes with campaigns and move forward with the voice of the people in mind.” (Sroka-Holzmann, Gannett)

Salem County freeholders begin year 4-3 Democrat

Returning freeholder Director Lee Ware spoke of teamwork, renewed commitments and hard work as he addressed a large crowd Wednesday night during the Salem County Board of Chosen Freeholders annual reorganization meeting at Salem Community College here. “The Salem County Freeholder Board works very well as a team,” Ware, a Democrat, said during his majority party address. “The people elected their freeholders and we pledge to work collectively in order to be good stewards of this county. This requires us to practice ethical behavior, social responsibility, and fiscal awareness.” Following the “Star Spangled Banner” performed by the Salem County Oak Singers, new Republican Freeholder Ben Laury, as well as incumbent Democrat Freeholder Beth Timberman, who just completed her sixth year in office, were sworn in. Both will serve three-year terms. Both Laury and Timberman said they were honored to be elected freeholders, and that they looked forward to serving the residents of Salem County. Congressman Frank A. LoBiondo swore in Laury, while Sen. Stephen Sweeney gave Timberman her oath of office. The freeholder board is now made up of four Democrats (Ware, Timberman, Bruce Bobbitt and David T. Lindenmuth) and three Republicans (Laury, Julie Acton and Dale Cross). In addition to Ware being voted in for his fifth term as freeholder director, the board also named Lindenmuth its deputy director. Ware, during his speech, also spoke about the “harsh realities” that the recession has placed on the county’s doorstep. “Salem County has not been spared the effects, yet our ability to come together to face economic threats, as well as our perseverance in the midst of adversity, will allow us to overcome the obstacles we face,” he said. “This is not a Republican problem or a Democrat problem – it is our challenge.” He said changes will come by the board laying aside its differences, rolling up its sleeves and getting the job done. “Our 2009 budget was unanimously adopted because we worked together to reduce county spending by $3.9 million,” Ware said. “Accordingly, this past year’s budget, the freeholders challenged all of our departments to do more with less – and they have been very successful. (Marine, Newhouse)

Markulec, Burd take over mayoral duties in Hopewell Republican township

Committeemen Michael Markulec Jr. and James Burd were unanimously appointed mayor and deputy mayor, respectively, during the township’s annual reorganization meeting Monday. Markulec succeeds five-term Democratic Mayor Vanessa Sandom in the mayor’s seat, while Burd replaces Democrat John Murphy as deputy mayor, a role Murphy had held for two years. The committee also saw the swearing in of Republican Kim Johnson as a committeewoman after Johnson’s November win over Democratic incumbent David Dafilou for the slot. With Johnson joining fellow Republicans Markulec and Burd on the committee, Republicans hold a 3-2 edge of the governing body for the first time since 2004. Markulec said that, as mayor, he will focus on three areas this year: keeping property taxes in check and maintaining municipal services, continuing to work on open space, farmland and historic preservation; and building a greater sense of community for the township. On taxes, Markulec said there will have to be a concerted effort to work with the county, the state and the Hopewell Valley Regional School District to explore opportunities for shared services in order to keep the financial pressure from mounting on homeowners. He said the township committee will try to avoid job cuts while maintaining a flat tax rate. “We’re moving into our budget planning right now. While I can’t say definitively there will not be (job cuts), we’re going to do everything we can to avoid job cuts as well as keep municipal property tax levels flat,” Markulec said. “I don’t know if both goals are achievable, but those are goals we set for ourselves.” On preservation efforts, he said it’s important that the township work with the county to ensure that any safety improvements to the Jacobs Creek Bridge and its approaches don’t encroach on the historic Washington Victory Trail or undermine the rural character of the area. In addition, he said, the creation of a teen center for the township later this year as well as the possibility of a senior center in the future are two examples of efforts that would enhance a sense of community. But any work on those projects, particularly a senior center, should be achieved through partnerships with nonprofits, through grants and through other creative financial measures that avoid additional burdens on taxpayers, he said. (Stern, Jersey Journal) Morning News Digest: January 8, 2010