Morning News Digest: February 1, 2010

The Big FedEx Envelope In The Sky: The Beldini Trial, Day Five Sign Up For Our Daily Newsletter Sign Up

The Big FedEx Envelope In The Sky: The Beldini Trial, Day Five

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Maybe it was a couple of extra handshakes. Or bending down to pick up that quarter he dropped. Could’ve been the moment he waited for the car to pass until he crossed the street. What’s clear is this: a few seconds on April 30, 2009 saved Jerramiah Healy’s ass. Otherwise, he might no longer be mayor of Jersey City.

Bob Menendez to endorse Brian Stack?; Brendan Byrne wanted Chris Daggett for governor; Ray Lesniak and Tom Kean Jr. go into business

The Auditor has learned U.S. Sen Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) is quietly reasserting himself in Hudson County politics, the tough-as-it-gets environment that spawned his career and then almost cost him the Senate seat he sought in 2006. Concerned that the once-powerful Hudson County Democratic Organization is floundering and leaving a gaping hole in his own core support a few years before his re-election bid, Menendez is letting it be known he will not endorse Jersey City Mayor Jerramiah Healy for another term as county Democratic chairman. The vote is in June, but right now it looks like the senator (who once chaired the organization himself) is going to throw his weight behind Union City Mayor and state Sen. Brian Stack. All this comes as Menendez is leading his party’s effort to maintain its majority in the Senate. His camp denied the senator is involved in the Hudson County maneuvering. Healy said he’s too busy governing to worry about the chairmanship contest. “What I am focused on … is dealing with the severe financial challenges we are facing,” he said. And he insisted the chairmanship decision is for “the Hudson County mayors and the county committee people to make,” not a U.S. senator. But Healy intimates say long before Menendez started making his plays, Healy had decided he would give up the chairman’s mantle this year anyway. So, they argue, Menendez had nothing to do with it. Stack said he had no comment. As usual, The Auditor can count on a straight answer (or at least one that’s not approved by a team of operatives and PR people) from former Gov.Brendan Byrne. In this case, the dean of New Jersey’s school of former governors confirmed for the first time that, despite loyalty to his Democratic Party, Democrat Jon Corzine was not his first choice in the November race for governor. It had long been speculated and is now corroborated that Byrne wanted to throw his support publicly to independent Chris Daggett, the former Republican who put a scare into Chris Christie’s camp. (Star Ledger)

Stack weighs making play for HCDO chairmanship

Mayor Brian P. Stack grabbed a pen, wrote the number 115,000 and circled it and circled it again on a throw-away paper placemat in the Four Star Diner. “That’s what Democratic Party turnout should be in Hudson County in a non-presidential election year,” he said, reaching for another cup of coffee. In the 2009 gubernatorial election, then-Gov. Jon Corzinemustered 82,075 Hudson votes on his way to statewide defeat, a respectable figure relative to Hudson County’s own U.S. Sen. Bob Menendez’s vote total of 88,696 in 2006, but unacceptable, in Stack’s opinion, when considering Republican turnout in Ocean and Monmouth counties last year for Gov. Chris Christie and the potential for Christie to mobilize more GOP voters. “Unacceptable, when you think about what organizing can get you,” insisted Stack, generally regarded here as the fierce master architect of old school, constituent-based politics, who’s longtime rep is that he’d rather drill down repeatedly into his own base than climb, who famously destroyed the Hudson County Democratic Organization (HCDO) with his 2007 state senate campaign. Significantly, national Menendez, too, considers the numbers worrisome as he reels from Christie’s win, and Scott Brown’s GOP impact victory in the Massachusetts U.S. Senate race two weeks ago – larger landscape losses for the Democrat and chair of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, which now put that much more pressure on his home county to produce overwhelming results when Menendez runs for reelection in 2012. That’s why it looks as though Menendez wants his hometown successor Stack to run the HCDO, a choice, which given Stack’s renegade history – including past clashes with Menendez – has the potential to create short-term political strife – but long-term results, if the mayor and 33rd district senator’s bottom line campaign history is any indication. (Pizarro, PolitickerNJ)

Gusciora hopes to return to the Dems’ good graces

Assemblyman Reed Gusciora (D-Princeton) went rogue this month, but the 14-year incumbent hopes to establish a working relationship with Democratic Party’s new leadership. “I’m not going to leave the caucus. I still value Democratic ideals, and I think I can still make contributions to the assembly Democrats,” said Gusciora. “I just don’t want to be known as the Holden Caulfield of the caucus, but still want to come to the State House to make a difference.” Gusciora wasn’t happy after he was bumped from his Commerce Committee chairmanship for, he said, supporting his running mate Bonnie Watson Coleman’s bid for speaker over the eventual winner, Sheila Oliver (D-East Orange). So he called out the new majority leader, Joseph Cryan (D-Union), accusing him of leaving him in the dark about the chairmanship decision. Then, two weeks later, he asked Democrats to think twice about reelecting Camden Mayor Dana Redd as the state Democratic Party’s vice-chair because, during her final weeks as a state senator, she blew off a request to meet with NAACP Chairman Julian Bond, who was advocating on behalf of gay marriage proponents (Reed, the only openly gay member of the legislature, was the prime sponsor of the gay marriage legislation in the assembly). And just yesterday, Gusciora rode separately from the rest of the Democratic delegation during the Chamber of Commerce’s “Walk to Washington,” opting instead to attend only a few of the events in DC. But Gusciora is not a politician with nothing to lose. Even if his relationship with party leaders remains stressed, he intends to seek reelection and does not want to see his bills ignored by the new speaker, who decides what gets posted. “I just hope that eventually we could get some understanding that I could be a contributing member to this caucus,” he said. (Friedman, PolitickerNJ)

Christie comes out swinging

If there has been a theme to Gov. Christie’s first two weeks in office, it has been this: Get ready for a fight, especially when it comes to money. Christie already has blasted school-spending overruns, mismanagement in local government, high public salaries, and even Atlantic City voters. Executive orders and his first veto were followed by verbal smackdowns that conveyed their message in ways a simple signature cannot. The governor has set himself up for battle with influential public-employee unions, and on Friday he flouted a long-standing Trenton tradition by skipping the state Chamber of Commerce’s schmoozy train ride to Washington with lobbyists and lawmakers. “The people of New Jersey did not elect me to come here and play nice-nice,” Christie said in a recent radio appearance. Christie promised change. Early on, the differences have been striking. Last week he blocked a request for more money for an over-budget school project and railed against the $300,000-plus salary of the head of a sewage commission in North Jersey. In the big scheme, with the state facing an $8 billion to $10 billion budget deficit, these steps were relatively small. Christie doesn’t even have the power to set the salary at the commission, which isn’t funded by state government. But Patrick Murray of Monmouth University said the symbolism of Christie’s initial actions was crucial. Shining a light on abuses may prevent others from taking place and can help rebuild faith in government, he said. The spending issue “is so big that it’s important to take a small stand. That’s something that past leaders have forgotten,” said Murray, director of Monmouth’s polling institute. “So far, this is what New Jersey is looking for.” Pete McDonough, communications director for former Gov. Christie Whitman, said Christie’s opening two weeks had been impressive – “as strong a start as any governor I can remember” – and important. “Power evaporates very, very quickly,” he said. That Christie has been combative is no shock. He made his force of personality a key selling point in a campaign in which he promised to shake up Trenton. But the frequency and ferocity of his salvos have been surprising. In one 34-minute news conference Wednesday, Christie hit a trifecta, assailing overspending on the Burlington City school project, government waste in Atlantic City, and the $313,000 salary paid to the executive director of the Passaic Valley Sewerage Commission. “If I look envious, it’s because I am. That’s significantly more than I’m making to do this job, and as challenging as the PVSC may be, I think this baby may be a little harder,” Christie said. The governor is paid $175,000. (Tamari, The Inquirer)

Jon Corzine is in talks to teach at Rutgers University, spokesperson says

Former Gov. Jon Corzine is in talks to possibly teach on a part-time basis at Rutgers University, said Josh Zeitz, his spokesperson, by telephone on Saturday. “He’s committed to teaching and having a relationship with (Rutgers) in the long term,” Zeitz said. But talks are still preliminary, he said. “Nothing very specific has been ironed out.” Ruth Mandel, dierctor of the university’s Eagleton Institute of Politics, said she discussed the idea with the former governor in December after Corzine spoke to a class as a guest speaker. “We may very well look for opportunities for him to teach a course,” Mandel said. Several years ago the Eagleton Institute created its “Rutgers Program on the Governor,” a unique virtual center nationwide that collects internal memos and policy papers of former governors and puts them online. Mandel mentioned the program to Corzine, who responded that he’d be happy to provide documentation. He also said he was interested in writing and teaching, possibly for the program, Mandel said by telephone from Rhode Island on Saturday. Other New Jersey universities have approached Corzine and the former governor is considering relationships with them as well, said Zeitz, who declined to name the schools. “He’s weighing options right now,” Zeitz said. “He will undoubtedly do lectures at a number of places.” Zeitz is part of a two-member Corzine transition team which the state is funding for six months, as is customary, he said. The cost of a tranistion team can run up to $250,000, Zeitz said. Some governors have asked for continued funding after a half year. “We intend to close up shop in six months,” said Zeitz, 36, a former American history professor at Harvard University and Cambridge University. Corzine, a former Goldman Sachs executive, is also weighing possible opportunities in business and finance, Zeitz said. Lately, the 62-year-old has been relaxing with his three grandchildren. The toddlers live with his two sons in California, and in Brooklyn, with his daughter, Zeitz said. The former governor has been running every day, and recently finished “Make It Plain: Standing Up and Speaking Out,” a book that explores the rhetoric of historic speeches by American blacks, by author Vernon Jordan. “He’s enjoying himself for the first time in years,” Zeitz said. (Keller, Star Ledger) h

N.J. Gov. Christie’s transition team has harsh words about state’s environmental department

Builders will no longer be forced to submit “extensive data” for some permits and may only have to go down a checklist for approval on others. The required buffer zone between new development and a stream or river will be cut in half to 150 feet, increasing the chance of runoff polluting the waterways. And cleanup standards for contaminated sites will be lowered. Governor Christie’s environmental transition team made these and other recommendations in a strongly worded report that seeks to curb much of the Department of Environmental Protection’s power. “Simply put, the DEP must do less with less, and do it better,” the report states. Supporters say it’s a badly needed overhaul of a troubled agency that acts as one of the biggest deterrents to economic growth. “The Department has driven economic investment out of this state,” according to the report. Critics say it’s a giveaway to developers and polluters. The Sierra Club called the report an “outright assault on important protections for the people of New Jersey.” Transition reports tend to be a wish list of far-reaching goals that rarely get accomplished as a whole. But Christie’s spokesman said last week that the report will be a cornerstone of the governor’s environmental policy. “This is not some blue-ribbon panel report that’s published, gathers dust on a shelf and then is thrown out when a new administration comes in,” said Michael Drewniak. “This is something that we will look over and take the best ideas from.” The ideas are reminiscent of sweeping changes made to the DEP the last time the state was in economic calamity. In her first term, Gov. Christie Whitman stripped the DEP of many of its powers and made big cuts in its staff and budget, saying those actions were needed to lift the state out of the recession of the early 1990s. Staff workloads increased exponentially, allowing cleanups to toxic sites to be delayed for years. The new governor has already laid the groundwork for change. Christie’s first executive order imposed a 90-day freeze on more than 120 administrative rules, including several dealing with environmental issues, so his new “Red Tape Review Group” can examine and possibly dismantle them. A hearing on water quality standards has already been postponed. The report’s recommendations run from the pragmatic, such as establishing definable goals for the staff and creating online permit applications, to more sweeping and oftentimes controversial suggestions. (Fallon, The Record)

Secret tapes reveal that Healy knew about campaign donations

Jersey City Mayor Jerramiah T. Healy knew a developer was donating tens of thousands of dollars to his re-election campaign last year, secretly recorded videos played at suspended Deputy Mayor Leona Beldini’s corruption trial yesterday show. Solomon Dwek, a Monmouth County developer facing bank fraud charges, taped meetings with Healy and other officials while, unbeknownst to them, he worked as a federal informant in an elaborate sting. The videos were made public yesterday at Beldini’s trial where she is accused of taking $20,000 in bribes from Dwek and funneling them into Healy’s reelection campaign, which she served as treasurer. Healy, who has not been charged in the massive probe, maintains he has done nothing wrong. During the investigation, Dwek was posing as David Esenbach, a purported Wall Street developer who wanted to build a 750-unit condominium on Garfield Avenue. Dwek played this role when he met with Healy, Beldini, Jersey City political consultant Jack Shaw and city employee and Board of Education member Edward Cheatam at the Medical Center Luncheonette in Jersey City on April 30. They discussed Dwek’s interest in building in the city. As Healy got up to leave, Dwek followed him and said he had donated $10,000 to his campaign previously and that he would give Shaw another $10,000 that day. “Dave, thank you so much,” Healy says – using the Dwek’s phony name – as the video records him. He tells Dwek he wants to keep working with him. “It’s good for the city, it’s good for everybody,” Healy says. (Hayes, Jersey Journal)

Secret Videos Aired in Jersey City Corruption Trial

To understand the irrepressible oiliness of Solomon Dwek, one need only know this: as a young religious school student, he once paid his math teacher a $50 bribe for a passing grade. Here is a man of endless miscreancy and criminal chutzpah: He once rigged a fund-raising auction at his own yeshiva on the Jersey Shore. He once tried to pass a bad check for $25 million at the drive-through window of a PNC bank branch. He has — by his own admission — lied, stolen, cheated, swindled dozens of investors in a multimillion-dollar Ponzi scheme. Among the victims: his uncle. Mr. Dwek, a 37-year-old former real-estate developer, has testified to these talents, and on Friday he again put them in the service of the government, appearing as the star witness in the first federal trial related to an epic case — even for New Jersey — of public corruption, money laundering and, yes, the underground trafficking in human organs. Working under the alias David Esenbach and equipped with a government recording device, Mr. Dwek secretly taped hundreds of conversations with New Jersey politicians in steakhouses, luncheonettes and diners, resulting in July in charges against 44 defendants— including three mayors, two assemblymen and a handful of rabbis. His appearance on the stand this week in United States District Court in Newark came in the trial of Leona Beldini, a 74-year-old former burlesque dancer who was, until her arrest, the deputy mayor of Jersey City. Ms. Beldini, whose telephones often made use ofJohnny Cash hold music, stands accused of receiving from Mr. Dwek a $20,000 bribe in exchange for promising to help him secure permits for a luxury condominium building he wanted to erect on Garfield Avenue in Jersey City. Most of Mr. Dwek’s testimony Friday was spent annotating for the jury the numerous videos he made of Ms. Beldini and other state politicos, among them Jack Shaw, a Jersey City political consultant, and Jeremiah Healy, the mayor of Jersey City. These were shaky black-and-white clips that showed the principals in restaurants like the Chart House in Weehawken — often with Mr. Dwek buttering a roll in the foreground as the stray arm of a waiter entered the frame. In one clip, from last February, Mr. Shaw, who is from Chicago, can be heard musing about Jersey City, “This is the only place in the country I have found to be like Cook County.” He tells Mr. Dwek that he will sit down that very weekend with “Leona” to talk about “contributions.” Mr. Dwek says, “Call it what you will.” (Feuer, New York Times)

N.J. corruption trial unfolds through hidden cameras, secret recordings

The video, shot from a tiny hidden camera, was remarkably clear. There, in black and white, was Jersey City Deputy Mayor Leona Beldini, talking real estate and political contributions at a diner in April with Solomon Dwek, the government informant at the center of last year’s sprawling FBI sting. Amid sips of coffee and clattering dishes, Dwek asks Beldini about $10,000 in tickets he had surreptitiously bought for a dinner benefiting Jersey City Mayor Jerramiah T. Healy’s re-election bid. “The mayor knows, you know, where the tickets came from? … He appreciates the way I do business, right?” Dwek asks. “Absolutely,” Beldini answers. All told, the 74-year-old Democrat is charged with accepting $20,000 in illegal campaign contributions from Dwek, a former real estate developer who began secretly working for the FBI after being charged with bank fraud in 2006. In exchange, authorities say, Beldini agreed to help secure permits for condominiums Dwek claimed to be building. At her trial today in federal court in Newark, prosecutors showed a series of videos Dwek shot last year during meetings in diners in Hudson County. The images — shot with a camera apparently hidden, roughly at chest level, in Dwek’s clothing — offer the first public glimpse into how the prodigious informant with a gift for chatter worked his targets. Dwek does most of the talking on the tapes. He brags of his real estate endeavors. He talks as if he has unlimited money. He stammers. And he bluntly mentions payoffs. “Let me know how much she wants. You know I’m a generous guy,” Dwek says, referring to Beldini, during a conversation with two political consultants: Jack Shaw and Edward Cheatam. They, too, were charged. Shaw died of a Valium overdose days after his arrest last summer; Cheatam pleaded guilty and is expected to testify against Beldini. They were among 46 people charged in the probe, which was the largest FBI sting in New Jersey history. Beldini is the first to stand trial. Authorities say Dwek funneled the bribes to Beldini through Shaw and Cheatam, who converted them into donations for Healy’s campaign. Beldini, Healy’s campaign treasurer, never took money directly from Dwek. But on prosecutors’ videos, it appears she may have known who was actually donating. (Ryan, Star Ledger)

Obama goes nuclear to boost climate change bills

President Barack Obama is endorsing nuclear energy like never before, trying to win over Republicans and moderate Democrats on climate and energy legislation. Obama singled out nuclear power in his State of the Union address, and his spending plan for the next budget year is expected to include billions more dollars in federal guarantees for new nuclear reactors. This emphasis reflects both the political difficulties of passing a climate bill in an election year and a shift from his once cautious embrace of nuclear energy. He’s now calling for a new generation of nuclear power plants. During the campaign, Obama said he would support nuclear power with caveats. He was concerned about how to deal with radioactive waste and how much federal money was needed to support construction costs. Those concerns remain. His administration has pledged to close Yucca Mountain, the planned multibillion-dollar burial ground in the Nevada desert for high-level radioactive waste. Energy Secretary Steven Chu has been criticized for his slow rollout of $18.5 billion in loan guarantees to spur investment in new nuclear power plants, and the administration killed a Bush-era proposal to reprocess nuclear fuel. What has changed is the outlook for climate and energy legislation, a White House priority. The House passed a bill in June that would limit emissions of heat-trapping gases for the first time. But the legislation led to a Republican revolt in the Senate. Obama reaffirmed his commitment to a bill in his State of the Union speech as a way to create more clean-energy jobs, but added that “means building a new generation of safe, clean nuclear power plants in this country.” (Daly, AP)

McCarthy: DiCicco wasting no time getting to work in the Assembly

Assemblyman Domenick DiCicco isn’t wasting any time. Just weeks into his first term serving the 4th District, the Republican from Franklin Township has already dropped two pieces of legislation. One would require towns that are audited to fix any problems found or risk losing aid from the state. The other is designed to better inform taxpayers about how they can file tax appeals. Both are designed to create better transparency in government. “I ran on transparency and accountability,” said DiCicco, who was successful in November’s election. “I think these are first steps, but they are first steps that I think will have an impact immediately.” Some of his more “ambitious” proposals, DiCicco said, will get introduced in the coming months. “My intention was always to make an impact,” he said. “I’m not going to make an impact sitting and doing nothing. I intend to have a well-grounded record of looking out for my constituents.” This is what DiCicco said he was elected to do. “I’m trying to put the mandate into action,” he said. Advice wanted. A bipartisan effort is in place for residents to offer their ideas on improving New Jersey. Assembly Speaker Sheila Oliver and Assembly Republican Leader Alex DeCroce have announced a special hearing in Trenton for Tuesday to hear first-hand from New Jerseyans what they think is needed to make the state better. “We’re going to be there that day for one reason and one reason only — to listen to New Jerseyans and their ideas,” said Oliver. “We want to hear what they have in mind when it comes to tackling the problems that face our state. We know the problems, but we know we also work for the public, so we want to hear first-hand their ideas for solutions.” DeCroce called it an “excellent example” of the democratic process. The hearing is scheduled for Feb. 2 from 3 p.m. until 7 p.m. in Committee Room 11 at the State House Annex in Trenton. Those wishing to testify are urged to make a reservation by calling (609) 292-8030 or by sending an e-mail to Those sending e-mails should include their name and phone number. (McCarthy, Newhouse)

Albright: GOP Gov. Christie extends hand to Democrats

Gov. Christopher J. Christie repeatedly proclaimed “Today change has arrived.” Rejuvenated Republicans enthusiastically agreed, recalling his campaign theme. Sworn-in Jan. 19 as New Jersey’s 55th governor – the first Republican governor since Christine Todd Whitman, l993-97 – Christie promised “a new era of lower taxes and higher growth will begin. He added, “Partisanship and acrimony has not served the public well.” In a gesture never seen before, Christie greeted Assembly Speaker Sheila Y. Oliver and Senate President Stephen M. Sweeney, both Democrats, “in a handshake of resolve and friendship . I offer you my hand and commitment.” Applause-happy Republicans roared. Christie condemned a national government imposing “thoughtless mandates.” States should be “laboratories of democracy, not guinea pigs for failed federal experiments.” In a jab at the New Jersey Education Association, Christie promised to give “the people the choice to pursue alternatives to schools that fail” – charter schools. He also declared, “We will have to curb spending in local governments where there has been too little control . we will have to restrain state government.” Newark-born Christie recalled the remarks of President-elect Abraham Lincoln in February 1861, in Newark: “Without the people I cannot hope to succeed, with them I cannot fail.” (Albright, Jersey Journal)

Stile: Powerful ally vows to help Bergen Democrats

Senate President Stephen Sweeney, the state’s most powerful Democrat, said he will “do anything and everything” to reelect Bergen County Executive Dennis McNerney and the rest of the countywide candidates on the ticket with him. Sweeney did not elaborate or detail his “do anything and everything” pledge, but if past is prologue it could mean several hundreds of thousands of dollars in campaign cash transferred, or “wheeled” from the Senate Democratic Majority, the political war chest he now commands as Senate president. “The entire state is going to be looking at Bergen County,” he said in an interview with The Record’s editorial board last Tuesday. “I would expect Governor Christie to be extremely active here … this is absolutely a battleground.” Sweeney cut a $37,000 check for the Bergen Democratic freeholder effort last fall, but given that the county executive contest will be seen as a political proxy test between Sweeney’s and Republican Governor Chris Christie’s first year of power, I would expect, at a minimum, Sweeney to triple that investment this year. Sweeney is also a close ally of George Norcross, the undisputed political kingpin of South Jersey, who has steered generous blocks of cash into past McNerney races. In the 2002 contest, the Camden County Democratic Organization, which he controlled, wheeled $187,000 into the contest. Christie’s election has sent Trenton’s lobbying and consultant firms on a Republican hiring binge. Firms are snapping up anyone who might get their phone calls returned from the new governor’s staff and allies. And clients are eager to hire them. Englewood Hospital and Medical Center, for example, hired Optimus Partners LLC, a new strategic-planning and consultancy that Jeffrey Michaels, chief of staff for former Republican Senate President Donald T. DiFrancesco, formed with Philip Norcross, the South Jersey lawyer and brother of George. Michaels, who was a policy adviser to Christie’s campaign, said it was unclear just what the firm’s role will be, if any, in the hospital’s ongoing legal battle to stop Hackensack University Medical Center from reopening the bankrupt Pascack Valley Hospital as a 128-bed full service hospital. Englewood and The Valley Hospital in Ridgewood say the additional hospital beds are not needed in Bergen County and that the reopening would harm them financially. But Christie supported the Pascack reopening during the campaign. (Stile, The Record)

Editorial: Passaic Valley Sewerage Commission: Gov. Chris Christie finds a good target to rein in

Sometimes we worry about Gov.Chris Christie. He seems angry a lot. Once in a while, he needs to take a yoga class, light a scented candle, needlepoint the state seal — do something relaxing, for the good of the state and for his own well-being. But then there are times when taxpayers need his outrage, times when John Q. Jersey wants Christie to get all gubernatorially galled and to box some ears. Here’s a for-instance: the Passaic Valley Sewerage Commission. Christie’s latest conniption reveals the agency, which serves 1.3 million people in North Jersey, is paying staffers like they pitch for the Yankees. On the ratepayers’ dime,executive director Bryan Christensen is earning $313,000. That, by the way, is $138,000 a year more than Christie makes as governor. “It’s completely outrageous,” Christie said. “We will figure out a way to fix it.” Records reveal that in 2008 the PVSC had 596 employees, and 82 of them earned more than $100,000. Dozens more earned more than $90,000. Sic ’em, Chris. Fixing the problem, however, might not be easy and will require help from the Legislature. The governor has no authority over this authority. Oversight, which is local, is weak. Mayors who should be whistleblowers can end up on the board. One of those, Garfield mayor and PVSC commissioner Frank Calandriello, says the agency has taken steps in recent years to trim spending and be more transparent. “If there are ways we can improve the agency, I would certainly be receptive,” he said last week. Let’s hope that sentiment is shared by the other commissioners. Thanks to patronage and the political bosses who have sat on the board, the PVSC is one of the best-connected agencies in the state. It has a history of nepotism and questionable bidding practices and has spent tons of money retaining Trenton’s most-plugged-in lobbying firms. Maybe the treated water doesn’t smell, but the PVSC has stunk for decades. The PVSC is a poster boy for undisciplined waste. Billions of public dollars are spent by state and multistate agencies, with little accountability or oversight. The Legislature should provide the governor with veto power over these authorities. The PVSC and others should know their books will be scrutinized and they will be held accountable. Sic ’em, Chris. (Star Ledger)

Mulshine: Democrat incumbents on track for loss?

If a guy who posed nude in Cosmopolitan can win as a Republican in Massachusetts, then a lot of Democratic congressmen in New Jersey are in trouble this year. That was the sort of thing I learned on the annual Chamber of Commerce train ride to Washington last week. Well, that and the fact that it used to be a lot more fun. The “chamber train,” as it’s known, was really something in the old days. To hear the old-timers tell it, the hospitality suites opened early in the morning so everyone could warm up their drinking muscles for the workout to come. No women were permitted on the train, which turned into a sort of rolling frat house. One pol who used to ride the train back then told me the Hudson County boys would print counterfeit tickets. This was confirmed by Joan Verplanck, the chamber president. Verplanck told me that in the early 1980s, she was talking to a guy from Jersey City who tried to impress her by boasting how he and his friends had gotten on the train for free. “We just bought one ticket and took it to the copy center and we had 18,” she recalled the rake as saying. These days, the trip’s a bit more serious. Due to the curse of cell phones and laptops, a rider can still get some work done from the train. There were a few coolers of beer on board, and the bar car was packed, but the crowd was tame compared to prior years, reliable sources said. Though I’ve been covering Trenton for decades, this was my first trip on the train. My interest was piqued by Gov. Chris Christie. At a recent press conference, Christie went into a tirade against the Chamber and its choo-choo, apparently because of bad blood lingering from the campaign. Other Republican elected officials followed his lead, and few made the trip. That produced a weird mix at the big dinner Thursday evening. There were a whole lot of business people. And there were a whole lot of Democrats making speeches to them. One was federal Environmental Protection Agency chief Lisa Jackson, who until recently held the top environmental job in Jersey. Jackson has been floating trial balloons about running against Christie in 2013. After stating “there’s been a lot of chatter about what the future holds,” Jackson said, “it’s not fair to Cory Booker and it’s not fair toSteve Sweeney to keep them waiting, so tonight I announce (pause) my allegiance to the New Orleans Saints.” That got a laugh, after which Jackson, who is originally from Louisiana, gave the sort of speech in which she sounded an awful lot like a candidate for something. She artfully avoided any of the environmental issues that would tick off businessmen, such as that cap-and-trade proposal for greenhouse gases. The other Dems avoided the tricky topics as well. The reason for their reticence may stem from that guy who posed nude for Cosmo in his youth. In a special election earlier this month, Scott Brownshocked the Dems by winning what was considered perhaps their safest Senate seat, the one formerly held by the late Teddy Kennedy. That has Jersey Republicans wondering just how safe our state’s Democratic incumbents are. The GOP is giddy about its prospects in the center of the state, where Christie piled up huge numbers in November. Monmouth, Middlesex and Ocean counties have many affluent suburbanites who normally vote blue, but may be seeing red in this recession. (Mulshine, Star Ledger)

Morning News Digest: February 1, 2010