Morning News Digest: February 16, 2010

Lautenberg taken to hospital after fall

U.S. Sen. Frank Lautenberg was taken by ambulance from his Cliffside Park condo Monday night after suffering a fall, a spokesman said.  “The Senator is in great spirits and joking with the doctors,” spokesman Caley Gray said. “He is going to stay overnight for routine observation.”  Gray said Lautenberg was conscious when he was taken to an area hospital. He said he did not know if the 86-year-old senator fell in the apartment, or if he suffered any serious injuries. No further details were immediately available. (Jackson, The Record)

Democrats fear GOP will sustain harmony

The Republicans’ unity in Bergen County is driving their Democratic foes bananas. It frightens them. For years, Bergen Democrats could count on Republican infighting. The ideological purists hunted down suspected RINOs (Republicans in Name Only), but sometimes found themselves trampled in a RINO stampede. Democrats enjoyed the sideshow. Not this year. The Republicans are rallying around Kathe Donovan’s bid for county executive, which is unsettling, to say the least. The hard-right RINO hunters are standing down and some are even touting her broad-based, moderate appeal as a virtue, not an intraparty mark of Cain. (Stile, The Record)

It happened in Hillside: Menza’s ties to Christie go back to his mayor’s race – bad blood with DeFilippo earlier 

Sworn into office in front of a cast of attendees proud to welcome him to the ranks of area renegade political figures, independent Hillside Mayor Joe Menza still doesn’t discourage the image of himself in this Democratic town as Chris Christie in miniature, acting out at the local level what the new governor is attempting to do on a larger scale in Trenton with a legislature dominated by the opposing party. For ground-zero Menza foe and Union County Democratic Chair Charlotte DeFilippo, it’s an unacceptable comparison – even when she considers the antagonistic potential of a surging statewide Republican like Christie. “An insult to the sitting governor,” DeFilippo said when asked to comment on the parallel lines running through Menza and Republican Christie’s political careers. “I can’t let you say that, that’s an awful insult, I’m not joking. Stop.” As Christie last week presented his proposal to the Democratic Party-dominant legislature to close a $2.5 billion budget gap, the Hillside Township Council, 6-2 in favor of Team DeFilippo, wrangled over a $42 million budget with a proposed 6.5% tax increase, which Menza wants chopped. Despite the on-paper edge for DeFilippo, the council stalemated, 3-3-1. “You think Hillside is immune to everything that’s going on around us?” asked Menza. “A Six percent increase? Really? Let’s take a closer look at that 60% of the budget compacted with salaries, wages and perks.” DeFilippo bristled at the anti-establishment mayor’s assessment. “Come on, let’s get real here,” said the lifelong Hillside resident, who’s now gone near to nuclear on three successive local mayors. “You have a brand new mayor who has no idea about this form of government, about advise and consent of the council.” (Pizarro, PolitickerNJ) 

Backing Lance’s re-election, Doherty says he’s unbeatable 

It’s not the fights, but the right fights, said movement conservative state Sen. Michael Doherty (R-Washington Twp.), whose endorsement of moderate U.S. Rep. Leonard Lance (R-Clinton) cuts political oxygen off of the fledgling campaign of Tewksbury businessman David Larsen, who’s challenging Lance from the right in the GOP primary. “You can’t get involved in every local race,” Doherty told “I’m coming off a bruising 2009 myself, and for me, there are better targets to go after. Democrats, for instance. Rush Holt is a guy who immediately comes to mind. Listen, at some point you have to consolidate your gains. I do not think Leonard Lance can be beaten in a Republican Primary. Even if David Larsen won, he would be cut out in redistricting in 2012.” Lance’s refusal to get solidly behind Doherty last year might have prevented some party primary agony, but Doherty insists he didn’t take it personally. “I took his support of the GOP team in Hunterdon as his support of the party’s chosen candidates, I didn’t take it as him endorsing my opponent,” said the renegade upset winner over Marcia Karrow to win the 23rd District state senate seat Lance had occupied prior to his move up to Congress. “It was a situation where he was willing to have his picture taken with candidates, and people stretched that to the notion that he provided a glowing endorsement of my opponent, but the fact is that he refused to do a robocall (for Karrow against Doherty),” added Doherty, who plans to stand on a stage with Lance tomorrow morning in Hunterdon in a moderate-conservative statement of symbiosis. “Do we agree on all the issues, no, but to Republicans angry at Leonard Lance, my message is get on board with the Christie administration and take on guys like Rush Holt and John Adler to advance Republican principles,” said Doherty, who noted that Lance’s support in the state senate of voter approval for any new debt puts him in a special category. Doherty’s primary win over Karrow last year came as his political ally in the conservative movement, Lonegan, simultaneously beat Christie in Warren and Hunterdon while losing overall. (Pizarro, PolitickerNJ) 

Christie adopts Corzine budget cuts, and then some 

While New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie criticized his predecessor last week for using “the same worn-out tricks” to cobble together a state budget, he readily adopted hundreds of millions in spending cuts former Gov. Jon S. Corzine had proposed to close a gap in the current spending plan. Christie called a joint session of the Legislature to announce his plan for closing a midyear budget gap he says would have reached $2.2 billion by the end of the fiscal year on June 30. It includes cutting $1.6 billion in state aid to school districts, colleges and universities, hospitals, NJ Transit and more. He pulled back funds from some 375 programs in all. The biggest chunk of savings — $475 million — will be achieved by forcing school districts to use their excess budget surpluses in place of state aid payments. Corzine proposed saving $300 million the same way, as he looked to reconcile a smaller budget imbalance on his way out the door. Christie’s plan goes further because it pares all district surpluses greater than 2 percent; Corzine would have allowed districts to keep 25 percent of the excess. Also, Christie achieved the savings instantly by signing an executive order. Corzine’s proposal called for legislative action, but no bill was introduced before his term ended on Jan. 19. Corzine spokesman Josh Zeitz said Christie announced 219 of the same line-item spending cuts and freezes that Corzine had identified four weeks ago. Zeitz said the former governor had already targeted nearly half of the $2 billion in “dramatic” cuts Christie announced. “I guess they only count if you announce them on television,” Zeitz said. “Compare that sum to the $4.4 billion that Corzine cut in midyear in (fiscal year) 2009 — without fanfare — and Christie is nothing but a grandstander.” A Monmouth University political scientist had a different take. (Delli Santi, Gannett) 

Who bankrolls North Jersey House campaigns? 

The two Democrats and one Republican representing North Jersey in the House of Representatives raised more than $2 million in contributions last year, including money from people or groups who benefited from their votes and positions. Defense contractors and lobbyists who specialize in getting federal appropriations for their clients were supporters of Rep. Steve Rothman, D-Fair Lawn, who serves on the committee that writes spending bills each year. Bankers, investment firms and insurance companies backed a leading critic of new financial regulations, Rep. Scott Garrett, R-Wantage. And Rep. Bill Pascrell Jr., D-Paterson, got funding from auto dealers and pipe manufacturers as he sponsored bills that the House passed providing federal tax breaks for new car purchases and subsidies for water and sewer lines. The three lawmakers all said through aides their official actions were based on principle and not tied to contributions. Taking a contribution specifically to perform or because one performs an official action would be a crime. But it is common for the interest groups intimately involved in the issues members of Congress regulate to be among their contributors, and the North Jersey delegation’s campaign finance reports show the three House veterans are mastering the money game. The three all operate “leadership committees” in addition to their campaign committees, which are allowed to accept bigger contributions than the Federal Elections Commission limit for campaigns. Moneys in leadership accounts can be used to support party committees or colleagues’ campaigns, which enhances the incumbents’ political clout on Capitol Hill. Here’s a look at each lawmaker’s activity, based on information from their FEC reports and public data on such Web sites as the Center for Responsive Politics’, Congressional Quarterly’s and Taxpayers for Common Sense’s Totals include donations to both campaign and leadership accounts from the day after Election Day 2008 through Dec. 31, 2009, unless otherwise noted. (Jackson, The Record) 

U.S. Senator Frank Lautenberg taken to area hospital after fall 

U.S. Sen. Frank Lautenberg was taken by ambulance tonight from his Cliffside Park home after suffering a fall, his spokesman said. The 86-year-old Democrat was conscious when he was taken to the hospital “as a precautionary measure,” said the spokesman, Caley Grey. Grey said he did not know if Lautenberg had fallen inside the Bergen County condominium or whether he had suffered any injuries. Lautenberg was elected to his fifth term in the Senate in 2008, defeating former U.S. Rep. Richard Zimmer with roughly 55 percent of the vote. He was thrust back into the political spotlight in recent months as his name became synonymous with two major political storylines in the state — the security breach at Newark Liberty International Airport and the Sean Goldman custody case. The Paterson-born Lautenberg was one of the most outspoken critics of the Transportation Security Administration after Haisong Jiang, a Rutgers graduate student, wandered beyond a security checkpoint last month to steal a kiss from his girlfriend, shutting down Terminal C for nearly six hours and accidentally exposing security flaws at one of the nation’s largest airports. Just a week before the airport incident, Lautenberg claimed he “used the hammer” of senatorial power to help Tinton Falls resident David Goldman regain custody of his son, Sean, ending an international custody dispute between the Monmouth County man and the Brazilian government which had dragged on for years. Lautenberg returned Friday night from a whirlwind 11-hour trip to Haiti with a congressional delegation that included House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. He was scheduled to have a news conference today in Newark to discuss the trip and state efforts providing relief. (Queally/Jackson, Star Ledger/The Record) 

Stile: Democrats fear GOP will sustain harmony 

The Republicans’ unity in Bergen County is driving their Democratic foes bananas. It frightens them. For years, Bergen Democrats could count on Republican infighting. The ideological purists hunted down suspected RINOs (Republicans in Name Only), but sometimes found themselves trampled in a RINO stampede. Democrats enjoyed the sideshow. Not this year. The Republicans are rallying around Kathe Donovan’s bid for county executive, which is unsettling, to say the least. The hard-right RINO hunters are standing down and some are even touting her broad-based, moderate appeal as a virtue, not an intraparty mark of Cain. This is her year, perhaps her last chance to break out of the county clerk’s office, where she has ruled for 20 years. It’s causing panic in the Democratic ranks. A year after Democratic Party Boss Joe Ferriero’s ouster (and four months after his federal corruption conviction), the Democrats remain confused about where Chairman Mike Kasparian intends to lead them and whether he’s up to the job. The party jumped from last year’s frying pan into this year’s freezer. Ironically, nobody feared Donovan more than Ferriero, who failed two years ago to get her out of politics by securing her a Superior Court judgeship. But instead of getting their house in order, some Democrats are trying to inject disorder into the Republican ranks. They are convinced that the new GOP unity is built on rickety scaffolding and that all they have to do is pull one plank out of position and the whole thing collapses. A nasty, costly primary will ensue. One embittered faction will refuse to support the other embittered faction in the fall contest. Money and morale is drained and the message is fractured. Then things return to normal with a predictable rhythm of hatred roiling the GOP ranks. It’s an understandable hope. After all, it’s hard to believe that years of GOP acrimony can be smoothed over by a handshake and a gift tie. Here are a few disruptive tactics I think they will try and why I don’t think they will work: Needling Bergen County Republican Organization leader Bob Yudin. The Wyckoff appliance store owner reminds me a little of Captain Binghamton, the easily rankled commander of “McHale’s Navy” who is always scheming, but failing, to outsmart his roguish subordinates. Yudin, who has clashed with Donovan for years until he recently endorsed her, is easily provoked and there is a belief that the more he talks, the more likely he will make some sort of anti-Donovan gaffe. Sen. Paul Sarlo of Wood-Ridge tried this last week, criticizing Yudin’s replacement of Republican election board chairman Pete Incardone with a political ally, Rich Miller of Cliffside Park. Sarlo said Yudin picked Miller because he is an inner-circle adviser, while Incardone is a Donovan ally. Yudin didn’t take the bait and actually stayed on message, saying Incardone would be a double-dipping pensioner and for that matter, how dare an unreconstructed dual-office holder like Sarlo make such an accusation. “Talk about the pot calling the kettle black,” he said. (Stile, The Record) 

Ingle: Putting pressure on counties’ association 

Morris County has passed a resolution to withhold dues to the state Association of Counties pending an audit of the agency. Morris County pays $10,000 a year in dues. Some of the Morris freeholders are not happy that Executive Director Celeste Carpiano gets $205,000 in salary plus a car and that NJAC employees are enrolled in the state’s pension system which is in trouble. The Star-Ledger reports Hunterdon County withdrew last year because NJAC declined to release detailed financial information. Other counties are considering their options. One of the organization’s duties is to lobby for counties in Trenton. That’s government lobbying government which seems odd. Isn’t that what members of the Legislature are supposed to do? Represent their constituents, which include county government? The association of municipal governments, which lobbies for towns, also is in the state’s troubled pension system. (Ingle, Gannett)

Morning News Digest: February 16, 2010