Morning News Digest: February 19, 2010

Booker on Salahuddin: ‘If this is true, he has betrayed my trust, the public trust, has violated the law, and should be punished’ 

Never past trying to land a phantom punch on Mayor Cory Booker in an election season that early looks like an easy jab and dance to victory for the electric first-term incumbent, challenger Clifford Minor could not immediately summon any offense with the news today that the feds indicted former Booker Deputy Mayor Ron Salahuddin on extortion and bribery charges. That’s in part because U.S. Attorney Paul Fishman went out of his way to praise Booker for cooperating in the investigation that ultimately bagged Salahuddin on steering city contracts to a demolition company that would in turn subcontract work to a business Salahuddin partially owned. The Booker as untouchable factor was a point backed up by Salahuddin himself in the indictment when he says everyone’s corrupt “except the mayor.” (Pizarro, PolitickerNJ) 

Sarlo boosts Caliguire’s chances 

Although the leadership of the Bergen County Republican Organization has marginalized former freeholder Todd Caliguire and his potential county executive candidacy, state Sen. Paul Sarlo (D-Wood-ridge) said that the Democrats don’t believe the Republican field has truly settled.

”The conservative wing of the Republican Party in these types of primaries are usually successful. And Caliguire has proven that in the past,” he said.

Democrats have every reason to hope for internal Republican strife. Last week, The Record’s Charles Stile wrote that Democrats feared a Republican Party united behind Kathleen Donovan, a popular moderate county clerk. Donovan, a Rutherford native, is expected to perform well in the blue collar towns in the southern part of the county that comprise Sarlo’s district – sometimes socially conservative, but Democratic-leaning areas. (Friedman, PolitickerNJ) 

No great debate shakes Schundler’s Education Committee appearance 

Gov. Chris Christie’s nominee to run the state Department of Education, Bret Schundler sits in front of a microphone in front of the Assembly Education Committee and hears Assemblywoman Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-Ewing) tell him she looks forward to working with him. A walking red flag school choice advocate to those harder nosed defenders of public school education, Schundler appears to have an early friend in Watson Coleman. “I very much support the concept of public choice,” the veteran assemblywoman tells the former mayor of Jersey City. Schundler affirms. (Pizarro, PolitickerNJ)

Christie’s treasurer confirmed by N.J. Senate panel 

A Senate committee Thursday confirmed Andrew Eristoff as the state’s treasurer after a four-hour hearing that included questioning about Governor Christie’s recent budget cuts. Eristoff, who worked in tax and finance positions in New York, was confirmed with one no vote just after 4 p.m. by the Senate Judiciary Committee. Eristoff had been working as acting treasurer since Christie’s inauguration on Jan. 19. Democrats on the committee have been grilling Eristoff on Christie’s executive order signed last week that froze some spending to close a $2.2 billion budget gap. The state has been forced once again to make mid-year spending adjustments as tax revenue falls below expectations. (Fleisher, The Record) 

Acting N.J. education commissioner hoping other savings can ward off cuts 

Acting Education commissioner Bret Schundler told lawmakers Thursday his team hoped to keep state aid to schools steady next year despite warnings they should prepare for 15-percent cuts — just in case. “We’re working hard to see if we can achieve state aid that’s flat but we don’t know if it’s possible,” he told the Assembly Education Committee. “We’re going to try our best to see if we can achieve economies elsewhere in the state budget” to alleviate the pain for schools. Many educators said they were distressed Wednesday after Schundler and Governor Christie said districts should anticipate possible 15-percent cuts when they prepared budgets this spring. Asked after Thursday’s hearing whether 15-percent cuts were the worst-case scenario, Schundler said “that would be precipitous to say. I wouldn’t say yes, I wouldn’t say no.” (Brody, The Record) 

Westfield resident to challenge Lance in primary 

A Westfield resident said he plans on challenging U.S. Rep. Leonard Lance, R-N.J. 7th District, in the Republican primary for his congressional seat. Bruce Baker, a real-estate appraiser, said he has never run for public office before but was inspired to take action after participating in a Tea Party rally last spring in Belmar. “For the last 20 years I have been disappointed by both parties, by the career politicians and the lobbying influence,” Baker said, adding later that, “”we’re being regulated and taxed to death.” Lance officially launched his re-election campaign with a series of appearances Tuesday and spoke of his credentials as a fiscal conservative during the first of those stops in Flemington, calling for action on reducing the federal debt and a scrapping of Democrat-backed health care proposals. (Bricketto, Gannett) 

Baker seeks to ‘upset the apple cart’ in primary challenge to Lance 

Westfield resident Bruce Baker should be the ultimate Republican insider. A seventh generation Westfield resident, whose family helped settle the town before the Revolution, his father was a town councilman and county Republican chairman who dissuaded his son from entering politics, encouraging a business career instead. Baker has had four business careers, running an advertising agency, being assistant general manager of the New York Yankees, inventing a golf putter and now running a real estate appraisal business. Now he says circumstances have led him to toss aside his father’s advice and enter into an upstart Republican primary challenge against a sitting congressman. (Celock, Westfield Patch) 

N.J. Gov. Christie praises resignation of sewerage commission head 

Governor Christie praised the resignation of the well-paid head of the Passaic Valley Sewerage Commissioners Thursday, saying high-salary public workers should not “be immune” to his cost-cutting iniatives. Christie, responding for the first time to Friday’s announcement from PVSC head Bryan Christiansen that he will step down from his $313,000 post on March 1, said the agency will now get “a new executive director at a reasonable wage.” “My reaction is I’m glad that he understands that these are different times and that the public is not going to stand for — nor is this governor and lieutenant governor going to stand for — those types of salaries in the public sector,” he said following a business roundtable in Lumberton, Burlington County. (Reitmeyer, The Record) 

8 execs at N.J. authorities make more than governor 

A new state audit indicates that employees of New Jersey’s numerous state authorities enjoy better compensation than other state government workers. The audit released Thursday by the state Inspector General’s Office shows that eight authority executives make more than the governor’s $175,000 salary. Nearly 750 authority employees make more than $100,000 a year. The report says authority workers continue to have more paid holidays and more generous vacation and sick leave than other state workers and are allowed to cash in unused time. (AP) 

Ingle: Proposed transit hikes unwelcomed 

Proposed fare hikes and service cuts at NJ Transit drew criticism from Assembly Transportation Chairman John Wisniewski today. “It seems Gov. Christie is rushing toward a fare increase well before NJ Transit has completed a thorough review of operations and found creative and innovative ways to cut costs without slashing services and taxing commuters.” He also pointed out Christie was unable to say what patronage jobs would be eliminated. (Ingle, Gannett)

Morning News Digest: February 19, 2010