Morning News Digest: February 2, 2010

FBI informant in N.J. corruption trial says he tried to bribe community affairs commissioner
The government informant at the center of last year’s massive FBI sting testified today at the trial of a Jersey City deputy mayor that he paid two bribes totaling nearly $40,000 to a political consultant with the understanding the money would be delivered to a member of former Gov. Jon Corzine’s cabinet.

Lance defends fourth quarter fundraising report against long-shot Dem Potosnak

Emergent Democratic candidate Ed Potosnak of Franklin Twp. threw the gauntlet down tonight, targeting the man he wants to dethrone in his long shot challenge of U.S. Rep. Leonard Lance (R-Clinton). Pointing to Lance’s fourth quarter fundraising reports, “This is the same game career politicians have always played in Washington,” said Potosnak, an aide to California Congressman Mike Honda. “While families in the 7th Congressional District are struggling, we need someone in Washington that is looking out for them, Congressman Lance is doing what career politicians do – raising money from the special interests and voting for their interests, not ours.” The reports show that Lance received 60% of his total campaign contributions from special interests, said Potosnak, the bulk of which comes directly from Wall Street, big banks and the insurance industry. Lance hit back when he learned of Potosnak’s critique. “I receive contributions from many different areas,” said the freshman congressman, who denied the special interest influence of his contributors. “I have voted for credit card reform and believe we should strengthen the economy, not raise taxes. “Republicans are in a better position than at the beginning of the Obama administration,” Lance added. “We Republicans have to prove we have better solutions, as the Obama administration has overreached in several areas.” (Pizarro, PolitickerNJ)

At least 9 Republicans file to run for Bergen freeholder

Midnight marks the deadline for potential freeholder, county executive and sheriff candidates to file letters of intent with the Bergen County Republican Organization. With less than seven hours to go before the deadline, nine have filed to compete for the party nod for three freeholder seats, two for sheriff and just one for the county’s top post. “I personally have never seen this kind of number,” said Bergen County Republican chairman Bob Yudin. “It’s very good – it’s encouraging. Its shows how vibrant the BCRO is now. It shows a rekindling of interest. It’s an excellent number of people, many of them elected or former elected officials.” Republicans, fresh from picking up two freeholder seats in November, can take control of the freeholder board if they win all three seats that are up this year. Competing for a chance to run for freeholder are John Felice, a former River Edge councilman and son of former Assemblyman Nicholas Felice; John Mitchell, an independent consultant who has run unsuccessfully for council in Cliffside Park several times; Raymond Herr, a former Fairview councilman and a candidate for Bogota council last year; Jeff Bader, a councilman from Woodcliff Lake; Rosina Romano, the former mayor of South Hackenack; Frank Valenzuela, the mayor of Rochelle Park; John Criscione, a former Fort Lee councilman; Maura De Nicola, the mayor of Franklin Lakes; and Ken Tyburczy, the chairman of the Bergen County Young Republicans. A tenth candidate, Montvale resident Arthur Lavis – who ran for freeholder in last year’s primary on gubernatorial candidate Steve Lonegan’s line – has also submitted a letter of intent. But Yudin said that he has not yet filled out a statement naming Yudin as the campaign manager for the purposes of bracketing – a precondition to run in the convention. “As far as I’m concerned, my position is that he hasn’t completed his application,” said Yudin. (Friedman, PolitickerNJ)

Over cries from coalition, Lesniak leads lawmakers with casino project protection

State Sen. Ray Lesniak’s (D-Elizabeth) Economic Growth Committee today unanimously passed a bill-tweak blocking local residents’ efforts to stymie tax breaks for a casino development project in Atlantic City – a move Lesniak and other lawmakers say will fast-track crucial economic development in the city, but which foes bewail as simply a big business giveaway at the expense of democracy. “The amendment needed by the Revel project in Atlantic City, which will adopt the same provisions with regard to referendums as are contained in the Local Redevelopment Housing Law, will allow for the completion of a new casino with 1,900 hotel rooms, 150,000 square feet of gaming, 35,500 square feet of entertainment space, 170,000 square feet of convention space, 20 restaurants, and 44,000 square feet of beach amenities,” said Lesniak. “Scheduled to open in 2011, Revel will make a $2 billion investment for New Jersey contractors and subcontractors and will produce $134 million a year in State and local revenues, not including income and payroll taxes,” he added. “This investment will create 2,600 construction jobs and 5,500 permanent jobs at the Revel site and another 2,500 construction and permanent jobs from manufacturing vendor, supplier, professional, and consultant work related to the project and its infrastructure, for a total of nearly 11,000 jobs. Revel is not just another casino. It’s a $2 billion investment in making Atlantic City a tourist destination, something that must happen for it to compete with new gambling attractions in neighboring states.” Lesniak’s revision of the New Jersey Economic Stimulus Act of 2009 includes the support of co-prime sponsors Senate President Stephen Sweeney (D-West Deptford) and state Sen. Jim Whelan (D-Atlantic City), and cross the aisle co-prime sponsorship in the lower house from Assemblyman John Amodeo (R-Margate) and Assemblyman Vince Polistina (R-Egg Harbor Twp.). But an eclectic coalition of opponents, including Steve Lonegan, president of Americans for Prosperity; Seth Grossman, executive director of Liberty and Prosperity; Bob McDevitt, president of Unite Here Local 54; and Jeff Tittel, executive director of the Sierra Club, criticized the bill as a retroactive crucifixion of local voters who wanted a referendum on Morgan Stanley’s Revel project. (Pizarro, PolitickerNJ)

N.J.’s top Democrat sees opportunity in defeat’s wake

Assemblyman John Wisniewski, unanimously elected the state’s Democratic Party chairman last week, assumes his new role in the wake of a crushing defeat that cost his party the governorship for the first time in a dozen years. But the highest-ranking Democrat in a deep-blue state sees opportunity. During his two-year tenure, he could influence New Jersey politics for the next decade. “We are all disappointed in the outcome of the election last November and know that we cannot allow a repeat in 2010,” Wisniewski, 47, told party members in his acceptance speech. Recent Democratic losses – including Gov. Jon S. Corzine’s failed reelection bid – were more about voters’ hunger for change than a decline of the party, the Middlesex County legislator said in an interview. New Jersey voters are “justifiably frustrated about their lot in life, particularly the economy,” and they don’t seem to know that Democrats have cut the growth in state spending and more fairly distributed education funding, he said. They “see Democrats talking about health care on a national level and they say, ‘That’s not what’s concerning us.’ To harken back to a line from Bill Clinton’s day, ‘It’s the economy.’ That’s what the voters are telling us.” Wisniewski must both define the Democrats’ message and raise money now that Corzine, the party’s biggest donor, is out of the game, said Rider University political scientist Ben Dworkin. “It’s a tough position,” Dworkin said. Corzine’s largesse was “both a blessing and a curse,” Wisniewski said. His years of giving to party candidates were like “taking a ride in a car instead of walking. You lose a little muscle tone.” The Sayreville resident, who is married and has three teenage daughters, is a lawyer who has concentrated on transportation issues since he was elected to the Legislature in 1995. He was among the earliest opponents of Corzine’s plan to use revenue from the state’s toll roads to back billions of dollars in bonds. The scheme sent Corzine’s popularity on a downhill slide from which it never recovered, according to Patrick Murray, director of the Monmouth University Polling Institute. Wisniewski becomes chairman of the Democratic State Committee a year before New Jersey adjusts the boundaries of its 40 state legislative districts and 13 congressional districts, an intensely political event that occurs after each decennial U.S. Census. How the lines are drawn affects a party’s chances of having its candidates elected. New Jersey could lose a congressional seat this decade because of a population shift, making the redistricting even more consequential. As Democratic chairman, Wisniewski will have a hand in the process. He could pick five of the 11 members of the state legislative redistricting commission and two of the 13 members of the congressional redistricting commission. His most pressing task, observers say, is to address a fissure within his party. “One of the first things he needs to do is ensure that all the Democrats, particularly in the state Legislature, are unified behind the Democratic leadership,” said Brigid Harrison, a Montclair State University political scientist. (Burton, Inquirer)

N.J. Gov. Christie announces State Police, Children and Families, motor vehicles cabinet posts

State Police Supt. Rick Fuentes, who guided the force out of a decade-long federal consent decree designed to eliminate racial profiling, will keep his job under Gov. Chris Christie’s administration, the governor said today. Christie downplayed the decision during a Statehouse press conference announcing Janet Rosenzweig, the former director of a child abuse prevention agency, would lead the Department of Children and Families. Christie also nominated Raymond Martinez to run the Motor Vehicle Commission. Christie said he is “impressed with the work and leadership’’ Fuentes provided the State Police. “Right now I have no reason that I want to change the leadership of the State Police,” Christie said. “I’ve worked with Colonel Fuentes for a number of years as U.S. Attorney. So I had a meeting with Colonel Fuentes last week – told him there was no reason to make any kind of official announcement. He’s on the job and I want him to stay there.” Fuentes was nominated by former Gov. James E. McGreevey in 2003, making him the longest-serving State Police superintendent since Clinton L. Pagano, who left the force in 1990. Fuentes, who joined the State Police in 1978, was a co-winner of the force’s Trooper of the Year honor in 1993 after an investigation he helped lead captured a $10 million cocaine shipment. In September, the State Police’s decade-long consent decree with the U.S. Department of Justice to eliminate racial profiling ended after monitors said the force met the requirements for reform. In selecting Rosenzweig to lead the Children and Families department, Christie said he was moved by “her passion … The people of New Jersey, most especially the children at risk and families in crisis, will have no greater ally.” Rosenzweig, who led the nonprofit Prevent Child Abuse New Jersey for 2001 and 2007, said she “had been preparing my entire career for this opportunity.’’ Rosenzweig steps in as New Jersey enters its seventh year of a court settlement that requires a federal judge to monitor the overhaul of child protection services. Rosenzweig said she was encouraged by the federal monitor’s reports “offering positive feedback.” Susan Lambiase of Children’s Rights, the national advocacy group whose lawsuit forced the federal monitoring, said she “looked forward to working with Dr. Rosenzweig to ensure that the leadership and commitment continue, in order to overcome the remaining significant challenges and build upon the historic progress that has been made.” Martinez, Christie’s pick for Chair and Chief Administrator of the Motor Vehicle Commission, last served as Deputy Chief of Protocol for the U.S. Department of State and White House. He New York State’s motor vehicle commissioner from 2000 to 2005. Christie said he has now wrapped up his cabinet appointments. He has not chosen a public advocate, and said he is considering consolidating the duties of the state’s watchdog agencies. (Livio/Megerian, Star Ledger)

N.J.’s 11K electronic voting machines ordered to be re-evaluated to determine accuracy, reliability

New Jersey’s 11,000 voting machines must be re-evaluated by a qualified panel of experts to determine whether they are “accurate and reliable,” a Superior Court judge ruled TOday, in a case challenging the validity of computerized voting machines that do not produce a paper record. All voting machines and vote tally transmitting systems must be disconnected from the internet; all people who work with them, and third-party vendors who examine or transport the machines, must undergo criminal background checks; and the state must put in place a protocol for inspecting voting machines, to ensure they have not been tampered with, ruled Superior Court Judge Linda Feinberg in Mercer County. She did not, however, go one step further and enforce a 2005 state statute requiring that all voting machines in New Jersey produce a voter-verified paper ballot. “I am disappointed the court did not take the step of mandating a voter-verified paper trail or scrapping the electronic machines altogether,” said Assemblyman Reed Gusciora (D-Princeton Borough) one of a group of Mercer County residents who brought the suit against the state. The suit was brought five and half years ago by plaintiffs who wanted to improve election security in New Jersey. The plaintiffs, including a voter who said, after casting her ballot in 2004, she received no indication her vote was recorded, charged the state’s touch-screen machines were vulnerable to tampering that could allow vote fraud. Feinberg’s ruling calls for the voting machines to be reevaluated within the next 120 days by a panel with “a requisite knowledge of computers and computer security.” She also said the state should no longer leave voting machines unattended in public places. U.S. Rep. Rush Holt said in a statement that the ruling found “security vulnerabilities are present, to some degree, in every voting system,” yet allowed continued use of New Jersey’s unauditable touch screen voting machines. Holt has introduced legislation in Congress requiring paper ballot voting and random audits of vote tallies. The lawsuit was started by Rutgers Clinical Professor Penny Venetis, co-director of the Constitutional Litigation Clinic. Plaintiffs are the Princeton-based Coalition for Peace Action; voter Stephanie Harris; Gusciora; and New Jersey Peace Action. (Rundquist, Star Ledger)

N.J. Gov. Chris Christie will keep State Police Superintendent Rick Fuentes in post

Gov. Chris Christie said today that he will keep Superintendent Rick Fuentes in charge of the New Jersey State Police, making the veteran law enforcement officer the fourth holdover from the Corzine administration. “Right now I have no reason that I want to change the leadership of the State Police,” Christie said. “I’ve worked with Colonel Fuentes for a number of years as U.S. Attorney. I’m impressed with the work and leadership he’s provided the State Police. So I had a meeting with Colonel Fuentes last week, told him there was no reason to make any kind of official announcement. He’s on the job and I want him to stay there.” Fuentes, who joined the State Police in 1978, had participated in last week’s cabinet meeting, a sign Christie was willing to keep him on board. He was nominated by former Gov. James McGreevey in 2003, making him the longest-serving State Police superintendent since Clinton L. Pagano, who left the force in 1990. He shared the force’s Trooper of the Year honor with another officer in 1993 after an investigation he helped lead captured a $10 million cocaine shipment. In addition to being a trooper, he earned a master’s and a doctorate on criminal justice issues. Most recently, he guided the State Police from under a decade-long consent decree with the U.S. Department of Justice that was designed to eliminate racial profiling. Federal oversight officially ended in September, although state officials will continue to monitor motor vehicle stops to ensure motorists are not pulled over based on their race. Christie said Fuentes does not need another Senate confirmation. Christie made the comments after announcing his picks for commissioners of the Department of Motor Vehicles and the Department of Children and Families. Christie said those nominations would wrap up what has been a long string of cabinet announcements over the last few weeks. Notably, he has not selected a public advocate. Christie has considered consolidating the duties of watchdogs such as the public advocate, auditor and comptroller, but he said today the decision will be part of the budget process. He is also retaining the Adjutant General, the commissioner of Human Services and the secretary of Agriculture. (Megerian/Fleisher, Star Ledger)

Mulshine: The American Conservative – Why Limbaugh and Levin are liberals

People constantly ask me why I am so critical and often contemptuous of my fellow conservatives. I’m not. I respect all conservatives. It’s liberals I criticize. The problem is that so many readers have no knowledge of history and therefore do not know the categories. Perhaps the most frustrating thing about communicating with people who think they’re conservatives, which is a hazard of my job, is that so many of them get their idea of conservatism from characters who are essentially liberal in their outlook, such as virtually every radio talk show host from Rush Limbaugh on down through the screeching Mark Levin to Sean “Enemy of the State” Hannity. None of these characters has the slightest understanding of the history of American conservatism. None seems to be aware of the split that occurred after World War II between the old-fashioned conservatives, epitomized by Robert Taft and Howard Buffett, and the new liberal faction that took over the Republican Party. The old conservatives resisted the concentration of power in Washington to the bitter end. The new faction degenerated until we got such characters as Levin, who wrings his hand regularly over the possible destruction of Medicare and other federal entitlements. As for Limbaugh and Hannity, they to this day seem to have no idea of that the Iraq War was a classic nation-building operation of the sort liberals have always loved and conservatives have always hated. Only a liberal, for example, could think it the proper role of the U.S. government to build schools and hospitals in a faraway country like Iraq. Yet the radio talkers constantly boast of such statistics. These guys do flail about and hit on a conservative argument now and then, but it’s totally random. They are populists at heart, and populism is liberal by its very nature. All of these guys would have been recognized as left-wingers in the good old days. I can explain that till I’m blue in the face. But since you can’t see my face, instead read this article by Justin Raimondo in the American Conservative. Conservatives without historical memory would seem to be a contradiction in terms, yet that is the situation in which we find ourselves some 70 years after Taft’s heyday. Conservatives seem to have forgotten their past, which is a pity because the history of their movement is rich with lessons for today, as illustrated by this modest little book. As Kirk shows in detailing Taft’s career as leader of the party’s conservative wing, RINO’s have always been with us: “The ‘liberal,’ or anti-Taft, element of the Republican party … acted upon the assumption that the New Deal was irrevocable.” While the party rank-and-file might find That Man in the White House detestable and his policies execrable, they insisted that a more accommodating public face was the key to victory at the polls. They lost consistently and miserably. (Mulshine, Star Ledger)

Stile: Democrats can’t call GOP leader a ‘boss’

It’s no secret that the Bergen Democratic Party knows it has a significant public relations problem heading into this year’s county executive contest. It is a party once micro-managed by an old-fashioned political boss, who recently became an old-fashioned convicted party boss. That is, to put it mildly, what political operatives call a “negative.” So the Democrats’ new campaign consultant is adopting an old-fashioned damage-control strategy: Pin a similar “negative” on your Republican opponents, even if the argument, built on a slim body of evidence, is stretched like Silly Putty along a grueling 10-month campaign. Case in point: Sean Darcy, the Bergen Democrats’ newly hired campaign consultant, took the first swipe of the campaign during a brief interview last week, accusing Bergen County Clerk Kathe Donovan, the likely Republican county executive nominee, of playing boss-like politics. Darcy cited my Jan. 17 column, which detailed some of the negotiations that led Bergen County Republican Organization Chairman Bob Yudin to endorse Donovan, his longtime — and often bitter — intraparty foe. They agreed that, if elected, Donovan would consider Yudin’s recommendations for county jobs. Yudin made it clear that he would only forward names — all hiring decisions would be strictly Donovan’s. “It looks like Kathe Donovan may have worked to secure the county bosses’ line [endorsement] in exchange for Bergen County taxpayer-funded positions. … That’s a problem,” Darcy said. Darcy and the Democrats hope to neutralize the inevitable “bossism” issue by implying there is some sort of equivalency between Donovan’s and Yudin’s hiring policy and what former Democratic boss Joe Ferriero and County Executive Dennis McNerney actually practiced — packing the county payroll with party loyalists. It’s a false one, although Darcy did a good job of slipping it into the stream of conversation without raising his voice an octave. Donovan, meanwhile, seethed when told of the remark, but she, too, kept her poise. “The days of Bergen County being a political haven for political hacks will end the day I’m sworn into office,” she said. In the rules of campaign combat, Darcy’s attack is fair game. And besides, county jobs seems like such an unnecessary thing for Yudin to negotiate in the first place. Of course, a county executive will take non-binding job recommendations from the party chairman. It’s a given, even if Donovan and Yudin’s kumbaya unity will probably last slightly longer than one of Madonna’s marriages. But the suggestion that Donovan will somehow be bossed around by Bob Yudin much the same way McNerney was controlled by Ferriero is ridiculous. (Stile, The Record)

Morning News Digest: February 2, 2010