Morning News Digest: February 9, 2010

Garden State Equality fires new broadside at Dems

Smarting over the state Senate’s refusal to pass marriage equality and disillusioned at the moment with the Democratic Party majority, Garden State Equality’s 85-member Board of Directors unanimously decided against giving financial contributions to political parties and their affiliated committees. 

Under the new policy, Garden State Equality will make financial contributions only to individual candidates and to non-party organizations that further equality for the LGBT community, according to a release issued this morning by the organization.

”No political party has a record good enough on LGBT civil rights that it can rightfully claim to be entitled to our money on a party-wide basis,” said Steven Goldstein, chair of Garden State Equality. “No longer will we let any political party take our money and volunteers with one hand, and slap us in the face with the other when we seek full equality.

”Our Board of Directors felt so strongly about adopting this new policy,” he added, “that it unanimously decided to include it in the organization’s bylaws.” Garden State Equality estimates that since 2005 they have given $500,000 to Democratic Party candidates, while giving only minimally to Republicans. “Is this a broadside at the Democratic Party?” asked Goldstein. “Of course, it is.” Infuriated with Democrats who shied away from the vote during last year’s lame duck session, including Senate President (then-Senate Majority Leader) Steve Sweeney (D-West Deptford), Goldstein said the party floundered helplessly even when it came to basic courtesy. (Pizarro, PolitickerNJ) 

AC financial audit pits Langford against senate government committee 

A damning performance report issued by the state comptroller and blistering follow-up critiques from a labor lawyer representing city employees and the aide to County Executive Dennis Levinson brought Atlantic City Mayor Lorenzo Langford to the front of the room in combat mode in front of a Senate Government, Wagering and Tourism Committee headed by Langford’s old rival, state Sen. (and former Atlantic City Mayor) Jim Whelan. “I welcome the oversight and scrutiny,” said Langford, who last year defeated Whelan ally Councilman Marty Small. “We have reached out to the casino industry and have started meeting with all the stakeholders. But I want to say this: it seems to me that inefficiencies in government have been used as a scapegoat for the woes of the casino industry.” Comptroller Matthew Boxer, who testified today shortly before Langford, followed up on his 45-page Jan. 27 report, which cited numerous city government abuses, including the presence on the payroll of 11 aides to city council members making $484,000 total; the city’s failure to foreclose on eligible properties, various over-the-line perks and bloated sick time policies for police officers, $8 million in unspent city bond proceeds, and the circumvention by political action committees of flimsy local pay-to-play ordinances. The conditions have created anxiety among city workers – at the very least. “City employees are concerned about furloughs, layoffs and demotions,” said labor attorney Robert O’Brien, who added that despite an independent audit last April calling for a hiring freeze, the city forged ahead with more than 30 hires and wants to create a cultural diversity czar. “We have asked the city not to proceed with those hires and those requests have fallen on deaf ears,” he complained. While pledging cooperation to get to the bottom of allegations of waste and mismanagement, Langford simultaneously went after O’Brien and Levinson’s chief of staff before some back and forth with both Whelan and state Sen. Kevin O’Toole (R-Cedar Grove). The mayor objected to O’Toole’s efforts to scale the complex organism that is Atlantic City alongside other cities of the same size. “We get 33 million annual visitors to the city and 80,000 average daily visitors,” said Langford, the slap at O’Toole just before he jabbed at the county. “It’s easy for folks who want to point a finger at the city,” he said. “It would help if we got equitable services back for the taxes that we remit to the county.” The mayor then hammered O’Brien, who had bad information about the new hires, he said. “He left out the number of terminations that balances that,” said Langford, jabbing, too, at O’Brien for not attempting to ease up on some hard nosed union demands during their negotiations. (Pizarro, PolitickerNJ) 

Republican Larsen prepares to challenge Lance with long-shot bid from the right

There’s gut-level anger out there. And fear, says David Larsen. Fed-up with the federal government, the Tewksbury businessman on Friday plans to launch his conservative Republican 7th Congressional District run against freshman U.S. Rep. Leonard Lance (R-Clinton). “Lincoln’s birthday,” explained Larson, 52, a Brooklyn native who moved to Hunterdon County about 15 years ago and raises American quarter horses to supplement his windows and doors business. “My current representative is totally disconnected from the people,” Larsen told ” It’s the people’s house – not the politicians’ house. Our voices have been shut out of Washington. Then people’s concerns and opinions need to be acted upon. “My opponent’s family career is government and politics – and my career is windows and doors,” added the fledgling candidate and political neophyte who has never before held elected office. Pro-life “from womb to tomb,” Larsen objects to Lance’s “aye” vote for the cap and trade, “which i call cap and tax,” he said. He also objects to what he sees as Lance’s over-eagerness to join legislative forces with the likes of U.S. Rep. John Adler (D-Cherry Hill) and U.S. Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.). “I am definitely for much smaller government,” he said. “A neighbor of mine told me the other day, ‘I don’t even recognize my country anymore.” While toasting the Tea Party movement, Larsen admitted his campaign coffers are hardly brimming at present. But he expects that to change after he launches on Friday and opens his campaign headquarters on Route 22 in Green Brook. “Lance is close to the $500,000 mark, of course, most of his funds are coming from PACs, not human beings,” said the challenger. “He goes to corporate events, and we’re trying to raise it through individuals at a time when many candidates are having a hard time raising money. I believe once people really understand what we’re doing, they’re going to get on board. What’s amazing to see is you almost have to buy a seat to get there. The guy with the most money these days is automatically the winner. “I don’t think that’s right,” Larsen added. Two days after former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin addressed a packed convention of tea partiers in Nashville, the Republican said people are finally waking up to massive abuses of government. (Pizarro, PolitickerNJ)

N.J. attorney general nominee Paula Dow is approved by Senate committee

The Senate Judiciary Committee unanimously approved Paula Dow as state attorney general today after five hours of questioning, sending her nomination to the full Senate for final confirmation. Dow, a former Essex County prosecutor, promised she would not to lose focus on her office’s disparate responsibilities — including gaming enforcement and consumer affairs — while still keeping the heat on gangs and violent crime in urban areas like Camden. “It would be foolish of us to let down our guard,” she said. “Shame on us if we just turn our eyes and resources away.” Dow, a Democrat, was the first cabinet official nominated by Republican Gov. Chris Christie, whom she worked for when he was U.S. attorney for New Jersey. Yesterday’s hearing covered a dizzying array of legal issues, from stun gun use to wine production. In an hourlong discussion, Sen. Nia Gill (D-Essex) questioned Dow on how she handled a case involving former Newark councilwoman Dana Rone, who was convicted of obstruction of justice after she tried helping her nephew when he was pulled over for an illegal turn. Rone was also forced to forfeit her office and prohibited from holding public positions. Dow had opposed Rone being forced from office, and Gill, one of the Essex County senators who blocked Dow’s nomination as Essex prosecutor for 20 months, questioned whether she was motivated by political considerations. “I was not influenced,” Dow said, adding that she didn’t even particularly like Rone. Former Gov. Jon Corzine removed the lifetime ban just before leaving office. Dow, like her predecessor Anne Milgram, clashed with Sen. Nicholas Scutari (D-Union) over a proposal to alleviate witness intimidation. Scutari said prosecutors should only be able to submit statements on behalf of intimidated witnesses in cases involving certain violent crimes, although Dow wanted to expand the ability to all types of cases. Unless the rule applies to all crimes, she said, “the wrongdoers are allowed to do even more wrong to get the benefits of a system they corrupt.” Scutari disagreed, saying it was an unnecessary expansion of prosecutorial power. Dow also sounded the alarm about comparatively low pay for lawyers in her office. “We can no longer tolerate a second class attorney general’s office because of these horrific salary disparities,” she said. (Megerian, Star Ledger)

Ex-Assemblyman Joseph Vas gets new court date for campaign finance corruption trial

New court dates were set today for former Assemblyman Joseph Vas and five co-defendants accused in a corruption scandal. Superior Court Judge Anthony Mellaci Jr. in Freehold set dates of Sept. 8 and 9 for the next status conference. Vas, who is also the former mayor of Perth Amboy, is accused of laundering campaign finance funds through “straw donors” and of secretly arranging for a construction company to bill the city $58,000 for catering during a ribbon-cutting ceremony. By state law, that job should have been put out to public bid, authorities alleged. The co-defendants include Melvin Ramos, Vas’ longtime aide, and Anthony Jones, another aide. Jones allegedly received the chance to purchase a low-income home in Perth Amboy through what authorities alleged was a rigged bidding process. Ramos is accused of participating in the campaign financing and catering schemes. Also appearing with them today were Frank Dominguez, president of Imperial Construction Group Inc. in Pine Brook, and Richard Briggs, the company’s vice president. The company, Briggs and Dominguez are accused of conspiring arrange the catering job. (Star Ledger)

Senate committee approves Maj. Gen. Glenn Rieth to lead N.J. National Guard

The Senate Judiciary Committee has approved the nomination of Maj. Gen. Glenn Rieth to continue to lead the New Jersey National Guard. Rieth is the first of Gov. Chris Christie’s Cabinet nominees to go before the committee. The full Senate must approve his nomination. Rieth was asked to stay on as adjutant general and head of the Military and Veterans Affairs Department. He is one of four holdovers from Gov. Jon Corzine’s Cabinet. Paula Dow, Christie’s pick for attorney general, will be interviewed by the committee this afternoon. Sen. Nick Scutari, who chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee, anticipates that all the Republican governor’s Cabinet nominees will be confirmed by the Democratic-controlled Senate. (AP) 

 NAACP: State senators have conflicts on COAH reforms 

The state NAACP has accused two state senators attempting to reform affordable housing rules of having conflicting interests because they are partners in law firms that represent at least 40 municipalities in housing, planning and zoning matters. Sens. Raymond Lesniak, D-Union, and Christopher Bateman, R-Somerset, are sponsors of a bill that calls for eliminating the Council on Affordable Housing, the state’s regulatory arm on housing, and allowing individual municipalities to determine whether they meet their obligation to provide housing for the poor. “These senators are representing the interests of towns that have retained them as 
lawyers,” said Mike McNeil, the civil rights group’s state housing committee chairman. “They are pushing legislation demanded by shortsighted local governments that are paying the senators’ private law firms to represent them. This is a clear violation of the trust placed in them by the public.” The NAACP fears the new legislation would increase racial and economic segregation by permitting richer towns to drop their affordable housing burdens in the laps of poorer towns with little outside scrutiny. A second Senate committee hearing wrapped up today on the bill. Another hearing is scheduled March 8. Lesniak sees no conflicts of interest, saying in a phone interview, “I don’t know what the views of the municipalities (my firm represents) are on this legislation. I didn’t consult with them.” He added that the identities of all the towns his firm represents and how much each is paying the firm are public record. Bateman could not be immediately reached for comment. (Patberg, Gannett) 

Ex-Gov. Jon Corzine plans to stay in Hoboken and out of politics 

More than two weeks has passed since Jon Corzine left the governor’s office to be succeeded by Republican Gov. Chris Christie, who defeated him in November’s election. In blue jeans and a navy blue turtleneck sweater at his penthouse condo on the southeast corner of Maxwell Place in Hoboken, Corzine, 62, is now in his comfort zone. The Democrat said he plans to reside in the Mile Square City indefinitely following a tumultuous decade, first as a U.S. senator and then as governor. And as a resident of the county, he has been a careful observer of the ongoing corruption trial, arrests and investigations of political officials. “One of my greatest prides is that I don’t think, if you look at the record, there’s anyone in my administration that has fallen prey to taking cash for actions or using their office for monetary gain,” Corzine said. Pointing to the colossal sting operation in July, Corzine said that accepting campaign contributions in exchange for favors is not only illegal, but a black eye for the state. “None of this is attractive,” Corzine said. “The discussion of it undermines the credibility of government in the public’s mind and makes even stronger the argument that we need to take steps to give people assurance that this behavior is going to change.” Joseph Doria, who resigned as Department of Community Affairs commissioner under Corzine’s administration last year after the FBI searched his office and home, was recently linked to the corruption sting by FBI cooperator Solomon Dwek in court. Doria has not been charged. Corzine said he hates that Doria got caught up in this, effectively compromising the decisions he would have made as DCA commissioner. He added that there have been a number of people brought into scandals like this, who had their ethics challenged and who then proved they were innocent. “He got pulled into this whole broader scheme, at least from what I’m able to discern,” Corzine said. (Maurer, Jersey Journal)

Former Washington Mayor Krickus announces run for Morris County freeholder

Former Washington Township Mayor John Krickus is running for Morris County freeholder, announcing a challenge today to a trio of incumbent Republicans in the June GOP primary election. The 49-year-old finance and marketing professional from Morris County’s western-most town said he wants to cut the size and cost of county government, including a reduction in the work force and freezes in salaries. Krickus took particular aim at one challenger, Freeholder Jack Schrier, and his support of the state’s Highlands Act, which Krickus would like to see repealed. “The Highlands law is a fiscal and constitutional disaster, and the act should be scrapped immediately, giving Morris County back the freedom to guide its own planning and development,” Krickus said, criticizing Schrier’s support of the law. Schrier, of Mendham Township, is currently acting chairman of the Highlands Council. Krickus said he was inspired to run by the “tea party’’ movement, town hall meetings on the health care issue and the recent vote to elect Chris Christie as governor, all of which he said indicated a public desire for change. “I think now people are really willing to embrace dramatic changes in how we run government,’’ said Krickus. “They are no longer willing to accept the status quo.’’ His proposals include cutting the number of government workers, a two-year freeze on their pay, forcing employees to make significant contributions to health care benefits and challenging the state arbitration system “to reflect economic realities impacting the private sector.’’ Schrier retorted the freeholders have in the past few years cut the county work force, trimmed payroll, consolidated positions and reduced expenses, resulting in a $2 million cut in the county tax levy, while maintaining essential services. “Mr. Krickus is a nice man but, obviously, he has not been paying attention to what county government has been doing,’’ said Schrier. Krickus, who served for 12 years on the township committee, including three as mayor from 2001-2003, is the first of what some political observers say could be a large field to oppose the incumbent team of Schrier, Douglas Cabana of Boonton Township and James Murray of Chester Township. Some other potential Republican challengers in the GOP-dominated county include Parsippany Councilwoman Ann Grossi and Roxbury Councilman Tim Smith, said observers. County Republican Chairman John Sette said he has heard rumors of several potential challengers. (Ragonese, Star LedgeR)

Ingle: Cost-cutting concepts keep coming

You continue to share recommendations on how Gov. Christie can streamline 
New Jersey government, so today let’s take a look at more readers’ ideas: John says we’re going about the budget all wrong. He thinks the process needs to be changed. “I suggest rather than having a big fight over gored oxen in order to 
eliminate waste, that we simply decide how much we want to spend for government and put a cap on that amount.”

Property taxes would be capped at some voter-approved level as well, he said. Then, “eliminate state subsidies to local government as well as property tax rebates, 
restrict the state’s use of those resulting funds to pay down dept and eliminate any 
increase in taxes, both state and local levels to a three-quarters majority.”

John has thought it through and is smart enough to know nothing is accomplished 
overnight. “The resulting outcry from reduced services would allow us to recover fiscal sanity in a few years.”

Frank from East Brunswick wants more work out of state workers:

”How about increasing the state’s work week by one-half hour per day? That would 
allow the same amount of work to be done with fewer people.” Anthony has a question: “Why should retired state employees be reimbursed the monthly Medicare insurance premium, which is currently $96.40 a month?”

Al of Brielle offers a chilly solution — freeze benefits for all government 
employees. He thinks if the cost of benefits continues to rise the employees should pay for everything above the freeze level or accept a reduced benefits package with higher deductibles.

”If this is done, it would stop immediately the never ending increases that we the 
tax payers are forced to pay each year …”

Dan from Sayreville, unemployed in the computer programming industry after 40 years on the job, addressed an item about the state’s pensions and benefits computer system being out of date. He said he and others like him could modernize it for less than replacing it. He said he could probably do it for less money that he is getting for unemployment insurance, just for the benefits and to keep his skills sharp. “There are probably thousands of others like me.” (Ingle, Gannett)

Mulshine: Joe Pennacchio weighs in on the flight of the wealthy

State Sen. Joe Pennacchio sent me this e-mail in response to my Sunday column. He’s got some good points: Dear Paul, Thank you for your interesting piece in Sunday’s paper. The fact that people of wealth have fled New Jersey and have taken their taxes and jobs with them is indisputable. Rutgers professors Seneca and Hughes have been warning us of this flight for years. To contradict Seneca and Hughes, the past administration commissioned a “Princeton study” which said we have actually gained “millionaires.” Keep in mind, this was the same administration which said they left Governor Chris Christie with a half a billion dollar surplus. The Democrats decoupling of the “Death Tax” has caused an additional flight of people of wealth and entrepreneurs out of our state. Last year’s inheritance tax collections were down 9%. This year’s collections are down 25%. Although the economy can be blamed for some loss of wealth, keep in mind the stock market was up considerably last year (18.8%). Governor Christie will let the Democrat sponsored one year “enhanced millionaires’ tax,” starting at $400,000, expire. Democrats who wrote the law and its expiration are outraged. Keep in mind the other $6.5 billion of additional taxes and fees they raised the last eight years will for now stay. Is it a coincidence or can a reasonable assumption be made that all these tax and fee increases have had a stifling affect on our states economy. New Jersey has seen “zero” private sector job growth in ten years…. Let me add two things:
1. It’s interesting the way those opposed to Christie’s position are accusing him of wanting to “cut” taxes for the wealthy. 2. I’ve also noted certain liberals making the argument that the income-tax revenue from those three brackets is needed to fund social services provided by the state. (Mulshine, Star Ledger)

Morning News Digest: February 9, 2010