Gov. Christopher Christie will address a joint session of the legislature next Thursday to address New Jersey’s estimated $2. 2 billion budget deficit. The new governor appointed a commission to look at the role of the New Jersey Sports and Exposition Authority (NJSEA), Xanadu, the horse racing industry, and Atlantic City tourism. He continues to rip apart the embattled Passaic Valley Sewerage Authority – this time for discovering that they planned to use public funds to hire lobbyists that might influence him.
So far voters like Christie: a Monmouth University/Gannett poll released this week gave him job approval ratings of 33%-15%. The public is skeptical that Christie will be able to do anything to rein in property taxes over the next four years, but will still be upset with him if he doesn’t.
Senate Majority Leader Barbara Buono says that the Senate Legislative Oversight Committee she chairs will hold a special hearing this month to examine the future of the NJSEA. The hearings will scrutinize the overall fiscal operations of the NJSEA, including budgeting, contracts, staffing, transparency, long and short term debt, and the shrinking responsibilities of the authority as tenants at the Meadowlands shift and vacate. The panel will also look at each component of the Meadowlands to determine if the NJSEA should continue to manage other venues, including Monmouth Racetrack and the Atlantic City Convention Center. State Sen. Paul Sarlo, whose district includes the Meadowlands, acknowledged that he was perturbed that Buono did not give him a heads up about hear plans to hold hearings.
STORY OF THE WEEK: Federal prosecutors have completed their case against stripper-turned-politician Leona Beldini. The 74-year-old former Deputy Mayor of Jersey City is accused of taking $20,000 in bribes from undercover informant Solomon Dwek and funneling the money in to Mayor Jerramiah Healy’s re-election campaign. Healy looks horrible, but some journalists who have watched the trial opine that Dwek is an awful witness.
Dwek testified today that he gave nearly $40,000 to an intermediary – likely the late Jack Shaw — that was supposed to be passed along to Joseph Doria, a former Assembly Speaker and Bayonne Mayor. Doria told a reporter that he knew nothing about it.
APPOINTMENTS: Christie nominated Dr. Janet Rosenzweig as commissioner of Children and Family Services, and Raymond Martinez to head the Motor Vehicle Commission. Rosenzweig is a former Mercer County Human Services director, and Martinez worked at the U.S. Department of State and as commissioner of the New York State Department of Motor Vehicles. Christie also said he would keep Rick Fuentes as the New Jersey State Police Superintendent.
State Sen. Ronald Rice has signed off on the nomination of Lori Griffa as Commissioner of Community Affairs, saying he believes she will aggressively follow-thorough with a DCA audit of the City of Newark.
OBAMA: President Barack Obama remains popular in New Jersey, but residents feel that he’s done more to help Wall Street than the middle class, according to a Monmouth University/Gannett poll. Obama’s approval rating in the Garden State is 55% positive to 36% negative – better than his national average – while his favorability rating is even better, 61% to 26%.
CAMPAIGN ’10: State Republicans are taking a serious look at Monmouth County GOP Vice Chair Diane Gooch to run against U.S. Rep. Frank Pallone in part because of the depth of her pockets. Gooch, who lives in Rumson and publishes the Two River Times in Red Bank, is married to Michael Gooch, the CEO of the New York-based brokerage firm GFI group who is estimated to be worth hundreds of millions of dollars. Pallone has $3.9 million in his campaign war chest – the largest in the state congressional delegation.
Cash on Hand:
Former Assistant U.S. Attorney David Leibowitz has dropped his bid for the Republican nomination for Congress in the 3rd district. David Corsi, who received 1.5% of the vote as an independent candidate against U.S. Rep. Rush Holt in 2008, will run in the Republican primary. Prison minister Dale Glading announced a second bid for Congress against U.S. Rep. Rob Andrew.
Former Bergen County Freeholder Todd Caliguire is mulling a bid for the GOP nomination for County Executive against County Clerk Kathleen Donovan, possibly setting up a rematch of the 2006 race. Nine Republicans and eight Democrats want to run for three Freeholder seats.
State Sen. Brian Stack, the mayor of Union City, said he might run for Hudson County Democratic Chairman. State Sen. Nicholas Sacco, the mayor of North Bergen, said he won’t run. Frank Scarafile picked up petitions to run against Stack in the race for mayor this May.
Mayor Cory Booker said he doesn’t plan an official campaign launch until March 20th. Former Morris County Prosecutor Michael Murphy says he won’t run for statewide office again, but thinks his brother, Mercer County Executive Brian Hughes, should. Richard Vohden, a farmer from Green Township, has emerged as a leading candidate for Sussex County Freeholder after Hal Wirths leaves to become state Labor Commissioner.
JERSEY CITY MAYOR ’13: Jersey City Councilman Steven Fulop held the biggest fundraiser of his political career this week, packing 350 donors at $250 a head into Puccini’s Restaurant. Fulop said that he expects to net a little over $70,000 from the event, adding to the $245,000 he has in his election fund for a 2013 mayoral candidacy. But that race could come as early as this fall, if Healy follows the demands of the Jersey Journal and resigns.
Fulop said he’ll ask his City Council to withhold funding for the Jersey City Incinerator Authority until Mayor Jerramiah Healy removes ex-Mayor Gerald McCann from his $50,000-a-year city job. Incensed, McCann promised to sue Fulop so aggressively that it will put an end to his higher office aspirations. Fulop said bring it on.
FROM TRENTON: State Sen. Ray Lesniak’s Economic Growth Committee 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.
Legislation sponsored by two Bergen County Senators to regulate conflicts of interest by hospital board members was approved by the Senate Health, Human Services and Senior Citizens Committee. S-369 would require hospital trustees to adopt a policy requiring disclosure of perceived or actual conflicts and a prohibition on discussing contracts that might benefit them personally. The bill, sponsored by State Sens. Loretta Weinberg (D-Teaneck) and Robert Gordon (D-Fair Lawn) would require hospitals to solicit a minimum of three bids or proposals on certain matters that might be perceived as a conflict for a board member.
A proposal to lift the ban on direct shipments from wineries was released by the Senate Law and Public Safety Committee without opposition. It now heads to the full Senate. Senate President Stephen Sweeney (D-West Deptford) said his bill would be a boon to New Jersey’s emerging wine industry.
The Senate State Government Committee approved legislation sponsored by State Sen. Joseph Pennacchio that will require all levels of government in New Jersey to create an easy-to-use web site to allow taxpayers to watch how their money is being spent.
The new Assembly Regulatory Oversight and Gaming Committee will hold their first meeting Monday to review New Jersey’s regulatory environment. The committee chairman, Assemblyman John Burzichelli said he panel will hear testimony from invited speakers concerning the state’s regulatory process and problems it presents for New Jersey businesses.
A former Schools Development Authority (SDA) employee negotiated a change order with a contractor before leaving the authority to take a job with the same firm, and then lobbied the authority to pay the firm $642,990 for the same change order, according to a report released by the Office of the Inspector General (OIG) today.
Assembly Speaker Sheila Oliver has named Peter Barnes III as the new Assembly Majority Whip, replacing John McKeon, who is now one of nine Deputy Speakers. Jerry Green will remain as Assembly Speaker Pro Tempore and that Joan Quigley will serve another term as the Majority Conference Leader.
State Sen. Shirley Turner, a Democrat who voted against same sex marriage, wants President Obama to eliminate the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy.
Senate Minority Leader Thomas Kean, Jr. has introduced a Senate resolution urging the National Football League to select New Jersey as the location for the Super Bowl XLVIII in 2014.
PEOPLE: Maggie Moran, who served as Gov. Jon Corzine’s Deputy Chief of Staff and as his re-election campaign manager, has joined the Laborers International Union of North America (LIUNA) as the Director of Business Development for the Eastern Region. Camden Mayor Dana Redd, in office since January 1, wants to give some of her staffers raises. Former Atlantic City Council President Craig Callaway has served his 34 month federal prison sentence and is now heading to state prison for another year. A lawsuit against Hackensack Police Chief Ken Zisa, a former Assemblyman, alleges First Amendment violations and claims of civil racketeering.
QUOTE OF THE WEEK: “The political decisions made by moronic politicians are coming home to roost.” – Former NJSEA president George Zoffinger.