Morning News Digest: August 30, 2011

Morning News Digest: Tuesday, August 30, 2011

By Missy Rebovich

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Port Authority losing millions on swaps

The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey is shelling out more than $2 million per month on three interest rate swaps tied to bonds that either never were issued or have long since been refunded.

In all, the agency has paid Wall Street banks more than $37 million since 2007 to cover the three swaps, which currently have a market value of approximately negative $145 million.  When combined with other swaps the agency has paid to terminate over the past two years, the total swaps payout crests $70 million since 2007.

The swaps are basically an exchange of a fixed payment by the PA for a variable one from a counterparty tied to a short term interest rate.  The derivatives, which are essentially a bet with another company on which way interest rates will move, are meant to protect the PA in the event that interest rates soar.  (Isherwood, PolitickerNJ)



Lautenberg calling for billions for depleted FEMA reserve

U.S. Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ) said today that he’s going back to Washington D.C. to ask Congress to bulk up the national emergency reserves.

After touring flood sites in Little Falls along the Passaic River and in Pompton Lakes where the Ramapo, Pequannock, and Wanaque rivers run by, Lautenberg told reporters that he was agitated that U.S. Rep. Eric Cantor (R-VA) was putting the brakes on emergency funding. Cantor asked for the spending to be identified as paid-for in the federal budget before being allocated to recovering eastern seaboard states.

Politics rears its ugly head,” Lautenberg said outside the Little Falls Town Hall. “We’ll just have to keep providing the funding.”  (Carroll, PolitickerNJ)



Christie hints at government layers overlapping ineffectively during storm crisis, but has overall praise for response

The waters of a bulging Raritan River roiled behind Gov. Chris Christie’s lectern this afternoon, but it was, inevitably the GOP presidential contest that provided another backdrop for this Republican governor’s latest statewide challenge.

As the contenders for president try to run to the right in appeasement of a Tea Party fundament that government is bad, national party star Christie amid the entrenchments of government – National Guard trucks, EMS vehicles, police and fire, local, county and state elected officials – gingerly aimed at some perspective.

“Philosophically I believe government is too big, and I’ve said that many times,” the governor said today following his tour of a shelter at the VFW Building in the aftermath of this weekend’s tropical storm, which mauled the south side of this town, displacing 300 people.   (Pizarro, PolitickerNJ)



Obama calls NJ governor, offers disaster help

Gov. Chris Christie says President Obama has personally assured him that the state will get expedited federal disaster aid.

Christie says the president called him Monday night and offered to cut red tape to help the state get FEMA money. On Millennium Radio 101.5 FM’s “Ask the Governor” call-in program, Christie offered high praise for the president and the way Obama has handled the hurricane.

Christie had less kind things to say about state workers who complained about battling long-traffic jams on Monday as they headed to work. Responding to an emailed question, Christie advised them to “stop bellyaching.”  (Associated Press)|mostcom



States to seek FEMA help

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie has asked the federal government to skip a usual damage assessment and directly send aid to people and businesses affected by Hurricane Irene, officials said.

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo and Connecticut Gov. Dannel Malloy are also expected to make formal requests for federal aid as soon as tomorrow, people familiar with the matter said.

Mr. Christie signed the letter asking for expedited aid at about 6:45 p.m. in a radio studio just before he went on a monthly call-in show. On air, he said he had the State Police send it along to be scanned and sent to the president.

All three governors had asked for, and were granted, disaster declarations before Irene landed on Sunday. The storm sent raging floodwaters through inland areas of New Jersey, upstate New York and coastal Connecticut. At least 10 people were killed in the region.

Federal assessors have been on the ground in all three states for at least three days, officials said.  (Fleisher and Gershman, The Wall Street Journal)



Gov. Chris Christie angers union by opening state offices after Hurricane Irene

Even in a hurricane, Gov. Chris Christie and the state’s largest public employee union can find something to disagree about.

After encouraging private employees to stay home today, he called on all state workers, except those who found it impossible to get to work, to show up.

For many, it was a formidable challenge. Route 18 in Middlesex County was still partly submerged under the Raritan River, and on Interstate 287 in Morris County, a chunk of the shoulder gave way.

In Trenton, where most of the state offices are situated, Route 29 — adjacent to the rain-swollen Delaware River — was deluged, and the parking garage at the Statehouse was closed.

Christie had little sympathy for his fellow public employees who had to sit in bumper-to-bumper traffic for hours trying to navigate around closed roads. And when one of their union leaders complained, Christie jumped like a batter waiting for a fastball.  (Gibson, The Star-Ledger)



Christie praises Guardsmen, flood-control project in visit to flood-ravaged Manville

Gov. Chris Christie on Monday toured the flood-battered borough as he surveyed the damage left in the wake of Hurricane Irene in Central Jersey.

Shortly after visiting the Veterans of Foreign Wars post, the borough’s main shelter for more than 300 local flood victims, Christie said, “There is no doubt this community is facing some real challenges in the aftermath of this hurricane.”

“On Thursday, Friday and Saturday before the storm, I was saying that it was going to be after the storm passed that we would some of the real devastating effects of the storm, not just when the storm was hitting,” Christie said. “If you spend a little time in Manville, you’ll know exactly what I meant.”

The stop in the borough came as Christie continued to tour communities across New Jersey that were ravaged by the disaster. Statewide, he said, nine rivers reached or passed record flood levels after Irene.  (Burd, Gannett)



Lt. Gov. tours Shore to get tourists back

With businesses losing valuable days at the peak of the summer season, Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno did a whirlwind tour of the Jersey Shore on Monday to announce that the beaches, restaurants and casinos were back open after Hurricane Irene.

“The governor said, ‘Get the hell off the beach.’ I’m telling you to get the hell back on the beach,” Guadagno said, repeating the phrase as she made stops in Atlantic City, Point Pleasant, Belmar and Asbury Park.

Guadagno said Monday that, as part of storm planning, the state wanted to make sure inspectors from various agencies were dispatched immediately to look over amusement rides, restaurants, casinos and beaches.

Hence, the Trump Taj Mahal was open at 11:45 a.m. after receiving approvals from the Division of Gaming Enforcement. The Steel Pier in Atlantic City was open by 3 p.m. Monday after inspectors looked over rides there. Jenkinson’s was open by 5 p.m., as was the Asbury Grill and Tim McLoone’s Supper Club in Asbury Park.  (Method, Gannett)



N.J. approves of Christie’s education proposals – to a point

Most New Jerseyans support education reforms proposed by Gov. Chris Christie, such as tenure reform and voucher programs, according to a Monmouth University/NJ Press Media Poll released on Monday.

The public also supports some form of merit pay based on student performance, but is uncertain that current state tests are the best ways to determine that.

Teacher compensation has been one of the main sticking points in the current debate on education reform in New Jersey. Currently, 38 percent of New Jerseyans say that public school teachers are paid too little. This compares to 15 percent who say they are paid too much and 41 percent who say they are being paid about the right amount for the job they do. These findings are every similar to the results of a state poll conducted in 1992.

Christie wants teacher salaries to be based on student performance and classroom evaluations rather than simply a teacher’s academic credentials and years of experience. The public agrees with the governor, to a point.  (Hester, New Jersey Newsroom)



Indifference obstructs political communication

During her state party’s annual convention last May, Assembly Speaker Sheila Y. Oliver called on restive Democrats to aggressively repel Gov. Chris Christie’s message.

“We should be out there holding town hall meetings every week,” the East Orange Democrat charged in a fiery speech at Bally’s Casino in Atlantic City.

More than three months later, hardly any Democratic legislator has heeded Oliver’s battle cry. Gloucester County Democrat Stephen M. Sweeney held his first town hall as Senate president last week.

The barely advertised event in Salem County drew about 40 people and two reporters.

“This is long overdue,” Sweeney himself acknowledged, before he and Assemblywoman Celeste Riley fielded questions.  (Roh, Gannett)



N.J. women politicians mark their progress in Legislature

While women politicians don’t want to be treated differently, many happily say their governing style differs from that of their male counterparts.

Take, for instance, Sheila Y. Oliver (D., Essex), the first African American woman to become speaker of the New Jersey Assembly.

This summer, Oliver found herself “sandwiched between” the always outspoken Gov. Christie and Senate President Stephen M. Sweeney (D., Gloucester), who said he wanted to punch the governor in the head over his line-item vetoes.

“I always try to mediate. I didn’t want Senate President Sweeney to punch the governor in the head,” Oliver, 59, of East Orange, joked at an event Thursday for women in politics. “I thought we could walk in that office and work things out.”

“Women – we try to be problem-solvers, and we try to do it in a collaborative and cooperative way. I think that bodes well for us,” Oliver told the group.  (Farrell, The Philadelphia Inquirer)



Governors master hurricane politics

If this was a test, the collection of East Coast governors known for their national ambitions passed.

With the memory of Hurricane Katrina forever serving as an object lesson in crisis management gone awry, the group of potential 2016 contenders whose states stud the coastline—Republicans Bob McDonnell and Chris Christie and Democrats Andrew Cuomo and Martin O’Malley—appear to have endured Hurricane Irene with burnished reputations after an uncommonly ferocious storm where executive missteps could have cost even more lives.

They were ubiquitous in sounding the alarms, urged caution, ordered mass evacuations and one of them, Cuomo, had his transit chief shutter the biggest metropolitan transit system in the nation in preparation for the weekend storm.

The damages are still being tallied, and they are expected to total well above $7 billion along a swath of the Eastern seaboard. At least 40 people died, and more than 5 million people faced the loss of power. Inland communities in Vermont and upstate New York were particularly hard hit by flooding.  (Haberman, POLITICO)



In Irene, politicians navigate tides of public opinion 

The effects of Hurricane Irene are still being felt and their costs being measured — from billion-dollar damages in New Jersey to ongoing flooding in New England.

For local and national leaders, natural disasters can sometimes be political disasters — or opportunities.

The lessons of Hurricane Katrina are seared into the memory of President Obama and every other politician in America. The president made sure that his emergency team was prepared and competent. He showed up at FEMA headquarters over the weekend, and Monday he gave an update from the Rose Garden.

“The effects are still being felt across much of the country, including in New England and states like Vermont, where there’s been an enormous amount of flooding. So our response continues,” the president said. “But I’m going to make sure that FEMA and other agencies are doing everything in their power to help people on the ground.”  (Liasson, NPR)



Legal filing makes case for Carl Lewis candidacy

Carl Lewis’ political aspirations could wind up being decided by the arguments made in a legal brief his attorneys filed in U.S. District Court on Monday.

The 23-page brief filed by attorney William Tambussi lays out the case for why the nine-time Olympic gold medalist should be included on the November ballot.

Lewis won an uncontested Democratic primary to become the party’s candidate for the 8th Legislative District seat held by Republican Dawn Marie Addiego, but a federal judge still must decide if he is eligible to run in the general election.

At issue is New Jersey’s four-year residency requirement for state senators.

Although Lewis grew up in Willingboro, he spent most of his adult life living in Texas and California. And although records show he purchased condominiums in Burlington County in 2005, Lewis’ voting record indicates he still voted in California as recently as 2009 and did not register in New Jersey until the day he filed to run for office.  (Levinsky, Burlington County Times)



Vitale event to aid cancer research

A dinner that will welcome Dick Vitale back to New Jersey will also raise funds for the V Foundation for Cancer Research, a leading national cancer research organization.

Vitale, a renowned college and pro basketball analyst who was inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame in 2008, will be featured at the event, “Welcome Home Dick Vitale,” on Sept. 30 at The Brownstone in Paterson.

“This event means the world to me,” Vitale said in a written statement. “To be welcomed back to New Jersey by family and friends is going to be great. I started out with a very humble upbringing, and now I’m living the American dream.

“I learned from my mom and dad, who didn’t have a formal education, but had doctorates of love. They told me that if you gave 110 percent all the time, a lot of beautiful things will happen. I may not always be right, but no one can ever accuse me of not having a genuine love and passion for whatever I do.”  (Williams, The Record)



N.J. congressman wants Obama visit in Irene’s wake

A New Jersey congressman wants President Obama to visit New Jersey in the wake of Hurricane Irene.

In a letter to the president, U.S. Rep. Frank Pallone (D-6th Dist.), whose district includes a large swath of Monmouth County coastline, asked the president to visit distressed areas “to meet with local officials to discuss disaster assistance.”

“Since Hurricane Katrina, it is clear federal and state governments have made significant improvements in disaster preparedness.  Coordination between federal and state officials was well-organized and I was struck by the number of New Jerseyans that heeded the calls to evacuate threatened areas,” Pallone wrote. “Despite our best planning, however, flooding has damaged homes, businesses and roads in my district and across the state.”  (Friedman, The Star-Ledger)



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Casinos back in business following hurricane

After a storm-ravaged weekend that by some estimates cost the casinos more than $40 million in gaming revenue, the casinos here are back in business.

The 11 casinos were opened by noon today, according to Attorney General Paula Dow and Division of Gaming Enforcement Acting Director David Rebuck.  (Staff, State Street Wire)



From the Back Room 



Obama’s Princeton nominee for White House Council

White House Council of Economic Advisers.  

“I know Alan Krueger to be one of the best informed and most thoughtful economists in the country,” said U.S. Rep. Rush Holt (D-12). “I look forward to seeing the results of the new perspective and ideas that he will bring to the White House.”  (Staff, PolitickerNJ)



Booker to headline Gopal fundraiser

Newark Mayor Cory Booker will headline a fundraiser for Democratic District 11  Assembly Candidate Vin Gopal at a private residence in Colts Neck on September 22nd.

The fundraiser is being hosted by two former law partners of Booker, Elnardo Webster and Victor Herlinsky. Gopal is running against incumbents Caroline Cassagrande (R-Colts Neck) and Mary Pat Angelini (R-Ocean Township). Democrats hope to make newly created 11th District competitive.   (Staff, State Street Wire)






Ugly Irene, a political pin-up to remember

Hurricane Irene sure wasn’t pretty, but maybe it’s time to make her a pinup girl anyway. For those who don’t know, pinups were posters of Hollywood starlets in provocative poses that were popular in World War II and remembered long afterward.

Ugly Irene is no starlet but we should remember her for a long time, too — not for her allure, but for the flooded roads, downed electrical lines, suspended rail service and roofs caved in by falling trees.

It’s easy to forget ugly images, but it shouldn’t be this time. Let’s freeze-frame them in the cerebral cortex and recall them when we’re told that roads, rails and bridges won’t need another cent of our taxes because policymakers have designed ingenious ways to keep them running.  (Cichowski, The Record)



My own good is my own damn business

At 4:30 p.m. Friday, our governor took to the airwaves to deliver one of those sound bites for which he is nationally famous. He brought up the topic of some people who were still on the beach in Monmouth County in the face of the oncoming hurricane. “Get the hell off the beach,” he said.

It was good advice and I took it. I drove up to Manasquan to check the surf. It looked good, so I got the hell off the beach and went for a surf.

I gather this is not the sort of behavior our governor sought to encourage. But the day I start taking advice about the ocean from an out-of-shape lawyer is the day I decide that maybe breathing H20 isn’t such a bad idea after all.

After Chris Christie’s performance in the run-up to Hurricane Irene, we should change our nickname. We’re no longer the Garden State. We’re the Nanny State. For a few days there, it was impossible to turn on the TV without hearing Christie and New York Nanny Mike Bloomberg tell citizens what they should do for their own good.  (Mulshine, The Star-Ledger)



Chris Christie and The Eye-Roll of Disdain

This is what happens when you ask the governor of New Jersey a question he doesn’t like.

Gov. Chris Christie made the Sunday talk show rounds yesterday morning before holding a noon briefing to update the Jersey press corps on Hurricane Irene. Not a big deal, except all local affiliates preempted scheduled programming for Irene coverage, making it seem like Christie had briefed the Beltway before his own constituents.

Star-Ledger reporter Ginger Gibson asked Christie to explain why he’d made the national media rounds before updating Garden State press. His response:

“No. Next question.”  (Roh, Gannett)

  Morning News Digest: August 30, 2011