Morning News Digest: Wednesday, August 31, 2011
By Missy Rebovich
O’Toole retires as Essex County GOP Chairman
After 12 years as chairman of the Essex County Republican Party, state Sen. Kevin O’Toole (R-40), of Cedar Grove, is retiring from the post and recommending County Party Executive Director Al Barlas of Bloomfield, to succeed him.
In a letter to his fellow committee members, O’Toole laid out his reasons for giving up his chairmanship.
“As some of you know, after the election of Chris Christie as our Governor in 2009, I considered retiring,” O’Toole wrote. “At the urging of many party leaders, within our county and throughout the state, I remained on as Chairman. In the wake of my brother’s recent passing, I took some time to reassess where my focus should be. I have decided to focus more of my energies in the Senate, to continue to work closely with the Governor to execute his reform agenda, and most importantly to spend more time with my wife and 14-year-old son and 12-year-old daughter. (Pizarro, PolitickerNJ)
Lance seeks disaster declaration from D.C. for Irene-ravaged counties
Congressman Leonard Lance, (NJ-07), today joined in the chorus of state and federal lawmakers urging Washington, D.C., to declare a major disaster for the state as a result of Hurricane Irene.
Lance sent a letter to President Barack Obama asking him to immediately support the governor’s request for a major disaster declaration for Hunterdon, Middlesex, Somerset and Union counties.
“Municipalities such as Bound Brook, Cranford, Manville and Springfield are flooded underwater, roads are destroyed, homes are uninhabitable and families are in shelters,” Lance said in his letter. “The severity of the damage requires immediate federal, state and local response to help these communities recover and rebuild.” (Staff, PolitickerNJ)
Christie to skip Miss. GOP fundraising dinner
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie is skipping a Mississippi Republican Party fundraising dinner to deal with the aftermath of Hurricane Irene.
Christie was set to speak Wednesday at the $250-a-ticket event to honor Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour, who’s in his final year in office.
A spokesman for the New Jersey GOP says Christie is focusing on storm cleanup efforts.
Christie and Barbour have spoken recently. The New Jersey governor says he called Barbour before Irene reached New Jersey to ask for advice about dealing with the storm.
Earlier this year, Barbour toured several states with early presidential primaries or caucuses before announcing that he wouldn’t enter the 2012 race for the White House. (Associated Press)
Gov. Christie tours flood damage in Wayne, Fairfield; gives update on Hurricane Irene relief efforts
Gov. Christie stopped at Wayne’s Office Emergency Management today to give a status report on hurricane relief progress statewide, while telling residents in New Jersey’s hardest-hit northern town to hang in there.
He addressed the press today after touring Fairfield and Wayne, where rescue teams were still pulling residents out of heavily flooded areas.
Christie said he spoke to President Obama last night after he sent the president a letter requiring expedited relief to assist the state, local governments and individuals to receive federal assistance.
“I’m hopeful President Obama will sign off on the declaration, and based on my conversation with him, I think he will.” Christie said.
Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano is visiting the state Wednesday to assess damages. (Terruso, The Star-Ledger)
Democrats, GOP spar over FEMA funding
A prominent state Democrat responded angrily Tuesday to recent calls by Republicans in the U.S. House of Representatives to tie additional money for the Federal Emergency Management Agency to other budget cuts.
State Sen. Richard J. Codey, a former governor, blasted comments by a spokesman for Rep. Scott Garrett, R-N.J.
“It is unconscionable to me that while large portions of the East Coast are still underwater and millions don’t have power, we have people deciding now is an opportune time to play politics,” the Essex County Democrat said in a statement.
A spokesman for Garrett — who had toured Bergen County areas affected by the Hurricane Irene told The Record that pegging further FEMA money to other budget cuts was “the responsible thing to do. The last thing we should be doing is spending money we don’t have,” Garrett spokesman Ben Veghte said. (Method and Chebium, Gannett)
Homeland security boss to tour N.J. hurricane damage
U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano and the head of the Federal Emergency Management Agency are scheduled to visit New Jersey today for a first-hand look at the damage wrought by Hurricane Irene.
Napolitano and FEMA administrator Craig Fugate made stops in North Carolina, Vermont and Virginia Tuesday, and FEMA’s deputy administrator, Rich Serino, was en route to New Jersey Tuesday night. Details about the visits hadn’t been announced Tuesday, though Gov. Chris Christie said he and members of Congress would join Napolitano on her tour.
Before getting a look at storm damage and recovery efforts, Napolitano told reporters at a Washington breakfast meeting that Congress should quickly provide more money to a cash-strapped FEMA and avoid long debates about where the funds should come from. (Chebium and Symons, Gannett)
Scams including fake charities, bad contractors likely after Hurricane Irene, Chris Christie warns
Homeowners faced with repairs from flooded basements and other damage from Hurricane Irene were warned Tuesday to avoid another potential storm to their wallets.
Home repair and charity scams often follow in the wake of hurricanes and severe floods as people try to rebuild.
“It is an unfortunate fact that disasters attract their share of con artists and frauds, from fly-by-night home improvement contractors to fake charities that do nothing but line their own pockets,” Gov. Chris Christie said in a statement Tuesday. “New Jersey consumers recovering from flood and wind damage should look at every sales pitch and charity solicitation with a critical eye.”
Dishonest home improvement contractors, promising low prices and speedy repairs, can leave shoddy, unfinished work and unsafe conditions behind, according to the state Division of Consumer Affairs. (Willis, Gannett)
N.J. Assemblyman Wisniewski, Pallone call for $1M in state aid to halt flooding by South River
Assemblyman John Wisniewski (D-Middlesex) and U.S. Rep. Frank Pallone (D-6th) on Tuesday toured the Weber Avenue and the Old Bridge sections of Sayreville to view damage caused by flooding from the South River.
Wisniewski and Assemblyman Craig J. Coughlin (D-Middlesex) are the sponsors of legislation designed to help combat the flooding in neighborhoods. The bill (A-3138) would p rovide $1 million to the state Department of Environmental Protection to initiate and support flood control and prevention projects to mitigate periodic flooding from the South River. The river often floods its banks after heavy rains and severe storms. The measure was approved by the Assembly in June.
The funding would be drawn from the Dam, Lake, Stream, Flood Control, Water Resources, and Wastewater Treatment Project Bond Act of 2003. (Hester, New Jersey Newsroom)
Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno visits Pittsgrove Township to see damage from Hurricane Irene
New Jersey Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno toured Pittsgrove Township Tuesday afternoon to inspect the extensive damage caused by Hurricane Irene.
Her lone stop in Salem County included viewing the damage to the Willow Grove Lake Dam.
“I’m very happy and grateful the lieutenant governor took the time to come down to actually see the damage and assess the situation down here,” said Third District Assemblywoman Celeste Riley. “Right now my thoughts are with constituents who were directly impact by the storm.”
Water from Willow Grove Lake was flowing over Willow Grove Road just west of where the road becomes Weymouth Road before noon on Monday.
The lake was drained some years ago as a way to deal with the faulty dam, but increased record rainfall from Hurricane Irene refilled the lake. (Dunn, Today’s Sunbeam)
NJ Lt. Kim Guadagno tours storm damage in Bridgeton City Park
Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno walked from the Cohanzick Zoo and down Park Drive on Tuesday to see firsthand how Hurricane Irene and the Aug. 14 flooding had damaged Bridgeton.
“We wanted to see what’s going on down here, and I’m being very careful not to say, ‘What’s next?’” Guadagno said. “We heard it was bad, and I’m going to report back it is every bit as bad as expected.”
Guadagno assessed the city’s devastation with other members of Gov. Chris Christie’s cabinet, led through the city park by Mayor Albert Kelly, Cumberland County Freeholder Director Bill Whelan, Freeholder Sam Fiocchi, Bridgeton officials and representatives of city and county emergency services and public works departments. (Taniguchi, News of Cumberland County)
Garrett to help seek federal aid for cleanup
Fifth District Congressman Scott Garrett, in Sussex County Tuesday to tour storm damage, pledged to seek federal aid “as soon as possible.”
“The initial request for a declaration of a disaster for New Jersey was a category B level, which allows for federal aid for the immediate removal of debris that threatens people’s lives,” Garrett said. “Now we have to move to the next level and make a petition for federal aid to repair and rebuild what was destroyed by the storm.”
Garrett said that he will be working with the state and local municipalities to secure the proper documentation of the widespread damage in Sussex County and help move the state’s application for extraordinary aid in Washington.
County officials said damages from the storm, which includes a half-dozen bridges completely washed out or severely damaged and several washed out sections of roads, will easily qualify the county for federal disaster aid. An exact dollar amount of damages won’t be known for some time since in some cases the water is still too high for engineers to adequately inspect. (Reilly, New Jersey Herald)
NJ a study in contrasts in Irene’s aftermath
The aftermath of Hurricane Irene has left New Jersey a study in contrasts.
With picture perfect weather in the forecast heading into the Labor Day weekend, visitors are returning to the beaches in encouraging numbers. Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno visited the shore and urged more people to come.
Meanwhile, the raging Passaic River crested Tuesday, bringing a new round of evacuations and more misery in places like Lodi and Paterson. Gov. Chris Christie toured Wayne and said he saw “just extraordinary despair.”
Amtrak announced it would resume Northeast Corridor service on Wednesday through Trenton, where the tracks had been inundated by floodwaters, and state transportation officials said crews were able to patch and reopen a lane of northbound Interstate 287 in Morris County, where floodwaters had undermined the pavement. (Newill, Associated Press)
Port Authority head says toll hikes are too LOW, not enough to keep up with rest of the world
Punishing toll hikes may have enraged New Yorkers – but they weren’t steep enough, says Port Authority Executive Director Chris Ward.
Critically needed upgrades at the Port Authority Bus Terminal and LaGuardia and Newark airports will be delayed because of cash shortages, Ward told construction execs Tuesday.
“The reality is that you cannot always do more with less,” the bistate agency boss told a New York Building Congress luncheon.
“Sometimes you simply must do more, and we’ll be playing catchup with the rest of the world until that reality becomes a part of our political conversation.”
Ward was careful not to criticize either Gov. Cuomo or New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who scaled down the PA’s planned toll hike to a still-crushing $15 by 2015. The agency had wanted a fast $4 toll hike on Hudson River crossings, which was slashed to $1.50 this year for E-ZPass drivers.
Lawmaker faults NJTV coverage
A New Jersey lawmaker says the state’s television license-holder was “nowhere to be found” with information and coverage when Hurricane Irene moved into the area over the weekend.
“Where I live I’m subject to Philadelphia market TV, which is great if you want to find out what’s going on in Upper Darby and Bensalem. I kept flipping back to NJTV hoping they would have something on the storm. There was nothing,” Assemblyman John Burzichelli, a Democrat from Gloucester County, said Tuesday.
NJTV replaced New Jersey Network as the state’s TV outlet on July 1 — a change advocated by Gov. Chris Christie and fully supported by Republicans in the Legislature, but fiercely opposed by Burzichelli and many Democrats.
Burzichelli and other NJTV critics haven’t changed their minds. (Jordan, Gannett)
Andrews touts economic ideas
Rep. Rob Andrews Tuesday shared with some Campbell Soup employees his views on jump-starting a sour economy.
The world’s largest soup maker invited its more than 1,100 employees to meet their Democratic representative in a continued effort to use the company’s new corporate headquarters as a forum to exchange ideas, said Kelly Johnston, Campbell’s vice president of government affairs.
The economy topic hit home for the approximately 30 employees who attended; in June, Campbell laid off 700 employees worldwide and 130 in Camden.
Andrews’ suggestion to ramp up tax credits for companies that create jobs was also relevant. In February, the New Jersey Economic Development Authority approved $41.2 million in tax credits to Campbell Soup over 20 years for investing $52 million in an upgrade of its world headquarters. (Stilwell, Gannett)
Bullying laws buts New Jersey schools on spot
Under a new state law in New Jersey, lunch-line bullies in the East Hanover schools can be reported to the police by their classmates this fall through anonymous tips to the Crimestoppers hot line.
In Elizabeth, children, including kindergartners, will spend six class periods learning, among other things, the difference between telling and tattling.
And at North Hunterdon High School, students will be told that there is no such thing as an innocent bystander when it comes to bullying: if they see it, they have a responsibility to try to stop it.
But while many parents and educators welcome the efforts to curb bullying both on campus and online, some superintendents and school board members across New Jersey say the new law, which takes effect Sept. 1, reaches much too far, and complain that they have been given no additional resources to meet its mandates. (Hu, The New York Times)
A snapshot of Newark’s new school year: Pivotal and promising
A new, reform-minded superintendent, almost quarter of its schools with new principals, $150 million in private money (and counting), almost $1 billion in public money (and counting) and a city restive after 16 years of state control.
Welcome to the Newark school year, 2011-12.
Ready or not — depending on the perspective — New Jersey’s largest and most-watched district opens in the next week, with teachers returning tomorrow and students next Tuesday.
And by all accounts it will be a pivotal year, in terms of the state’s long-running control of the district, the influence of a nationally hyped $100 million gift from Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, and whether the district’s third superintendent in a decade can live up to her promises.
Of course, Hurricane Irene didn’t help much. (Mooney, NJ Spotlight)
Chesterfield Township could house South Jersey’s first legal marijuana-growing operation
A licensed medical-marijuana supplier hopes to make Chesterfield Township the home of the first legal pot-growing operation in South Jersey.
Compassionate Care Foundation Inc., one of the state’s six legal marijuana cultivators, has reached a tentative agreement to set up shop in a 50,000-square-foot facility in the Burlington County municipality, according to the group’s chief executive officer, William Thomas.
Chesterfield Mayor Lawrence Durr said he expects the plan “won’t be a big deal” for the predominantly agricultural township.
“My thought is it won’t be an issue, other than it’ll be a much more secure farm than anything we have now,” he said.
Thomas said the foundation expects to move into its Chesterfield location by Sept. 9, which would allow the group to dispense cannabis by mid-December. He would not specify the site’s location. (Hicks, The Philadelphia Inquirer)
Funding for Barnegat Bay could be in jeopardy in ‘12
To the list of perils facing Barnegat Bay, like jellyfish swarms and disappearing fish, there might be a new one to add: fiscal austerity in Washington.
Money for restoring coastal bays and rivers could be up for grabs as Congress grapples with a 2012 budget in the coming month, said Richard Innes, executive director of the Association of National Estuary Programs.
“We got level funding for 2011 which was great. For 2012, it’s anyone’s guess, because of this (deficit reduction) deal they’ve made,” said Innes, whose association includes the federally funded Barnegat Bay Partnership.
Bay advocates recently got help from Rep. Frank LoBiondo, R-N.J., who wrote a letter to House leadership to support continued funding for the National Estuary Program. They are counting too on help from Barnegat Bay’s congressmen, Reps. Chris Smith and Jon Runyan, both R-N.J. (Moore, Gannett)
Courtesy bussing at NJ schools threatened by budget cuts
The number of students who get a “courtesy” bus ride to school from their local school district has decreased over the past four years due to cost cutting, and as budgets get tighter, that bus will be a likely target for future cuts, education officials said.
State Department of Education officials said the number of students who receive “nonmandatory transportation” has declined since 2007. Those are students who live inside the boundaries for “free” transportation, which is two miles for elementary school and 2.5 miles for high school students.
Last year, the number of students who got a free ride dropped to 251,802 statewide, from 268,788 in 2009, according to state Department of Education figures.
As revenues drop and taxpayers oppose increasing already high school taxes, that free bus ride is coming under the budget cutting knife more often. (Higgs, Gannett)
Water utilities may see faster ROI for infrastructure upgrades
The state is spelling out details of a proposal that will allow water utilities to recover costs for improving their water mains, hydrants and other infrastructure more quickly from customers without as much regulatory scrutiny.
The proposal, in the works for the past several months, would address a priority of Board of Public Utilities (BPU) President Lee Solomon, who has often said that the next big crisis facing New Jersey will be the cost of upgrading its aging water infrastructure.
With New Jersey facing as much $20 billion to repair its water and wastewater infrastructure, the streamlined payment mechanism is seen as a way of prodding water companies to speed up much needed repairs. If upgrades are done sooner rather than later, the long-term costs to ratepayers will be much less, according to advocates of the proposal. (Johnson, NJ Spotlight)
Jon Burzichelli: NJSIAA to hike ticket prices
A recent announcement by the NJSIAA that all state sectional championship games in football would be played at neutral sites in 2011 raised the ire of Assemblyman John Burzichelli (D-Gloucester) on Tuesday.
Burzichelli, the association’s harshest critic, attacked the move to shift the South Jersey public school championship games to The College of New Jersey as an attempt by the association to circumvent a law he wrote limiting what the association is permitted to charge at its state tournament and championship events.
“It’s regrettable, but not just because of the ticket price hikes,” Burzichelli, also the mayor of Paulsboro in South Jersey, said in a statement. “It’s also a disruption to our communities.” (Schutta, The Record)
South Jersey school districts get energized by solar plans
More local school districts are seeing the light about solar panel systems, an increasingly popular way of bringing in new revenues, conserving energy and providing teachable moments in science and math.
“We’re banking on the energy, along with the energy savings,” Mount Laurel School District Business Administrator Robert Wachter said.
Financed through a five-year capital lease-purchase plan, Mount Laurel’s project has included construction costs of $2.1 million. Still, Wachter said, taxes weren’t affected because the district had already been dedicating that amount of money toward existing debt that is now paid off.
“During difficult times, we don’t want to negatively impact our taxpayers,” he said.
The district went on line with its solar project at Hartford Upper Elementary School and Thomas E. Harrington Middle School earlier this year. In February, 713 solar panels became operational on the middle school’s roof to generate 10.26 percent of the school’s electricity. In May, Hartford’s 1,330 panels — split between the roof and the grounds — began handling 22 percent of its electric load. (Rothschild, Gannett)
AG charges legal aid non-profit with fraud
The state is suing a Newark non-profit that promised to provide legal services to jail and prison inmates, claiming its principals instead pocketed fees for their personal use without working on their clients’ cases.
According to the complaint filed Aug. 23, one of the principals of the Project Freedom Fund is Mark Bendet, a former Paterson lawyer and Franklin Lakes resident who was disbarred in 1996 and subsequently imprisoned on a variety of charges.
The other principal listed in the complaint is Bruce Buccolo of West Orange. The suit says Buccolo served as executive director and that PFF operated out of his home.
The lawsuit, filed by the New Jersey Attorney General’s Office and its Division of Consumer Affairs, was announced Tuesday. (Lipman, The Record)
Latest from State Street Wire
Education reform: Change comes slowly to relentlessly-studied issue
Since he was elected governor in 2009, Chris Christie has proposed seemingly bold, definitely controversial, ideas to reform the state’s education system.
Although New Jersey, with its high standard of living, has public schools that generally enjoy a good reputation, the problems of low test scores and ineffective teachers in largely urban school districts where the majority of students are minorities have remained largely unchanged over the years. (Hassan, State Street Wire)
Turner bill would provide street-side parking for volunteer firefighters
State Sen. Shirley Turner, (D-15), of Lawrence, said that in her home town, some first-responders are wasting precious time getting to their cars when the calls come in to attend to emergencies.
So, the veteran legislator recently submitted a bill to provide reserved parking spots for volunteer firefighters, and she said a lower chamber version of the bill is coming, too.
The bill, S3018, would permit municipalities to establish restricted parking spaces for certain volunteer firefighters. (Carroll, State Street Wire)
Edison pharmacist, six others indicted in oxycodone ring chargers
U.S. Attorney Paul Fishman today announced charges against an Edison pharmacist and six other individuals who were allegedly running an illicit painkiller ring.
Vincent Hsia, proprietor of Lincoln Pharmacy Network, and six additional individuals were named in a 26-count superseding indictment relating to the distribution of oxycodone, a Schedule II controlled substance. The seven individuals were charged with possession of oxycodone with intent and conspiracy to distribute. (Caroll, State Street Wire)
From the Back Room
Congratulations to former New York Observer President Bob Sommer, who has been named the Alumni of the Year at the Edward J. Bloustein school at Rutgers University.
Bob currently serves as President of Rock Entertainment Management, operators of the Prudential Center in Newark. He also is director of the Bloustein School’s Institute of Planning and Public Policy Communications and teaches graduate level classes on public affairs and media relations. (Isherwood, PolitickerNJ)
It’s still Obama’s to lose
Republicans across the country have every right to start to smell blood over their prospects in next year’s Presidential election.
No President since World War II has been re-elected with a job approval less than 48 percent in the Gallup poll. Obama is hovering around 40 percent today. The public’s approval of his handling of the economy, the most important issue on voters’ minds, is even lower.
There is strong evidence of malaise and lethargy in the Democratic base, especially among the young and minority voters who provided so much energy in his 2008 election. His kick-off bus tour drew only hundreds of people at some stops, many of them anti-Obama tea party Republicans, where in 2008 he would have drawn thousands of admirers and curious alike. (Michaels, PolitickerNJ)
Bachmann auditioning for “Last Comic Standing”
Minnesota Congresswoman Michelle Bachmann was joking when she said the recent earthquake and hurricane were “a message from God to scare Congress into action”. According to Bachmann’s campaign spokeswoman, Alice Stewart, “She was preparing her audition tape for ‘Last Comic Standing’.”
Last Comic Standing is an NBC reality television talent show for comedians. In Season Two, there was a great deal of controversy on the show due to the way contestant comedians were chosen. “We are trying to avoid the controversy that has plagued the show in the past,” said Last Comic Standing producer Jay Mohr.
The backtracking Republican had her mouthpiece explain her humor to the Talking Points Memo website today after the St. Petersburg Times reported her comments at a weekend campaign rally in Florida. “I don’t know how much God has to do to get the attention of the politicians. We’ve had an earthquake. We’ve had a hurricane,” Bachmann joked, according to St. Petersburg Times. (Novick, PolitickerNJ)
Christie’s handling of hurricane helped him polish image
Governor Christie, the blasé, Cellphone Commander in Absentia during last December’s blizzard blunder, was New Jersey’s Micro-Manager in Chief over the past week.
With Hurricane Irene threatening to smash and swamp New Jersey, Christie decamped to a high-tech hub inside the state police headquarters near Trenton instead of the fanciful fairways of Disney World. This was not the time for family photos with an oversized Mickey or Goofy. Christie huddled with State Police Col. Rick Fuentes and emergency management staffers.
And New Jersey was better off for having him here. His swift, mandatory evacuation of the Shore and his steady, insistent warnings on cable and radio probably saved lives. Despite a few missteps, Christie’s Irene management may prove to be one of his finest moments.
Christie took considerable heat after flying out on a family Disney vacation last Dec. 26 as the winter storm took aim at the Northeast. No amount of damage control could conceal the fact that it was a bad call. (Stile, The Record)
Chris Christie’s 2012 siren call: Why the New Jersey governor resists GOP pitch
As Hurricane Irene bore down on the East Coast on Saturday afternoon, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie had a simple message: “Get the hell off the beach.”
“You’re done. It’s 4:30 p.m. You’ve maximized your tan,” he bellowed from behind a podium, flanked by state officials. Early the next morning, as the storm hit New Jersey, leaving half a million residents without power, Christie stood vigil at an emergency-operations center, giving updates to the Sunday shows. Days later he was still on the scene, touring flooded areas as rivers swelled, in full view of TV cameras.
Critics say Christie’s tactics were typically heavy-handed and self-aggrandizing. Supporters turned “get the hell off the beach” into a rallying cry, adding to his reputation as the un-Obama: unapologetic, unceremonial, and unmistakably in charge.
It seems that every move Christie makes these days is accompanied by the drumbeats of a draft movement. Billionaire businessmen, conservative commentators, and grassroots Tea Party enthusiasts—they’ve all been begging him to get in the 2012 presidential race, despite his repeated resistance. (Avlon, The Daily Beast)
Why are MVC offices in flood plains?
Wednesday is the day when this column usually becomes a Q&A forum — often about the Motor Vehicle Commission — but with much of North Jersey still underwater, I’ve got a question of my own about an agency that so many reader love to hate:
Why are so many motor vehicle offices in flood plains?
This question is being asked as the people who entered the Wallington office early Tuesday were being shooed out the door to prevent them from being engulfed in the wet aftermath of Hurricane Irene. MVC offices in flood-prone Lodi, Paterson and Wayne were closed all day.
Why are these offices in Paterson, Lodi and Wayne?
Of all places, why in Wayne on Route 46 near the Willowbrook Mall, the retail capital of chronic New Jersey flooding? (Cichowski, The Record)