Morning News Digest: September 12, 2011

Morning News Digest: Monday, September 12, 2011

By Missy Rebovich

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Sources: Stack making moves to bring in Russo and Hoboken

Hudson County sources say the allies of state Sen. Brian P. Stack (D-33) have tapped Michelle Russo for a job at the Union City Board of Education, a move that has decided political implications for Stack.

Russo is the mother of Hoboken Councilman Michael Russo and wife of former Mayor Anthony Russo and wired into the family power base.

Redistricted into a larger portion of Jersey City and out of West New York, where he had established undeniable control with a head-snapping 2007 victory over former Mayor Sal Vega, Stack anticipates a thorny re-election bid in 2013 and wants to put himself in the strongest position possible in the event the Hudson County Democratic Organization (HCDO) takes a run at him.

The senator wants greater consolidation of Hoboken to help offset at least four factors: his lack of complete control of Jersey City such as he had in West New York, his unlikely and volatile political alliance with Hoboken Mayor Dawn Zimmer (a Russo political enemy), his fractious, unpredictable relations with the HCDO, and his rock solid alliance with GOP Gov. Chris Christie.  (Pizarro, PolitickerNJ)



With all eyes on Oliver, backchatter about potential successors persists: Handicapping the field

Assembly Speaker Sheila Oliver’s public wrangle this week with Gov. Chris Christie over his characterizations of protecting her during the pension and healthcare fight lit up the backrooms of Trenton where Democrats continue to consider the potential of Oliver’s departure from leadership.

Sources say the speakership remains Oliver’s to lose at the party’s post-November election reorganization meeting later this year. The official, public vote of the Assembly doesn’t take place until January.

“If she wants it, it’s hers,” said a Democratic Party source, acknowledging the alliance of power between powerful Essex County Executive Joe DiVincenzo and South Jersey Democratic leader George Norcross III that catapulted Oliver to power in the first place in 2009.

But, “No one sees Sheila out there working for the job,” the source added. “She’s not acting right now like she wants it again. Of course, that could just be her temperament.”

While caucus members who hoped the speaker would reject Christie’s pension and healthcare reform package quietly seek a replacement for the speaker, no one will admit to taking a frontal assault at the first African American woman to hold the job.  (Staff, PolitickerNJ)



NJ governor to talk with educators

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie will sit down with school superintendents for an education round table Monday.

The governor is a strong advocate for change. Christie has capped superintendents’ salaries and tangled with the powerful public teachers’ union on a host of issues.

Christie wants to do away with lifetime teacher tenure and replace it with merit pay. He also wants more charter schools and public-private partnerships in education.

It’s unclear how many of his proposals the Democratic-controlled Legislature would support.

Christie also tried to reduce funding to urban schools, but the state’s highest court made him restore the cuts.  (Associated Press)



Senate Democrats tout pre-election jobs package

With New Jersey’s unemployment rate at 9.5 percent, Senate President Stephen Sweeney has pledged to spend the next few months pushing a package of 10 or more job-creation bills.

They include tax breaks for the purchase of wind energy equipment, manufactures’ energy bills and companies that make loans to businesses in Urban Enterprise Zones.

Whether there will be much near-term progress on the bills is unclear. The Legislature is expected to do little between now and November, when all 120 seats are up for election. And even if the bills are passed, they would face Governor Christie, who vetoed almost all of the 30 or so bills in the Democrats’ Back to Work economic development package approved by the Legislature at the turn of the year.

Sweeney, however, said he believes economic circumstances demand that the state react and that the governor and GOP legislators may be more open to the latest package. “We have to fix the economy,” he said, adding legislative committees would begin work on the bills this month.  (Morley, The Record)



Redistricting, union issues complicate race in N.J.’s Seventh

Democratic Assemblyman Herb Conaway Jr. has been elected seven times in South Jersey’s Seventh Legislative District, but a few things are different this year.

Remapping of the district, which includes parts of Burlington and Camden Counties, made it slightly more Republican. And the new boundaries exclude Pennsauken, hometown of Conaway’s longtime colleague Assemblyman Jack Conners, leading Conners to retire.

Conaway drew the ire of state unions over the summer when he joined with just over a dozen other Democratic Assembly members to support Gov. Christie’s overhaul of public employee pension and health benefits plans. As a result, unions such as the AFL-CIO withdrew their support from him.

But Conaway, 48, isn’t changing much about the way he campaigns, other than incorporating a Segway into his evening canvassing.

“I need to be as efficient as possible moving around from door to door,” said Conaway, a doctor who specializes in internal medicine. “It’s been very helpful.”  (Farrell, The Philadelphia Inquirer)



Education commissioner refines rules for charters

With the administration expected to announce a new class of charters in the coming weeks, acting education commissioner Chris Cerf has detailed steps that are intended to improve the oversight of new and existing schools.

But questions remain about the capacity of the state to meet its promises. And the announcement stops short of some of the measures that Democratic legislators have asked for to amp up accountability even more.

Cerf released a letter sent to all charter school heads on Friday. It starts with praise for the opportunities and education that the experimental schools have provided students.

But it continues in a more critical tone:

“Not all charter schools are serving students at the levels they deserve,” Cerf wrote, mentioning that the state closed two charters last year. “At the department, we take the exchange of autonomy for accountability very seriously.”  (Mooney, NJ Spotlight)



Carl Lewis takes another shot at getting on ballot

Olympic superstar Carl Lewis may be down to his last chance to get back on the ballot in New Jersey for November’s state senate election.

His lawyers are scheduled to argue his case Tuesday before a panel of federal appeals judges in Philadelphia to put him back in the race.

A judge last week agreed that he should not be on the ballot in New Jersey’s 8th Legislative District because he does not meet a four-year residency requirement.

The 9-time Olympic gold medalist wants to run for office as a Democrat, challenging Republican incumbent Dawn Addiego.

Lewis grew up in New Jersey but settled in California. He has owned homes in New Jersey since 2005 but also pays taxes and utilities on homes in California.  (Associated Press)



State schedules solar summit to discuss stabilizing prices

With many in the solar industry worried about its prospects in New Jersey, the state will convene a stakeholders’ meeting this week to focus on what, if anything, should be done to stabilize a sector some say is in danger of collapsing.

The session, to be convened by the state Board of Public Utilities (BPU) in Trenton on Thursday, comes at a time when the price of solar renewable energy certificates (SREC), the primary means of financing the installation of new systems, has fallen precipitously.

The cause, most agree, is an oversupply of the certificates resulting from a flood of investment by developers large and small seeking to take advantage of generous ratepayer subsidies and lucrative federal tax incentives to cash in on the fast-growing solar program. With an oversupply of the certificates, there has been steep decline in the prices they earn for producing electricity from the solar systems.  (Johnson, NJ Spotlight)



Family seeks drug immunity law

It is unclear how long Sal Marchese’s body was in a vehicle behind a Camden apartment complex before someone eventually called 911.

But by the time emergency workers were called to the back parking lot of the Northgate I apartment complex around 2 a.m. last Sept. 23, the 27-year-old was dead from an accidental heroin overdose.

What Sal’s mother, Patty DiRenzo, calls a “disgrace” is her firm belief someone had been with him at the time of the overdose but never called for help. DiRenzo said authorities found evidence of another person in the car, plus her son had been robbed at some point before police arrived.

“I lost my son … because someone was afraid to call 911,” said the Blackwood resident.  (Mast, Gannett)



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California Dreamin’

As Olympic gold medalist turned state senate canididate Carl Lewis struggles to convince the courts he actually lives in New Jersey and not California as his opponents  claim, he was spotted Thursday having lunch at an outdoor eatery…in San Francisco.  (Staff, PolitickerNJ)






Lewis may appeal U.S. district judge ruling to Judge Judy

U.S. District Judge Noel Hillman ruled last week that Olympic legend Carl Lewis was ineligible to run because of New Jersey’s four-year residency requirement for state Senate candidates; with his ruling, Judge Hillman confirmed the ruling made by Lt. Governor Kim Guadagno earlier. However, it is not the final word. Lewis’s attorney, Bumalas Slimiwit, said he will seek an expedited appeal with either Judge Judy or The People’s Court.  

“Judge Judy is ‘smart, savvy, irrepressible and opinionated’, according to her website. However, Judge Marilyn Milian (of ‘The People’s Court) is definitely hotter looking.”  (Novick, PolitickerNJ)



Anxious Democrats pump $1.2M into Gordon’s reelection bid in 38th

New Jersey Democratic Party leaders have committed $1.2 million to help Sen. Bob Gordon of Fair Lawn hold his seat in what is touted to be a hotly fought contest for the 38th Legislative District this fall.

That might strike some as an obscene amount of money to protect a back bench (though well-regarded) lawmaker representing a swath of central Bergen and Hawthorne in Passaic County. But the Democrats are treating the contest as if Governor Christie was the Republican challenger, not John Driscoll, the Bergen County freeholder from Paramus.

“I’m sure at the end of October, they’ll be a huge [television] ad buy, ‘Hi, I’m Chris Christie. If you like what I’m doing, just imagine what it would be like if I had a Republican legislature,’” said Bergen County Democratic Committee Chairman Lou Stellato, who confirmed the $1.2 million promise for the 38th District race. “He’s going to use his popularity. I’m sure he’s going to be in the 38th a number of times.  (Stile, The Record)



NJ Gov. Chris Christie hurt himself by discrediting Assembly Speaker Sheila Oliver

It was June 26, at a luxury retreat in Colorado, and the governor was on a roll, bragging about how he manhandled Democrats back home to get pension and health reforms passed.

It was a dance in the end zone, designed to impress a group of wealthy conservatives who were eyeing Christie as a potential president.

The governor was in his zone, with the crowd laughing and applauding at each twist.

The problem is this: Someone was secretly recording it all. And the recording shows that the governor stretched the truth over and over. Each distortion made Democrats sound like clueless pushovers, dominated by the hero governor.

So when the recording was released last week by Mother Jones, a lefty magazine, a storm broke in Trenton.  (Moran, The Star-Ledger)



NJ Reps Scott Garrett, Rob Frelinghuysen give $35K to controversial nonprofit

Reps. Scott Garrett (R-5th Dist.) and Rodney Frelinghuysen (R-11th Dist.) came to the aid of state Republican lawmakers trying to redraw the legislative districts by donating a total of $35,000 to the Center for a Better New Jersey — a controversial nonprofit fundraising group formed to bolster redistricting efforts.

But if the two hope the Center will return the favor during congressional redistricting, which began last week, they will be disappointed.

The Center was set up to aid state legislative and congressional redistricting efforts, according to Republicans, by allowing “for greater public participation in the redistricting process.” It paid some legal bills and for mapmaking software. 

However, The Auditor is told the organization won’t play an active role. “The Center for a Better New Jersey will not participate,” said Mark Sheridan, an attorney for the group.  (The Auditor, The Star-Ledger)



Through Tyler Clementi’s looking glass

Don’t expect answers about the death of Tyler Clementi. The young Rutgers student committed suicide last year, days after he was allegedly videoed having a romantic encounter with another man in his dorm room. It is not why he chose such a horrific ending to his 18-year-old life that is at the crux of an ongoing criminal case. It is what happened during those last days that matters.

His then-roommate Dharun Ravi has been accused of a hate crime, invasion of privacy and tampering with evidence. He allegedly used a webcam in his dorm room to spy on Clementi. On Friday, a judge refused to dismiss the charges against Ravi. The judge also ordered prosecutors to disclose the identity of the man Clementi was with during the alleged videotaping to Ravi’s attorneys.  (Doblin, The Record)



In case you missed it



Christie unveils Empty Sky memorial

Gov. Chris Christie, at the unveiling of a Sept. 11, 2001, memorial at Liberty State Park Saturday, told relatives of the 746 New Jersey residents who died in the terrorist attacks “their lives mattered. That’s why we built this memorial and that’s why we come here today.”

Several thousand people attended the ceremony and toured the Empty Sky Memorial, the name borrowed from Bruce Springsteen’s song about the “empty sky’’ where the World Trade Center towers stood 10 years ago.  (Jordan, Gannett)



Obama embraces training plan Christie opposed

One wrinkle in President Barack Obama’s jobs proposal brings a policy difference that pitted Gov. Chris Christie against Assembly Speaker Sheila Y. Oliver to a bigger stage.

Before each took turns calling the other a liar, and before Oliver questioned Christie’s mental stability, the governor last winter vetoed an employment-training plan for the unemployed the speaker had championed as part of a larger Democratic jobs package.  (Symons, Gannett)|topnews|text|State



Democrats say Oliver will remain Assembly Speaker

Two highly placed Democrats with direct knowledge of caucus negotiations are denying Speaker Sheila Y. Oliver, D-Essex, is in danger of a leadership challenge.

They also said reports of internal unhappiness with her stewardship are overblown.

The officials spoke to the Courier-Post on condition of anonymity following a report by Mother Jones magazine Wednesday that included previously undisclosed audio of Gov. Chris Christie speaking in June before powerful and wealthy conservatives.  (Roh, Gannett)



N.J. Supreme Court starts session with a new justice and varying caseload

The state Supreme Court this week kicks off its fall session with a docket spiced by cases on everything from what determines a parent and whether wives should testify against their husbands to whether Gov. Chris Christie can limit school superintendent pay and what the legal system should do about a mobster’s hand gesture.

The newest justice, Anne Patterson, will participate in her first oral arguments when the state’s highest court begins hearing cases tomorrow.  (Spoto, The Star-Ledger)



Christie seeks hearings on power outages during Irene

Gov. Chris Christie, while saying a good portion of the emergency efforts to deal with Hurricane Irene “went well,” called for hearings into the response of power companies to the massive outages that plagued New Jersey for days following the storm.

The hearings will be held in the areas most affected by the outages, Christie said. That would almost guarantee a visceral response from residents who were left without power and, in some cases, without information about when power would be restored.  (Shoonejongen and Jordan, Gannett)|topnews|text|State



Obama’s jobs plan gets a mixed reception

President Obama’s $447 billion plan to stimulate job creation got no rousing applause from North Jersey business leaders Friday. Some gave it a cautious welcome, while others said they doubt it will have much impact.

Some business leaders said there were few new ideas in the proposal but added that measures such as investment in infrastructure and tax cuts for small business could help lower the state’s 9.5 percent unemployment rate.  (Morley, The Record)



9/11 exhibit at N.J. State Museum featuring World Trade Center steel, other artifacts

As part of the commemoration of the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, New Jersey’s 9/11 exhibit has opened at the State Museum in Trenton.

The exhibit, “Remember 9/11: Reflections and Memories from New Jersey,” includes fragments of World Trade Center steel, along with digital archival footage and personal artifacts such as a car belonging to one of New Jersey’s nearly 700 victims.  (Hester, New Jersey Newsroom)



Amid flooding, N.J. Assemblyman Benson offers legislation to help combat indoor mold

With record flooding occurring throughout New Jersey since Aug. 27, Assemblyman Dan Benson (D-Mercer) is pushing two companion bills to create a framework to identify and eliminate mold exposure in residential housing.

The legislation is designed to create standards for unsafe mold exposure levels, mold hazard abatement methods and certification of professionals who would perform such work.  (Hester, New Jersey Newsroom)



Rivera-Soto settles into life at Ballard Spahr

“Still fat and ugly, how are you?” is how Roberto Rivera-Soto answers the phone at his new job at the law firm Ballard Spahr.

Rivera-Soto, who just finished a seven-year term as a New Jersey Supreme Court justice, has used that line for 20 years, he says, because most people aren’t really listening when they ask, “How are you?”  (Rao, The Philadelphia Inquirer)



Rahway goes entire year without full-time health officer in violation of state law

After Hurricane Irene passed, its floodwaters showed up in Rahway, like they did in many other weather-weary New Jersey towns. Water swept up dirt, debris and perhaps even sewage, then rushed into some city homes.

A health officer should have been available to check those houses for contamination — a job state law requires every municipality to staff on a full-time basis or receive the service from an outside agency.  (Hutchins, The Star-Ledger)



Former coworkers say new CRDA head John Palmieri will be tested by Atlantic City’s unique circumstances

John Palmieri doesn’t need to talk loudly – or at all – to show that his experience and temperament could be just what Atlantic City needs in his new role as director of the Casino Reinvestment Development Authority.

A glance at his resume, a walk through a city where he’s worked, or a search on the Internet will do that.  (Previti and Froonjian, Press of Atlantic City)

  Morning News Digest: September 12, 2011