Morning News Digest: September 14, 2011

Morning News Digest: Wednesday, September 14, 2011

By Missy Rebovich

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Christie as dark horse?  Not likely

Wendell Wilkie did it in the 1940 presidential campaign and George McGovern tried unsuccessfully to replicate the feat when he jumped into the 1968 race.

It was standard practice in 1960 when John Kennedy pulled it off and the same was true in 1968 when Richard M. Nixon won the Republican nomination and later the presidency. 

But not since former President Jimmy Carter set the tone for the modern day two year campaign cycle has a dark horse or even a late entrant into the presidential contest successfully secured his party’s nomination.  And while this year offers a slightly different dynamic owing to the perceived weakness of the Republican field, it will likely be no different, despite a strong movement to draft New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie into the mix, pundits say.

“In this era where fundraising and media exposure are so important, the idea of waiting until after New Hampshire or waiting for the calendar to turn is an anachronism” said Terry Golway, director of the Kean University Center for History, Politics and Policy.  “Back in Kennedy’s era that was standard practice, but things have changed.”  (Isherwood, PolitickerNJ)



Sweeney urges Christie to focus on economic issues

Trying to obliterate the enduring iconography of himself as someone too closely aligned with Gov. Chris Christie, state Senate President Steve Sweeney, (D-3), West Deptford, lashed out at the GOP governor today in a statement as Christie tried to rev up his education reform message.

“It is great that the governor is going around visiting all the classrooms and students that he decided to grossly underfund for the last two years,” said Sweeney.

A staunch backer of the millionaire’s tax, which Christie vetoed over Sweeney’s objections, the Senate president worked the issue in again on Christie. 

“Maybe next he will pay a visit to each of the 16,000 millionaires in New Jersey he enriched at the expense of our children’s education and future,” Sweeney tweaked.

Then he went for the jugular, citing jobs as the issue right now.   (Pizarro, PolitickerNJ)



The gutter and the star: Could Salahuddin trial boomerang on Booker if he runs against Christie?

As the U.S. government makes its case against former Newark Deputy Mayor Ron Salahuddin, political observers consider the impact this corruption trial will ultimately have on national superstar Mayor Cory Booker, whispered in backrooms as the lone clear-the-field prospect to run against Gov. Chris Christie in 2013. 

Once a staunch Booker partisan and right hand in the mayor’s administration, Salahuddin allegedly partnered with fellow defendant Sonnie Cooper in a city waste-hauling business while he served Booker – a classic contract-steering scheme.

His trial started this week and – to be clear – he is innocent unless proved guilty.

But in the interim there’s chatter about what wiretapped messages of alleged corruption in the Booker administration broadcast in a federal courtroom will mean for the mayor if he tries to go high wire himself with a statewide run against a former federal lawman like Christie.  (Pizarro, PolitickerNJ)



N.J. governor says he did not discuss pulling out of greenhouse gas pact during private trip

Gov. Chris Christie said he never discussed pulling New Jersey out of a 10-state pact to reduce greenhouse gas emissions with billionaire oil industry brothers David and Charles Koch — who have fought vigorously to stop it — during a trip to Colorado in June.

Christie was the keynote speaker June 26 at a closed-door seminar hosted by the oil barons in the swank ski resort of Vail, Colo.

“The Koch brothers never brought RGGI up to me. Never asked me about my opinion on it. I never discussed it with them,” Christie said Tuesday. Christie had not publicized that trip because he said it was private.

“When I leave to do things that are personal that are not connected with my job, I don’t feel like I have the obligation to tell you that,” Christie said, adding that the only person he tells every time he leaves the state is Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno, because she assumes power.  (DeFalco, Associated Press)



Gov. Christie goes off to school to highlight state’s new math standards

As part of what has become a back-to-school period push of his proposals to improve public education Gov. Chris Christie, joined by state Education Commissioner Chris Cerf, on Tuesday met with the teachers at Sharp Elementary School in Cherry Hill who are implementing new math standards for grades K-2.

The meeting is part of Christie’s move to improve academic standards and ensure students receive the skills they need to be ready for college and a career. Under the supervision of the Department of Education, school districts are implementing the first round of what are called the new Common Core State Standards.

Setting standards that center around college and career readiness is one of Christie’s so-called four Building Blocks for Success in New Jersey’s Schools – accountability and performance, academics, talent, and innovation.  (Hester, New Jersey Newsroom)



Federal appeals court panel puts Carl Lewis back on ballot for state Senate race

Five months after he declared his candidacy for state Senate, Carl Lewis, the Olympic gold medalist, finally made it onto the November ballot today.

After a legal battle that overshadowed Lewis’s candidacy, a three-judge federal appeals court panel voted 2-1 to overturn Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno’s April decision that he did not meet the four-year residency requirement for state Senate candidates, and a lower federal court decision upholding it.

In a court order issued about six hours after Lewis made a list-ditch appeal, the panel said the state “failed to demonstrate compelling state interest in the application” of the residency requirement.

The campaign manager for Lewis, Chris Walker, summed it up succinctly: “We won.”

Burlington County Republicans, who initiated the suit, were outraged.  (Friedman, The Star-Ledger)



NJ’s participation in common core standards sees early test

As New Jersey and dozens of other states join a national effort to redefine academic standards for public schools, Cherry Hill’s Joseph D. Sharp Elementary School is a good place to see those new standards taking shape.

In Sarah Anderson’s first-grade classroom, for instance, her students are already seeing the number bar raised.

“We’ve never gone above 100 in first grade in the state of New Jersey before, and now we’re 120,” said the veteran teacher yesterday. “It’s a whole paradigm shift.”

Cherry Hill started revamping its curriculum in anticipation of the Common Core State Standards, a national project to clarify and increase expectations for students from kindergarten to 12th grade.

Gov. Christie was at Sharp Elementary yesterday to promote the state’s participation, the second leg of his latest campaign to push his education reform agenda.  (Mooney, NJ Spotlight)



Deal with Norcross brother makes lobbying prosper in today’s Trenton environment

In 2010, veteran New Jersey lobbyist Jeff Michaels made more money from old clients, picked up new ones, and earned more than $430,000. It was the kind of year a Trenton insider hopes for.

How did his lobbying earnings jump sevenfold in one year? He partnered with well-connected lawyer Philip Norcross, one of Senate President Stephen Sweeney’s most trusted advisers and the brother of both a senator and one of the state’s top Democratic power brokers.

How did his lobbying earnings jump sevenfold in one year? He partnered with well-connected lawyer Philip Norcross, one of Senate President Stephen Sweeney’s most trusted advisers and the brother of both a senator and one of the state’s top Democratic power brokers.

“Having Phil and his experience and his judgment and his knowledge has absolutely been enormously helpful to me. . . . Getting him to be sitting at the table is a major improvement in services that I was able to offer clients,” Michaels said.  (Rao, The Philadelphia Inquirer)



$6B in disaster aid clears Senate, but fate in House is uncertain

A bill to provide more than $6 billion in disaster relief advanced in the Senate on Tuesday afternoon, less than 24 hours after several absent senators left the measure short of the needed 60 votes.

Democrats in the Senate had spent part of the day blasting Republicans, who had overwhelmingly opposed the funding.

“Any attempt to slow relief to these families is, in my view, and in the view of the governor of my state, a cynical attempt to politicize disaster to advance an ideology at the expense of all that we stand for as a nation,” Sen. Bob Menendez, the New Jersey Democrat, said in a floor speech before the vote.

House members, part of a bipartisan coalition from states affected by Hurricane Irene, said at a news conference that relief had to be passed before the end of the month.  (Jacakson, The Record)



Utility companies to face complaints at public hearings

Utility customers left in the dark during week-long Hurricane Irene power outages will be able to vent at two hearings scheduled this month by state regulators – but there’s a line of still-angry local officials who want to host their own sessions.

Locations of the two meetings will be announced today by the state Board of Public Utilities. The sites “will be in the geographical areas that had the majority of complaints from customers and local elected officials,’’ said board spokesman Greg Reinert.

The number of meetings may not be enough to satisfy Gov. Chris Christie, who indicated last week he doesn’t want residents to have to travel great distances to air their complaints.

Christie apparently wasn’t briefed on the BPU’s plan when he appeared on the “Ask the Governor’’ radio show on 101.5 FM Tuesday night.  (Jordan, Gannett)



Lawmakers look to pull the plug on draft energy plan

The legislature is moving to block the Christie administration from implementing some key aspects of its three-month-old draft Energy Master Plan, posting a bill that would require New Jersey to have at least 30 percent of its electricity produced by renewable energy by 2020.

The bill (S-2032) is up for a vote in the Senate Environment and Energy Committee on Monday. It fulfills a promise made by the panel’s chairman, Sen. Bob Smith, a Democrat from Middlesex County, and other Democratic lawmakers who have accused the administration of scaling back the state’s goals to rely on solar power and other sources of renewable energy.

Beyond ramping up how much power is produced by renewable energy, the legislation also would require the administration to set a controversial surcharge — the societal benefits charge (SBC) — at the same level as it was on January 1, 2011.  (Johnson, NJ Spotlight)



Singleton to fill Conners’ seat

Labor leader Troy Singleton will become a state assemblyman for the next several months, giving him more public exposure before he runs for that two-year seat in November.

Democratic Party committee members from Burlington and Camden counties have unanimously endorsed Singleton to fill the empty 7th Legislative District seat vacated by Democrat Jack Conners. He resigned in June in the wake of redistricting instead of serving until his two-year term ends in early January.

More than 200 committee members supported Singleton’s nomination Monday at a meeting in Edgewater Park. Conners seconded the motion as a Pennsauken committeeman.

“I am deeply humbled and honored to have been selected to follow in the footsteps of an individual whom I look at as a father figure (Conners) in my life,” said Singleton, president of the New Jersey Carpenter Contractor Trust and a member of the Burlington County Bridge Commission.  (Comegno, Gannett)



Republicans pick Holly Schepisi to run in 39th district

The Bergen County Republican Organization voted overwhelmingly Monday night to make Holly Schepisi its candidate to replace Assemblywoman Charlotte Vandervalk in the 39th Legislative District.

Vandervalk, R-Westwood, has served the heavily Republican district for 21 years and announced in August that she would not seek re-election.

Schepisi, who has been River Vale’s borough attorney for the past five years, beat out Washington Township Council President Fred Goetz and Michael Cino of Demarest for the nomination. She is the chairwoman of the Women’s Institute at Bergen Community College, a board member of the college’s foundation and a board member for the Paramus-based Foundation for Free Enterprise.

 “It was an honor to win and receive the level of support I did,” she said Tuesday. “I could not have done it without the support I had, particularly from Charlotte, Senator Cardinale and Assemblyman Schroeder.”  (Gartland, The Record)



N.J. airports to receive $27M in federal grants

New Jersey airports will get $27 million in federal grants, most of it for safety improvements at Teterboro and Trenton-Mercer airports, officials announced today.

Trenton-Mercer, a county-owned airport, will get $13.4 million to improve its runway safety area, according to a joint announcement by New Jersey’s two U.S. Senators, Frank Lautenberg and Robert Menendez. Teterboro Airport, a general aviation facility in Bergen County owned by the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, will get $10.6 million for similar improvements, the senators announced.

Newark Liberty International Airport, also owned by the Port Authority, will get $3.2 million to rehabilitate its taxiways, the senators said, while Morristown Municipal Airport will get $190,475 to improve its runway approach.  (Stunsky, The Star-Ledger)



Casinos call for legalizing sports betting

Atlantic City’s casino industry wants New Jersey voters to approve sports betting, saying it would provide an economic boost for the gambling town and the entire state.

The Casino Association of New Jersey, a trade group representing the city’s 11 gaming halls, issued a statement Tuesday in support of a November ballot referendum to allow sports betting in the state.

“Legalized sports betting will attract more tourists to visit our city and enjoy our world-class entertainment, thriving restaurant industry, brand-name retail shopping and famous Boardwalk,” said Bob Griffin, president of the association. “Sports betting will allow Atlantic City to better compete, grow and reinvest in the region.”

Casinos say the referendum, if passed, would be “an important step” in efforts to overturn a federal ban on sports betting. Only Nevada, Delaware, Oregon and Montana are currently allowed to offer sports betting because they had it before the federal ban was enacted in 1992.  (Wittkowski, Associated Press)



Casino wages under attack

A sharp drop in wages at Atlantic City, N.J.’s oldest casino could ripple through an industry long known for providing relatively high-paying jobs to thousands of unskilled workers. Already, it has ratcheted up labor tensions in the East Coast gambling hub.

For years the city’s Resorts Casino Hotel provided a standard of living for its work force that allowed hotel housekeepers to buy homes in nearby suburbs, take three weeks of paid vacation a year and get pensions when they retired. But after new owners bought the money-losing casino in a foreclosure sale late last year, many rehired employees without special skills saw their perks reduced and their pay slashed an average of 40%, or $5 an hour, their union said.

Many cocktail servers and waiters saw their hourly base wages decline to $4.50 from $8.74, the union said. Their tip income, meanwhile, has continued to shrink as Atlantic City’s tourism economy continues to decline.  (Berzon, The Wall Street Journal)



Credit ratings agency downgrades Collingswood to junk status

The credit ratings agency Moody’s has downgraded the borough of Collingswood to junk status, a drop tied to taxpayer underwriting of the LumberYard development on Haddon Avenue.

Collingswood dropped six notches, from A1 to Ba1. By contrast, the state of New Jersey was downgraded one notch by three credit ratings agencies this year.

Alan Schankel, managing director of Philadelphia-based Janney Capital Markets, called the downgrade “huge.”

As a practical matter, it’s a real black spot on their image and could make it difficult for them to borrow,” Schankel said. “I don’t think they’re necessarily going to default, but I can’t see a clear path to how they’re going to pay off their debt.”

According to the Moody’s assessment, the borough is a guarantor for a 2006, $8.5 million loan by LumberYard Redevelopment LLC, the residential and business development located off Haddon Avenue.  (Roh, Gannett)|head



New Jersey should invest in horseshoe crabs, biologist says

It sounds like ghoulish business, but drawing blood from horseshoe crabs is worth at least $200 million a year, with steadily growing demand — and increasing worries that the supply could diminish.

So one prominent biologist who studies the relationship between horseshoe crabs and shorebirds is proposing that New Jersey and Delaware launch a public-private partnership to produce lysate — a critical medical testing compound made from crab blood — with help from Delaware Bay commercial fishermen who used to catch crabs for bait.

“There’s a huge value being lost here. … We really have to create wealth for the people in the area,” said Larry Niles, chief scientist for the Conserve Wildlife Foundation of New Jersey, after state advisers met Tuesday to hear reports on the status of the crabs and red knot shorebirds that feed on the crabs’ eggs.  (Moore, Gannett)



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Medicaid waiver application discards planned income-eligibility changes

Controversial parts of the Christie Administration’s plan to restructure the state Medicaid program are being scrapped, based on a waiver application sent last week.

Initially, the administration was seeking to put a freeze on accepting new adults into the FamilyShare program by reducing the income eligibly requirements from $24,645 to $5,317 for a family of three. The administration projected that for 2012, some 23,000 adults would have been impacted by changing the income eligibility limits. Children would still be accepted, however.  (Hassan, State Street Wire)



Relief, new stimulus from Washington on Christie’s radar

Republican lawmakers in the U.S. Senate led a charge Monday to vote down a disaster relief bill that would have granted New Jerseyans millions in federal assistance. But today, Gov. Chris Christie passed up an opportunity to chide the Beltway GOP the same way he treats local lawmakers.

Asked his opinion of the Republican stand, and whether he’s worried about the relief coming to the Garden State following Tropical Storm Irene, Christie ignored the first question. “No, I’m not worried at all,” he told the press today.  (Carroll, State Street Wire)



Oyster-research project in Hudson-Raritan Estuary OK’d

The Department of Environmental Protection will allow the New York/New Jersey Baykeeper to conduct an oyster research project in contaminated waters in the Hudson-Raritan Estuary in a security zone protected by Navy security.

The oyster project would be set up at a pier at the Naval Weapons Station Earle in Leonardo, Monmouth County.  (Hassan, State Street Wire)



From the Back Room 



Holiday menu: lame duck stuffed with school reform, expect leftovers

Gov. Chris Christie called this the Year in Education. Clock’s ticking.

As Christie grabbed a wrench to ratchet up the pressure on the Democratic Legislature this week regarding education reform, he’s making sure the public remembers who’s on vacation this time.  (Staff, PolitickerNJ)






Christie’s softer education reform approach

Nine months into 2011, you may be startled to learn this is the year of education reform in New Jersey. Especially if you moved here for the schools.

Sure, the Garden State leads the nation in graduating high school seniors. But because we’re at or near the top of less desirable lists – property taxes, urban poverty, functionally illiterate Jersey Shore cast members as TV spokespeople – Gov. Christie made overhauling education a signature priority. Smart move, considering it’s the rare issue on which Democrats and Republicans find common ground.

Christie wants to blow up the tenure system, reward teachers for students’ performances, introduce vouchers, and expand charter schools. Until now, he’s mostly delivered this message as a stern lecture with a raised voice, the better to wake up snoozing union leaders.  (Yant Kinney, The Philadelphia Inquirer)



Christie: More money to Abbotts galls him

Gov. Christie says changing the way schools are funded  via the state constitution is not easy because it requires the Legislature. But having to pay an extra $500 million into the Abbott districts “galls” him.  He gets to nominate four members of the supreme court in his first term and he said that’s a way to fair school funding. He said he hopes court nominees can be judged based on their qualification and nothing else. He said his office is vetting candidates now. He spoke on his monthly “Ask the Governor” program.  (Ingle, Gannett)



For Newark and the nation it’s about jobs, jobs, jobs

It is an unfortunate truth that when it comes to unemployment, by the time the rest of the country sneezes, cities like Newark have raging pneumonia.

Newark’s official unemployment rate is a staggering 15 percent. The national 9.1 percent and New Jersey’s 9.5 percent unemployment are figures Newark was posting when those other rates were half as much and times were supposed to be good.

Last week, President Obama called for a $447 billion job creation program. On Monday, Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.) came to Newark with National Urban League President Marc Morial for a rally to support the his Urban Jobs Act of 2011, which would provide $200 million over five years to get urban 18-year-olds to 24-year-olds trained and employed.  (Whitlow, The Star-Ledger)



At Tea Party debate, alarming applause for the death of the uninsured

The low point in last night’s Republican presidential debate came not from anyone on stage, but from a handful in the audience who cheered at the notion of letting a sick man without insurance die without care.

The moment came when Ron Paul, the libertarian candidate, was asked who should pay the bill when a young man arrives at a hospital in a coma.

“Who’s going to pay for that?” asked moderator Wolf Blitzer of CNN.

“Well in a society that you accept welfarism and socialism, he expects the government to take care of him,” Paul said, adding that, “That’s what freedom is all about, taking your own risks.”  (Moran, The Star-Ledger)


  Morning News Digest: September 14, 2011