Morning News Digest: Tuesday, September 06, 2011
By Missy Rebovich
Appearing with Christie and Co., comforting Obama piles on Cantor in flood-pounded Paterson; FEMA relief approved for all 21 NJ counties
Delivering news of relief aid for all counties in New Jersey, President Barack Obama comforted victims of Hurricane Irene in storm-pounded Wayne and Paterson this afternoon.
Accompanied by Gov. Chris Christie, U.S. Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ), U.S. Sen. Bob Menendez (D-NJ) and members of New Jersey’s congressional delegation, Obama focused the bulk of his attention on Paterson, where 1,500 people remain displaced from their homes in the aftermath of last week’s storm.
Standing with the New Jersey pols at the river’s edge, Obama doubled down on their opposition to the potential for partisan wrangling in Washington over flood aid, a not-so-oblique reference to U.S. Rep. Eric Cantor (R-Va.), who following the flood quibbled over funding. (Pizarro, PolitickerNJ)
In Chris Christie country, Ron Paul supporters lean on grassroots operations
The forces of Gov. Chris Christie have hung a prez politics “keep out” sign over New Jersey, but that doesn’t hinder the grassroots allies of U.S. Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas), who this summer opened their campaign headquarters in Hightstown and are organizing regular events for the Tea Party presidential candidate.
“Ron Paul is the leader of the liberty movement because he has virtually single handily ignited the flame of freedom and kept it burning for decades in the House of Representatives,” said Prof. Murray Sabrin, a 2008 U.S. Senate candidate and former gubernatorial candidate who has scheduled a Sept. 8 Paul fundraiser at his Fort Lee home.
Sabrin said Paul supporters’ RevolutionPAC exists to help elect Ron Paul President of the United States by producing and airing hard-hitting ads during the Republican primaries and then during the general election next fall. (Pizarro, PolitickerNJ)
Mixed N.J. response to President Obama’s visit
Margaret Wert was not impressed by President Obama’s visit to her flood-ravaged Wayne neighborhood today.
“The president’s lucky I didn’t get to meet him,” said Wert, 45, pausing from an afternoon of scrubbing her Fayette Avenue home, the stench of mildew wafting out the front door. “Because I would have handed him a broom.”
“I think it was a big photo shoot for Mr. Obama,” said Wert, a customer service agent for the Anon Flag Company, who declined to give her party affiliation. “When he comes back again, I’ll let him do my yard work.”
Joined by Gov. Chris Christie and Wayne Mayor Christopher Vergano, Obama took a walking tour of Wert’s out-of-the-way neighborhood between the Pompton River and Route 23, to inspect the flood damage left behind by Hurricane Irene. The walls of almost every house were stained with a brownish film. Chain link fences were clogged with debris. Piles of ruined furniture, clothing, toys and other vestiges of life lined Fayette Avenue. (Strunsky, The Star-Ledger)
Christie pitches computer upgrade
One of the odder budget fights in state government this summer has featured Gov. Chris Christie trying to spend money over objections from Democrats.
The role-flipping scene centers on the state’s woeful computer systems, which Christie wants to spend $5.5 million to start upgrading. Democratic lawmakers did not include Christie’s proposal in the budget — a change the governor couldn’t reverse in his line-item vetoes, which can erase funds but cannot add.
The funding was supposed to be the first installment of a five-year, $60 million initiative but remains up in the air as summer nears its end — much like the overall information-technology program, which is looking for new leadership after the state’s chief technology officer, Adel Ebeid, left this summer.
Those changes may be more expansive, as the Christie administration is contemplating a larger revamp of New Jersey’s IT operation, which is split between an independent office working — and not always closely — with each state department and their separate technology staffs as clients. The state might consolidate all its IT operations and could give its chief Cabinet-level status. (Symons, Gannett)
NJ education: What’s hot, what to watch
It’s not called “silly season” for nothing, since the next two months leading up to the New Jersey’s legislative elections will surely be more about rhetoric than substance when it comes to public policy.
Education will be no exception, with key votes on topics like tenure reform and charter schools likely to wait until at least November 9, the day after the election.
But with stakeholders and policy-makers returning this week from their summer breaks, and schools opening across the state, that’s not to say there won’t be plenty of drama centered on education in the next few months.
Here are a few places to keep an eye on…(Mooney NJ Spotlight)
New Jersey’s public labor unions endorse lawmakers who oppose pension and benefits changes
This year’s battle in the Legislature to change the state’s handling of pensions and benefits for public-sector workers is shaping up to be a major issue in November, as public unions choose to back lawmakers who voted against the changes, and notably snub some who supported them.
Those endorsements — and non-endorsements alike — confer a degree of financial and get-out-the-vote support for candidates they favor, said Daniel J. Douglas, director of the William J. Hughes Center for Public Policy at Richard Stockton College in Galloway Township.
Union members can be recruited to knock on doors, drive voters to the polls, and recruit family and friends to help favored candidates.
“Those candidates who are used to that support will have to find a new way to” fill the gap created by the absence, Douglas said. (Harper, Press of Atlantic City)
Election mailers coming to mailboxes across New Jersey
If you live in one of a few select legislative districts in New Jersey, the glossy flyers will soon be on their way to your mailbox. Candidates may already be knocking on your door. And cash is starting to pour in to the campaigns.
Labor Day weekend, the unofficial opening of campaign season, has come and gone. This year, the main event leading up to the November election is the Legislature, where all 120 seats are up for grabs. While voter turnout is expected to be low, much may be at stake.
For Gov. Chris Christie, it’s a chance — although a small one — to turn the Senate, Assembly or both over to Republicans, allowing him to push through his agenda with far fewer roadblocks. At the very least, and more realistically, he could narrow the Democratic majorities and turn to the friendlier ones to get important pieces of legislation through. (Staff, The Star-Ledger)
Halting bullies is new priority
Students returning to school this week will be greeted with stronger anti-bullying messages, as districts statewide begin to comply with a new law aimed at protecting children from bullies.
Several North Jersey school districts updated their harassment, intimidation and bullying policies this summer, and have started training teachers and administrators on the new legislation. Guest speakers have also been lined up to talk to students, and some staff will take workshops in coming weeks on how to investigate complaints of harassment, intimidation and bullying.
The new legislation, which went into effect last week, calls for tougher penalties to be doled out to students discovered to be bullying, and also makes school administrators more accountable if they do not investigate complaints. (Alvarado, The Record)
N.J. police to Congress: Don’t arrest COPS funding
To hire three more officers, Bradley Beach Police Chief Leonard Guida plans to apply for a grant through the federal Community Oriented Policing Services program early next year.
But he and hundreds of other police chiefs may be too late if they wait that long.
Conservative House Republicans are pushing to eliminate COPS, meaning 2011 could be the last year for the popular program Congress created in 1994 to help pay for 100,000 new police officers on the streets.
Since 1994, the Justice Department program has helped pay for 4,900 officers at 474 New Jersey law enforcement agencies.
Conservatives targeted COPS for possible elimination earlier this year, listing it among programs that could be scaled back or killed to save $100 billion in the fiscal 2011 budget.
It survived that attempt but is still at risk as Congress sharpens its focus on creating jobs and cutting spending. (Chebium, Gannett)
Leadership at a price
Most presidents of state and tri-county public colleges haven’t received raises over the past few years, according to a Courier-Post analysis of contracts, amendments and continuing employment agreements.
But lawmakers and taxpayer advocates think that’s insignificant given the high values of presidents’ salaries, benefits and bonuses.
“Presidents and boards of trustees have created an artificial market, whereby presidents compare their compensation packages to each other,” says Jerry Cantrell, president of the New Jersey Taxpayers Alliance and the Common Sense Institute.
“Presidents say, ‘I want what they got,’ and the upward cycle continues.”
While state aid to his institution decreased 10.5 percent this past year, NJIT president Robert Altenkirch received a $20,000 raise, a $56,000 retention bonus and $85,000 housing allowance. (Rosen, Gannett)
Schools face change as year begins; focus placed on 10 issues
Acting New Jersey Education Commissioner Chris Cerf recently reorganized the state Department of Education around four priorities for education reform: Academics, Performance, Talent, and Innovation.
The DOE will devote its resources to identifying what students should learn, how to prove they learned it, who will teach it to them, and how it will be taught. But those are not the only priorities facing students and staff as they head back to school.
Here’s a list of 10 education issues likely to get a lot of attention in the schoolhouse and the Statehouse during the 2011-12 school year… (D’Amico, Press of Atlantic City)
Big business bands together to boost natural gas
Worried that New Jersey’s access to natural gas supplies could be jeopardized by lobbying from environmentalists opposed to increased use of fossil fuels, a band of big business groups have organized a coalition to promote the use of the fuel.
Called Natural Gas for New Jersey, the coalition already secured a win when Gov. Chris Christie conditionally vetoed a bill last month that would have imposed a ban on a controversial method of drilling for natural gas in New Jersey, a step they argued would allow the state to tap plentiful and relatively cheap supplies of the fuel in the region.
More importantly, the creation of the coalition gives the Christie administration powerful backing in its plans to rely more on natural gas to meet New Jersey’s energy needs and to try and drive down steep electricity bills for both residents and businesses. (Johnson, NJ Spotlight)
Lacey mulls future of nuke plant site
The township’s hope to find a replacement for the Oyster Creek Generating Station, slated to shut down by the end of December 2019, was repeated during an Aug. 25 committee meeting.
The session was attended by Rep. Jon Runyan, R-N.J., who came to make a presentation to township resident Jackie Montogomery.
Montgomery is an Army Medic Specialist who completed a one-year tour in Iraq.
Following the presentation, Committeeman Dave Most brought up Runayn’s work toward having Lacey being included in the New Jersey Energy Master Plan, which was released by Gov. Chris Christie in June.
The committee is hoping to entice a power company to use the infrastructure present on land that is involved in an easement agreement with Exelon Nuclear, the owner of Oyster Creek, and JCP&L. (Vosseller, Gannnett)
Region evaluates whether beach replenishment is best long-term option for shore
The Jersey shore has its own rhythms and cycles: the migrations, the tides, the seasons, and more recently, the beachfills.
That last cycle is marked by the recurring sight of dredges just offshore, the sound of sand slurry rushing down the beaches, adding height and depth to the shifting barrier islands as part of yet another multimillion dollar beach-replenishment project.
But as the region evaluates its beaches for erosion damage following Hurricane Irene, some are raising the question of whether the continuous cycle of beach replenishment, additional beach “nourishment,” and the increasing number of “emergency” beach projects is really the best long-term option for beaches and barrier islands. (Lemongello, Press of Atlantic City)
Using lessons and loss of 9/11 to change New Jersey school curriculum
Her husband’s last call never got through.
Maryellen Salamone heard only static from the other end 10 years ago as John reached out to her from the north tower of the World Trade Center, moments before it collapsed.
“It was horrifying,” said the North Caldwell, N.J., mother, who then faced the “brutal” task of trying to explain that terrible day to two young sons and a daughter.
A decade later, Salamone’s passion to educate children and see “positive change happen” after her husband’s death has led to a new 9/11 curriculum for New Jersey schools that will likely be used far beyond the state’s borders.
The free online course material – covering kindergarten to 12th grade – has already garnered the interest of teachers from Missouri, Maine, Mississippi, and Nevada to Australia, Belgium, France, and Britain. (Colimore, The Philadelphia Inquirer)
Latest from State Street Wire
Christie will not entertain other restorations when signing off on Transitional Aid
Gov. Chris Christie said he can save the Democrats time: If they are planning to attach some other budget restoration to a bill putting back $139 million in aid to distressed cities, he’s not interested.
“If they want to propose other bills to restore other spending,” he said he will entertain those on their own merit. “But I am not going to allow them to try to hold me hostage.” (Carroll, State Street Wire)
Transitional Aid deadline extended, budget cut restoration still pending, towns prepare worst-case responses
Gov. Chris Christie nixed $139 million of the $149 million in the state budget for Transitional Aid to cash-strapped towns and cities earlier this summer, but the cut wasn’t made in a vacuum. In fact, Christie maintains it was provoked.
In their budget, the Democrats took away 1 percent of the Transitional Aid dedicated to state oversight and applied it directly to the cities’ bottom line. Given the history of misuse of state aid by some municipalities, Christie said the oversight must remain; following a two-week vacation in July, the governor announced full restoration of the aid – only if it included restoration of the 1 percent for oversight. (Carroll, State Street Wire)
Job growth stalls in August
The economy netted no new jobs in August as job growth ground to a halt.
The unemployment rate remained at a stubborn 9.1 percent nationwide.
The health care sector continued to add jobs, but the gains – about 30,000 – were offset by drops in the IT sector and government workers. The drop in IT workers reflected a strike in the telecom industry, and the decline in government workers was seen mainly at the local level. (Isherwood, State Street Wire)
Carl Lewis’ lawyers include Former State Supreme Court Justice John Wallace Jr.
State Supreme Court Justice John Wallace Jr. went quietly when the governor made the unprecedented move of refusing to renominate him. Now, Wallace’s new job has put him squarely in opposition to the Christie administration.
The Auditor noticed Wallace’s name listed among the lawyers on a brief for Carl Lewis, the former Olympic track star and state Senate hopeful, who is challenging Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno’s decision to remove him from the ballot for not meeting the residency requirement.
Wallace, 69, joined the firm Brown & Connery, which represents Lewis, after leaving the state’s highest court. The firm’s best-known attorney, Bill Tambussi — who often represents Camden County’s Democratic boss, George Norcross — is the lead lawyer for Lewis. (The Auditor, The Star-Ledger)
Rival to Vandervalk’s choice in 39th bows out
Samuel Raia, the Republican State Committee chairman and Saddle River mayor, flirted with the possibility of succeeding retiring 39th District Assemblywoman Charlotte Vandervalk, but decided against it, officials and party sources said.
Just what compelled Raia, who is effectively Governor Christie’s chief fund-raiser, to cancel his campaign, depends on whom you talk to. Bergen County Republican Organization Chairman Bob Yudin said Raia told him the “additional obligation” of serving in the Assembly while running the state committee was simply too much.
But other party sources said that Christie allies discouraged him from entering the fray. Raia did not return several messages last week seeking comment. (Stile, The Record)
Blame the lawyers and the law schools
All these years I’ve been laying blame on the sorry state of affairs at the feet of colleges and the loony political correctness that started on campus and rolled off the quad to needlessly envelop the lives of ordinary people. Maybe I missed the mark.
Walter Olson, journalist and author, has written a book called “Schools For Misuse: Legal Academia and an Overlawyered America” that contends it is the law schools that have done us in. He makes a convincing argument:
“In New Jersey, after the freestanding Education law Center (founded by the Rutgers law prof Paul Tractenberg with Ford (Foundation) funding launched a series of finance suits that convulsed the state’s politics for the next thirty years, reporters covering the suits often turned for commentary and analysis to the Institute on Education and Policy (also founded by prof Paul Tractenberg with Ford funding but housed, unlike the Education Law center, within the law school itself.)” (Ingle, Gannett)
Rebuilding in flood zones wastes taxpayers’ money
Emily Groveman’s modest home sits on a low-lying peninsula that juts into the Passaic River in Little Falls, surrounded on three sides by
But we are not yielding to nature. Instead, we are rebuilding neighborhoods like this after every flood, again and again, with taxpayer subsidies.
Over three years, and three floods, the bill to fix Groveman’s home will come to about $100,000.
“It’s just a waste of taxpayers’ money,” she says. “Every time this happens we get tens of thousands of dollars in damages. And this one is going to be worse.” (Moran, The Star-Ledger)
Seeking details of the $100 million deal
A year ago this month, Mayor Cory Booker brought in $100 million to benefit education in Newark. Asked to provide the correspondence between Booker and the donor, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, as well as others involved in the discussions, City Hall officials said they have not yet found any e-mails, text messages, computer notes or letters. For a $100 million deal?
Not even an old-fashioned carbon copy tucked in a file labeled How to Handle the Public’s Trust?
The New Jersey American Civil Liberties Union is suing the city on behalf of a parents group that invoked the Open Public Records Act to get donation-related correspondence from Booker to Zuckerberg, state officials, including Gov. Chris Christie, and others, including Oprah Winfrey, who announced the grant on her TV talk show. (Whitlow, The Star-Ledger)
Destructive storms do not know politics
The red SUV bobbed in the muddy Passaic River
Floods teach us about ourselves. They remind us what can happen when we build cities and towns too close to so-called flood zones. They also tell us that despite our technological abilities and sophisticated planning, we are all at the mercy of nature’s unexpected mean streaks.
And what a mean streak it was. (Kelly, The Record)
Trump is keeping an eye on more investments in N.J.
Donald Trump may never actually run for president, as he publicly considered earlier this year and recently began reconsidering.
Even so, the real estate mogul and reality-TV star has secured a recurring role in American political theater. Trump appeared on Fox News on Wednesday night, offering his thoughts on national politics and foreign affairs.
While the Trump brand stretches from New York to Las Vegas to Istanbul, The Donald’s roots run deep in New Jersey, and he continues to sniff out potential deals here.
Along with his late father, Fred, Trump owned two apartment buildings on Prospect Street in East Orange. The properties were sold in the late 1990s, Trump said.
“It brings back fond memories because I did those deals with my father many years ago,” Trump said. (Tangel, The Record)
In case you missed it
NJ gov gets good reviews for hurricane handling
After New Jersey’s governor took heat for going to Disney World this winter during a major snowstorm, Hurricane Irene threatened to test more than the state’s preparedness. The storm would also show how Gov. Chris Christie, a rising star in the national GOP, would fare when Mother Nature was his adversary.
Now that the storm has passed, political pundits and many residents seemed to conclude Christie was built to handle natural disaster.
His command of the preparations and cleanup, along with his blunt, emotive and humorous style got him noticed locally and nationally. (DeFalco, Associated Press)
Burlco GOP looks for gains in 7th District
Even with powerhouse vote-getter Diane Allen at the top of the ticket, Burlington County Republicans are taking no chances in the fight for a rare open Assembly seat in the 7th Legislative District.
The district, which runs up western Burlington County, no longer includes any part of Democratic Camden County and counts GOP strongholds Mount Laurel and Moorestown.
“It’s night and day,” said campaign manager Adam Bauer, on leave from his position as spokesman for Senate Republicans. (Roh, Gannett)
What makes Lewis run?
The former track star talks about what he would do in the N.J. Senate.
Carl Lewis, 50, of Medford, is a nine-time Olympic gold medalist in track and field and a Democrat locked in a legal tussle over whether he has met residency requirements to run for the New Jersey Senate. The Inquirer’s Joelle Farrell caught up with the Willingboro native by phone last week at a fund-raising event for the University of Houston, which he attended. (The Philadelphia Inquirer)
Horse racing advocates, legislators want Gov. Christie to reverse course on subsidies
Major initiatives concerning casinos and horse racing went into effect only a few months ago, but racing supporters already want the governor to reverse his opposition to casino subsidies and slot machines at racetracks.
Two events this summer have prompted calls from legislators to aid the racing industry as well as legal action by a horse-breeders group seeking $15 million in subsidies from Atlantic City casinos. (Froonjian, Press of Atlantic City)
New N.J. broadcaster attending to criticism
The embattled NJTV broadcasting outfit — which replaced New Jersey Network two months ago — finished the week strong, despite undergoing more criticism from lawmakers unhappy with the change.
NJTV showed that it has at least one advantage over its predecessor: the ability to save the state government from paying to have winning lottery numbers put on the air. (Jordan, Gannett)
Camden turning to private school firm for 400 of its most at-risk students
After years of consistently low graduation and attendance rates at its two main high schools, the Camden School District is turning to a private company for help.
This week, close to 400 of Camden’s most at-risk students will walk into a new approach to learning in classrooms run by the Camelot Schools of Pennsylvania, an alternative-education provider.
The classes – for students in grades six through 12 who have serious behavioral issues or are likely to drop out – blends counseling and tutoring with each student’s daily academic schedule. (Vargas, The Philadelphia Inquirer)
Schools see benefit of uniforms
Janine Walker Caffrey has seen the benefits of school uniforms first-hand.
The superintendent of the Perth Amboy public school system, Caffrey has previously worked at schools in New York City, Florida and Chicago, and she says schools in the Windy City “saw a huge positive impact” after implimenting a uniform policy.
“Particularly in urban settings, it’s clear that a uniform policy decreases discipline referrals and increases the seriousness of education,” said Caffrey, who has been at the Perth Amboy district since July. (Biese, Gannett)
Medicaid changes cause frustration
Jane Shaffer has lovingly cared for a daughter with Down syndrome for 45 years.
Yet what had her at her wit’s end and completely exhausted during a phone call Friday was not her daughter, but the Medicaid hoops she had to jump through in an effort to get medical care for Curry.
For the past couple of months, Curry has battled stomach ailments, developed renal nerve palsy and showed early signs of Alzheimer’s disease, to which she has a 30 percent greater chance of succumbing at an early age because of Down syndrome. (Cooney, Gannett)