Morning News Digest: October 21, 2011
By Missy Rebovich
Dems see Governor’s LD27 breakfast at High Noon test run for Christie v. Codey ‘13
Gov. Chris Christie heads to a Morris County event on Monday morning for a scheduled breakfast with the LD 27 GOP ticket headed by businessman William Eames.
But the drama here revolves less around this particular race than the political future.
Democratic Party allies of state Sen. (and former Governor) Richard Codey (D-27) interpret the governor’s campaign salvo as a localized High Noon test run to Christie v. Codey 2013.
Few give Eames a shot against the veteran Codey, who possesses the largest campaign war chest among all members of the state legislature. (Pizarro, PolitickerNJ)
LD 7 Republicans go after Oliver on judge’s p-and-b ruling
Seventh District GOP Assembly candidates Jim Keenan and Chris Halgas pounced today on Assembly Speaker Sheila Oliver’s (D-34) unwillingness to support Gov. Chris Christie-backed legislation to override a Superior Court judge’s ruling that the state’s newly enacted pension and benefits reforms do not apply to the judiciary.
According to published reports, Oliver said she doesn’t favor the GOP governor’s proposed constitutional amendment to override the ruling by Judge Linda Feinberg.
That gave Keenan and Halgas – locked in one of the state’s fiercest Assembly races – a chance to craft an attack, while enjoying the fact that their ticket mate, state Sen. Diane Allen (R-7) sponsors the Constitutional Amendment for the p and b fix for judges. (Pizarro, PolitickerNJ)
Featured Race: NJ political world braces for Christie v. Norcross ‘Real Steel’ $ fight in LD 2
State Sen. Jim Whelan, (D-2), Atlantic City, v. Assemblyman Vince Polistina, (R-2), Egg Harbor Township, for Whelan’s Senate seat.
When Republican Bill Gormley retired from the Senate in 2007, the indefatigable Atlantic County political animal tried to pick his successor in Frank Blee but ran up against a Republican insurrection led by Egg Harbor Township Mayor Sonny McCullough. At a vacancy party meeting, McCullough bested the Gormley-backed Blee to become the GOP nominee for the 2nd District Senate seat. At a convention two weeks later, he enlisted John Amodeo from labor for the requisite building and trades piece, and Vince Polistina, an engineer from Egg Harbor Township who many Republicans even back then identified as a rising star. (Pizarro, PolitickerNJ)
Christie visit give political, financial boost to South Jersey Republicans
Gov. Chris Christie swung through South Jersey on Thursday, touting his administration’s business accomplishments and cheering on Republican candidates before helping raise about $200,000 for them.
Thursday afternoon, Christie spoke at Print Art Inc. The 59-year-old company employs 60 people at its 11-year-old building on Delilah Road in Egg Harbor Township, owners Lisa and Carl Blase said.
The couple, both Republicans, said they love Christie.
“He has a very honest manner. He tells it the way it is,” Lisa Blase said.
Christie declined to answer media questions at the events, and his remarks at the fundraisers were closed to the media. (Harper, Press of Atlantic City)
Princeton merger vote tests Christie’s attempt to shrink towns
The two New Jersey municipalities that share the Princeton name with the Ivy League university may become the first test case of Governor Chris Christie’s campaign to cut government costs by merging towns.
Residents of 1.9-square-mile Princeton Borough, which includes the downtown shopping and dining area, and the surrounding 16.6-square-mile Princeton Township will decide Nov. 8 whether to combine to save as much as $3.1 million a year. Voters there have rejected consolidating at least three times in the past 60 years, most recently in 1996. (Young, Bloomberg)
Storms a factor as state loses 11,000 jobs
New Jersey’s economy lost 11,100 jobs in September — 5,800 in the private sector and 5,300 in the public sector — in a sign that Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee disrupted the labor market, the state reported Thursday.
A separate survey found the state’s unemployment rate fell to 9.2 percent from 9.4 percent in August, according to the New Jersey Department of Labor and Workforce Development.
Take away the noise of the storms, and employers say they are inching along, doing enough business to survive but not enough to persuade them to go on a hiring spree.
“If companies open up spending, my business can grow,” said Marc Bublick, owner of C&C Computer Network Services in Edison, a technology consultant whose customers are spending only (Diamond, Gannett)
Strategic development plan puts economic growth on the map
With the release by the Christie administration of its strategic development plan, some skeptics are questioning whether its goal of spurring economic growth will wind up supplanting some of the nation’s most stringent environmental rules.
The bent to economic development is clear throughout the 41-page draft plan unveiled on Wednesday, a reflection of a recurring theme advanced by the governor during his 22 months in office.
The plan envisions setting up geographic cluster zones to attract high-growth industries, such as manufacturing, technology, pharmaceuticals/life sciences, and other sectors. Among the documents attached to the plan are maps identifying where such segments would be located, such as firms dealing in the financial services sector. (Johnson, NJ Spotlight)
NJ needs to tighten monitoring on spending homeland security funds, audit says
New Jersey needs to better monitor the way it spends money from the agency and improve its compliance with federal accountability requirements, according to a U.S. Department of Homeland Security audit.
“New Jersey could not demonstrate quantifiable preparedness improvement and accomplishments because its Office of Homeland Security and Preparedness did not set measurable target levels of performance,” the audit said. “The state does not have a basis to evaluate the effect of grant expenditures on its preparedness and response capabilities.”
The audit, released Wednesday, focused on the fiscal years 2007 through 2009. It specifically criticized the state for “instances of improper, unauthorized, or undocumented uses of grant funding representing a total value of $2,657,212, and inefficient uses totaling $585,519.” (Gartland, The Record)
Judge attacked by Christie no stranger to high-profile, politically charged cases
By ruling earlier this week that the New Jersey Constitution protects judges from having to pay more for their benefits, state Superior Court Judge Linda Feinberg took on Governor Christie’s signature benefits reform initiative.
Christie called Feinberg, the assignment judge in Mercer County, “self-interested” and said her ruling was “outrageous.” He’s calling on lawmakers to ask voters to amend the constitution, which specifically protects against judicial salary reductions, to counter Feinberg’s ruling.
It’s not the first time Feinberg — who has declined to respond publicly to Christie’s personal attack — has ruled on high-profile, politically charged cases in Trenton, and also not the first time she’s upset a governor in the process. (Reitmeyer, The Record)
N.J. candidate apologizes for sex-advice tweets
After initially refusing to apologize for his sex-advice tweets, New Jersey Senate candidate Phil Mitsch sounded more contrite in a statement released early Thursday evening.
“I would like to sincerely apologize for any offense I may have caused anyone, particularly women, as a result of a Twitter post that has recently been reported,” Mitsch said.
He then explained the basis for the controversial tweet he posted Sept. 2 to his more than 44,000 followers: “Women, you increase your odds of keeping your men by being faithful, a lady in the living room and a whore in the bedroom.” (Farrell, The Philadelphia Inquirer)
For David Hespe, return to Trenton brings new and old challenges
When David Hespe was New Jersey’s education commissioner under Gov. Christie Whitman a decade ago, he spoke in one of his early interviews about the need for New Jersey to improve how it intervenes — and doesn’t intervene — in public schools.
Now, Hespe is acting commissioner Chris Cerf’s chief of staff, the commissioner’s man to get things done.
And in one of his early interviews in his new job, Hespe is talking about the need to improve how New Jersey intervenes — and doesn’t intervene — in public schools.
Such is the pace of change when it comes to education reform in any state, and it is Hespe’s experience, patience and perseverance that Cerf has enlisted to break through some of the logjams. (Mooney, NJ Spotlight)
N.J. Sen. Whelan to introduce bill to allow disabled veterans to park free at meters
Sen. Jim Whelan (D-Atlantic) Thursday announced he intends to introduce legislation designed to give a break to disabled New Jersey’s veterans and Purple Heart recipients, and a second bill to give residents the opportunity to honor a fallen service member.
The first bill would exempt disabled veterans and recipients of the Purple Heart from New Jersey parking meter fees. Under the bill, in order to be eligible for the fee exemption, the veteran has to have a special license plate issued by the state Motor Vehicle Commission indicating that they are a disabled vet or Purple Heart recipient, and the exemption would only apply when the veteran is either the driver or passenger of the vehicle. The legislation is modeled after a South Carolina law. (Hester, New Jersey Newsroom)
Legislative District 4
The 4th District in Camden and Gloucester counties pits a team of politically experienced Democrats against a Republican group of community activists with a touch of local government experience.
The district is heavily Democratic, with Democrats having 57,663 registered voters for the June primary, compared with 22,996 registered Republicans. There were 64,182 unaffiliated voters.
Still, the GOP has proven it can win there: The 4th is one of those rare split districts in New Jersey, currently represented by a Democrat in the Senate and one Democrat and one Republican in the Assembly.
All in all, this is one of the busiest races in the state this year, with seven candidates running for three seats in both houses. (Daigle, NJ Spotlight)
Legislative District 6
The strongly Democratic 6th in South Jersey had been a snoozer until sexually explicit tweets by the Republican Senate challenger surfaced recently.
PolitickerNJ’s story about the tweets has thrust this district, which straddles Burlington and Camden counties, into the headlines.
Phil Mitsch, the Republican real estate recovery expert trying to unseat Sen. James Beach, admits to using sexual innuendo in some of his tweets, which usually provide economic and financial advice. But he said the tweets, at least some of which were directed at a specific follower, are indicative of his dry sense of humor and in no way did he mean them to demean women.
“I directed this at a guy who was having relationship problems” Mitsch said, explaining that he occasionally would provide sex tips in his tweets to improve their placement in search engines. (O’Dea, NJ Spotlight)
Outcry over N.J. plans to privatize hazardous-waste cleanups
With more Superfund sites than any state in the country and more than 16,000 hazardous-waste cleanups pending, New Jersey’s industrial landscape has long made it a punch line of pollution jokes.
But now that state environmental officials are trying to trim the backlog by handing control to the private sector, they are facing a backlash from both the state’s environmentalists and its industrial and chemical companies.
Under plans still being reviewed, state-licensed environmental professionals will be granted day-to-day autonomy, relegating state bureaucrats to the role of auditors on the majority of cases.
Environmental activists fear that leaving more of the cleanup to the private sector will lower standards and increase the risk to public health. (Osborne, The Philadelphia Inquirer)
Fracking opponents urge Chris Christie to prevent natural gas drilling
The regional agency that oversees the Delaware River watershed is a month away from taking action on natural gas development rules, but environmentalists are not waiting to express concern.
Several green groups at a press conference Thursday called on Gov. Chris Christie to use his influence to beef up environmental protections against hydraulic fracturing, or fracking.
Christie has a seat on the Delaware River Basin Commission, as do the governors of three other basin states: Pennsylvania, Delaware and New York.
The five-member panel also includes the commander of the Army Corps of Engineers North Atlantic Division.
The commission is faced with balancing environmental issues against the energy industry’s eagerness to cash in on newly targeted natural gas supplies in northeast Pennsylvania. (Jordan, Gannett)
Baroni keys local chamber into Port Authority opportunities
The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey offers many opportunities for small to midsized businesses to pursue contracts, its deputy executive director, Bill Baroni, told the Mercer Regional Chamber of Commerce earlier this week.
Baroni noted at the Oct. 18 meeting that the authority had 2,003 separate contracts last year.
“The board is making sure businesses large and small have (the opportunity) to compete,” he said.
The Port Authority is undergoing an audit of its spending, including employee compensation and rising costs at the World Trade Center construction site, as governors Chris Christie and Andrew Cuomo, of New York, “have made it clear that every dollar, every dime that the Port Authority has be spent wisely,” Baroni said. (Kitchenman, NJBIZ)
States ready tests for kindergarten
New York and New Jersey are preparing to administer mandatory school-readiness tests to children as young as 4 years old in an effort to win millions of dollars from the federal government.
The states submitted applications this week for the newest round of federal Race to the Top money, the Obama administration’s signature education program. The competition gives more weight to bidders that perform wide-ranging assessments of children in the first few months of kindergarten.
In New York, they would gauge children’s language, math, science and literacy skills, as well as emotional and physical development, and general knowledge.
The results would provide a baseline measure of each student’s skill level when he or she enters the school system, according to a proposal the Board of Regents approved this week. The test results, however, wouldn’t force students into special education classes or block them from school, officials said. (Fleisher, The Wall Street Journal)
N.J. schools’ anti-bullying laws could be costly in long run
Some people are saying that New Jersey’s new Anti-Bullying Bill of Rights are among the toughest in the nation. Many school officials are still getting used to the laws, and trying to acclimate them into their school’s daily routine.
The anti-bullying bill was passed after the suicide of Rutgers freshman Tyler Clementi of Ridgewood.
According to NorthJersey.com, in Ridgewood, a Benjamin Franklin Middle School teacher recently overheard a student calling his friend “a retard” during lunch. School employees are required to file a written report with the principal within two days. Then school officials met with both sets of parents and filled out a report that was sent to the district superintendent, the school board and the New Jersey Department of Education. (Holt, New Jersey Newsroom)
Senate approves legislation to aide against building collapses
A bill designed to prevent catastrophic building collapses such as the one that took place in Hackensack last year has passed the New Jersey state Senate.
The bill, which passed by a 33-5 margin on Sept. 26, requires that an owner of a multi-level building who requests that an architect or an engineer conduct an assessment of the structural safety of a building, in which a problem is discovered, must immediately notify the clerk of the municipality where the structure is located. The owner must also officially notify the state Department of Community Affairs. (Bonamo, Hackensack Chronicle)
Ex-N.J. Chamber of Commerce official was sexually harassed on job, lawsuit alleges
A former executive of the New Jersey Chamber of Commerce claims in a lawsuit that she was repeatedly sexually harassed by what she called the prominent business group’s “boys club,” which often got drunk during and after work, frequented strip clubs and ridiculed women.
The suit claims that one executive who participated in the harassment, James Leonard, was fired by the chamber in 2010 for unrelated reasons, but two chamber trustees got him a “plum” job in Gov. Chris Christie’s office, where he earns $130,000 a year as a policy adviser.
The accusations included in the suit filed by Carol Gabel, 52, the former vice president for business development, also describe two instances in which she says she was degraded by the governor in 2001. Although he was not identified, Donald DiFrancesco held the office at that time. (Baxter, The Star-Ledger)
Defaulters need not reapply, Redevelopment Authority says
The N.J. Redevelopment Authority unanimously passed a resolution today that sets up a firm policy that the authority “will not consider” any new loan applications for borrowers who defaulted on previous loans approved by the authority.
Authority head Lori Grifa said that while this is not a reflection of how the Redevelopment Authority operates, a formal policy is needed to address such issues concerning borrowers who defaulted. (Hassan, State Street Wire)
Audit calls for better debt collection of probationers
A state audit of Probation Services showed that there was an outstanding debt of $364 million from 149,957 probationers as of June 2011.
The Division should improve its collection of fines, fees, and restitution, according to the audit released today.
A majority of that $364 million in debt – $268 million – is restitution due to victims of crimes. (Mooney, State Street Wire)
N.J. Conference of Mayors wants end to out-of-state e-commerce sales tax inequality
The N.J. Conference of Mayors has endorsed a call by the N.J. Retail Merchants Association for changes to out-of-state internet-based sales.
On the heels of a report that was issued last month that stated New Jersey is losing hundreds of millions of dollars a year in uncollected sales and use tax revenue, the Conference this week also called for changes. (Mooney, State Street Wire)
From the Back Room
The Dist. 4 Essex Freeholder Back Saga
Members of the Morris GOP establishment may not be the only would-be enemies state Sen. Richard Codey (D-27) is coaxing over to his side.
When Codey held a campaign event a few weeks back, the mood was killer until Codey looked up from the lectern and saw Freeholder Len Luciano in the front row.
It was all the mortified ex-governor could do to keep from suspending his message in mid-sentence.
Luciano is – or was –or is – Essex County Executive Joe DiVincenzo’s Democratic candidate in the 4th Freeholder District. Already challenged by a new legislative district, which now extends into Republican Morris County, Codey in the thick of a campaign didn’t want to be looking back over his shoulder at Luciano, ostensibly a Joe D. Democrat who was not Codey’s first choice as a running mate. (Pizarro, PolitickerNJ)
Separate politics, auditors
An ancient monster called pay-to-play looms in New Jersey local government to consume your nation-high property taxes and protect incumbents.
It must be shackled, locked in a dungeon and left for dead. But it seems lawmakers would rather keep the beast happy and fed.
Several local governments I’ve analyzed spend more on legal, engineering and planning firms that donate to elected officials than just about anything else. (Rosen, Gannett)