Morning News Digest: October 24, 2011


Morning News Digest: October 24, 2011

By Missy Rebovich

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Winners and Losers: Week of ELEC’s 29-Day Pre ED Reports

Any no-hoper candidates out there who didn’t understand the rules of engagement when they entered their no-hope race and figured on some Big Six cash contribution on the strength of their personalties and political talents, have to be looking into mirrors right now and wondering what happened.

Here’s a word of advice.

Don’t look there.

Look here:  (Staff, PolitickerNJ)



Featured Race: LD 3 – Sweeney goes mushroom cloud on Mulligan, DiCicco prodigal – and GOP takes heart in voters’ mood


State Senate President Steve Sweeney (D-3), Assemblyman John Burzichelli (D-3), and Assemblywoman Celeste Riley (D-3) versus GOP attorney Mike Mulligan for senate, GOP Assemblyman Domenick DiCicco for LD3 Assembly, and GOP Dr. Bob Villare for LD3 Assembly.


In Sweeney and Burzichelli the South Jersey Democrats possess two ambitious leaders who under the wide-armed auspices of George Norcross III are alpha male playmakers in their own right. An ironworkers labor leader with his own time-tested base and an NJ film industry staple, Sweeney and Burzichelli respectively formed key pieces of their party’s takeover of the southern region of the state.  (Pizarro, PolitickerNJ)



Trying to shake up Buono in the process, GOP State Committee zeroes in on NJEA champ Diegnan in LD18

Political forward observers said it would happen and it just did.

The almost clear, post industrial skies of the Democratic Party-leaning 18th District filled with a steady, two-week GOP barrage targeting the team of Senate Majority Leader Barbara Buono (D-18).

The heaviest artillery fire – in fact, all of it – landed on Buono’s running mate, Assemblyman Pat Diegnan (D-18), South Plainfield, in the form of five mailers paid for by the Republican State Committee and launched after the ELEC’s 29-day pre-election day deadline.

Its coffers boosted by nationwide barmstorming by Gov. Chris Christie, the GOP sneak attack bombarded Diegnan as a public dime attorney.  (Pizarro, PolitickerNJ)



Christie’s campaign promises to cities go largely unfulfilled

As a conservative candidate for governor, Chris Christie visited New Jersey’s deeply liberal and severely impoverished urban areas. He filmed a campaign ad at Camden’s infamous Tent City homeless encampment.

And he released a list of 11 policy promises for “bringing back New Jersey’s cities.”

But nearly two years into his term, the Republican governor has fulfilled only one of those promises and has not publicly prioritized the others. As many as four tent cities exist in Camden, hungry children are increasingly visiting the city’s main soup kitchen, and the depleted police force struggles to fight rising crime.  (Katz,The Philadelphia Inquirer)



Economist: Layoffs will hurt at first, but help in long run

Call it the castor oil economy.

New Jersey will have to continue to take its strong medicine by cutting government jobs while hoping the private sector recovers, an economist for a major forecasting firm said Friday.

Jim Diffley, chief U.S. Regional Economist for IHS Global Insight, said government worker layoffs will hurt the economy in the short term, but he believes they are necessary for the long-term fiscal health of the state.

“Governments, such as New Jersey, were overextended,” Diffley said. “In the short term, those cuts are painful. In the long term, they are helpful in the sense that they create a better business environment.”  (Method, Gannett)



New Jersey schools’ open door policy

With 70 New Jersey school districts now opening their doors to outside students, nearly 2,000 students chose to leave their hometowns for their education this fall, according to preliminary figures from the state.

For the schools, it’s an opportunity to fill seats and pick up extra money from the state — as much as $11,500 per student. For the students, it’s a chance to participate in programs not offered by their own schools.

The biggest takers continue to be the dozen districts that have pioneered New Jersey’s Interdistrict Public School Choice program for the past decade, with 275 students from across Bergen County attending Englewood’s high school academies and close to 200 attending Folsom’s lone elementary school.  (Mooney, NJ Spotlight)



5-year inquiry on Menendez is terminated

Federal prosecutors have ended their five-year investigation into Senator Robert Menendez’s relationship with a nonprofit agency in Union City, N.J.

The Star-Ledger reported Sunday that no charges would be brought in the matter, which became public during Mr. Menendez’s election campaign in 2006.

The newspaper cited a letter sent to Mr. Menendez’s lawyer by Zane D. Memeger, the United States attorney for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, whose office took over the inquiry in 2009, when Paul Fishman was appointed United States attorney for New Jersey. Mr. Fishman recused himself to avoid a potential conflict of interest, because Mr. Menendez had supported him for the post.  (The Associated Press)



Money flows to GOP from spine doctors

Spine surgeons and related medical professionals donated $70,000 to the New Jersey Republican State Committee in late September, as the state insurance department was soliciting testimony about its plan to restrict how much doctors would be paid for treating car-crash victims.

The donations include 10 contributions of $5,000 each from physicians, neurosurgeons, anesthesiologists and a spinal surgery center, all made on Sept. 21. Five days later, the Medical Society of New Jersey Spine PAC made a $20,000 donation — apparently the first since its creation in 2008, according to campaign finance reports — to the Republican state party.  (Symons, Gannett)



NJ lawmakers seeking to control insurance costs

Health insurance carriers who serve individuals and small businesses in New Jersey may soon have to gain state approval before implementing rate increases.

These firms currently can set and increase rates just by filing the information with the state. But a measure planned by three state lawmakers would require that the firms gain approval for such actions from the state Department of Banking and Insurance.

It also would expand the jurisdiction of the state’s Division of Rate Counsel, which now has no say over health insurance rates, to create a watchdog for residents and small businesses.  (The Associated Press)



N.J. Democrats jockey for top Assembly leadership positions as Sheila Oliver’s first term ends

After two years of turmoil, some Democrats in the state Assembly are privately angling for the top leadership positions as Speaker Sheila Oliver’s first term draws to a close.

Oliver (D-Essex) says she plans to seek reelection as speaker, assuming Democrats hold their majority in next month’s election. While a complicated web of alliances would make ousting Oliver difficult, a deeply divided Democratic caucus — the result of a furious battle over benefits for unionized state employees — means she is not a sure bet.

Senate President Stephen Sweeney (D-Gloucester), on the other hand, is said to face no such challenge.  (Friedman and Renshaw, The Star-Ledger)


N.J. campaign picking up

It’s the Republican reformers vs. the entrenched Democratic politicians.

So goes one of the themes of attack ads filling mailboxes and airwaves in South Jersey a little more than two weeks before the Nov. 8 elections. Republicans are hoping to grab a few seats in the Democrat-controlled Legislature, and Democrats are fighting back with ads of their own.

You can even hear the noise from Southeastern Pennsylvania, where many fall races are sleepy by comparison. Some of the South Jersey ad wars are on Philadelphia TV and radio.  (Rao, The Philadelphia Inquirer)



Camden GOP disowns Mitsch, who vows to stay in race

Camden County’s GOP leader pulled the party’s support for State Senate candidate Phil Mitsch on Friday, saying his apology for a tweet that suggested a woman should be “a whore in the bedroom” was not good enough.

“I found his apology overshadowed by the kind of excuse-making that is found too often in politics,” Thomas Booth Jr. said in a statement. “Mr. Mitsch has failed to take ownership of his mistake.”

Mitsch, 62, a former real estate broker from Merchantville, posted a tweet to his more than 44,000 Twitter followers that read, “Women, you increase your odds of keeping your men by being faithful, a lady in the living room and a whore in the bedroom.” He posted it several times, including most recently on Sept. 2.  (Farrell, The Philadelphia Inquirer)



Legislative District 12

District 12 draws towns from four counties, stretching from Old Bridge in Middlesex, through portions of Monmouth and Burlington, and down into Jackson and Plumsted in Ocean.

In a sort of mini Domino Effect, the reconfigured 12th is partially a result of the redesign of the neighboring 11th District, which created a drastic redrawing of boundary lines and shuffling of candidates in the 12th and 30th Districts.

Last spring’s redistricting to account for population changes charted by the 2010 census left the 12th District without an incumbent senator and moved two assemblymen from other districts into the 12th to vie for re-election. One of those is Assemblyman Samuel D. Thompson, currently in the 13th, who has taken the opportunity to try to move up into the Senate.  (DeMasters, NJ Spotlight)



Michael Alonso running to become first Republican assemblyman in memory of 31st Legislative District

A Bayonne real-estate agent who runs a children’s entertainment business hopes to make history this November in his race to become a State Assemblyman; if he wins, he would be the first Republican in recent memory to represent the 31st Legislative District.

It’s a long shot, to be sure. Neither the state Office of Legislative Services nor the New Jersey Republican State Committee knows the name of the last Republican to represent the district, which covers Bayonne and the southern part of Jersey City.

But Michael Alonso, 29, says he’s hopeful he can do this year what he couldn’t in 2010, when he tried to defeat U.S. Rep. Donald Payne and came away with only 13 percent of the vote.  (McDonald, The Jersey Journal)



Legislative District 33

The 33rd is in the heart of Hudson County, so is it necessary to say that it’s a Democratic bastion?

Last spring’s redrawing of district lines did affect the 33rd, but not its blue bent. The addition of more Jersey City neighborhoods definitely makes up for the loss of Guttenberg and West New York. The 33rd also includes Hoboken, Union City, and Weehawken.

Voter registration data from the June primary shows almost half of all registered voters are Democrats and only 8 percent are Republicans.

Despite the overwhelming odds against his party, Russell Maffei, executive director of the Hudson County Republican Party and chair of the Jersey City Republican Party, is optimistic about the GOP candidates’ chances for success.  (Kassel, NJ Spotlight)



Legal services cut as needs rise

The weak economy has more South Jersey residents facing legal crises like foreclosure, eviction and divorce. But the same fiscal woes have cut state funding for an agency that offers help to people in those circumstances.

“It’s a cruel irony,” said Douglas Gershuny, executive director of South Jersey Legal Services. “There’s an increased demand for our services at the same time that we’re less able to help.”

The Camden-based agency has cut 42 employees since 2010, with the most recent layoffs coming for 16 workers in July. South Jersey Legal Services, which provides free legal assistance to low-income residents, now has 51 employees serving a seven-county area.  (Walsh, Gannett)|topnews|text|State



Residents talk with DEP and EPA about the cleanup of the Pompton Lake

Mercury is detected at various levels throughout the Pompton Lake, however, DuPont is only responsible for cleaning the area with the greatest concentration of mercury that is close to the surface.

At a public information session held by the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the NJ Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) on Oct. 20 at Borough Hall, residents who spoke primarily were concerned about making the entire lake free of mercury, but this could not be fulfilled.  (Scott, The Record)



Primary care pharmacies

Over the 20 years Mark Taylor has been a pharmacist, he’s seen customers come into his store and pull their pants down or yank their shoes off to see if he could identify a swelling or a rash.

That sort of behavior is likely on the rise: While the economy remains in a slump and people continue to lose health benefits, it’s becoming more common for them to turn to their pharmacists rather than their doctors to address minor health problems.

That sort of behavior is likely on the rise: While the economy remains in a slump and people continue to lose health benefits, it’s becoming more common for them to turn to their pharmacists rather than their doctors to address minor health problems.  (Chesler, NJ Spotlight)



Despite some optimistic assessments, doubt still haunts solar sector

Scott Weiner is troubled by a lot of the rhetoric he hears about New Jersey’s efforts to promote solar energy, particularly what he called the pejorative terms used to describe incentives and subsidies supporting the sector.

According to the past president of the Board of Public Utilities (BPU), “Where we are today should be a cause of celebration.”

Weiner made that statement to a group of state officials and industry executives at a meeting in Bordentown on Friday, where the chief topic was how the state should finance its programs to spur greater reliance on clean energy sources, such as solar, and ways to reduce energy consumption in the state.  (Johnson, NJ Spotlight)



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Weekly Advance: Week of Oct. 24



Weekly Roundup: Week of Oct. 17



State approves controversial sale of Hoboken hospital

The state Department of Health and Senior Services issued the “certificate of need” to give final approval for the much-debated sale of city-owned Hoboken University Medical Center to the for-profit owners of Bayonne Medical Center.

The approval transfers ownership of the midtown facilities, 344 bed licenses, and the off-site ambulatory care facility from HUMC to HUMC Holdco, the limited liability corporation set up by the BMC owners.  (Carroll, State Street Wire)



Christie delivers proposed constitutional amendment to Democratic leadership – as promised

Gov. Chris Christie said he wants the state Constitution changed to allow for judicial pension and benefit contribution hikes to go into effect – as they are for all other state employees. Today, he forwarded the proposed language change to the leadership offices of both chambers, according to spokesman Michael Drewniak.

The proposal was sent as a simple paragraph with language inserted into Article VI, Section 6, Paragraph 6 of the state Constitution.  (Carroll, State Street Wire)



N.J. joins regional electric-vehicle initiative

Gentlemen, start your (electric-vehicle) engines.

The state Department of Environmental Protection announced today that New Jersey has joined a network of states in the Northeastern and Mid-Atlantic region that will collaborate on a plan to promote electric vehicles and vehicles that use alternative fuels such as natural gas and bio-fuels to help improve air quality.  (Staff, State Street Wire)



From the Back Room 



Bencivengo a go-go and DeAngelo

Hamilton Mayor John Bencivengo today proudly tweeted news that the local St. Patrick’s Day Parade Committee  had selected him as grand marshal of the 2012 St. Patrick’s Day Parade.

It reminded us of one of Bencivengo’s best lines from his successful 2007 challenge of then-Mayor Glen Gilmore, delivered in a debate at the Nottingham Fire House.

Making the case for himself over Gilmore in the Catholic working class town composed in large part of Italian and Irish Americans, Bencivengo self-deprecatingly said, “You’ve had a tall, handsome Irishman as mayor, now it’s time for a short, ugly Italian.”  (Pizarro, PolitickerNJ)



Source: Internal GOP polling shows LD7 Assembly race a toss up

A Republican source close to the LD7 race says the four assembly candidates from both parties are all clustered together almost within the margin of error.

Speaking on condition of anonymity, the source told that Assemblyman Herb Conaway (D-7) is ahead of challenger Republican Mount Laurel Mayor Jim Keenan by 1%, in an internal poll.  (Pizarro, PolitickerNJ)






N.J. Gov. Chris Christie comment on Union teacher’s anti-gay Facebook rant cost right-wing support

Gov. Chris Christie cashed in spectacularly from all the presidential speculation, surging in the polls and raising mountains of money from donors around the country for New Jersey Republicans.

But those weeks of heavy media exposure cost Christie some street cred with the conservative talk show crowd, who keep sniping at him from the right.

Bryan Fischer, the host of “Focal Point” on American Family Radio, was so upset with Christie last week that he singled him out as a “pseudo-conservative.”  (The Auditor, The Star-Ledger)



Hedge fund manager readies for battle with NJEA to reform NJ schools

Imagine you are David Tepper, a 54-year-old guy with $5 billion in the bank. You’ve played the Wall Street game all your adult life, and you’ve scored huge wins, over and over.

Now what?

Tepper, a hedge fund manager who lives in Livingston, has found his answer: He is jumping into the political game in New Jersey, promising to spend huge bucks over the long term to change the state of play on school reform, starting with tenure.

“I’m tired of making money and am now trying to figure out the best way to give it away,” he says.  (Moran, The Star-Ledger)



Codey is especially generous to Bergen Democrats running this fall

Former state Senate President Richard J. Codey recently brought a dose of political celebrity and press-the-flesh skills to the 38th Legislative District stump on behalf of the bookish Bob Gordon, the Democratic state senator from Fair Lawn who is facing a stiff challenge from Republican John Driscoll of Paramus.

Codey also brought his checkbook.

The former acting governor from Roseland has poured an eye-popping $85,000 into the Bergen County Democratic campaign coffers, with most of it earmarked for Gordon and his running mates, Assemblywoman Connie Wagner of Paramus and Maywood Mayor Timothy Eustace, according to Codey and available campaign records.  (Stile, The Record)



Battleground Bergen

With less than three weeks left before Election Day, candidates in the state’s 40 legislative districts have spent varying sums — in some cases just thousands of dollars, in other districts more than a million — to convince voters that they should be sitting in the Legislature at a job that pays $49,000 annually.

Topping the list of New Jersey’s most expensive races is the redesigned 38th District, which includes parts of Bergen and Passaic counties, where Democrat Sen. Bob Gordon of Fair Lawn faces a formidable challenge from Republican Bergen County Freeholder John Driscoll of Paramus. This race, which will wind up costing perhaps millions of dollars, has become the symbolic race in the state this year.  (Harrison for The Record)



Elizabeth board of ed investigating its own school lunch scandal.  Seriously.

The Elizabeth Board of Education wants to get to the bottom of this free-lunch scandal (and a slew of other disgraces), dadgummit. So it has hired a law firm to conduct “confidential interviews” with school district employees who might know, among other things, how well-connected children received free or reduced lunches when their families didn’t qualify.

Yes, you heard it right:

The state’s most notorious school board — tainted by allegations of fraud, nepotism, conflicts of interest, questionable fundraising, employee intimidation, political strong-arming and secrecy — is going to investigate itself.  (Manahan, The Star-Ledger)



For sheer fun, some candidates hard to beat

The first time I saw Phil Mitsch, I mistook him for an Eddie Munster impersonator.

admit this because the would-be state senator from Camden County says he values honesty. And also because Mitsch sported shoe-polish-black hair and a funeral suit to ride on a 4th of July parade float.

That guy couldn’t signal the resurrection of the South Jersey Republican Party, I thought. If Mitsch did, the revival was short-lived, thanks to a self-made scandal over “sex tips” such as tweeting that women ought to be “a lady in the living room and a whore in the bedroom.”  (Kinney, The Philadelphia Inquirer)



Idea of combining Rowan and Rutgers-Camden needs a thorough vetting

Combining Rutgers-Camden and Rowan into a single university would be contingent on academic, political, and economic decisions that haven’t been made.

Unless they have, and it’s all a done deal. Which strikes me as a stretch, even for New Jersey.

But the state is already trying to figure out the future of another of its institutions of higher education: the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey.

Also, the brand-new Cooper Medical School of Rowan University is rising over Broadway in downtown Camden. And the long-proposed light rail line between Camden and Glassboro, home of Rowan’s main campus, recently got a boost from the Delaware River Port Authority.  (Riordan, The Philadelphia Inquirer)



In case you missed it 



Christie’s overhaul may not save N.J. pension system

For months, Gov. Chris Christie has told audiences that his historic pension overhaul helped save taxpayers millions and turned around a system in financial free-fall.

But a far more sober assessment of the future of the pension system is emerging in bond documents and administration estimates released last week, signaling that New Jersey taxpayers have not escaped the ballooning pension costs that the reform measures promised to control.  (Renshaw, The Star-Ledger)



Christie’s growth plan: Most either love it or hate it

It seems stakesholders either love or hate Gov. Chris Christie administration’s new plan for statewide economic and building growth.

But Carleton Montgomery, executive director of the Pinelands Preservation Alliance, is in the middle, saying there are good parts in the State Strategic Job Growth Plan and some not-so-good parts.

“My initial reaction is mixed,” Montgomery said in an interview Friday, two days after the Christie document was rolled out.  (Jordan, Gannett)



Republican group paid for some of Christie’s trips

New Jersey state Republicans paid $85,000 for charter flights to send Governor Chris Christie on a national round of speeches and fundraisers in the third quarter.

That was the amount spent in July and September on flights for Christie, a first-term Republican, said Rick Gorka, a spokesman for the state party committee. Last month, Gorka said the group covered the $63,000 cost for Christie to fly to Colorado in June, to speak at a conference organized by Charles and David Koch, the billionaire oilmen and Tea Party supporters.  (Young, Bloomberg)



N.J. has burning issues, but few real races

New Jersey lawmakers have for decades been unable to find a fix for the issue voters routinely identify as their biggest concern — property tax bills that now average $7,576 statewide.

Legislators have also failed to completely upgrade ethics laws, with many practices that are banned in other states — such as holding a legislative office and another government job at the same time — still alive and well in the New Jersey Legislature.

Lawmakers’ efforts on education funding and affordable housing have also failed to bring about a full solution, with the state tied up in lawsuits for decades as a result.  (Reitmeyer and Gartland, The Record)



N.J. wants to keep taking increased pension contributions from judges during ‘unconstitutional’ ruling’s appeal

The state wants to keep taking increased pension and health benefits contributions from Superior Court judges and Supreme Court justices while it appeals a judge’s ruling that the hikes are unconstitutional.

The state Attorney General’s Office filed a motion on Thursday to postpone implementation of Superior Court Assignment Judge Linda Feinberg’s ruling blocking the higher pension and health benefits payments for the judges and justices, spokesman Paul Loriquet said Friday.  (Spoto, The Star-Ledger)



Christie urged to put minority on top court

Groups representing minorities in New Jersey have asked Gov. Christie to make the state Supreme Court more diverse.

The Legislative Black Caucus sent a letter this month urging Christie to use his next appointment to nominate a member of a minority group. The NAACP, Latino Action Network, and others wrote to Senate lawmakers in September asking that they approve only nominees who would increase the court’s diversity and independence.  (Delli Santi, The Associated Press)



Feds tell Sen. Menendez 2006 probe now closed, subpoena had come in heat of election

The federal subpoena delivered to a Hudson County nonprofit agency five years ago amounted to a political bombshell, signaling the start of a corruption probe into U.S. Sen. Robert Menendez just as he entered the final stretch of a fierce re-election fight.

Menendez’s opponent, state Sen. Tom Kean Jr., and other Republicans used the investigation like a cudgel, hammering at the incumbent’s integrity. Democrats accused Chris Christie, then U.S. attorney, of orchestrating a smear campaign to boost his party’s chances.  (Mueller, The Star-Ledger)



Virtual charter school plan prompts review of laws

A proposal for a virtual charter school based in Teaneck that would end its first year with $4.7 million of taxpayer money left in the bank has sparked concern and calls Friday for deeper scrutiny.

State Sen. Richard Codey, D-Essex, said the proposal sounded like a “business, plain and simple.”

“With all the people out of work, there are going to be more applications for this … to get rich real quick,” he said.  (Brody, The Record)



Dems chide rival in 38th for pay vote

Democrats in the 38th District have blasted a GOP challenger for a budget that increased — at least on paper — the salaries of the mayor and council while he was Hawthorne council president in 2003.

“Our contention maintains that [Richard Goldberg] voted for a budget that increases salaries 13 percent,” said Derek Roseman, campaign spokesman for state Sen. Bob Gordon, D-Fair Lawn, Assemblywoman Connie Wagner, D-Paramus, and Assembly candidate Timothy Eustace, who is Maywood’s mayor. “That is a vote that is on the record and is on his history and he cannot run away from that.”  (Sudol, The Record)



State aid and job training available for unemployed N.J. pharmaceutical workers

Workers laid off from the pharmaceutical industry in New Jersey may take advantage of federal funding issued to the state for re-training and new job opportunities, the state Department of Labor and Workforce Development announced Friday.

As part of an effort to keep pharmaceutical workers in New Jersey and to maintain the state’s long-term economic competitiveness, the Labor Department received $3.6 million in National Emergency aid from the U.S. Department of Labor last year. The state has received an initial allocation of more than $1 million to retrain these workers.  (Hester, New Jersey Newsroom)



Independent, Democrat challenge Michael Doherty in New Jersey Senate race

The race for a two-year term for New Jersey’s 23rd Legislative District pits Republican incumbent Sen. Michael Doherty against Democrat John Graf Jr. and independent Daniel Seyler.

Responding to identical questionnaires, each candidate identified what they think are key issues in the Nov. 8 election.

Doherty, 48, points to high property taxes and the economy.  (Rowan, The Express-Times)



Phyllis Konicker of Monroe leaves $500K to Rutgers

A $500,000 bequest to Rutgers University’s Center for American Women and Politics will enable women in 13 states to learn how to get elected to public office, the center announced Friday.

The late Phyllis Kornicker of Monroe, a retired businesswoman and civic leader, donated the money for use to “encourage women to become actively involved in the political life of America.”

Women will receive guidance on seeking election through the CAWP’s “Ready to Run” programs.  (Hester, New Jersey Newsroom)



Formation of Latino Health Inst. of N.J. to eliminate health disparities

Medical professionals, public officials, educators and activists with an interest in health issues involving New Jersey’s Latino community will gather in New Brunswick Saturday to announce the formation of the Latino Health Institute of New Jersey.

The over six-hour-long event at Rutgers University’s Edward J. Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy is seen as a starting point for a coordinated statewide effort to eliminate health disparities in the Latino community.  (Hester, New Jersey Newsroom)


Morning News Digest: October 24, 2011