Morning News Digest: October 28, 2011
By Missy Rebovich
LD 38 debate: Wagner drills Driscoll on fracking; Gordon and Driscoll trade shots on tobacco, solar; GOP hits Dems on flooding
Rivals rip-sawed into one another tonight in Bergen, as state Sen. Bob Gordon (D-38) complained that the GOP team was “winging it” and relying on sentimental talk about their families while GOP senate hopeful John Driscoll said he would “talk about my family until the day I die,” and pinned the state’s property taxe woes on Democrats.
One of two glamour legislative district races this cycle, tonight’s LD 38 event drew a small crowd out of a dreary rain to occupy seats in a room flickering in fluorescence.
It ended in a bear hug, but not before some crackling exchanges. (Pizarro, PolitickerNJ)
Beck, Whelan endorsements: Environmental groups not on same page
One state senator is in the hottest race in the state and the other in a target district of the future, but both have garnered opposing endorsements from environmental lobbies.
Battling for his political life on the southern shores, state Sen. Jim Whelan, (D-2), of Atlantic City, has a solid voting record on the environment, even his detractors agree. But when it came time to issue endorsements, Whelan was snubbed by the N.J. Environmental Federation, one of the big three environmental groups statewide, in part because of politics, said the organization’s campaign director, David Pringle. (Carroll, PolitickerNJ)
Case at heart of calls for freeholder’s resignation was dismissed five days after it was filed
The case at the heart of a Camden County GOP call for the resignation of County Freeholder director Lou Cappelli was dismissed five days after it was filed, documents provided this afternoon by Cappelli show.
According to police, on July 20, 2008 Cappelli was charged with simple assault after allegedly slamming his wife’s arm in a door, “causing a visible injury.”
Thursday, the county GOP called on Cappelli to step down from the freeholder board and drop his reelection bid.
But transcripts of a July 25, 2008 Superior Court hearing show that the case and a corresponding restraining order taken out by Cappelli’s wife were dropped at her request. (Isherwood, PolitickerNJ)
Christie conditionally vetoes foreclosure scam bill
Gov. Chris Christie Thursday conditionally vetoed legislation, which targets unregulated consultants engaged in foreclosure “rescue” scams against distressed homeowners.
The governor took the action in what is described as an effort to avoid unintended consequences of provisions “contained in an otherwise well-intentioned piece of legislation.
Christie’s changes to the bill are designed to protect distressed property owners by maintaining their ability to avoid foreclosure by entering into legitimate pre-foreclosure options, stemming further real estate losses and unnecessary bankruptcies.
As originally written by its sponsors, bill A-359 included a provision mandating that, in all instances, a distressed homeowner be paid at least 82 percent of the property’s fair market value in consideration of the homeowner’s transfer of title. (Hester, New Jersey Newsroom)
Gov. likens Parsippany school board to ‘a scofflaw’
The Parsippany School Board has called a meeting for next week to consider the latest threat by state officials over Superintendent Lee Seitz’s salary while a spokesman for Gov. Chris Christie compared its actions over the past few months to those of “a scofflaw.”
The board will meet Thursday to discuss
the state’s demand that it cut Seitz’s pay by $43,000 to comply with a salary cap or face the prospect of losing as much as $3.6 million of state aid.
“We’ll discuss the issue and if the board wishes to take action, we’ll do it right then and there,” Parsippany School Board President Frank Calabria said Thursday. “My hope is that we can solve the problem and all of us can get on with other things.” (Koloff, Gannett)
Judge fighting Christie’s pension, health benefits asks N.J. Supreme Court to review case
The attorney for the Superior Court judge who succeeded in getting Gov. Chris Christie’s pension and health benefits changes declared unconstitutional for jurists is asking the state Supreme Court to take up the issue to resolve it as soon as possible.
Judge Paul DePascale filed his request today, a day after Superior Court Assignment Judge Linda Feinberg said she wouldn’t stop her decision barring increased contributions from the jurists from going into effect while the state appeals.
Last week Feinberg said Christie’s changes to the pension and health benefits plan is unconstitutional as it applies to Superior Court judges and Supreme Court justices because of a state Constitution prohibition against the diminution of their salaries while they are in office. (Spoto, The Star-Ledger)
Cerf assembles expert team to review school funding
Gov. Chris Christie has long said he doesn’t much like how – and how much — New Jersey funds its public schools, especially its urban districts, and more recently he has said changes would be coming with his next state budget plan in early 2012.
Not surprisingly, Democrats have cried foul, with leaders calling for the administration to show its hand. Senate President Stephen Sweeney (D-Gloucester) wrote to acting Education Commissioner Chris Cerf demanding details of what changes he has in mind.
Now, some information is starting to come out.
Cerf said yesterday that he has enlisted a team of nearly a dozen academics, researchers, and others to look at the effectiveness of the current School Funding Reform Act (SFRA) formula and help him come up with changes. (Mooney, NJ Spotlight)
Sweeney still spending from fund for last primary
Senate President Stephen Sweeney hasn’t been a Gloucester County freeholder since December. But he still talks politics with his freeholder pals at restaurants like Filomena’s in Deptford – and he pays the tab with money from his Sweeney for Freeholder account.
Since January, the account has been tapped for $765 for cigars, $1,118 for a dinner at the Prime Rib in Washington, and more than $10,000 for political meetings at South Jersey restaurants, including a $471 caucus meal last month at Di Paolo’s Italian Ristorante in Penns Grove.
Also last month, Sweeney for Freeholder paid $16,000 for polling.
The account, intended for the June 2011 primary, “is going to be shut down by the end of this year,” Sweeney said this week. (Rao, The Philadelphia Inquirer)
NJ special panel OKs borrowing $1.3B for transportation projects
With few lawmakers willing to talk about raising New Jersey’s gas tax during an election year, a special legislative committee agreed to borrow $1.3 billion to avert a shutdown of state transportation improvements.
The vote Thursday by the Joint Budget Oversight Committee provides funding for a five-year, $8 billion transportation spending plan Governor Christie proposed in January. Earlier votes had authorized the debt, but the state had yet to actually borrow the money.
If the special committee — made up of members of both the Assembly and Senate budget committees — did not approve the debt reauthorization, road and bridge projects across New Jersey may have been forced to shut down due to the state’s highway financing infrastructure improvements. (Reitmeyer, The Record)
N.J. unlikely to see sports betting soon
There’s apparently wide support for allowing sports betting in New Jersey, but even if voters endors
e the wagering in a nonbinding referendum next month, it could be years before the first legal bets are laid down on the Jets, Giants and Eagles.
Voters will be asked Nov. 8 if they want the Legislature to pass laws allowing sports betting to take place at Atlantic City casinos and at racetracks. The latest Rutgers-Eagleton Poll shows the measure is supported by 58 percent of likely voters, with 31 percent opposed.
However, a federal law that bans sports betting in New Jersey and 45 other states would still need to be repealed or overturned — something legal experts say is likely to occur, but as part of a lengthy process. (Jordan, Gannett)
Ties cited in Newark aid disbursement
Consultants and contractors with ties to Newark’s mayor and to the state education chief received nearly a third of the first $13 million spent from the $148 million contributed to the city’s schools by Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg and other donors.
A listing of the spending was reported Thursday in the Star-Ledger.
Zuckerberg announced his $100 million donation in September 2010 on Oprah Winfrey’s show with Gov. Christie and Newark Mayor Cory Booker.
They heralded the gift as a sign that a charity and school officials, as well as Republicans and Democrats, could work together to transform a long-struggling urban school district. (The Associated Press)
Poll: N.J. voters support Occupy Wall Street
New Jerseyans taking part in the Occupy Wall Street protest in New York City or a related demonstration in Philadelphia have the support of the state’s voters by a margin of 46 to 29 percent, according to a Fairleigh Dickinson University PublicMind poll published Thursday.
Meanwhile, 4 of 5 voters (81 percent) are following the protests, with 3 of 5 (62 percent) saying they’ve heard “a great deal” about them.
“Sympathy for the Wall Street protesters is a direct reflection of voters’ general dissatisfaction with the direction of the country,” Prof. Peter Woolley, the poll‘s director, said. “Something broke and voters know that whatever it was, it hasn’t been fixed.” (Hester, New Jersey Newsroom)
Taking your medicine: the politics of north and south
For Gov. Chris Christie, deciding to merge Robert Wood Johnson Medical School, the School of Public Health, and the Cancer Institute of New Jersey into Rutgers University to give the state’s flagship university its own medical school was the easy decision.
Understandably, officials at the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey (UMDNJ) and their allies in Newark and Essex County were not happy about Christie’s quick – although not unexpected — decision. It took away three of UMDNJ’s major schools in order to immediately implement the merger recommendation of his UMDNJ Advisory Committee. (Magyar, NJ Spotlight)
Senator Robert Menendez launches website, video ahead of 2012 campaign
Sen. Robert Menendez, who is expected to seek re-election next year, has launched a new campaign website and video.
The site, MenendezforNJ.com, precedes any official announcement from the Hoboken Democrat.
The video shows the senator’s two grown children talking about their father’s love of the theater, video games and bowling.
If the former Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee chairman runs again, he will be on the ballot as President Barack Obama also seeks a second term.
An October Quinnipiac University poll showed voters split 40 percent to 38 percent on whether Menendez deserves another six-year term. (The Associated Press)
South Jersey voting-machine incident makes waves
When the returns came in for the Cumberland County Democratic Committee last summer, Cynthia Zirkle couldn’t believe what she was seeing.
Only 86 votes were cast in the race to represent h
er district in Fairfield Township, and despite assurances from dozens of friends, Zirkle and her husband, Ernest, had managed to win just 19 votes between them.
“I can’t believe that’s correct,” Zirkle told her husband, a retired veterinarian and the town’s deputy mayor.
The couple sued the Cumberland County Board of Elections and discovered that due to a programming error, their results had been switched with those of their opponents. In a rare turn of events, a new election was ordered, which the Zirkles handily won. (Osborne and Rao, The Philadelphia Inquirer)
GOP faces battle for Assembly in 5th Dist.
Republican Wil Levins says his bid for the Assembly in the heavily Democratic 5th District hardly compares to his first campaign.
“When I ran in 2009 I was as green as the grass,” says the 37-year-old who previously lost a race for Gloucester City Council. “Now I’ve got a tremendous staff volunteering their time.”
The change may feel like night and day to Levins, but the political reality is ice cold: Democratic incumbents have long dominated the district that stretches from Camden to West Deptford.
The 5th currently is represented by Sen. Donald Norcross and Assemblymen Angel Fuentes and Gilbert “Whip” Wilson, all Democrats from Camden. (Roh, Gannett)
Candidates: Legislative District 9
The Republican incumbents and their Democratic challengers seem to agree more than they disagree on the major issues facing the 9th District.
Covering 23 municipalities in Ocean, Atlantic, and Burlington counties, this Jersey Shore district is suffering from the poor economic climate affecting the rest of the state, but there are some issues unique to the area.
And on issues like cleaning up Barnegat Bay and the decommissioning of the Oyster Creek nuclear plant, it would be hard to tell which candidate represents which party. (Zambito, NJ Spotlight)
30th District foes focus on taxes
Property taxes, education costs and shared services are among issues that candidates for Senate and Assembly seats in the 30th Legislative District say are important to voters in their communities.
Seven candidates will face off for two Assembly seats and the Senate seat in the newly redrawn district on Nov. 8. Incumbent Republican Sen. Robert Singer is challenged by Democrat Steven Morlino for the Senate seat.
Sean Kean, currently a Republican state senator in the 11th Legislative District, and David Rible, a Republican assemblyman in that district, are running for Assembly seats in the new 30th District. That district was among those redrawn earlier this year because of Census 2010 results. The new map takes effect in January. (Sahn, Gannett)
Senate Race: Legislative District 37
The Port Authority toll hikes are getting almost as much attention as the economy and property taxes in the race for three legislative seats representing the 37th District. That’s because only the Hudon River separates New York City from this Bergen County District, home to the New Jersey end of the George Washington Bridge.
But while most of the seven candidates for seats in both houses abhor the toll increases that will bring the maximum cost to cross the river to $17 in 2014, their positions on the economy and education are varied enough to give voters a clear choice at the polls next month. (O’Dea, NJ Spotlight)
Foes in 38th differ on jobs, property taxes
The Democrats and Republicans seeking legislative seats in the 38th District agree on at least two points: Property taxes and job growth are the biggest issues in the race.
But where they differ is how they propose to control taxes and secure more jobs in the district that covers a swath of central Bergen County and Hawthorne in Passaic County.
GOP state Senate candidate John Driscoll Jr. and his Assembly running mates Richard Goldberg and Fernando Alonso hope to unseat Sen. Robert Gordon, D-Fair Lawn, and Assemblywoman Connie Wagner, D-Paramus, and outpace Maywood Mayor Timothy Eustace. (Sudol, The Record)
Medford mayor: I won’t resign
Medford Mayor Chris Myers told the Courier-Post Thursday he won’t resign, but he didn’t deny allegations made on an anonymous website that he paid for gay sex while visiting California last October.
The Republican married father of two and his Cherry Hill attorney were unreachable over the past week, with Myers on a scheduled business trip to Spain.
Meanwhile, media outlets nationwide and from London to Australia published the allegations. Wednesday night, Myers was ridiculed by “Tonight Show” host Jay Leno. On Monday, liberal television host Keith Olbermann labeled the 2008 congressional candidate a “worst person.” (Rosen, Gannett)
Association: N.J.’s hospitals engineer $18.6B in economic activity
Garden State hospitals are working to keep patients healthy, but in doing so, they’re also providing first aid to the state’s economy, according to a report issued today by the New Jersey Hospital Association.
The state’s hospitals contributed $18.6 billion in economic activity in 2010, according to the report, which also shows hospitals employ 140,000, including 114,000 full-time employees. The state Department of Labor and Workforce Development reports health care and social assistance accounts for nearly 500,000 jobs here. (Caliendo, NJBIZ)
N.J. will guard anglers’ access
Bowing to an outcry from fishermen worried about getting kicked off the beach at night, New Jersey environmental officials are rewriting their proposed beach access-rules to protect anglers’ right to fish during off-hours.
The move by the state Department of Environmental Protection addresses a key complaint about the new rules that emerged at a series of contentious public hearings this spring.
The DEP undertook a sweeping revision of beach-access rules, moving away from a one-size-fits-all rulemaking approach in favor of letting individual Shore towns write their own rules. (Parry, The Associated Press)
Governors office: Judge’s stay denial unsurprising, self-serving
The governor’s office said today that the decision Wednesday denying a stay of the judicial pension ruling while it is appealed is unsurprising.
“This self-serving decision in favor of 432 elitist judges is not surprising,” said spokesman Michael Drewniak.
“New Jersey public employees and taxpayers can be assured that we will exhaust the judicial appeals process to ensure that everyone pays their fair share in the state pension system. (Mooney, State Street Wire)
Ramos to N.J. Transit: Can the No. 7 train stop in Hoboken?
Assemblyman Ruben Ramos, (D-33), of Hoboken, likes the idea of New York’s No. 7 train extending to New Jersey and landing at Secaucus Junction. He just has one question: can it stop in Hoboken?
“I am excited by this idea, as are many residents of Hudson County,” Ramos wrote in a letter to N.J. Transit Executive Director James Weinstein. “As you know, many neighborhoods in Hudson continue to populate with commuters who travel to and from New York City on a daily basis…Consequently, I write to express my interest in the prospect of a station in Hoboken at which the No. 7 would stop.” (Carroll, State Street Wire)
NJPIRG study raises caution about red light camera programs
A report released Thursday criticized the use of red-light cameras, saying that the devices are more about raising revenues than about enhancing public safety.
In addition, the report says that any measures taken by towns and local officials to correct flaws have been hampered by lawsuits from vendors, among other things. (Hassan, State Street Wire)
Voters should pay attention to the chosen 120
You wonder how these things begin. On Nov. 8, voters in New Jersey will decide who represents them in the Legislature. All 120 seats are up for grabs. Well, not really.
At best two, maybe three legislative districts are considered competitive. That means either most incumbents will be reelected or the party faithful who were socially promoted up the food chain in a safe district will become legislators.
Even the competitive races are populated by individuals chosen more because of brand recognition, not because of their public policy smarts. (Doblin, The Record)