Morning News Digest: November 2, 2011
By Missy Rebovich
Hudson and Essex battle for Norcross’s attention while South Jersey braces for races
Sources close to the situation say state Sen. Nick Sacco (D-32) continues to court South Jersey Democratic Leader George Norcross regarding Assemblyman Vincent Prieto (D-32) as a possible candidate for speaker.
Norcross and Sacco plan to sit down tonight to consider the details of a leadership deal. Asked if Sacco wants to take Norcross around Essex County to Hudson, a source on the inside of the Democrats’ backroom manuevers said, “Yes.”
Sacco wants Prieto in the speaker’s chair, and as long as Essex County projects wobbly or partial backing of another term for Essex-based Assembly Speaker Sheila Oliver (D-34), the Hudson power player at least wants to keep floating Prieto as an alternative. (Pizarro, PolitickerNJ)
AP: Corzine’s MF Global admits to using missing client funds
The news gets worse by the hour for former Gov. Jon Corzine, as his tanking securities firm, MF Global, has admitted to using clients’ money to stem the rising tide of financial troubles, according to an Associated Press report.
The AP reports: “An MF Global executive admitted (using client funds) to federal regulators in a phone call early Monday after regulators discovered money missing from clients’ accounts, according to an official familiar with the conversation.”
Securities firms like MF global are required by the federal government to keep client funds and company funds in separate accounts, the AP reports, and violators can be slapped with civil penalties. (Staff, PolitickerNJ)
Christie goes direct to TV with ads in battleground districts
Gov. Chris Christie and the state GOP are up this week with television ads featuring the governor in four battleground districts.
The ads, which are running in Districts 2, 7, 27 and 38, feature the governor looking directly into the camera, touting the accomplishments from his first two years in office and telling voters, “the New Jersey comeback has begun.”
The ads conclude with a plea from the governor to help him finish the job by sending the GOP candidate to Trenton. (Isherwood, PolitickerNJ)
Republicans criticize Corzine and Obama
The Republican National Committee wasted no time trying to score political points from former Gov. Jon Corzine’s woes, issuing a news release about a presidential fund-raiser earlier this year as his investment firm filed bankruptcy.
Corzine helped raise $2 million for President Obama and the Democratic Party at a private 60-person event in his Fifth Avenue apartment in New York City. It was part of an administration effort to rebuild bridges with Wall Street contributors.
“Obama has had a lot to say about Occupy Wall Street but probably won’t say anything about Jon Corzine,” the news release said Monday. (Jackson and Fletcher, The Record)
$23 million set for N.J. worker training
Gov. Chris Christie headed to Atlantic City’s oldest business on Tuesday to tout nearly $23 million spent for worker training matching grants to businesses over the past two years and said he was “fairly happy” with progress the city has made since the state stepped in to oversee the casino district.
More than 60,000 workers have been trained using the grants at more than 400 businesses during the past 22 months, the governor’s office said.
Christie toured the historic James Candy Co., which opened in the seaside resort in 1880 and has been in the same Boardwalk building since 1920. (DeFalco, The Associated Press)
Sports betting debate lacking
New Jersey voters will be asked Tuesday whether sports betting should be allowed at the state’s racetracks and Atlantic City casinos, but the ballot question has received so little discussion in political campaigns this fall that many state voters aren’t aware of it.
A Fairleigh Dickinson University Public Mind poll conducted three weeks ago showed that only 11 percent of voters had heard “a great deal” about the issue, while 40 percent had heard nothing at all about it. The rest were evenly split between “some” and “just a little.”
The fact that no statewide elective offices are up for grabs this year contributes to the lack of buzz for this year’s only statewide referendum, said FDU poll director Peter Woolley. (Brennan, The Record)
Grades and achievement gap: Nation’s Report Card scores NJ on both
The annual numbers from the Nation’s Report Card can be confounding. Test scores cutting across grades, subjects, incomes, and racial groups . . . .
That makes it easier to understand how by some measures — according to the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) released yesterday — New Jersey is tops in the nation. Or close. By others, it’s in the middle of the pack. Or worse.
Bottom line: New Jersey’s public school students once again did quite well overall, arguably as well as any.
The new NAEP numbers are for Grades 4 and 8 in reading and math. As they typically do, New Jersey students finished in the top three in both grades and on both tests. New Jersey’s scores were as good as any state’s in the country except, arguably, Massachusetts. (Mooney, NJ Spotlight)
Sheila Oliver pushes for another term as N.J. Assembly speaker in fiery speech
Assembly Speaker Sheila Oliver came out full throttle today against members of her own party seeking to topple her as leader of the lower house.
“We are engaged not in an ideology about our party. We are engaged in a fight and a battle about political control,” Oliver said at a press conference at the Robert Treat Hotel in downtown Newark. “I am a focused problem-solving leader. I am not a ‘Go in the back door, close the door, light up a cigar and let’s make a deal’ kind of leader.”
It was an unusually fiery speech for the typically placid Oliver (D-Essex), whose first two-year term as speaker has been beset by deep divisions within her party that threatened to boil over when they passed landmark legislation overhauling public sector benefits four months ago. (Friedman, The Star-Ledger)
A 2016 pitch for New Jersey
Newark’s prominent Democratic mayor and a high-ranking New Jersey state Republican sent a joint letter on Tuesday addressed to leaders of both political parties pitching northern New Jersey as the site of a political convention in 2016.
Newark Mayor Cory Booker and state Assemblyman Jon Bramnick, Republican conference leader, said they formed the bipartisan alliance to champion something equally unusual: “a winner across the board,” Mr. Bramnick said. In today’s world, “that’s really a difficult feat.” (Hollander and Haddon, The Wall Street Journal)
Senate Race: District 19
Republican Paul Lund Jr. is the dark horse in the District 19 Senate race. The 19th has long been a Democratic stronghold, but Lund still believes that he can get a seat in the upper house.
“Every once in a while, you got to clean house,” Lund said, referring to his opponent, incumbent Democrat Joseph Vitale. “People get too comfortable. They forget who put them in and who they’re responsible to.”
Lund currently teaches math and science at St. Patrick High School in Elizabeth and before that spent 20 years in the financial services sector. He is a lifelong resident of Woodbridge. (Kassel, NJ Spotlight)
Candidates: Legislative District 23
Public school funding sets the candidates apart in the races for Senate and Assembly in the 23rd District, with Republican incumbents seeking to equalize school aid.
In the Senate race, conservative Republican incumbent Michael Doherty, author of the “Fair School Funding Act,” faces Democrat John Graf and Daniel Seyler, running as an independent.
The Assembly race pits incumbent Republican Assemblymen John DiMaio and Eric Peterson against Democrats Karen Carroll and Scott McDonald. (Daigle, NJ Spotlight)
New Jersey’s 24th District Senate race features little common ground
Ed Selby said he has not been in the right place at the right time since he was elected student council president of Glassboro State College roughly 45 years ago.
The 67-year-old Hampton Township, Sussex County, man has made a career out of losing elections.
He has lost bids for state Senate, Assembly and freeholder. And in two weeks, he will go up against a candidate he already lost to once before.
Republican state Sen. Steve Oroho, 53, is very popular, has raised five times more money than Selby and even managed to get the endorsement of an organization that represents 125 unions. (Molnar, The Express-Times)
New Jersey’s 24th District crowded Assembly race spans the political spectrum
If past elections and fundraising efforts are any indication, incumbent Republican Assembly candidates in New Jersey’s 24th Legislative District have a strong lead going into Tuesday’s election, but that has not deterred challengers from the far right and left.
Incumbent Assemblywoman Alison L. McHose and Assemblyman Gary Chiusano are facing two Democrats and two conservative independents who have very different ideas on how to govern the district. (Molnar, The Express-Times)
Candidates: Legislative District 31
One in 10 people is out of work in Jersey City and Bayonne, a rate one Republican termed as “out of control” and one reason why his team is running for a change in leadership representing the 31st in Trenton.
But the Democrats, who have held power here for as long as anyone can remember, are expected to win, if for no other reason than because there are so few Republican voters.
The Democratic Senator since 2007 is Sandra Cunningham, who not only has been Senate Majority Whip since 2008, but also is the first woman legislator for the 31st District. Cunningham is vice chair of both the Economic Growth and the Labor Committees. She is also a member of the Joint Committee on the Public Schools, Budget and Appropriations, and Legislative Oversight. (Zambito, NJ Spotlight)
Assembly Race: Legislative District 37
The Republican challengers for Assembly seats in the 37th District have pinned their hopes for unseating the incumbents on the school funding plan being pushed by one of the Senate’s most conservative members.
Gregory John Aslanian and Keith Jensen have made the Fair School Funding Act promoted by Sen. Michael Doherty the centerpiece of their campaign in this Democratic-leaning Bergen County district.
They are the underdogs in their battle against Democratic incumbent Assembly members Valerie Vainieri Huttle and Gordon Johnson. Two years ago, Huttle and Johnson beat their GOP opponents by 2-to-1 margins. (O’Dea, NJ Spotlight)
GOP, Independent 4th District hopefuls target biz-killing regulations, inefficiency
If you agree with the Republican candidates for state Senate and Assembly in the 4th District, you think there are many more ways to cut waste in the Garden State.
You think much can be done to cut the “red tape” and high taxes that cause businesses to stay away from New Jersey or leave for less restrictive states. But you’re not in lock step with Chris Christie.
like mind with Giancarlo D’Orazio, a Washington Township councilman, businessman and Senator Fred Madden’s challenger in the Nov. 8 election. And you share a philosophy with Assembly candidates Shelly Lovett, a Gloucester Township councilwoman, and Patricia Fratticcioli of Monroe Township. (Green, Gloucester County Times)
4th District incumbent Democrats willing to work with Christie if it saves taxpayer dollars, but cuts need to be tamed
Their sights are still set on taming New Jersey’s rampant costs, but they draw the line on taking from the most vulnerable.
That’s part of the message the Democrats running for the state Senate and Assembly in the 4th District are pitching. Their stance: We’ll go with the governor when we think he’s right, but some in the Garden State are losing too much.
As with other candidates, a stagnant job market, better schools and taxes are some of the big issues for Sen. Fred Madden and Assemblyman Paul Moriarty, both incumbents seeking to hold their posts Nov. 8. (Green, Gloucester County Times)
State to provide 544 N.J. law enforcement agencies with $3.5M for bullet-proof vests
The state Division of Criminal Justice is distributing $3,586,827 to 544 New Jersey law enforcement agencies to purchase or replace body armor vests for their officers.
The money is being provided to state, county and local law enforcement and corrections agencies from the state’s Body Armor Replacement Fund, which was established by legislation in 1998 and is funded through a $1 surcharge on traffic tickets and forfeitures of bail, Criminal Justice Director Stephen J. Taylor said Tuesday. (Hester, New Jersey Newsroom)
Corzine was always the risk taker
During a Christmas party at the governor’s mansion in Princeton, former Gov. Jon S. Corzine told the story of how he made the University of Illinois basketball team as a walk-on despite huge odds against him.
Corzine modestly explained that he made shot after shot during his tryout, a performance that convinced the coaches he was worth a spot on the team, but one, the governor acknowledged, he was never able to repeat.
Now Corzine — a one-term Democrat who brought the same gambler’s mentality to Trenton — is facing bankruptcy with his second Wall Street firm, MF Global, thanks to huge bets made on European debt. (Reitmeyer, The Record)
NJDOT Chief James Simpson says ARC Tunnel was flawed from start and not backed by NY
The canceled second rail tunnel under the Hudson River wasn’t supported by New York and lost some of its value when NJ Transit decided not to route it to Penn Station, New Jersey’s state transportation commissioner said Tuesday.
James Simpson made the remarks as part of a panel discussing transportation funding with former U.S. Sen. Bill Bradley and Anthony Coscia, former Port Authority board chairman and current Amtrak board member. His reply was to a direct question about the Access to the Region’s Core rail tunnel project, canceled in October 2010. (Higgs, Gannett)
To survive, medical companies in New Jersey are building new hospitals
The dazzling new hospital that will open here on Sunday looks more like a five-star resort than a medical center. It may also be the best hope for survival of its corporate parent, Capital Health, a nonprofit company that operates three health care facilities in New Jersey.
The $540 million hospital is set on a pastoral campus with a weeping fieldstone wall fountain, all private rooms, an Italian limestone staircase and amenities like a spa for cancer patients. It will replace Capital Health’s Mercer campus, a 19th-century medical center in nearby Trenton that has dingy, crowded waiting rooms and triaged gurneys lining the emergency department hallways. (Kaysen, The New York Times)
U.S. Senate approves $15M for work on proposed Amtrak tunnel spanning from Secaucus to N.Y. Penn Station
One option gives New Jersey commuters more trains to midtown Manhattan and greater control of rail schedules. The other provides better East Side access and a direct ride to see the Mets at Citi Field.
The proposed Gateway Tunnel from Secaucus to New York Penn Station and the plan to extend New York City’s No. 7 subway line to Secaucus are chugging along on different tracks, but at some point might be on a collision course. (Frassinelli, The Star-Ledger)
Fighting obesity where it lives
According to the state Department of Health, nearly a quarter of New Jerseyans are obese. The obesity rate among low-income children ages two to five is the highest in the nation at 18.4 percent. Obesity is a public health crisis that quadruples the risk of diabetes.
Despite these alarming statistics, obesity remains a stubborn threat.
That’s why the state decided a few years ago to move beyond the “traditional public health model, which is to go out and educate people and try to change their behavior,” said Peri Nearon, director of the DOH office of nutrition and fitness. In 2009 the agency received a $4 million federal grant to launch Shaping New Jersey, which seeks to revamp public policy and reshape the environment to make it easier for individuals to avoid obesity. (Fitzgerald, NJ Spotlight)
Accelerating the move to alternatively fueled vehicles
New Jersey is not being aggressive enough in moving away from its reliance on gasoline and diesel fuel to alternatively fueled vehicles, clean energy advocates told state officials yesterday.
While the state’s draft Energy Master Plan for the first time mentions alternative-fueled vehicles, its recommendations to move in that direction need to be broadened and deepened, according to a working group that assessed the opportunities of switching to a variety of alternatives, including electricity, natural gas, propane, and biodiesel. (Johnson, NJ Spotlight)
In first for EPA, agency sides with N.J. over pollutants from Pa. power plant
New Jersey is poised to see a huge reduction of harmful air pollutants from a coal-fired Pennsylvania power plant, thanks to the federal Environmental Protection Agency’s approval of New Jersey’s Clean Air Act petition.
In March 2010, Gov. Chris Christie‘s administration filed a petition to reduce air emissions from the GenOn Energy power plant in Portland, Pa., which is responsible for adding sulfur dioxide, mercury, nitrogen oxides, hydrochloric acid, lead and other harmful emissions to New Jersey’s atmosphere. Particularly affected is Warren County, though air quality in Morris, Sussex and Hunterdon counties also is affected. (Bourbeau, NJBIZ)
Union OKs pact with 4 NJ casinos, get raises
Atlantic City casino workers successfully fought off a management demand that they take pay cuts and contribute for the first time to their health benefits and pension costs.
Members of Local 54 of the Unite-HERE casino union on Tuesday overwhelmingly approved a new three-year contract with Caesars Entertainment Inc., Atlantic City’s largest casino owner with four of the city’s 11 gambling halls. A union spokesman said 92 percent of those voting cast ballots in favor of the deal, but the tally was not made public. (The Associated Press)
FBI charges 13 individuals in mob-related racketeering bust, alleges illegal takeover of publicly-traded company
The Federal Bureau of Investigation announced a thirteen-person roundup, including some allegedly mob-related individuals, on a racketeering indictment.
“The demise of Organized Crime has been greatly exaggerated,” said Michael Ward, Special Agent in Charge of the FBI’s Newark Field Office. “Criminal activities have evolved from the back alleys to the board rooms, but the same use of physical threats and intimidation to gain leverage and loot lucrative businesses for personal gain continues to this day.” (Carroll, State Street Wire)
Gasoline retailers group says it has role to play in alternative fuels changeover
The way Sal Risalvato sees it, one day there will be a last drop of oil.
That’s why he tells his membership that “they are not in the gasoline and diesel fuel business. They are in the transportation energy business.’’
His people are the 1,500 members of the N.J. Gasoline/C-Store/Automotive Association, and he reminded the Board of Public Utilities and the various supporters of alternative fuel options at today’s Energy Master Plan hearing that “We are the infrastructure.’’ (Mooney, State Street Wire)
Pallone extols Bank of America for surcharge ‘retreat’
U.S. Rep. Frank Pallone (D-NJ6), of Long Branch, on Tuesday said he welcomed the decision by the Bank of America to not charge consumers a $5 surcharge for using its debit cards, adding that he hoped the bank’s decision will prompt other banks to avoid implementing such fees.
“Charging customers a $5 monthly fee for simply using their debit cards to make everyday purchases would amount to a surcharge on working people,” Pallone said. “It would be an unwarranted charge for those who can least afford it. I’m glad to see that the Bank of America backed away from the planned fee.” (Hassan, State Street Wire)
Cerf responds to study showing widening achievement gap
New Jersey students continued to show improvement from two years ago in reading and math overall, but a severe achievement gap remains between low- and high-income students, according to data reviewed by the National Association of Educational Progress.
The state maintained its standing as the second highest performing state in reading scores among fourth- and eighth-grade students, and showed improvement in math scores as well – improving from fifth to fourth in fourth-grade math and from fifth to third in eighth-grade math. In eighth-grade reading, New Jersey ranks 50 out of 51 states plus the District of Columbia in the size of its achievement gap. Only Alaska has a wider achievement gap in this category. (Hassan, State Street Wire)
New Jersey Legislative forecast
New Jersey goes to the polls seven days from now.
Well, actually very few New Jerseyans will go to the polls seven days from now. Statewide registered voter turnout will fall below 30% for the first time since records have been kept. So many seats are considered a lock that many incumbents won’t even demonstrate a minimal level of respect for voters by answering the media’s candidate questionnaires.
Considering how irrelevant voters are to the process I have decided to save us all the effort and announce the winning margins for all 120 legislative seats a week ahead of the election. (Murray, PolitickerNJ)
Much is at stake in Whelan-Polistina State Senate race
There is virtual universal consensus among political players and operatives that next week’s legislative election results will not constitute a referendum on the performance of Governor Chris Christie. Similarly, no credible players on the New Jersey political scene are predicting loss of Democratic control of either house of the state legislature. The state legislative Apportionment Commission, under the leadership of Alan Rosenthal, enacted a map that constitutes a virtual incumbent protection plan. (Steinberg, PolitickerNJ)
Fiscal tragedy of an ill-suited pol
It’s tragic, really.
Just four years ago, when the toxic assets of the world’s financial sorcerers were still hidden from public view and the economy seemed blissfully immune to its own impending demise, ex-Gold- man Sachs golden boy Jon Corzine was Big Man at the New Jersey Statehouse.
I had just finished covering his administration briefly, before being dispatched to cover business news and the unexpected unraveling of the global economy that ensued. When Corzine’s investment firm went belly-up Monday, it was hard to look back and not be amazed at how far we have fallen – all of us – and continue to fall. (Panaritis, The Philadelphia Inquirer)