Morning News Digest: December 13, 2011
By Missy Rebovich
Panic in the delegation
With the deadline for a new Congressional map just over a week away, sources connected with the redistricting commission report that members of the state’s House delegation are on heightened alert, each wary that the seat that disappears could be theirs.
Phone calls from delegation members and their staffs have spiked, sources say, since a report last week that the commission could be leaning toward a so-called fair fight district that would combine U.S. Rep. Scott Garrett’s 5th District and U.S. Rep. Steve Rothman’s 9th District, pitting the two men against each other in November.
“It’s like they finally woke up and realized that come next week, one of them could be gone,” said one source connected with the commission. (Isherwood, PolitickerNJ)
Christie brings out the state GOP for Romney
Gov. Chris Christie tonight declared New Jersey “Mitt Romney country ” as the New Jersey governor helped raise more than $1 million for the GOP presidential hopeful.
Christie appeared with Romney and a host of Republican luminaries at the Hilton in Parsippany where the state politicos threw their support behind the former governor of Massachusetts.
“I am thrilled to have all of you tonight in support of the person who I believe is the best qualified man to be president of the United States, and the only man who can send Barack Obama back to Illinois,” Christie told the crowd of about 500. “Behind you represents 100% of all of the Republican county chairs tonight endorsing Mitt Romney.” (Isherwood, PolitickerNJ)
Christie makes appointments and nominations
Governor Christie today filed the following nominations with the State Senate. The Governor’s nominations are subject to the advice and consent of the State Senate. The Governor also today filed a notice of intent to nominate one superior court judge. (Isherwood, PolitickerNJ)
With help from Christie, N.J. fundraiser for GOP presidential hopeful Mitt Romney raises more than $1M
Fresh from his trip to Iowa to boost GOP presidential hopeful Mitt Romney’s standing with Republican caucus voters, Gov. Chris Christie tonight helped fill the candidate’s campaign coffers.
The governor hosted Romney at a fundraiser Christie said took in $1.1 million for the former Massachusetts governor. Billed as the Romney campaign’s “New Jersey Kickoff Reception,” the high-priced shin-dig at the Parsippany Hilton cost a minimum of $500 and drew more than 500 people.
Almost every Republican bigwig in the state showed up, sending the message that the New Jersey Republican establishment is in lock step behind Romney — and Christie, his highest profile surrogate on the campaign trail. The governor said all 21 county chairmen are endorsing Romney, as are 14 of 16 Republican state Senators and 27 of 33 GOP assembly members. (Friedman, The Star-Ledger)
Christie orders more state troopers into crime-ridden Camden
Gov. Chris Christie Monday ordered that additional state troopers be sent to aid the Camden police in the crime-ridden and poverty-stricken city.
The directive will provide more troopers for targeted patrols in areas of Camden identified as crime hot spots. Christie‘s action is also part of the effort to implement a regionalized police force in Camden County.
“As Mayor (Dana) Redd and county officials are taking bold, necessary action to implement a long term policing strategy centered on a regionalized police force, I am taking action to deploy additional resources to support the public safety needs of Camden right now,” Christie said. “This targeted deployment of state personnel and assets will have an immediate impact in curbing violence and crime and protecting the people of Camden.” (Hester, New Jersey Newsroom)
Unusual move by Christie in feud over judgeships
Caught in a power struggle with the State Senate, Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey took an unusual tack on Monday, moving the state’s attorney general into a top job at the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, but only until she can be confirmed as a judge in Essex County.
Mr. Christie said that Paula T. Dow, who has been attorney general for almost two years, would try to solve some of the “problems” at the Port Authority while awaiting approval for the judge’s position, which she is said to be seeking. Her departure will clear the way for Mr. Christie’s chief counsel, Jeff Chiesa, to succeed her as attorney general, on Jan. 1.
The governor said that Ms. Dow should “clearly sail through the confirmation” for the judgeship because state lawmakers have already confirmed her as attorney general and, previously, as Essex County prosecutor. Mr. Christie, a Republican, alluded to his standoff with Democratic leaders, which has left one-fourth of the judgeships in Essex County Superior Court vacant and forced the county’s assignment judge to suspend hearings on some cases. (McGeehan, The New York Times)
In nominating Paula Dow for Essex County judgeship, Christie makes Dems a peace offering
Shaking up his administration and raising the stakes in his showdown with Essex County’s Democratic senators, Gov. Chris Christie said Monday he will nominate Attorney General Paula Dow for a state Superior Court judgeship.
The announcement provided a new twist in a political battle in which Christie, angry that his nominations of acting Education Commissioner Christopher Cerf and others are being held up by the senators, is refusing to nominate anyone to the state court in Essex County. The standoff is worsening a severe court backlog in the county.
But Monday, Christie put forth Dow’s nomination as a “peace offering.” He challenged the senators to approve her for the bench — even though some expressed reservations about her in the past — or risk being seen as blocking help for the court.
“To not (approve Dow) would be the height of hypocrisy given they have voted for her twice,” Christie said. (Baxter, Megerian and Friedman, The Star-Ledger)
Christie orders state police into Camden to help curb crime surge
Gov. Christie ordered a state police surge Monday in Camden to help curb a jump in crime amid sharp cutbacks in the city’s police force.
State officials would not say how many more troopers would join a contingent that has been working in the city, when they would arrive, and how long they would stay.
Law enforcement sources said last week that troopers were expected as early as Monday evening.
The reinforcements came after calls to the state by Mayor Dana L. Redd and Camden County Prosecutor Warren W. Faulk for assistance for the police force, which suffered massive layoffs in January.
“We believe this increase in law enforcement resources is the best way to aid the Camden Police Department and the people of the city in an immediate manner,” Attorney General Paula Dow, who has been nominated to a Superior Court judgeship, said in a news release. (Simon, The Philadelphia Inquirer)
Sick-leave bill stalls over cash payouts
The Democrat sponsoring a bill to end five- and six-figure sick-leave payouts for retiring public employees clashed with New Jersey’s Republican governor on Monday over whether accumulated sick time should have limited cash value — or none.
Sen. Paul Sarlo of Bergen County told The Associated Press that Gov. Chris Christie is holding up the bill over a relatively small difference that would end unlimited payouts for all future employees.
The sticking point is over whether to eliminate the sick time’s cash value, as Christie wants, or to allow retiring employees to cash out a nominal amount, as Sarlo wants, to discourage employees from using up their sick-leave allotment every year.
“A year ago the Legislature unanimously passed (a bill) with input from Democrats, Republicans and the governor’s office and put a bill on his desk that would have immediately stopped all of these ridiculous sick payouts,” Sarlo said. “While the governor has grandstanded the past year, and argued about whether it should be $15,000 for employees or $0, he has cost these municipalities money.” (Delli Santi, Associated Press)
Sports-betting bills up for votes
The authors of New Jersey’s proposed sports betting law said Monday they are willing to drop portions that would let people bet from their home computers or cellphones to get Gov. Chris Christie to sign it.
Sen. Ray Lesniak, an Elizabeth Democrat, said he’ll drop those provisions if he can’t persuade Christie, a Republican, to go along with them. The bill is due for final votes in the Senate and Assembly on Thursday.
Soon after Lesniak made his comments, the sponsor of a similar bill in the Assembly said he also plans to drop Internet and phone betting when his measure comes up for a vote Thursday.
Lesniak says it’s important to pass a law authorizing sports betting — even without Internet or phone betting — so the state can quickly ask a court to overturn a federal ban on sports betting.
“I am willing to not include it in the bill, only because I want to get into court as soon as possible to have the federal law declared unconstitutional,” he said. (Parry and Delli Santi, Associated Press)
Critics contend new bill imperils water quality, encourages sprawl
Despite strong protests from virtually all of the state’s environmental organizations, a Senate committee yesterday easily approved a bill that would delay much contested water quality management rules, a step opponents said would weaken protections that safeguard drinking water and avert sprawl.
The near unanimous approval by the Senate Economic Growth Committee, with only its chairman abstaining, appears to put the measure (S-3156) on the fast track for approval in the lame duck legislative session that ends early in January. The latest version of bill only became available for review late last week.
If approved before a new legislature is sworn in, its passage would mark the latest twist in a long effort to allow sewer service expansions in the state, an issue that is critical not only to economic development, but also to preservation of open space and farmland in a state fast losing both. (Johnson, NJ Spotlight)
N.J. Assembly panel clears bill requiring school officials to notify parents of absentee children
An Assembly panel today approved a bill to force public school administrators to notify parents when their child does not show up for school, unless the parents have already let the school know about the absence.
The bill (A416), which the Assembly Education Committee cleared unanimously, is called “Tabitha’s Law” after Tabitha Tudor, a 13-year-old who went missing in Nashville, Tn. Although school officials received no notification that she would be absent, they did not notify her parents when she did not turn up. Tudor’s parents did not learn about her disappearance until 4:45 in the afternoon.
“Due to the delay, law enforcement officials and Tabitha’s parents lost an entire day before their search could begin,” says the bill’s text. “Tabitha is still missing.” (Friedman, The Star-Ledger)
N.J. bill would end waiting time to wed
A bill that aims to have New Jersey compete with other states that have created a small industry around weddings has passed an Assembly committee.
The bill, sponsored by Assemblyman Louis D. Greenwald, D-Camden, would eliminate the state’s 72-hour waiting period for a marriage license in order to give New Jersey a “competitive edge” over neighboring states when it comes to tourism dollars generated from weddings.
“Eliminating the waiting period and increasing the license fee mirrors those other states, including Nevada, who have led the regional weddings market and grown their municipal and state revenues,” Greenwald said before his bill was debated by the Assembly Judiciary Committee on Monday. “By eliminating that waiting period, couples do not have to fly in three days earlier to get a license, a hardship that can result in them choosing another state.” (Schoonejongen, Gannett)
NJEA says Christie’s argument that teachers ‘only work 180 days’ is inaccurate
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie is of the opinion that teachers don’t work hard for the money, but the New Jersey Education Association argues the facts say otherwise.
The governor claimed in a forum at the University of Notre Dame on Nov. 18 that teachers only work 180 days — or just half the year — and make around $60,000.
Well, the NJEA would give Christie a big fat F for failing to prove his statement.
“It’s a bit like saying that the governor is only working on days when he signs bills,” NJEA spokesman Steve Baker said. “In other words, wrong, and intentionally misleading.” (Greene, New Jersey Newsroom)
Standoff threatens Monmouth Park racing
Gov. Chris Christie pinned blame on a horsemen’s association for the meltdown of a plan to lease state-owned Monmouth Park and threatened that racing at the Oceanport track “will disappear’’ if a new deal doesn’t take shape in a week.
Christie on Monday also labeled the New Jersey Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association as “completely untrustworthy.” He said the union made changing demands that pushed away investor Morris Bailey, who has ended negotiations to take over the money-losing track and off-track wagering facilities for five years.
Leaders of the horsemen’s group countered that state officials fouled things up when they reneged on a promise to transfer a license for a small portion of race dates to the horsemen. (Jordan, Gannett)
Administration reveals which charters have made the first cut
With every detail of its process under scrutiny, the Christie administration said yesterday that 17 of 42 applications for new charter schools in the state have made the first cut in the latest review, while the remainder have been eliminated, at least for now.
Included in the latter group were a couple of the more controversial proposals, including a plan for an online charter out of Teaneck that had caused a budget stir and protest in that Bergen County town. A second online proposal also fell short, as did the only two proposals this round for charters in Paterson.
But in taking the unusual step of releasing the list midway through the process, the administration disclosed that some other contentious plans remain in the running. They include language immersion schools in Essex and Middlesex counties, and a proposal for a Montclair charter school making its fifth try. (Mooney, NJ Spotlight)
Newark’s first foray into teacher evaluation pilot, with teachers front and center
By the district’s last available count, only about 1 percent of Newark’s teachers – or 32 of them — got unsatisfactory evaluations in 2009-2010, while better than 90 percent were deemed proficient or distinguished.
For a district where a good third or more of students struggle to compute or read on grade level, that’s tough math for Newark school superintendent Cami Anderson and her staff to reconcile.
Last night, in an effort aimed at both standing firm on raising teacher quality and making educators part of that process, Anderson launched the first public stage in her plans for overhauling the district’s teacher evaluation system and convened an advisory group of teachers, administrators, and others to hear the first outlines of the strategy.
The outline was a mix of patience and practice, including further details on the basic components of how teachers would be observed in their classrooms, but also an extended timeline and a pledge to include staff and community all along the way. (Mooney, NJ Spotlight)
As federal healthcare subsidy winds down, what will happen to NJ’s early retirees?
The 2010 Affordable Care Act helped many U.S. employers through some of the worst of the recession by awarding $5 billion in subsidies to them in order to provide health coverage for early retirees who were too young for Medicare. The program attracted little attention in New Jersey, but it’s brought more than $300 million to about 90 New Jersey employers — including the state of New Jersey, which got $98.6 million to cover prescription drugs for state and local government workers who retired early. Verizon Communications, at $162.9 million, tops the list of New Jersey-based employers who’ve benefitted, according to figures through December 2 from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. (Fitzgerald, NJ Spotlight)
Elected official, 24, hopes to interest peers in politics
Three blocks up from the historic brick train station — past the Grid Iron Waffle Shop, the grocer and a flock of quaint two- and three-story buildings — Alex Torpey was working at his desk one recent afternoon in South Orange’s Village Hall.
Two young women who visited his cluttered office asked him to speak at a school health fair, and Mr. Torpey gladly agreed. Maybe, he said, he could even play sports with the children.
“I used to play tennis,” said Mr. Torpey, stretching out his long legs, covered in bluejeans. “I remember the good old days, when I had time to get exercise.”
Those good old days were three years ago, when he was 21 and a student at Hampshire College in Massachusetts. Since May, when he was elected village president as an independent candidate, he has been eating, sleeping and tweeting South Orange affairs, as the equivalent of a mayor. (Hoffman, The New York Times)
N.J. spruce donated to Drumthwacket
When guests attend large holiday gatherings at Drumthwacket in Princeton Township, the official residence of New Jersey governors, they’ll celebrate under a 12-foot Norway spruce donated by Chris Nicholson, owner of Hidden Pond Farm in Mendham.
“Our board of directors expressed an interest in donating trees to Drumthwacket and other places to give back to the community, and to do some good,” said Dominick Mondi, executive secretary of the 300-member New Jersey Christmas Tree Growers’ Association. “Drumthwacket’s director of grounds was interested, so I visited. As soon as I saw where the tree would go, I called Chris.”
Why? Although the historic Drumthwacket home is filled with smaller trees that are decorated for the holidays by members of New Jersey garden clubs, the association’s tree would be placed in an oversized, heated tent on the back terrace used for big holiday functions. (Staff, Gannett)
Camden County bonds face downgrade from Moody’s
Moody’s Investors Service delivered a warning to Camden County government Monday by attaching a negative outlook to $30 million in county-backed revenue bonds to be used for capital projects.
“A negative outlook means there is risk of a downgrade in the next year or two” said David Jacobson, a Moody’s analyst.
Unlike Collingswood where bonds were downgraded earlier this year, Camden County maintained its Aa2 rating. However, Moody’s put it on notice that its $734.9 million in outstanding, county-backed debt is approaching overload.
County-guaranteed bonds are secured by its “full faith and credit and unlimited taxing authority,” Moody’s said. If a project fails for one reason or another, county residents must pay the bill with their tax dollars. (Stilwell, Gannett)
NJ Nets owner and Russian tycoon Mikhail Prokhorov takes on Putin in election
Mikhail Prokhorov, one of Russia’s richest tycoons and the owner of the New Jersey Nets basketball team, said Monday he will run against Prime Minister Vladimir Putin in the March presidential election.
Prokhorov has been cautious not to cross Putin’s path in the past, but the billionaire may pose a serious challenge to Putin, whose authority has been dented by alleged widespread fraud during Russia’s Dec. 4 parliamentary election.
Putin’s party only won about 50 percent of that vote, compared to 64 percent four years ago, and the fraud allegations have allowed opposition parties to successfully mount massive anti-Putin protests in Russia. (Associated Press)
Lawmaker says safeguards may be needed if prescription drug merger goes through
New Jersey lawmakers don’t have any say in a proposed $29 billion merger between two of the largest prescription benefit management companies in the United States, but the Assembly State Government committee hosted a hearing on the proposal Monday anyway because the committee chair says she’s gathering information that may be used to put protections in place here should the merger go through.
“What I’ve heard today at the hearing is leading me to believe that while this (proposed merger) may be good for Express Scripts and Medco, it’s probably bad for New Jersey,” Chairwoman Linda Stender, (D-22), Fanwood, told State Street Wire after a 90-minute hearing. (Hooker, State Street Wire)
Cardinale withholds judicial votes because pension contribution question ‘out of order’
As the first of several judges came before the Senate Judiciary Committee today for appointment, state Sen. Gerald Cardinale, (R-39), of Demarest, tried to inquire as to her opinion on the Supreme Court case in which a sitting judge is challenging the state’s pension and benefit reform as it relates to judicial contributions.
Before the candidate, Allison Accurso, could even formulate an answer to Cardinale’s question, Chairman Nicholas Scutari, (D-22), of Linden, cut her off. (Carroll, State Street Wire)
Essex Bar Assoc. wants judicial vacancies issue resolved
A letter sent today from the Essex County Bar Association to state lawmakers recounts how severe the judicial backlog due to vacancies has become in that county. The bar association seeks a meeting to resolve the problem.
According to a letter to seven legislators and governor’s chief counsel Jeff Chiesa (named today to replace Attorney General Paula Dow), “The backlog is causing immediate and irreparable harm to the litigants and attorneys who practice in Essex County, and to the public’s faith in our statewide court system.” (Mooney, State Street Wire)
From the Back Room
POLITICO: Christie slaps Scarborough in text
Look for Gov. Chris Christie to make an early morning stop on “MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” some day soon after the pugnacious governor took host Joe Scarborough to task in a tweet criticizing the show’s liberal bent.
Christie sent the message as The New Yorker’s David Remnick opined on the Republican presidential race.
Who’s next this morning on Morning Joe to talk about the GOP race, George Soros?” Christie tweeted, according to Politico. (Isherwood, PolitickerNJ)
Romney relies on Christie’s to round up cash, and reluctant party regulars
Governor Christie’s staged show of force on behalf of Mitt Romney Monday night was more a demonstration of Christie’s use of force to hound reluctant Jersey Republicans into a ballroom.
The governor and the Republican State Committee held conference calls to pressure fence sitters to pledge their support and show. They enticed elected officials with free tickets.
And they filled the ballroom stage with the predominantly white, affluent Republican establishment as backdrop as Christie introduced the former Massachusetts governor.
“New Jersey, tonight, is officially Mitt Romney country,’’ Christie declared at the Parsippany Hilton.
Two days after bungling the Republican debate in Iowa with a $10,000 bet, Romney strode into to collect $25,000 from Republican bundlers in a way that was more in line with his methodical style. It was a carefully scripted, controversy-free cruise into North Jersey to collect a cool $1.1 million. (Stile, The Record)
On sick leave, a fight over compromise
With a full load of legislative priorities making its way through the pipeline, New Jersey’s Senate and Assembly appear poised for a busy end of the year.
Education reform, ending sick-leave payouts for public employees, consolidation of government services are all being debated as the Legislature winds down. How much will actually get done before the Legislature begins its new session on Jan. 10 is anyone’s guess.
And Gov. Chris Christie isn’t giving an inch on what is obviously a passion topic for both politicians and taxpayers alike.
On sick leave, Christie sounded the “zero means zero” bell again Monday and took another shot at Sen. Paul Sarlo, D-Bergen. Sarlo told the Associated Press this weekend that the governor was holding up reform by not allowing workers to cash out up to $7,500 in accumulated sick time. Instead, Christie wants to simply end the process of accumulating sick time for any payout at all. (Schoonejongen, Gannett)
New kind of N.J. school privatization on the rise
Public education in New Jersey has been roiled recently by conflicts over charter schools, vouchers and “virtual” schools — but, now, a new type of privatization is on the horizon: allowing public schools to contract with a private company to offer “alternative” education.
The idea has been promoted to school superintendents by one of their own, Mount Olive schools chief Larrie Reynolds. He says it could bring extra income both to cash-strapped school districts and to a private, Dubai-based company for which he works as a consultant.
Reynolds is a friend and former employee and business associate of acting Education Commissioner Christopher Cerf. Reynolds, who calls Cerf a “magnificent man,” recently appeared with Cerf and Gov. Chris Christie on a panel to discuss school reform.
Cerf has known Reynolds for years — hired him twice — and the relationship provides a glimpse not just into the growing political brawl over privatization, but also into the network of entrepreneurs who use longstanding contacts in both government and the private sector to try to make money on what had been a public monopoly. (Braun, The Star-Ledger)
Another defeat for anguished Corzine
There have been plenty of photographs taken of Jon Corzine over the years, with his hands against his head or under his chin, looking pensive, his concentrated stare interpreted as wholly there or somewhere else, but either way visibly, convincingly smarter than you and I and anyone else in the room.
This is the Jon Corzine that most of us know — the Wall Street wizard who parlayed his financial acumen into a personal fortune that was leveraged into a seat in the U.S. Senate and, finally, into the Statehouse where he vowed to change the way business was done in New Jersey.
The photos were taken again on Thursday, as the former New Jersey governor testified under oath before the House Agriculture Committee about his role as the head of MF Global, a brokerage firm that imploded spectacularly in late October. The company is now in bankruptcy and facing an FBI investigation into $1.2 billion in missing investor funds. (Schoonejongen, Gannett)