Morning News Digest: December 19, 2011
By Missy Rebovich
Winners and Losers: The week of Romney World and Christie v. Codey
This week showcased an ongoing epic fight between Gov. Chris Christie and former Gov. Richard Codey.
Many believe Codey is the most obvious candidate to challenge Christie for the governorship in 2013, and this public collision between the two statewide products is likely to be but one of many more clashes.
When he lost his car and security detail owing to what his allies said was a vindictive, self-serving govenor, Codey said Christie abused the office.
Christie said Codey liked the perks of public office more than doing the work of public office.
Whichever side you agree with, all that is certain is the fight is not over… (Staff, PolitickerNJ)
Baroni on Hartwyk: He sent me his resignation
The political gamesmanship continued this evening in the case of Port Authority attorney Chris Hartwyk.
A Port Authority official claims Hartwyck indeed sent a resignation email on Monday, but three sources close to Hartwyck are not backing from their claim that Hartwyk never resigned. Hartwyck, called several times today on his cell phone, has not responded to the discrepancy yet.
Hartwyck, cousin of state Sen. Dick Codey, reportedly resigned his position as first deputy counsel to make room for N.J. Attorney General Paula Dow, as Gov. Chris Christie announced on Monday. But three sources close to Hartwyk who claimed to speak on his behalf said Hartwyk insists he never resigned. (Carroll, PolitickerNJ)
In LD16, Team Spadea delights in Mennen Team’s invocation of arguments used by buried Dem Lewis
After having drubbed Carl Lewis out of contention in LD8 this year, the GOP establishment now wants to employ Lewis’s arguments to buttress one of its own candidates, says energized challenger William Spadea of Princeton.
Threatening to turn into a legal conflagration, the collision here involves 16th District GOP contenders William Mennen of Tewksbury and Spadea, who both want to occupy the Assembly seat vacated by the late Peter J. Biondi.
Mennen is decidedly the establishment choice, against an upstart Spadea, who aggressively challenges Mennen’s candidacy largely based on Mennen’s legal residency. (Staff, PolitickerNJ)
Panel to decide which N.J. congressional district to sacrifice
Conservative Republican Scott Garrett, whose congressional district stretches from the northwestern part of the state to the Hudson River, could be out of a job now that he has built up some clout on the powerful Financial Services Committee.
It could be Steve Rothman, a Democrat from Bergen County, who in 2007 backed a long-shot presidential candidate named Barack Obama when most Democrats in New Jersey supported Hillary Rodham Clinton.
Or it could be Leonard Lance, a mild-mannered moderate Republican from Hunterdon County, though that seems less likely.
Any way the 13-member commission slices it, when its work is done after three days of negotiations, one of New Jersey’s elected representatives will be on the way out of a job. (Friedman, The Star-Ledger)
Sen. Codey may run for governor in 2013, ally says
One of state Sen. Richard Codey’s closest allies appeared on Channel 12 today to stoke speculation that the former governor will seek the top office in 2013, and to express outrage anew over what Assemblyman John McKeon called Gov. Chris Christie’s “vindictiveness and mean-spiritedness.”
“Maybe this is the first salvo of the 2014 gubernatorial race, Codey verse Christie,” McKeon (D-Essex) said on the six-minute TV spot.
The fight started last week when Christie accused Codey and other Essex County senators of blocking confirmation of his education secretary. Codey (D-Essex) said the governor was mistaken; he had signed off on the appointment nearly a year ago. Days later the Christie administration pulled Codey’s security detail and fired a close friend and his cousin. (Portnoy, The Star-Ledger)
Poll: US moving toward sports betting acceptance
As New Jersey moves ever closer to legalizing sports betting, a new poll shows Americans are evenly split on whether it should be legal across the nation.
The Fairleigh Dickinson University’s PublicMind poll finds voters split 42 to 42 percent over whether people should be allowed to bet on professional and collegiate sports. But the trend is moving in favor of permitting it. The group’s last poll on the subject, in March 2010, found 53 percent of voters opposed to sports betting, with only 39 percent favoring it.
Poll director Peter Woolley predicts support will grow if sports betting is promoted as a new source of revenue for cash-strapped states.
“Gambling has become, for good or ill, a national industry, and you can bet that politicians and casinos all over the country are closely following New Jersey’s plans,” he said. (Parry, Associated Press)
Errors rampant in public contracts
Elected officials and their hired experts frequently failed to follow state purchasing rules when they signed off on public contracts, despite repeated efforts to educate them on the laws for spending tax money.
At least one in five of the multimillion-dollar public contracts approved by local or state governments were faulty, according to figures compiled by the Office of the State Comptroller.
Towns and agencies botched 126 of the 553 multimillion-dollar contracts drafted between July 2010 and June and reviewed by the comptroller. During that time, state spending hit $28.3 billion, and towns handled $12.2 billion in property-tax revenues, much of it on discretionary goods and services. (Fletcher, The Record)
NJ considering major high education changes
All three of New Jersey’s public research universities are now looking for new presidents amid a recommendation that at least two of the schools be reconfigured with the hope of producing more collaborative research.
While the openings at the top may put each school in a period of transition that provides an opportunity for a big merger, Gov. Chris Christie said they do not ensure that Rutgers, the New Jersey Institute of Technology and the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey will all be combined into one super-university.
“I don’t think the vacancies in the presidencies make it more or less likely to merge the institutions,” Christie said last week. The governor said he would have more to say after a task force he appointed issues its final recommendations, expected this month. Newark-based NJIT, he said, is expected to remain a stand-alone school. (Mulvihill, Associated Press)
A year after his appointment, why is Commissioner Cerf still ‘acting’?
In Gov. Chris Christie’s battle with Democrats over the confirmation of Chris Cerf as his education commissioner, a lot of political energy is being spent on a job title that most agree doesn’t mean a whole a lot in legal terms.
The symbolism may be another matter.
At issue is Cerf’s continued title as “acting” commissioner of education, exactly one year tomorrow since his appointment by Christie.
The acting part sticks with him until he is confirmed by the Senate. But the Senate has yet to even hear the nomination, since state Sen. Ronald Rice (D-Essex) has exercised his “senatorial courtesy” to block consideration due to an evolving series of objections to Cerf that now seem unlikely to go away. (Mooney, NJ Spotlight)
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Fine Print: New Jersey’s “Race to the Top” scores
What it is: New Jersey again finished out of the running for federal Race to the Top funds, this time in its Early Learning Challenge, which would provide up to $60 million for programs such as a new rating system for preschools and a “kindergarten readiness” assessment. Each state’s application was graded by a team of five reviewers, who gave numerical scores and comments on each component of the bid. New Jersey’s reviewers didn’t have any strong criticisms of the state’s proposal, but consistently found enough shortcomings that kept New Jersey from being one of the top nine that won awards.
What it will mean: The rejection sets back the state’s timeframe for implementing its plans, especially those that would have given quality ratings and follow-up training to hundreds of preschools across the state. New Jersey officials said that will still happen, but at a slower pace. (Mooney, NJ Spotlight)
Medicaid cuts stun N.J. nursing homes
Nursing homes that care for the sickest of patients should have been paid more this year under a new Medicaid reimbursement formula. But because of state budget cuts, it didn’t turn out that way.
Instead, some nursing homes that had been slated for a substantial boost in reimbursements were warned last summer to brace for a 3 percent cut — only to be told in the autumn that their rates would be slashed by more than twice that proportion.
Like all things related to nursing-home finances, the reason is complicated — so much so that long-term center operators and their advocates were themselves caught off guard by the realization that a change meant to protect some nursing homes’ bottom lines jeopardized others. (Diskin, The Record)
Freeholder chairman giving up leader seat
Bergen County Freeholder John Driscoll Jr. says he does not plan to run again for chairman of the board when the freeholders reorganize in January.
“I just feel it’s the right thing to do,” said Driscoll, a Paramus Republican who was elected to the Freeholder Board in November 2009 and became chairman in January 2011 after the GOP took control with a 5-2 majority.
“We’ve got a great team,” he added, saying he thinks any of his fellow Republicans would be able to step into the chairman’s role. He declined to say whom he would support, adding he’ll wait to see what happens at the reorganization meeting on Jan. 3.
At least two other GOP freeholders say they will be willing to serve if chosen. (Ensslin, The Record)
N.J. State Police overtime pay removed from public info search
State Attorney General Paula Dow has created new rules that will keep records of any State Police overtime pay confidential, blocking their access to the public.
NJ.com reports that Dow’s rule applies to law enforcement officers under the Department of Law and Public Safety, but total overtime figures for the departments will still be available. The measure does not apply to local police departments.
According to the Asbury Park Press, a Superior Court ruling from 2005 said that the records could be used to determine patrolmen’s assignments, like Homeland Security, undercover cases and the Executive Protection Unit. State Police overtime records had actually been shown on a state website from Gov. Chris Christie’s administration designed to promote government transparency and to use for open public records requests for state employees salary numbers. (Holt, New Jersey Newsroom)
N.J. clean water rules in jeopardy as environmentalists and developers battle over lame-duck bill
Developers and New Jersey’s leading environmental groups are waging a high-stakes battle over a bill that would delay and, in some cases, circumvent protections for the state’s clean drinking water supply.
Supporters of the measure — headed for a vote in the Legislature’s lame-duck session — say it could spur tens of millions of dollars in construction work to help kick-start a bad economy. Critics contend that argument is a smoke screen for builders who want to cash in on valuable open space.
The fierce debate surrounds rules approved in 2008 by then-state environmental chief Lisa Jackson, who now heads the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, to curtail development by limiting sewer lines and septic systems on more than 300,000 acres across the state. (Baxter, The Star-Ledger)
Employers to pay more for workers’ comp insurance
The average rate employers pay for workers’ compensation will increase 6.9 percent next year, a hike pinned to rising medical costs and the lackluster economy.
High-risk industries will pay more into the state-mandated insurance system that covers medical services when workers are injured on the job and wages while they are out of work.
The actual rate employers will pay depends on “classification codes” that reflect the risk of their industry, said Frederick A. Huber, executive director of the Compensation Rating & Inspection Bureau (CRIB), a division of the state Department of Banking and Insurance.
“There are 550 classification codes, and many will not go up 6.9 percent,” Huber explained. “Some will go up and some will go down, but the majority will go up. The 6.9 percent increase is the average increase.” (Fitzgerald, NJ Spotlight)
NJ autistic adults lack programs
Delia O’Mahony moved back to New Jersey a decade ago seeking better educational opportunities for her autistic son, Jonathan.
“We were living in the country in Ireland and they didn’t know much about dealing with autism,” said O’Mahony, who returned to the U.S. after her Irish husband died of leukemia.
But when Jonathan turned 21 four years ago, she was disappointed to learn that programs for autistic adults seemed just as scarce here.
In fact, New Jersey suffers from a severe shortage of programs geared specifically to the needs of adults with autism. That situation is likely to get considerably worse in the near future, as large numbers of autistic children graduate from special education and will likely need adult services. To make matters worse, a state policy designed to give families of developmentally disabled adults more control over care options actually denies non-profit agencies the seed money they need to create new programs. (Lipman, The Record)
New leader named for Guard in N.J.
Gov. Christie has chosen the head of the state’s Air National Guard to lead New Jersey’s National Guard until a permanent replacement is chosen for its commander, who resigned after he was caught in an inappropriate relationship with a female aide.
On Friday, Brig. Gen. Michael Cunniff, who since 2003 has been in charge of the Air National Guard, took command of the entire Guard.
The day before, Maj. Glenn Rieth offered a final salute to the state’s 9,000 soldiers and retired. Rieth and the woman were caught in his office touching each other inappropriately on Oct. 4 by another employee. That resulted in a report to the Army inspector general, according to government officials. (DeFalco, Associated Press)
Coast Guard center in NJ likely to get $11M
Plans to rebuild a condemned pier at a Coast Guard training center in southern New Jersey will now be expedited after a federal lawmaker helped secure $11 million in funding for the project.
The damaged pier at the training center in Cape May supports three 87-foot patrol boats, which perform numerous safety and security duties along the mid-Atlantic coast. The boats have been temporarily relocated to another undisclosed site, but officials didn’t expect to start rebuilding the pier until 2017. (Associated Press)
Robinson leaving Sports Authority for job with Formula One
Dennis R. Robinson announced Friday he is stepping down from his position as president and CEO of the New Jersey Sports & Exposition Authority effective Jan. 2, 2012 to become chief operations officer of the Grand Prix of America, bringing Formula One racing to West New York and Weehawken in 2013.
Robinson has served as CEO of the sports authority since December 2007, a period of significant restructuring of the authority’s mission, business lines and payroll which he oversaw, according to a press release sent late Friday afternoon.
“Dennis Robinson served the sports authority and the state with distinction during his tenure at the NJSEA. His leadership and management were a critical part of implementing the recommendations of the Hanson Commission as we move toward a self-sustaining, economically viable sports industry and a redefined role for the NJSEA,” said Gov. Chris Christie in the release. (Waters, NJBIZ)
After end of ARC, NJ Transit focuses on privatizing parking, expanding rail lines
The halting of the ARC rail tunnel project last year has allowed NJ Transit to focus on areas such as customer service, expanding existing rail lines and finding alternative revenue sources, the head of the agency told business leaders Friday.
Executive Director Jim Weinstein said the agency is currently in a 14-month process of studying how to privatize or outsource the state’s nearly 100 parking facilities. The initiative has drawn interest from several firms and parking operators, along with members of the banking industry, Weinstein said at a New Jersey Chamber of Commerce roundtable breakfast on transportation. (Burd, NJBIZ)
NJ pays newspaper’s $40K legal fees in OPRA suit
The state education department has paid more than $40,000 to cover the legal fees incurred by a New Jersey newspaper that successfully sued to gain access to department records.
Citing the state’s Open Public Records Act, the Asbury Park Press of Neptune sued after being denied full access to a list of schools the department planned to investigate for possibly tampering with state-mandated tests.
The department blacked out the school names in its test “erasure analysis” reports for 2008, 2009 and 2010 after the newspaper requested the full list. An erasure analysis examines patterns in state tests to see if wrong answers are changed to correct answers at a higher than normal rate. (Staff, Gannett)
New Jersey’s reliance on natural gas to grow, experts agree
Like it or not, natural gas will probably play a bigger role in New Jersey’s energy future.
That was the consensus of a panel of experts who convened Friday at Rider University for a NJ Spotlight Roundtable on natural gas to debate the pros and cons of promoting greater reliance on the fossil fuel — a stance embraced by the recently adopted Energy Master Plan.
From expanding the state’s network of interstate gas pipelines, to encouraging fleet owners to switch their vehicles from diesel to compressed natural gas, to generating electricity more efficiently and with less pollution, the plan envisions gas replacing more carbon-polluting alternatives. (Johnson, NJ Spotlight)
Mercer County assemblyman protests Thomas Nast’s 19th-century cartoons
The iconic images of 19th century cartoonist Thomas Nast are practically legend.
The cartoonist helped to damage New York City’s Tammany Hall political machine with his relentless attacks on William “Boss” Tweed, a notorious Democratic power broker in the 1870s. Then there are the images of the Republican elephant and Democratic donkey that we still use today to identify our political parties. Uncle Sam? That’s Nast, too. And Santa Claus? The American version of St. Nick still has a little Nast in him.
But Nast, who lived in Morristown for more than 30 years, also drew virulently prejudiced cartoons depicting the Irish as ape-like drunks and Roman Catholic clergy as sinister figures bent on destroying the American way of life. (Schoonejongen, Gannett)
New Jersey’s aquaculture industry has potential to grow
New Jersey’s fish farming industry is now advanced enough that state policy should focus on “business solutions rather than technical developments” as the best way to grab a bigger seafood market share, said state Secretary of Agriculture Douglas H. Fisher.
“We have the strength of market, plenty of customers and the infrastructure in place,” Fisher said this week at the Rutgers University aquaculture center, where he issued the first update to the New Jersey aquaculture development plan in almost 20 years.
“We have a lot of potential now that’s not being realized,” said James M. Tweed, manager of the Atlantic Capes Fisheries oyster farm on the western shore of the Cape May peninsula. (Moore, Gannett)
North Jersey wedding caterers skeptical of Assemblyman’s proposal
A state assemblyman is championing a bill that would eliminate a three-day day waiting period and ease residency requirements for New Jersey marriage licenses. The idea is to lure couples in a hurry to tie the knot and bring in more tourism dollars.
The change is aimed at helping New Jersey compete with places such as Las Vegas and Orlando, Fla., for the quickie wedding market. Not only would Atlantic City’s hotels and casinos benefit, but so might northern New Jersey’s catering halls, florists and wedding cake bakers, said Louis D. Greenwald, D-Camden, the bill’s sponsor. (Newman, The Record)
Camco nixes all bids for solar poject
A shadow has fallen on an ambitious solar energy project involving Camden County government and several other large agencies.
County freeholders have rejected all bids from the project’s would-be developers after being advised they were “legally deficient.”
The $49 million project would put solar panels atop buildings, parking areas and other property owned by the county and its library system, as well as Camden County College and the Camden County Improvement Authority.
The panels, including some atop Camden County Jail, would generate about 7 megawatts of energy, enough to offset about 25 percent of the power now being used by all of the involved parties, said Freeholder-Director Louis Capelli Jr. (Comegno, Gannett)
N.J. again left out of Race to the Top funding
New Jersey will not receive any federal education grant funds for this year that could have provided millions of dollars in aid to improve the state’s schools.
Like the other states, New Jersey applied for the Early Learning Challenge Fund grants, part of President Obama’s Race to the Top program. (Hassan, State Street Wire)
Education report: Bullying, substance abuse remain concerns
The Department of Education’s Violence and Vandalism Report for the 2009-2011 school years shows increases in bullying, drug and alcohol use, and weapons-related offenses, while the number of incidents involving property damage and physical assaults has fallen. (Staff, State Street Wire)
November revenue projections find sales and corporate tax revenues below expectations
While income tax collections saw a big spike, sales and corporate business taxes continued to fall below expectations, according to state Treasury Department data released Friday.
After the last couple of months saw drops in the state coffers from original projections, largely because of bad weather, November’s overall revenues rose 3.8 percent. But discretionary spending didn’t live up to expectations, and once again, less-than-optimal weather conditions were to blame for the sluggish tax collections. (Hassan, State Street Wire)
From the Back Room
Newt Gingrich is dipping into the New Jersey checkbook this weekend with a robo-call hyping his presidential aspirations and a request for $100.
The call begins with Newt talking up his own bid, while slamming President Obama for dragging the country in the direction of a failed “European, Socialist” nation. New t goes on to quote his polls, and tout his experience as the only candidate who has experience in solving the nation’s problems. (Isherwood, PolitickerNJ)
NJ Congressional redistricting speculation
So here we go again. Another New Jersey redistricting commission will sequester itself in New Brunswick’s Heldrich Hotel. This time, Congress is up for grabs. What will happen? Who knows? But we can speculate.
The outcome of Congressional redistricting is much harder to predict than this year’s legislative process. For one, the New Jersey Constitution has a number of standards that limit how the legislative lines can be drawn (e.g. keeping municipalities whole), whereas it offers absolutely no guidance on the Congressional map. Also, this year’s legislative tie-breaker, Alan Rosenthal, showed his hand early in the process, laying out a series of standards that pretty much locked him into choosing the Democratic map. The Congressional tie-breaker, John Farmer, has avoided making any public pronouncements of the standards he will use. (Murray for PolitickerNJ)
Christie’s fight to trim judges’ benefits spills into new venue
Governor Christie’s clash with the state’s 432 judges over health and pension benefits is being waged in the courts.
But the fight found a new venue last week: the Senate Judiciary Committee. And Christie’s chief prosecutor is Sen. Gerald Cardinale, the conservative Republican from Demarest.
Cardinale raised the issue last Monday as four judges, facing reappointment to lifetime tenure, appeared before the committee. Cardinale attempted to ask each of them if they would voluntarily agree to pay more toward their health insurance and pensions. I stress the word attempted, because committee Chairman Nicholas Scutari, a Union County Democrat, ruled the question out of order and urged the judges not to answer it. (Stile, The Record)
Chris Christie vs. Ron Rice leaves court room casualties
New Jersey is familiar by now with the might and glory of Gov. Chris Christie’s ego. Picture Julius Caesar in his chariot, waving to the plebian masses after a victory in battle, and you’re in the right neighborhood.
Sen. Ron Rice (D-Essex) isn’t so well-known, but his ego is equally breathtaking. A Marine sergeant in Vietnam during the worst of it, he has been a Democratic senator for 25 years, representing 200,000 of the poorest people in the state, most of them African-Americans living in Newark, like himself.
And now he is locked in a death grip with the governor, vowing that he’ll never back down.
“This guy can’t be pushing people around all the time,” he says of Christie. “You come after me, I’m going to shoot back.” (Moran, The Star-Ledger)
Field is clearing for Kyrillos run for U.S. Senate
The field seems to be clearing for state Sen. Joseph Kyrillos (R-Monmouth) to run for U.S. Senate next year.
The Auditor expects him to announce his candidacy shortly after Christmas.
Tim Smith, a former Roxbury councilman who had been thinking about trying to unseat Democratic U.S. Sen. Robert Menendez, has decided not to run. In a statement given to The Auditor, Smith acknowledged his decision was partly based on the prospect of facing off against Kyrillos in a Republican primary.
Smith said he had talked with Kyrillos “and learned that he is also very seriously considering running.” And he said the money spent in a primary “ultimately reduces the funds available to defeat Sen. Menendez.”
What’s more, The Auditor has learned the man considered Kyrillos’ biggest threat, state Sen. Michael Doherty (R-Warren), is also unlikely to run. With Republicans coalescing around Kyrillos, who’s close to Chris Christie, Doherty isn’t eager to buck the party. (The Auditor, The Star-Ledger)
Missing from the equation on sick pay
My husband didn’t take a sick day when my daughter was born. In fact, in his decades of employment at a state college, he perhaps took three sick days all told. It wasn’t that there was a “boat check” – the euphemism for a fat payday when one cashes out sick pay at retirement – waiting for him. His contract allowed him to carry over the 12 sick days he earned annually, but with no cash value. And that is as it should be.
But throughout the state, some public employers have negotiated contracts that enable employees to be paid for unused accumulated sick days. (Harrison for The Record)
Don’t keep telecoms on the hook
There’s plenty of clever wordplay we can use about how the Legislature should hang up on a bill that seeks to appease both sides in the ongoing battle over telecom regulation, but we’re going to limit that to just this sentence. Nonetheless, while the deregulation bills proposed by Sen. Bob Smith and Assemblyman Upendra Chivukula might please consumer advocacy groups and AARP, it doesn’t do nearly enough for one of the state’s most crucial industries.
Earlier this year, Sen. Ray Lesniak proposed a bill that would radically reduce regulations on telecommunications firms, and the measure seemed poised to sail quickly into law. However, the silver-headed brigade at AARP quickly mobilized its forces, and that was the last anyone heard about the effort for a while. With the senior vote safely in the books for another year, though, anticipation was high that Lesniak’s bill would get another chance in lame duck. (Staff, NJBIZ)
Grow NJ program could do more harm than good
The Grow NJ Program is supposed to stimulate capital projects around the state by carving out $200 million from the Urban Transit Hub tax credit program and directing it to companies that move to new facilities that cost more than $20 million.
Now, for the first time, suburban office projects would qualify for oversized subsidies and make it harder than ever for the cities to attract businesses through the Urban Transit Hub program. Looking around New Jersey, there are plenty of large deals being done in the suburbs with the incentives we already have in place. Unless Grow NJ is capped and refocused to areas that really need help, Grow NJ will do much more harm than good by increasing vacancy and forcing rents lower. (Russo for NJBIZ)
Sierra’s Jeff Tittel: Being pain is ‘my job’
On Thursday, Department of Environmental Protection Commissioner Bob Martin announced an agreement to preserve the Joseph A. Citta Boy Scout Reservation Camp in Ocean County and touted the progress of the governor’s plan to restore the Barnegat Bay.
“Gov. (Chris) Christie and I have made an unprecedented commitment to the restoration of Barnegat Bay, an ecological treasure that is vital to New Jersey residents and the state’s tourism economy,” Martin said.
A three-page press then detailed what the administration said was environmental progress in the bay achieved under the Republican governor. (Schoonejongen, Gannett)
The best case for Romney’s electability: Michigan
As the Republican presidential campaign moves into January, 2012, with the first round of primaries and the Iowa caucuses, the Romney campaign is emphasizing its contention that Mitt is the most electable Republican. They are basing this assertion on polls which show him running better against President Barack Obama nationwide than his chief rival for the GOP nomination, Newt Gingrich.
Polls are a very thin reed, however, upon which to base an argument for any prospective candidate’s electability. In presidential election years, the electorate is often fickle, and that appears to be the case in this campaign. (Steinberg for PolitickerNJ)