Morning News Digest: December 27, 2011
By Missy Rebovich
Rothman keeping options open; primary battle could be looming: source
Following the Congressional redistricting decision today, U.S. Rep. Steve Rothman (D-9) released a statement saying he is exploring his options going forward.
“Lines on a map do not change the need to continue the fight to expand opportunity for all Americans; get our economy back on track; protect middle class taxpayers, seniors, and families; stop those who would end Social Security and Medicare; and to keep our beloved nation safe,” Rothman said. “I look forward to continuing the fight for these values. In pursuit of that fight, I am looking at all my options as a result of the new map. I will make an announcement about my plans in the near future.” (Carroll, PolitickerNJ)
Rothman will move to Englewood, challenge Pascrell in redrawn district
Rep. Steve Rothman will move to Englewood and take on a fellow incumbent Democrat, Bill Pascrell Jr., in Pascrell’s district, which was redrawn last week to include parts of Bergen County, two Democratic sources with knowledge of Rothman’s plans said late Monday.
The sources said Rothman, D-Fair Lawn, called Pascrell, D-Paterson, with the news on Monday night and that Rothman will formally announce his plans Tuesday.
Rothman’s political future had been up in the air since Friday, when a state redistricting commission approved a new congressional map that put him in the same district as Rep. Scott Garrett, R-Wantage. A Rothman-Garrett matchup in Garrett’s redrawn 5th District would have pitted one of the most conservative Republicans in the entire House against a liberal Democrat who has built a career around securing federal money for the region. (Ensslin, The Record)
Acting Education Commissioner Christopher Cerf reflects on NJEA, achievement gaps
As New Jersey’s acting education commissioner, Christopher Cerf is charged with carrying out Gov. Chris Christie’s plans to overhaul some aspects of the state’s public education system.
Along with the Republican governor, Cerf has often battled with the New Jersey Education Association, the state’s main teachers union, which opposes the administration’s plans to use test scores as part of a retooled mechanism to overhaul teacher evaluations, take away the lifetime job protections of tenure for educators and introduce merit pay for educators. (Associated Press)
Moody’s downgrades N.J. cities’ bond ratings
A new shot of $139 million of state aid will keep New Jersey’s cities afloat for another year, but a bond rating agency said in statements last week that finances for the cities remain suspect.
Moody’s Investor’s Service, one of the nation’s top three ratings firms, downgraded $18.4 million in bonds for Passaic City by one notch, from A2 to A1.
Moody’s said Passaic was working with smaller reserve amounts of cash and was being forced to transfer money to its sewer utility. (Method, Gannett)
Youth suicide bill goes to Christie
New Jersey lawmakers have given their approval to a measure that would help create a statewide plan to address youth suicide prevention efforts.
The bill, which now heads to Gov. Chris Christie’s desk, calls on the state’s Children and Families Department to develop the plan, aided by the Health and Senior Services Department and the New Jersey Youth Suicide Prevention Advisory Council.
Officials would then use the plan to promote greater public awareness about youth suicide prevention services and resources. They also would seek to eliminate problems that hamper access to mental health and substance abuse services. (Associated Press)
Ex-Governor’s partner targets tiger bone trade
From the comforts of a 100-year-old Georgian Colonial he shares here with former Gov. James McGreevey, his partner, Mark O’Donnell has become the unlikely champion of legislation that could give New Jersey some of the nation’s toughest anti-tiger trafficking laws.
Mr. O’Donnell, a resolutely private man who normally lets his partner have the spotlight, is the quiet inspiration behind a bill requiring facilities housing the state’s 24 known tigers to submit DNA from the animals, install microchips in their fur and properly dispose of their bodies after death. (Haddon, The Wall Street Journal)
Schumer in-law offered judgeship
Sen. Chuck Schumer’s (D-N.Y.) brother-in-law was quietly nominated by President Barack Obama to a federal judgeship in New Jersey, even though the state’s senior senator, Frank Lautenberg, was leaning toward other candidates, according to a report Monday.
Kevin McNulty, who is married to Schumer’s sister, was nominated for the $174,000-a-year lifetime post in the U.S. District Court on Dec. 16, according to the New York Post.
“McNulty came out of left field,” the Post quoted someone involved in New Jersey’s judicial politics as saying. “McNulty’s not a dumb guy, but people were just, like, ‘How’d that happen?’ ” (Mak, POLITICO)
Ruling by U.S. Justice Dept. opens a door on online gambling
The Justice Department has reversed its long-held opposition to many forms of Internet gambling, removing a big legal obstacle for states that want to sanction online gambling to help fix their budget deficits.
The legal opinion, issued by the department’s office of legal counsel in September but made public on Friday, came in response to requests by New York and Illinois to clarify whether the Wire Act of 1961, which prohibits wagering over telecommunications systems that cross state or national borders, prevented those states from using the Internet to sell lottery tickets to adults within their own borders. (Wyatt, The New York Times)
NJ wine export issue forced by federal court
A year ago, a federal appeals court effectively ruled that New Jersey wineries may not sell from their own retail outlets and tasting rooms because out-of-state wine producers could not do the same in the Garden State.
Thus ignited the latest chapter in the dispute over direct shipping of wines.
In response to the court decision, state Senate President Stephen M. Sweeney, D-Gloucester, drafted legislation (S3172) to allow in-state and out-of-state wineries to ship directly to consumers, and to operate retail outlets in New Jersey . His goals are to give Garden State wineries that do not produce enough wine to attract wholesalers another avenue for sales, as well as to boost agriculture and support so-called agri-tourism. (Clurfeild, Gannett)
Solar power legislation now law in NJ
Legislation that will help spur the development of solar and photovoltaic energy facilities on closed landfills in New Jersey has been signed into law.
Proponents say the measure will create jobs and eliminate eyesores while helping to clean the environment and promote the benefits of alternative energy. It permits the development of solar and wind facilities and structures on closed landfills and quarries.
Both houses had approved the bill in January, but Gov. Chris Christie issued a condition veto in March, requesting that lawmakers make some technical changes. The revised version was then approved by the senate in April, and the Assembly gave its approval a few months later. (Associated Press)
Turnpike overtime boosts some troopers’ salaries by more than 50%
Ongoing construction along the New Jersey Turnpike has been a boon for a small group of state troopers who oversee the work.
A review of state payroll records by The Star-Ledger of Newark found six of the nine troopers assigned to the squad were among the top 20 overtime earners in the division last year. And most bolstered their salaries by 50 percent or more.
The six troopers tallied a combined $275,549 in overtime, or an average $45,924 each. That was four times the average paid to troopers who earned overtime last year. (Associated Press)
Road bleak for New Jersey travel projects
As the funding picture goes for federal transportation programs, so will go New Jersey’s future plans to build roads, bridges and transit projects.
From experts’ opinions to a state Department of Transportation forecast, the funding picture looks bleak.
Transportation experts interviewed worry that states will receive less federal money, due to a deficit in the federal Highway Trust Fund and a push to cut federal spending to reduce the national debt. The flip side of that coin is an aging highway and transit infrastructure that is wearing out and in some cases, is overburdened. (Higgs, Gannett)
N.J.’s cities face change
Sixty years ago, Camden was as vibrant a manufacturing city as you could find on the East Coast.
Rail cars glided through the city heading to a bustling waterfront with its ferries and the sprawling RCA plant. Ships for the U.S. Navy were built here. Camden was home to a chocolate factory and not one, but two pen manufacturers.
They’re all gone. (Murray, Gannett)
New Jersey strives to regain its recycling reputation
In 1987, New Jersey became the first state in the country to require residents to recycle, a milestone in the environmental movement that set off a massive surge in recycling around the country.
For years in the Garden State, never perceived as the most environmentally pristine of places, recycling rates grew and grew.
But in the last decade and a half, despite a global environmental movement that has turned words such as green and sustainability into popular lingo, New Jersey’s recycling program has faltered. (Osborne, The Philadelphia Inquirer)
Multiple paths for a pilot preschool
Sitting in a tall wooden chair with his feet hanging a foot above the floor, 4-year-old Sameen Abdul-Haqq proudly held up his Batman painting – a blend of black and blue lines on white paper – and fielded questions from his preschool classmates at the John S. and James L. Knight Early Learning Research Academy.
Sameen answered all queries the same: “Batman.” (Vargas, The Philadelphia Inquirer)
Dramatic dreams for Atlantic City
Back in Nucky Thompson’s fictional Atlantic City, as imagined by HBO, there was an arts district all right.
Yeah, it was Angela Darmody painting half-faced man Richard Harrow in a house on the beach, and if you watched the last two episodes of Boardwalk Empire this month, you know how that all worked out.
Not too well.
Luckily, in the present-day and real-life Atlantic City, the arts district idea, unlike Angela, is alive and kicking, if a bit pie in the sky. But it’s one of a bevy of ideas now under consideration as the master plan for Gov. Christie’s tourism district takes shape. (Rosenberg, The Philadelphia Inquirer)
From the Back Room
New NJGOP spokesman named
Doug Mayer, who served as a campaign spokesman for Adam Hasner, running for Senate in Florida, will take over as the new state GOP spokesman beginning in the New Year.
Mayer will replace, Rick Gorka, who is leaving the state Republicans to work as a traveling press secretary for the Mitt Romney presidential campaign. (Isherwood, PolitickerNJ)
Redistricting commission combines 8 and 9
I’m getting ready to drive 250 miles for Christmas, so this lacks the in-depth number crunching you’ve come to know and love me for. But here are my initial thoughts about New Jersey’s Congressional redistricting commission decision.
First, let’s drop the pretense that districts 5 and 9 were combined. They weren’t. (Murray for PolitickerNJ)
Vandervalk leaves Assembly with track record for ‘calm competence’
Republican Assemblywoman Charlotte Vandervalk spent a long, distinguished career working largely below the radar in Trenton, a champion of unglamorous and difficult-to-boil-down-into-headlines health-care legislation.
But Governor Christie’s 2010 decision to slash — and, in many cases, completely wipe out — state aid for suburban Bergen County schools suddenly put Vandervalk and the rest of her Republican colleagues on the firing line. (Stile, The Record)
N.J. Sen. Robert Menendez not keen to question Jon Corzine MF Global scandal on Senate banking committee
U.S. Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) apparently is not too keen on questioning the man who handed him his current job.
Menendez, whom Jon Corzine appointed to fill his Senate seat after he was elected governor, sits on the Senate banking committee, the only congressional body charged with overseeing the regulators of MF Global, Corzine’s bankrupt company, that has yet to hold a hearing on the matter. (The Auditor, The Star-Ledger)
Iowa is irrelevant—unless Romney wins it
The Iowa caucuses are only days away, on Tuesday, January 3, 2012. The media and political observers are focussed on this event as the first contest of the Republican candidates for president in Election 2012.
The race in Iowa is now between Ron Paul and Mitt Romney. Newt Gingrich has fallen rapidly in the polls in the Hawkeye State, since he has more political and personal baggage than a Samsonite factory. (Steinberg for PolitickerNJ)