Morning News Digest: December 8, 2011
By Missy Rebovich
FDU Poll: Voters disapprove of Obama but Prez still beats GOP candidates in head-to-head contests
In a nationwide poll released today by Fairleigh Dickinson, 70% of voters say the country is “on the wrong track,” and the president’s disapprovals (46%) edge out his approvals (45%).
Still, Obama outpaces every potential Republican nominee for president, according to the Fairleigh Dickinson University PublicMind™.
“Any Republican challenger will have to unite a fractured base,” said Peter Woolley, a political scientist and director of the poll. “That’s a problem the incumbent president doesn’t have right now.” (Pizarro, PolitickerNJ)
Christie steps up criticism of Obama
Governor Christie intensified his criticism of President Obama on Wednesday, telling a Republican audience in Washington that Obama “is a man out of his depth” who failed to lead on economic and international issues and does not deserve a second term.
“We have in the White House a president who does not have the first idea how to use executive leadership or, I believe, any significant interest in learning any time soon,” Christie told the Republican Jewish Coalition during a daylong forum where six Republican presidential candidates also spoke.
Christie had not been as critical of Obama at the start of this year. In February, for example, he said in a CBS News interview that Obama had “shown some real courage” for bucking the powerful teachers union and supporting merit pay, and Christie praised first lady Michelle Obama for urging children to eat better and exercise. (Jackson, The Record)
Chris Christie says Iowa key to Mitt Romney
Mitt Romney will be building up his operation here over the final weeks before the caucus, but Gov. Chris Christie’s already built up the stakes.
“If Mitt Romney wins Iowa on Jan. 3, he’s going to be the next president of the United States,” Christie said, campaigning on Romney’s behalf at a Wednesday night at the headquarters of a local gas station chain.
Christie, who endorsed Romney just after ending the speculation that he’d run himself, said he doesn’t think any of Romney’s rivals could be as strong in the general election.
“He’s the only person I believe can legitimately take the fight to Barack Obama,” Christie said. “If you’re looking for the candidate who agrees with you on everything, buy a mirror.”
Christie said he wouldn’t venture a guess on Republicans’ prospects if Newt Gingrich, who’s climbed to the top of state and national polls, ends up the nominee. (Gibson and Hohmann, POLITICO)
Christie confronts hecklers
The event was designed to advance the campaign of Mitt Romney, but it couldn’t have been less Romney-esque. There were hecklers, confrontations with the audience, and plenty of references to . . . New Jersey, and its governor, Chris Christie.
The Garden State governor was the evening’s headliner at a campaign event for Romney, whom Christie has endorsed for the presidential nomination. But within minutes of Christie’s entrance on a stage at the headquarters of Kum & Go, an Iowa-based gas station and convenience store chain, protesters took over the room, commandeering a microphone and surrounding Christie.
“Mic Check: Mitt Romney and Chris Christie serve the corporate 1 percent,” they chanted. “Bust up big banks / make Wall Street pay / Put people first.” The demonstration was quickly quelled and the demonstrators, members of the Occupy Iowa Caucus group, removed. But Christie seemed to enjoy the confrontation, joking that “soon they’ll be working at the Marriott around the corner” and describing his detractors as “disillusioned and disappointed” Obama supporters. (Boxer, National Journal)
Chris Christie: ‘You’re wasting people’s time’
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie unleashed his wrath on a man at a town hall meeting and ordered him to give up the microphone after he ventured to ask the governor whether members of his staff ever “plant questions” at such events.
Christie flatly said his staff doesn’t plant questions, but the man persisted, saying he had one very specific example in mind: “March 24. Nutley town hall meeting, the second person you called on. The man in the white sweater.”
“I’ve done 70 some town hall meetings. I couldn’t tell you who the second person was I called on in Nutley. I barely remember having been to Nutley, but you obviously had it right in your mind,” Christie said, according to the Star-Ledger’s video from the event. (Lee, POLITICO)
N.J. sports betting, job creation, shared public services on table for legislature Thursday
Assembly committees Thursday will consider toughening penalties for failing to report the death or disappearance of a child, allowing New Jersey to quickly implement sports gaming should federal law be changed, promoting shared services to control property taxes and several job creation and economic development bills.
Measures to require insurance coverage for sickle cell anemia, provide for screening newborns for lysosomal storage disorders, protect sexually exploited children and improve the NJ STARS scholarship programs will also be considered.
Senate committees also will meet. (Hester, New Jersey Newsroom)
Lame-duck legislatures to consider bills today
Bills that would restore $139 million in transitional aid to struggling New Jersey municipalities, allow sports gambling in the state and move school elections from April to November are among dozens of measures to be considered by Assembly and Senate committees meeting today.
With the Legislature’s lame-duck session heading into the holiday season, today’s committee meetings are one of a dwindling number of opportunities to get measures through the lawmaking pipeline before a new session begins in January.
Of particular interest to about a dozen cash-strapped towns is the transitional aid bill, which will be the subject of a hearing before the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee. The bill restores $139 million in aid that Gov. Chris Christie cut from the state budget in June and adds $1.5 million for an oversight program the governor says is mandatory in order for the measure to get his signature. (Staff, Gannett)
School vote changes weighed
Voting on run-of-the-mill school budgets soon could be phased out in New Jersey.
Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle are supporting a measure to allow school board elections to move to November and to eliminate votes on budgets that fall under the 2% property tax cap.
Gov. Chris Christie, a Republican, has been pushing the idea for more than a year, saying that the low-turnout April elections often are a rubber stamp that benefit the teachers union. Republican governors in Michigan and Indiana recently signed bills moving school elections to November.
Under the bill, which will get a first airing in an Assembly committee Thursday, school boards, voters or municipalities could choose to move school elections to the general November election date. (Fleisher, The Wall Street Journal)
Essex County judge vacancies result in suspension of civil and family court trials
Caught in a standoff between a governor and a state senator, the Essex County assignment judge has begun suspending civil and family court trials, a move that could affect hundreds of cases in coming weeks, eventually thousands if Superior Court judicial vacancies are not filled.
Gov. Chris Christie and Sen. Ronald Rice (D-Essex) have been in a staredown over political appointments for most of the year. Rice is blocking the permanent appointment of acting state Education Commissioner Christopher Cerf. The governor, in turn, has not acted on any of six proposed nominees to the county courthouse, which has the largest caseload of any in the state. (Friedman, The Star-Ledger)
Pilot teacher evaluation system slow to gain traction in Newark
In New Jersey’s highest-profile school district, plans to test one of Gov. Chris Christie’s highest-profile reform initiatives have gotten off to a bumpy start with the teachers union.
Still, a half-dozen district schools will test a new teacher evaluation system.
Superintendent Cami Anderson plans to formally launch the pilot in the next week, naming a team to oversee the development of the system. She said there would be a heavy emphasis in the beginning on setting clear goals and feedback for teachers.
Anderson said she hoped to put the pilot in place in as many schools as possible, but after what she described as extensive outreach to teachers and the Newark Teachers Union, she was unable to win any buy-in votes. (Mooney, NJ Spotlight)
New Energy Master Plan explores ways to deploy infrastructure for alternative works
The state should explore the possibility of establishing a transportation infrastructure bank to support the increased use of alternatively fueled vehicles, according to the latest version of the Energy Master Plan.
While providing few details on how such a proposal would work, the recommendation is being welcomed by various clean energy advocates. Some of them have been frustrated by the slow pace of developing an infrastructure in New Jersey that would spur people to choose cleaner-running vehicles over those powered by gasoline or diesel.
“It’s a good way to go,” said Chuck Feinberg, chairman of the New Jersey Clean Cities Coalition, a nonprofit organization dedicated to the advancement of alternative transportation fuels. “In the current climate, we’re not going to get any grant program.” (Johnson, NJ Spotlight)
Fine Print: Sen. Buono’s teacher quality bill
What it is: State Sen. Barbara Buono (D-Middlesex), the outgoing Senate Majority Leader, has introduced a bill that would put in a place a statewide system for evaluating and supporting teachers. Modeled after the one used in Cincinnati public schools, the system would rely on peer evaluations, teacher observations, and student portfolios in gauging teacher effectiveness.
What it means: The bill is counter to those being proffered by both Gov. Chris Christie’s administration and Democratic legislators, who are pushing a complete overhaul of not just teacher evaluation — which puts heavy emphasis on student test scores — but of how it is used in determining tenure. (Mooney, NJ Spotlight)
N.J. attorney general set to visit crime-ridden Camden Thursday
With pressure mounting to curb Camden’s surging crime, the state’s top law enforcement officer was set to visit the city Thursday to meet with the mayor and county prosecutor, a spokesman for Attorney General Paula Dow said Wednesday.
On a day when a national ranking of the “most dangerous cities” kept Camden in the number-two spot, there were also calls from backers of a controversial plan to create a regional police force to expedite it.
Paul Loriquet said Dow’s decision to visit Camden was prompted by law enforcement concerns from Mayor Dana L. Redd, who called Dow on Monday night to ask for more manpower on city streets. (Simon and Vargas, The Philadelphia Inquirer)
DRPA panel advances economic-development spending plan
After contentious debate, a nearly $20 million package for New Jersey nontransportation projects moved closer to passage Wednesday when a Delaware River Port Authority committee approved it.
The DRPA finance committee voted to spend the last $29.9 million of its controversial economic-development funds. About $10 million is to be returned to DRPA for capital projects, such as bridge repairs; $19.7 million is to go to local food banks and projects, including a new cancer center, student housing for Rutgers-Camden, and Cooper River rowing facilities.
The full board is to vote Wednesday on the economic-development spending. It also will consider the agency’s budget for 2012, which received committee blessing without dissent. (Nussbaum, The Philadelphia Inquirer)
Camden runner-up for most dangerous city
On a recent misty morning in Camden, Carmen Ovalles placed a memorial candle bearing a representation of Jesus’ face by the door of a bodega, wiped away a tear, and uttered a sad truth about the city.
“Camden is the same, the same thing year after year,” Ovalles, 38, said outside the Bernard Grocery in Cramer Hill, where the owner, Miguel Almonte, was shot dead and three others were wounded during a botched robbery Monday night. “It’s getting worse, though.”
Ovalles isn’t a cop, an academic, or a researcher, but she’s dead-on.
Camden, according to the 2011 CQ Press City Crime Rankings released yesterday, is the nation’s second-most-dangerous city – the same as last year – but brazen criminals there are making a chaotic and blood-soaked run at the top ranking for next year. (Nark, Philadelphia Daily News)
Cherry Hill woman charged with threatening to kill assemblyman
A 26-year-old Cherry Hill woman was charged Wednesday with threatening to kill New Jersey Assemblyman Angel Fuentes.
Naomi Montgomery is accused of sending an e-mail claiming that she had bought a gun with the intention of killing the one-term Democratic assemblyman and former Camden City Council president, according to the Camden County Prosecutor’s Office.
On Tuesday night, state troopers arrested Montgomery and searched her Cherry Hill home. They found no weapon.
The e-mail was given to police by Fuentes, 50, who issued a statement Wednesday night saying he had done so “for the safety of myself and my family.” (Osborne, The Philadelphia Inquirer)
Letter spurs hearing in NJ abortion lawsuit
A lawsuit filed by a group of nurses over abortions performed at a Newark hospital is headed back to court a week earlier than expected, after the hospital said it will hire additional staff to provide support for patients undergoing the procedure.
The 12 nurses filed a federal lawsuit last month against the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey claiming that they were being forced to assist in abortions over their religious and moral objections, a violation of state and federal law. The lawsuit seeks a temporary restraining order against the hospital.
UMDNJ has denied the claims, but last Friday it sent a letter to the nurses informing them that it would hire “additional staff to provide care to our full complement of patients.” (Porter, Associated Press)
Judiciary to hear Christie appointments on Monday, including Solomon to the bench
On Monday, the Senate Judiciary Committee is voting on a county prosecutor and seven Superior Court judges, including departing head to the Board of Public Utilities Lee Solomon. (Carroll, State Street Wire)
Transitional Aid to be heard in Senate committee
Days after the Assembly passed a measure restoring $139 million in Transitional Aid without a committee hearing, the Senate has taken the normal route.
The Senate Budget and Appropriation Committee on Thursday will hear the Democrats’ bill re-inserting the aid into the budget, tacking on $1.5 million in oversight funds. (Carroll, State Street Wire)
Law to move school elections to November in committee Thursday
One of the bills before the Assembly Appropriations Committee Thursday, A4394, would move school board elections to the general election day in November.
The bill, sponsored by Assemblyman Lou Greenwald, (D-6), of Voorhees, would also eliminate the public vote on the district’s base budget, so long as it doesn’t exceed the tax cap. The change is designed to encourage more voters to participate in the school board elections, since voter turnout is generally abysmal in the spring, often below 25 percent. (Carroll, State Street Wire)
City of Elizabeth loses court ruling over school budget decision by state
The city of Elizabeth has lost a dispute against the state Education Department concerning a 2010 decision over reinstating a statutorily required minimum tax levy.
The state appellate court this morning disagreed with the city’s contention that the decision by former Education Commissioner Bret Schundler was unconstitutional.
Elizabeth had argued that his decision to reinstate the tax levy ignored the statutory right of voters to reject a budget that had been proposed by the local board of education as well as the right of the city to recommend cuts in the budget. (Mooney, State Street Wire)
From the Back Room
DeFilippo wins in Hillside
In a special election Tuesday in Hillside, the candidates of Union County Democratic Chair Charlotte DeFilippo won both seats at stake in a special runoff election.
DeFilippo’s candidates were running against two candidates backed by independent Mayor Joe Menza.
The two DeFilippo victories enable the veteran party chairwoman to maintain a majority on the local governing body. (Staff, PolitickerNJ)
‘Enforcer’ tells Romney to man up
Governor Christie’s job as Mitt Romney’s most prized attack dog is to scorch President Obama and, when the time comes, go nuclear on Newt.
But Wednesday, Romney’s enforcer took aim on an unlikely target – Romney.
“The era of focus group-tested blow-dried answers needs to end,” Christie told the packed Washington, D.C. ballroom for the Republican Jewish Coalition’s presidential forum. “The choice is this: Do you want to tack, and turn and calculate and try to figure out what is the most politically acceptable thing to do with every issue?”
Or, Christie said, “a candidate who says, ‘This is who I am. This is who you voted for. This is who you get.’”
The actual target of Christie’s remarks was President Obama, whom Christie trashed as a wimp who lets Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid do his dirty work and who failed to back up his high-flying Hope and Change rhetoric with hard-knuckled leadership. But Christie could just as easily have been venting a concern, maybe a complaint, about the inauthentic robo-Romney. (Stile, The Record)
Broken promise could be smoking gun for Christie’s critics
Many politicians dread being asked about gun issues. Our governor is among them.
Chris Christie entered politics in the 1990s as an advocate of gun control. Ever since, he’s been walking back from that position, or at least far enough back to get through a Republican primary election.
He did that in the 2009 primary by pacifying the pro-gun crowd with a mantra commonly used by politicians who want to change the subject to anything other than guns. Christie said he wouldn’t be pushing for any new laws, but instead favored “strict and aggressive enforcement” of the laws already on the books. (Mulshine, The Star-Ledger)
A master plan for N.J.’s energy needs
The final version of Gov. Chris Christie’s master plan on energy for New Jersey is in, reflecting only minimal tweaks since a draft was released over the summer.
The plan is not binding, but sets forth the Republican governor’s vision of how the state will meet its electricity needs over the next decade. It scales back New Jersey’s goals for renewable energy, calling for 22.5 percent of electricity to be generated from solar power by 2021, down from the previous administration’s goal of 30 percent.
Governor Christie had called the lower amount more realistic. On Tuesday, he said that the plan would manage the state’s energy needs in a way that saves money, creates jobs and protects the environment. (Navarro, The New York Times)
Gov. Chris Christie’s comments on Camden crime are infuriating
Gov. Chris Christie’s aggressiveness doesn’t always bother me.
I appreciate much of his reform agenda and admire him for calling out lawmakers for being irresponsible and unproductive on the public dime.
For example, he’s right to criticize the Democratic majority for failing to end the costly practice of paying public employees for their unused sick days.
But Christie’s response to Wednesday’s story on Camden officials considering bringing the National Guard to the city was infuriating and utterly disrespectful.
A day before leaving New Jersey’s problems behind to stump for GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney in Iowa, Christie pushed politics in our report on 10 Camden shootings in four days. (Rosen, Gannett)