Morning News Digest: October 9, 2012

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Morning News Digest: October 9, 2012

By Missy Rebovich



Eagleton: Voters split over Christie second term

Almost half of New Jersey’s registered voters – 47 percent –grade Gov. Chris Christie’s job performance as A or B, but the same percentage says they would not vote to re-elect the governor, according to a new Rutgers-Eagleton Poll.

Eighteen percent of voters rate Christie’s job performance A, and 29 percent a B, but 30 percent award him a poor or failing grade. Grades are slightly more positive than an August Rutgers-Eagleton Poll; more voters now award an A grade (up three points), and fewer award C (down three points). 

Voters remain split over a second term for Christie. While 44 percent would re-elect the governor, 47 percent say it is time for someone new. Last month, 47 percent wanted another term while 46 percent were looking for change.  (Staff, PolitickerNJ)



Game on in Perth Amboy: local mayor’s race permeates GOTV rally for Obama/Menendez

It was a unity rally for Central Jersey Democrats but local rivals unmistakably worked the room at the same rented Ironworkers hall occupied less than a week ago by Gov. Chris Christie.

In anticipation of U.S. Sen. Bob Menendez and U.S. Rep. Luis Gutierrez of Illinois, mayoral candidates swarmed voters here preparing for the GOTV rally, peppering them with local messaging.

Unavoidably nudged into close quarters stood state Sen. Joe Vitale (D-19) and Assemblyman John Wisniewski (D-19), the two party leaders all but towered with folded arms respectively behind Mayor Wilda Diaz and challenger Billy Delgado.

When Menendez spoke, he gave a nod around to the electeds, catching himself when he observed Wisniewski.  (Pizarro, PolitickerNJ)



Report: Romney adviser tries to pit Menendez against Obama on Iran question

On the same day GOP Presidential candidate Mitt Romney delivered a foreign policy address calling for stronger U.S. leadership in the Middle East, his senior foreign policy advisor sough to exploit an Iran fault line between President Barack Obama and U.S. Sen. Bob Menendez (D-NJ).

Democrat Menendez is running for re-election without the organizational presence in New Jersey of a presidential campaign focused elsewhere.

But Richard Williamson, former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, essentially asserted to MSNBC this morning that Menendez is closer to Romney on the Iran Question.

“Gov. Romney is calling for more sanctions,” said Williamson, at which point political analyst Chuck Todd pressed for details.  (Pizarro, PolitickerNJ)



Pending re-election, Christie to lead GOP governors group in 2014

Governor Christie hasn’t yet announced whether he’ll seek re-election when his term is up next year, but that hasn’t stopped the Republican Governors Association from tapping him for the chairmanship in 2014.

A spokesman for the Republican Governors Association said his potential chairmanship is not confirmation Christie will run for re-election in New Jersey.

As vice chairman to Virginia’s Gov. Bob McDonnell, Christie should be next in line for the chairmanship in 2013. But Republican Governors Association spokesman Mike Schrimpf said governors typically don’t serve as chairman during a re-election year.

Virginia and New Jersey are the only states holding elections for governor in 2013.  (Hayes, The Record)



Christie to join Romney at Ohio events

Governor Christie will be campaigning with GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney in Ohio Tuesday.

Christie will attend an afternoon rally in Lordtown, Ohio for Romney, before heading to two events with Romney.

Ohio is a key swing state – no Republican has won the presidency without winning the state.

The events also mark the first time since the Republican National Convention in late August that Christie will be campaigning with the former Massachusetts governor.

Christie attended a fundraiser for Romney in Michigan on Saturday afternoon, but Romney was headlining a rally in Florida that day.  (Hayes, The Record)



The governor’s road show

Since delivering the keynote speech at the Republican convention, Gov. Christie has been to Missouri, North Carolina, Iowa, Utah, New Hampshire, Indiana, Washington, Montana, and North Dakota.

Yes: Fargo, North Dakota.

You would think he must be flying the country stumping hard for Mitt Romney, whom he endorsed a year ago.

But he’s not. His travels have mostly been to rally and raise cash for gubernatorial and Senate candidates.

Until Saturday, when he was headlining a Romney fund-raiser in Michigan, and Tuesday, when he’s scheduled to rally for Romney in Ohio, Christie hadn’t done a single campaign event for the presidential candidate since the convention. Precisely six weeks will have passed between the Christie keynote and his trip to Ohio for Romney.  (Katz, The Philadelphia Inquirer)



Chris Christie criticizes Heidi Heitkamp’s brother

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) is under attack from North Dakota Democrats after criticizing talk show host Joel Heitkamp, the brother of Democratic U.S. Senate nominee Heidi Heitkamp, during a rally Saturday in Fargo.

Christie was campaigning on behalf of Rep. Rick Berg (R-N.D.), who is challenging Heidi Heitkamp for the state’s open Senate seat. Christie was told that Joel Heitkamp, a former state senator, had said negative things about him on his statewide political talk show.

“First of all, Joel, if you’re watching, I don’t give a damn what you think of me,” the Fargo Forum reported Christie as saying.   (Celock, The Huffington Post)



Christie calls Montana Sen. Tester ‘phony’

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie derided Montana Democrat U.S. Sen. Jon Tester on Friday as a “phony” who does not represent the state’s values as he urged Republicans to rally behind the campaign of Tester challenger Denny Rehberg.

The outspoken Republican governor spoke at a $250-per-person fundraising reception with Rehberg in Billings that drew about 60 supporters.

Christie said Tester has turned his back on Montana since his election six years ago by establishing close relationships with lobbyists and lining up behind Democratic leaders like Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid.

By contrast, Christie said Rehberg has remained true to his constituents during six terms in the U.S. House of Representatives.  (Associated Press)



Christie needles Democrats, NDSU football opponent

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie took aim Saturday morning at North Dakota’s Democratic Senate candidate, her brother and the homecoming opponent of the North Dakota State football team.

Christie’s appearance in Fargo was billed by state Republicans as a “victory rally” for all candidates, but the governor focused on the U.S. Senate race between Republican Rep. Rick Berg and Democrat Heidi Heitkamp. Christie said it’s a close contest, but Berg is up for the challenge.

“Rick Berg has a fight on his hands. He’s not one who backs away from a fight, you know that,” Christie said.  (Kolpack, Associated Press)



Christie administration may cut free rides for nonunion NJ Transit workers

The Christie administration wants to eliminate free rides for NJ Transit employees.

Making nonunion workers and retirees pay for their commutes and other trips could generate $1.6 million a year, NJ Transit spokeswoman Nancy Snyder said Monday.

The proposal, which is expected to be approved by the NJT board Monday, would not affect the agency’s union workers, whose free rides are part of their labor contracts. But contracts for all 28 NJT bargaining units have expired, Snyder said, and Gov. Christie has made it clear he wants free rides eliminated.

“The organization’s travel policy must be consistent as to how our customers and taxpayers commute and travel – they pay for their expenses,” said NJ Transit executive director James Weinstein.  (Nussbaum, The Philadelphia Inquirer)



FBI informant Solomon Dwek is mentally ill, his attorney says

Solomon Dwek is mentally ill, his attorney claims, in a bid seeking leniency for the key informant behind New Jersey’s biggest-ever corruption sting.

In a federal court filing that included a clinical diagnosis of bipolar disorder and chronic high anxiety — as well as letters of support from Dwek’s family and friends —attorneys for the former real estate investor are looking to minimize the prison term he faces for bank fraud under the terms of a plea deal with the government.

Both the U.S. Attorney’s Office and Dwek’s attorney declined comment on the defense motion. Under federal sentencing guidelines, Dwek is currently facing a prison term of nine-to-11 years.

Federal prosecutors are expected, however, to also move for a reduced sentence, based on Dwek’s cooperation, according to the motion.   (Sherman, The Star-Ledger)



N.J. scrambles to get staffers for jobless appeals claims

As a tide of New Jerseyans continues to swamp the unemployment-claims system, new state workers preparing to clear that backlog are just getting on the job.

As few as 34 employees were handling the thorniest of the 3 million cases filed by newly laid-off workers who’ve sought benefits since 2008 — reaching a peak backlog last November of more than 12,000 tribunal appeals. On Monday, the chief of staff at the Department of Labor and Workforce Development described recent appeal delays as “clearly a due-process problem,” meaning this was an infringement on the laid-off workers’ rights.  (Fletcher, The Record)



In New Jersey Senate race, sticking close to the script

At the opening of the debate between the candidates for United States Senate here on Thursday night, the moderator noted that their campaigns had slid into the familiar broad themes of Republican versus Democrat: he cares only about the wealthy; he is a tax-and-spender. The moderator pressed them for specifics: What is one thing that makes your opponent less qualified than you?

The Democratic incumbent, Senator Robert Menendez, responded that his Republican opponent, State Senator Joe Kyrillos, supported tax cuts for the wealthy. Mr. Kyrillos blamed Democrats in Congress for 43 straight months of unemployment above 8 percent. The two men have clung to generic partisan outlines throughout the campaign, with few specifics or exchanges to remind voters that the race is not taking place in Any State, U.S.A.   (Zernike, The New York Times)



N.J. Senate candidate Kyrillos says he’s a ‘pragmatic’ choice against gridlock

Republican U.S. Senate candidate Joe Kyrillos said voters increasingly frustrated by partisan gridlock in Congress should pick him because he’s “pragmatic and practical,” while incumbent Democrat Bob Menendez is a “rigid ideologue.”

To prove his point during a lengthy meeting Monday with The Record’s editorial board, Kyrillos, a veteran state lawmaker from Monmouth County, offered several examples of where he parts with the more strident, and often outspoken, members of his party.

He kept the door open to revenue increases in a discussion of how Congress can address the sizable federal deficit. He said he would also allow “some path” for the children of illegal immigrants to gain citizenship. And Kyrillos fully explained his pro-choice position on abortion.  (Reitmeyer, The Record)



Ex-Florida governor Jeb Bush to campaign for Republican Senate candidate Joe Kyrillos in N.J. Friday

Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush will be in New Jersey Friday to raise money for Republican Senate candidate Joe Kyrillos.

Bush — the brother of President George W. Bush and son of President George H.W. Bush — will headline the $500-per-head breakfast at Jasna Polana golf club in Princeton, according to an invitation obtained by the Star-Ledger.

This is Bush’s second time this year headlining an event in New Jersey. In February, he spoke about education reform at the Morris County Chamber of Commerce’s annual meeting.  (Friedman, The Star-Ledger)



N.J. congressional races could help determine control of House

The swivel chair seemed to be losing the battle to contain John Runyan’s 6-foot-7-inch frame as he compared playing offensive lineman in the National Football League with life as a freshman congressman.

Since riding a flush of Tea Party support, and upsetting Rep. John Adler, the Democratic incumbent, in 2009, Runyan has kept a low profile in Washington with positions on the veteran and military affairs committees — neither one a hotbed of partisan wrangling — and focusing on bread-and-butter constituent services.  (Renshaw, The Star-Ledger)



Andrews appears certain to win election to 12th term in Congress

Facing investigations by the Federal Elections Commission and the U.S. House of Representatives’ Committee on Ethics over allegations he improperly spent campaign funds for personal use, Rep. Rob Andrews, D-1st, is being forced to divert part of his attention in the weeks leading up to Election Day to defending his actions instead of campaigning.

Yet though the controversy has cost him at minimum the more than $30,000 he voluntarily repaid to his campaign fund and political action committee, political observers feel certain the ethics charges will not cost the overwhelmingly popular Democrat election to his 12th term in his solidly “blue” South Jersey district, even though he faces three opponents.   (Nurin, NJ Spotlight)



In 9th District race, N.J. Democrat Pascrell faces ‘America’s Rabbi’

The barista asked the name of the short, bearded man who ordered the pumpkin spice latte.

“Shmuley, Shmuley,” he said. “The people of the ninth district have to know.”

Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, the author of books including “Kosher Sex” and “Kosher Adultery,” star of the reality television show “Shalom in the Home” and spiritual adviser to Michael Jackson, is running for Congress in New Jersey’s 9th District.

Boteach, whose website touts him as “America’s Rabbi,” is campaigning on a platform of what he calls Jewish values. They focus on strengthening the family through tax-deductible marriage counseling and tax credits for businesses that close on their religious day of rest.  (Zezima, Associated Press)



5th District contenders Garrett, Gussen face off in Bergen debate

Democratic challenger Adam Gussen tried Sunday to take advantage of his only face-to-face debate with incumbent Rep. Scott Garrett in voter-rich Bergen County by criticizing Garrett’s votes on economic and government social programs.

But Garrett aimed his barbs mainly at President Obama and ignored the challenger, who is largely unknown in a redrawn 5th District and has struggled to raise money.

The debate was not carried on TV or radio, and only about 100 people, many supporters of either candidate, were at Temple Beth Haverim Shir Shalom in Mahwah for the forum sponsored by the North Jersey Jewish Federation and The Jewish Standard newspaper.  (Jackson, The Record)



Weinberg wants study of how the disabled fare in the community

More than 500 disabled individuals will need new homes as the state closes its Totowa and Woodbridge developmental centers over the next five years.

Sen. Loretta Weinberg wants to make sure that in planning for those relocations, the state Division of Developmental Disabilities takes into account lessons learned from earlier developmental center closures.

Toward that end, Weinberg has introduced legislation to require a study of how several hundred former residents of the North Princeton Developmental Center fared after it was closed in 1998.

“We now have enough of a lengthy history to determine how those former residents are doing,” the Teaneck Democrat said. “We should have a good hard study of what happened to those people.”  (Lipman, The Record)



Home-based baked-goods bill before committee this week

It’s a bill whose origins are rooted in the recession. But it has had difficulty making it past the committee stage.

First introduced in 2009, the bill would allow home bakers to sell cupcakes, pies, cookies and other kinds of foods so long as the sellers make it clear to the consumer that the pastries and breads were prepared in a kitchen that is not subject to Department of Health inspections.  (Mooney, State Street Wire)



Rice and Whelan propose lottery surcharge to fund after-school programs

A pair of state senators are proposing after-school programs for kids from low-income New Jersey families be funded in part by a surcharge on certain state lottery winnin

Sens. Ronald Rice, (D-28), Newark, and Jim Whelan, (D-2), Atlantic City, recently introduced legislation that would fund after-school programs for at-risk youth by implementing a 0.5 percent surcharge on lottery winnings of $600 or more. The funds would go to an After School Program Fund and provide grant dollars for nonprofits that provide the programs, according to the lawmakers.  (Arco, State Street Wire)



There oughta be a law, they say

Gov. Chris Christie made headlines when he called a bill to require seat belts for pets in vehicles “stupid.” But critics of the state’s political process say the production of frivolous bills from busybody lawmakers has been a recurring theme for years.

Lawmakers have been on a tear with more head-scratchers in recent weeks.

One lawmaker — an admitted fan of the Green Bay Packers — proposed banning professional sports events in New Jersey if they are staffed by nonunion officials. The bill was generated the morning after the Packers lost in the last seconds, when an apparent interception was ruled a touchdown by replacements for unionized officials locked out by the National Football League.  (Jordan, Asbury Park Press)



Hope school decision ‘unusual’ defeat for Norcross

George E. Norcross III does not lose often.

Nor does he lose easily: When Camden’s school board recently rebuffed a Norcross-backed bid to bring a Hope Act school to the city, the de facto leader of South Jersey Democrats quickly renewed the push for his goal.

Norcross is not accustomed to disappointments in Democratic-controlled Camden County, where he wields power through a ready roster of surrogates, minions and allies. What’s more, his surprise setback in Camden came despite a high-level alliance with Republican Gov. Chris Christie and the governor’s education officials.  (Shelly, Courier-Post)



A look at the history of partisan balane on the Supreme Court

Though the state is closed for Columbus Day, we’re still here with a full set of stories this morning.

First, the Jessica Lunsford Act aims to get tough on sex offenders by imposing tough new sentences for certain child sex crimes. But even as it’s poised to pass the Legislature, researchers and advocates are questioning how much protection the measure will actually provide and are bringing up concerns over potential unintended consequences.

As Governor Christie is poised to make two appointments to the state Supreme Court, columnist Charlie Stile takes a look at the history of maintaining partisan balance on the high court — a tradition dating back to the closing days of the 19th century.  (Campisi, The Record)



PSEG chief, Senate president make business case for higher ed bond

On the front steps of Brower Commons at Rutgers University, political, educational and business leaders today voiced their support for an upcoming bond referendum that would borrow $750 million to support capital upgrades at the state’s colleges and universities.

“Our company buys the same equipment as every other company in our industry, but what differentiates us is the quality of our employees,” said Ralph Izzo, CEO of PSEG and chairman of the Rutgers board of governors. “The quality of our employees is not only driven by how hard they work, but by how well they’re educated. So world-class employees need a world-class education, which means they need to be taught by world-class faculty — and world-class faculty needs world-class facilities.”  (Caliendo, NJBIZ)



‘Last bite at the apple’ for incentives

A movement to expand pro-business initiatives is running on fumes, with the political pressure of next year’s gubernatorial election mounting and lawmakers becoming more critical of New Jersey’s incentive programs.

Such is the concern of one of the state’s most vocal pro-business lawmakers, who said a window to institute the kind of reforms businesses have enjoyed in recent years may be closing.

“I believe we have one last bite at the apple now, in December, to get really successful or really aggressive pro-business legislation done,” said Assemblyman Albert Coutinho (D-Newark), who chairs the Assembly Commerce and Economic Development Committee. “Personally, with the friction, apparently, somewhat picking up, I hope to get significant incentive upgrades before the end of the year, because I think we need to do more.”  (Burd, NJBIZ)



Backers of $750 million bond for NJ colleges and universities rally

Supporters of a $750 million bond to fund building and renovation projects at New Jersey’s colleges and universities say the initiative could create as many as 10,000 jobs in the construction trades.

They rallied at Rutgers University in New Brunswick on Monday to support the referendum, which will be at the bottom of a crowded presidential ballot next month.

New Jersey Senate President Stephen Sweeney said he realizes that people are reluctant to approve spending in an off economy but he said the bond, which had overwhelming bipartisan support in the Legislature, is about jobs as well as much-needed facilities for the schools. 

“It’s always easy to vote down spending but this is something we can’t afford not to do,” said Sweeney, D-Gloucester.  (Alex, The Record)



Fine Print: Public access to beaches and waterways

What happened: The commissioner of the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection signed off Friday on new rules governing public access to waterfront areas, a source of much controversy and litigation. The new rules, to be published in the New Jersey Register early next month, will take effect Nov. 5.

What it means: It lays out a framework for providing public access to beaches and tidal waterways in 231 municipalities from the New York-New Jersey Harbor region, south along the entire coastline, and north again along Delaware Bay and tidal portions of the Delaware River.

What DEP says the rules will do: The agency says the new rules will create incentives for local governments to work with the DEP to adopt new plans designed to meet local and regional access needs. The rules also mandate access be provided for new developments either on-site or off-site, if a municipality establishes a public access fund.  (Johnson, NJ Spotlight)



High readmission rates mean lower Medicare payments for New Jersey hospitals

All but two New Jersey hospitals will get hit with a Medicare reimbursement reduction for excess readmissions, as defined by the Affordable Care Act of 2010, which links Medicare payments to the quality of care that hospitals provide.

The penalty kicked in at the beginning of the month.

“New Jersey will be facing some of the highest downward adjustments that you could call readmission penalties,” said Sujoy Chakravarty, assistant research professor at the Rutgers Center for State Health Policy.  (Bonner, NJ Spotlight)



Inside the classroom with New Jersey’s latest Teacher of the Year

What makes a good teacher, let alone a great one?

One answer to those questions can be found in Room 237 of the Edward J. Patten School in Perth Amboy, where Lauren Marracco — New Jersey’s most recent Teacher of the Year — spends her days with two-dozen fourth graders and a calming hint of classical music in the background.

In an interview last week, the 32-year-old Marrocco talked about her path to excellence, a climb marked by a few stepping stones that are often overlooked in debates over teacher evaluation, tenure, and test scores.  (Mooney, NJ Spotlight)



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Gutierrez in Middlesex County

Stumping in Perth Amboy for U.S. Sen. Bob Menendez (D-NJ), U.S. Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-Il.) regaled an ironworkers hall crowd with a story about Menendez calling him to ask Gutierrez for support to lead the Latino Congressional caucus.

Gutierrez was in Chicago at the time and didn’t want to go to Washington, D.C.

“I need you there tomorrow,” Menendez urged, according to Gutierrez.  (Pizarro, PolitickerNJ)



Inky endorses Menendez in U.S. Senate contest

The Philadelphia Inquirer yesterday endorsed U.S. Sen. Bob Menendez (D-NJ) over Republican challenger state Sen. Joseph Kyrillos (R-13) in the U.S. Senate contest.

While praising Kyrillos as “the most substantial Republican candidate in recent years, his own plan to solve the nation’s economic problems is foggy.”

Like presidential candidate Mitt Romney, the paper complains, Kyrillos talks about closing tax loopholes, but he won’t be specific.

“His vagueness makes it risky for voters to take a chance on how he would vote if elected,” says the Inquirer.  (Staff, PolitickerNJ)






Donovan sets good example on pay-to-play

Despite how it might have looked to casual political observers, the Bergen freeholders didn’t “revise” or make minor, sensible adjustments to the county’s pay-to-play ban last month.

They gutted it.

That’s why County Executive Kathleen Donovan’s veto last Friday was so significant. It salvaged a 10-month-old experiment in pay-to-play reform, an attempt to rid the county of its reputation of being open to the highest bidder.

The ramifications of Donovan’s veto extend far beyond Bergen’s border. If the new, toothless version stayed on the books, it would have dealt a blow to other counties and municipalities that are considering similar reforms.  (Stile, The Record)



Pallone was expert debate prep for Menendez

Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) may want to send a thank-you note to Rep. Frank Pallone (D-6th Dist.) for help with his performance at Thursday night’s debate. The Auditor was told Pallone played the role of Menendez’s challenger, state Sen. Joe Kyrillos (R-Monmouth), in several prep sessions.

The selection of Pallone made a lot of sense, since both Pallone and Kyrillos live in Monmouth County, and the two squared off in a 1992 congressional race that Kyrillos lost by 10 percentage points.

The decision paid dividends for Menendez, who appeared confident and well-versed on the issues. Asked who was more difficult, Kyrillos or Pallone, Menendez’s campaign manager, Michael Soliman, offered a one-word answer: Pallone.  (The Auditor, The Star-Ledger)



Morning News Digest: October 9, 2012