Morning Digest: Oct. 23, 2013

Poll: GOP independent voters fuel Christie’s 61% approval rating; Buono unknown

New Jersey’s registered voters give incumbent Republican Gov. Chris Christie a favorability rating of 61%, versus 28% of respondents who view him unfavorably, according to this morning’s Rutgers-Eagleton Poll.

The poll shows that the incumbent governor’s overall job grade and approval are strong: 60 percent grade the governor B or higher and 67 percent approve of the overall job he is doing.

Voters remain persistently negative, however, toward Christie’s efforts on what they perceive as the two most important issues facing the state, the economy and taxes. Only 42 percent approve of his handling of the economy and jobs, which more than a third say is the biggest problem facing New Jersey. Similarly, 38 percent approve of his performance on taxes, the top problem for 25 percent. But, as earlier polls have found, Christie’s overall support is not hurt by disapproval on specific issues. (PolitickerNJ Staff/PolitickerNJ)







Sweeney says Kean is acting out of ‘desperation’

SPRING LAKE HEIGHTS – The one word Senate President Steve Sweeney has to describe his Republican counterpart in the Senate is “desperation.”

The Senate president used the word to describe Senate Minority Leader Tom Kean after news broke that Sweeney’s campaign committee is hoping to freeze more than $75,000 in contributions to the GOP candidate challenging Sweeney in his home district.

“Desperation to win is clouding his judgment,” Sweeney told PolitickerNJ at the Monmouth County Democrats Annual Chairman Ball Tuesday night.

The lawsuit, which names Kean, claims Sweeney’s opponent, Niki Trunk, accepted donations from Republican state Sen. Joe Kyrillos that exceeded contribution limits. An amended campaign finance report later showed the money had instead come from the leadership PAC controlled by Kean. (Arco/PolitickerNJ)








N.J.’s court battle over sports betting has divided voter, polls find. 

TRENTON — New Jersey’s legal fight to bring sports betting to Atlantic City and the state’s horse racing tracks has divided voters, a new poll shows.

Nearly equal numbers approve or disapprove of the state’s plan to appeal a recent ruling in the case to the U.S. Supreme Court, according to the poll from Fairleigh Dickinson University’s PublicMind.

The poll found 37 percent of registered voters think the appeal by Gov. Chris Christie’s administration is warranted, while 34 percent want the state to drop the case until federal law is changed. Voters had approved of sports betting in a 2011 referendum.

“Given the inattention of voters on this issue, opinions either way are likely to be soft, Krista Jenkins, the director of PublicMind, said in a statement. “And yet, it’s certainly notable that the gut reaction of the electorate is one of indecision and hesitancy.”

Last month, an appeals court in Philadelphia — siding with the NCAA, the nation’s four largest sports leagues and the U.S. Justice Department — said in a 2-1 ruling that a federal statute barring states from legalizing or regulating sports betting is constitutional.

The decision upheld an earlier ruling by U.S. District Court Judge Michael Shipp, who banned the state from implementing sports betting. (Hutchins/Star-Ledger)




Buono criticizes Christie for presidential goals, gun veto in Monroe

MONROE — With two weeks until Election Day and a lot of ground to cover, Barbara Buono opened a busy day of campaigning today by repeating a well-worn accusation: Gov. Chris Christie is making dangerous decisions for the state based on his presidential aspirations.

“This is a politician — make no mistake about it — who will do anything to get re-elected,” Buono, the Democratic candidate for governor, told a group at the Rossmoor senior living village in Monroe Township.

Her appearance at Rossmoor was the first of four campaign stops for Buono, who is trying to overcome poll numbers that show her trailing Christie, her popular Republican opponent, by more than 25 points.

Sharpening her attack, Buono noted that Christie vetoed a bill in August that would have outlawed the powerful .50 caliber Barrett rifle — even though he once supported the ban. “It was his idea,” said Buono, a state senator from Middlesex County, where Monroe is situated. (Johnson/Star-Ledger)




Christie aided by moderate message

Governor Christie made sure everyone knew he opposed the shutdown of the federal government.

He made that clear at stops across the state, both for his campaign and for his duties as governor, as well as in discussions with reporters at the Capitol.

Indeed, in the lists of winners and losers being compiled after the shutdown was resolved last week, Christie could arguably turn up in the winners column. The shutdown, in a dysfunctional Washington, played neatly into his narrative, one that casts him as the bipartisan outsider tough enough to knock some sense into a similarly dysfunctional Trenton and, inferentially, into national politics as well.

Christie, who is seeking a huge victory next month that could propel him to the top of the field of GOP candidates for president in 2016, is rooting his appeal in a message of getting things done across the aisle, forged above all in his cooperation with President Obama last fall after Superstorm Sandy. (Reitmeyer/State House Bureau) 







Cory Booker committed to give and take


When he gets to Washington, Sen.-elect Cory Booker says, he will look for common ground with even the most firmly conservative parts of the Republican Party over issues of shared interest, such as reforming penalties for illegal drug possession.

Booker, who on Tuesday announced that a Facebook lobbyist would become his chief of staff, said he was feeling his way to a productive role as senator, saying with some candor that he was uncertain about whether he would follow core Democrats, including Sen. Bob Menendez, on the procedural votes that often determine whether bills and nominees advance or become stuck in Senate gridlock.

“I don’t know what to say to that. I don’t know the nature of the Senate,” Booker said by telephone from Newark, where he is winding down his term as mayor while he awaits the official certification of last week’s election that would allow him to be sworn in to the Senate. “I just don’t see things, necessarily, through the lens of red and blue, I see them more through right and wrong and issues of justice and urgency. You ask how I’ll be different. I don’t know.”

He did say that he would like to see a “grand bargain” in which Democrats agree to cut programs and Republicans agree to raise taxes to reduce the federal deficit.

Booker, who will fill the remainder of the late Sen. Frank Lautenberg’s term, announced Tuesday that a veteran Washington insider would be his top aide in Washington and that a longtime aide from Newark would become his state director in New Jersey. (Jackson/The Record)   





The Great Divide: Candidates for Governor Far Apart on Healthcare Issues

Buono’s and Christie’s differences are likely harbingers of state policy over the coming four years

The past isn’t always prologue to the future, but when it comes to healthcare and the candidates for governor, it could prove prophetic — at least as far as the next four years are concerned.

From funding to family planning centers to the proposed decriminalization of small amounts of marijuana, Gov. Chris Christie and Sen. Barbara Buono have followed distinctly divergent courses on implementing healthcare policy. And the two candidates’ views on the Affordable Care Act have led to sharply contrasting ideas as to how the state should proceed.

Christie has taken a hands-off approach to the ACA’s health insurance marketplace, letting the federal government take the lead, while allowing Medicaid expansion to go forward.

Buono believes that the state should operate its own exchange, enabling it to reap a windfall in federal funding that will let it better inform the public about the law. She thinks the state should embrace the ACA in its totality to make sure it works for New Jerseyans.

The disputes reflect the candidates’ different priorities, with Christie both citing budgetary imperatives that have limited healthcare spending while at times reshaping the state’s approach to healthcare, such as pursuing a comprehensive Medicaid waiver that will shift the focus of long-term care for the elderly and the disabled from institutionalized settings to community-based care. (Kitchenman/NJSpotlight) 




Fine Print: NJEA PAC’s Report Shows Union Sharing Wealth with Candidates

Teachers union lists $1.4 million in spending, most of it for hot legislative campaigns and counties


What it is: The New Jersey Education Association Political Action Committee (NJEA PAC) last week filed its latest Receipts and Expenditures Quarterly Report with the New Jersey Election Law Enforcement Commission. It covers spending by the union’s political arm on the November 5 gubernatorial and legislative elections.

What it means: The 31-page report shows how NJEA PAC spreads its wealth to more than 100 different organizations with a stake in the 2013 elections, be it for individual candidates or tickets or for county and state party apparatus. It is the most that the NJEA PAC has spent at this point in a state election, said the union’s director, reflective of the union’s investment in the race not just for governor but also the Legislature. The list is predominantly Democratic, including Democratic gubernatorial candidate Barbara Buono, but the NJEA includes a few Republicans in its largesse.

The totals: The NJEA PAC lists $1,439,772.32 in expenditures and another $353,424.19 in the bank. Of the total, $1.2 million went to legislative candidates or committees. (Mooney/NJSpotlight) 







Booker names his chief of staff


NEWARK — Newark Mayor and U.S. Sen.-elect Cory Booker named two members of his staff on Tuesday.

Louisa Terrell will serve as Booker’s chief of staff. She comes to Booker’s office from a place very familiar to him: Facebook. Mark Zuckerberg, the social network’s founder, donated $100 million to the Newark schools in 2010.

Terrell has been Facebook’s director of public policy, and started at the social network in 2011.

Before coming to Facebook, Terrell was a special assistant to President Barack Obama for legislative affairs, Yahoo!’s senior director of federal policy and strategy and deputy chief of staff to then- Sen. Joe Biden. (Associated Press/Asbury Park Press) 





FBI, once again, raids offices of friend of Menendez

Federal law enforcement officials once again have raided the offices of a West Palm Beach, Fla., eye doctor who is personal friends with U.S. Sen. Robert Menendez, D-N.J.

The raid, reported in the Palm Beach Post, took place Tuesday morning. The news organization’s website said about 15 to 20 agents from both the FBI and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services spent nearly three hours at Dr. Solomon Melgen’s offices before carting off several boxes in a van.

Melgen’s offices also were raided in January, and reports said the raid centered around irregularities with Medicare billing. He has not been charged with any wrongdoing.

The doctor has a personal relationship with Menendez and has contributed to his campaign. The Post said that since the early 1990s, Melgen has contributed more than $450,000 to Florida and federal candidates.

Early this year, reports alleged that Menendez had pushed legislation that aided businesses in which Melgen was involved. The senator and Melgen denied those allegations.

Even more salacious accusations that Melgen had supplied Menendez with prostitutes in the Dominican Republic were publicized by conservative websites in 2012. Menendez condemned those allegations as “smears.” (Staff Report/Asbury Park Press) 






N.J., Va. Governor’s race tell tale of two GOPs


This fall’s races for governor in New Jersey and Virginia offer a revealing window into the fight for the future of the Republican Party.

Virginia’s race illustrates the challenges facing the tea party movement and the fallout from the government shutdown while testing how well the GOP’s conservative wing can compete in a presidential swing-voting state. New Jersey’s highlights how a pragmatic Republican advocating for an inclusive GOP can dominate in Democratic-leaning territory.

In Virginia, Republican Ken Cuccinelli — he promotes his role as the first state attorney general to challenge the health care overhaul — is struggling in polls against his Democratic opponent, Terry McAuliffe. The former Democratic Party chairman has tried to link Cuccinelli to tea party luminaries such as Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas and to the 16-day partial government shutdown.

In New Jersey, Republican Gov. Chris Christie, who emphasizes a bipartisan approach, is seeking a second term. He holds a comfortable lead in surveys in the Democratic-leaning state, where he has drawn support from across the political spectrum.

Both states will elect governors Nov. 5 after a showdown in Congress that highlighted a deep division within the Republican Party. (Thomas and Peoples/Associated Press) 





Three shore towns moving to seize dune easements

MANTOLOKING — Three Jersey Shore towns are giving themselves authority to seize beachfront land from owners who are blocking the federal government from building a protective dune system.

Mantoloking gave itself final approval Tuesday to seize the remaining seven easements it needs for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to do the work.

Ocean City and Toms River were to vote Tuesday night.

The votes authorize the towns to acquire small strips of land by negotiation or by seizing it under the power of eminent domain. Any land seized would have to be paid for.  (Perry/Associated Press)     









Princeton mayor recuses herself from voluntary payment negotiations with Princeton University


PRINCETON — Mayor Liz Lempert told a shocked town council tonight that she is recusing herself from upcoming negotiations with Princeton University over the school’s voluntary payments to the town, saying that persistent controversy over her participation has overshadowed the discussions.

Members of the public and at least one council member have raised concerns over the year that Lempert could have a conflict of interest due to her husband’s position as a tenured faculty member at the university.


Some would like to see the university contribute more money to the town, and they want a negotiating team that won’t be compromised by ties to the school.

“There has been too much focus on me and my participation, when all the focus should be on the content of the discussions with the university,” Lempert said. “In the best interests of the community, I am going to step aside and leave the discussions over the university’s contribution … in the hands of the council.”


The mayor’s announcement came during a special meeting of the council to discuss future budgeting and is a 180-degree turn for Lempert, who has long-fought to be at the negotiation table and was recently cleared by the town’s attorney to do so. (Offredo/Trenton Times)












Ex-N.J. State Police trooper target of AG’s Office review od missing money from non-profit


TRENTON — The state Attorney General’s Office is looking into the disappearance of tens of thousands of dollars from a charitable fund that was overseen by a former high-ranking state trooper, The Star-Ledger has learned.

Three sources with knowledge of the matter said the Troop B Health and Welfare Fund, a non-profit that supports scholarships and various trooper needs, was found nearly depleted about the time Maj. Michael Mattia retired on June 1 after 25 years on the force.

Mattia, 47, was a member of Superintendent Col. Rick Fuentes’ command staff and in charge of Troop B in Totowa, overseeing all of northern New Jersey, including the Meadowlands.

During the time Mattia served as troop commander, he also helped administer the fund and had access to its bank account, according to the sources, who requested anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the matter.

The precise amount missing from the fund was unclear, according to the sources, but the most recently available tax filing at the end of 2010 showed the fund with $74,854 in net assets. (Baxter/Star-Ledger) 









Christie’s No. 2 Becomes Focus as Boss Eyes White House


Seven in 10 New Jersey residents had never heard of Lieutenant Governor Kim Guadagno, who’d become the state’s chief executive if Republican Chris Christie wins a second term and then leaves amid a 2016 presidential bid.


Since taking office alongside Christie in 2010, Guadagno, a former sheriff, has overseen the state’s economic development, appearing at ribbon cuttings, courting businesses and flanking Christie at news briefings. Yet a Monmouth University poll this month showed that most voters didn’t recognize her name.


Guadagno, 54, is the state’s first lieutenant governor, a post created in 2005 to improve the system for replacing a chief executive in midterm. She would take the helm if Christie resigned from a second four-year stint to become president in 2017, and sooner if he chose to quit for a White House run.


“I had no clue about her,” said Maryann Donovan, 74, of Middletown, a registered Republican from Guadagno’s home county who didn’t realize she was on the ballot next month. “I would never not vote for him because of it. But it’s important they really do more to make people aware of her.”


Guadagno was elected with Christie in 2009 — winning 1.17 million votes — and follows him on the Nov. 5 Republican ticket. While Milly Silva is the running mate of Democratic challenger, state Senator Barbara Buono, even fewer voters, one in 10, have an opinion of Silva, an Hispanic leader of a labor union, according to the Oct. 2 Monmouth poll. (Dopp/Bloomberg) 












Port Authority Weighs Subleasing World Trade Center Space


The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey is considering subleasing as much as a quarter of its new headquarters at 4 World Trade Center, the lower Manhattan tower it owns and is scheduled to open next month.


The agency, which oversees the region’s interstate ports and transportation infrastructure, last month issued a request for proposals from commercial-property brokers to advise it on finding tenants for as much as 150,000 square feet (14,000 square meters) of its 601,000 square feet of offices in the skyscraper. The space is on the 18th to 21st stories, according to the document.


“The authority has determined that it no longer requires the entire leased area,” the agency said in the document. “The authority intends to sublease this area in a manner that maximizes the potential financial return.”

The 72-story tower, developed by Larry Silverstein, will become the first office building to open on the 16-acre (6.5-hectare) World Trade Center site since the 2001 terrorist attacks destroyed the original twin towers. With about 1 million of its 2.3 million square feet unleased, it’s one of several top-quality office towers with large vacancies in lower Manhattan, including the bigger 1 World Trade Center, scheduled for completion next year.


The marketing of the space is consistent with instructions from the governors of New York and New Jersey, who each appoint an equal number of trustees to the agency’s board, to use its real estate in the most cost-effective way possible, Authority Director Patrick Foye said in a telephone interview. (Levitt/Bloomsberg) 











NJ’s OEM Prepares for Another Superstorm


As a storm that would become Sandy moved into the Caribbean almost one year ago, the State Office of Emergency Management began to track the storm, and make preparations, just in case it ever approached New Jersey.

No one ever imagined it would make a direct hit on the Garden State six days later.

“As Sandy began to move out of the Caribbean, we employed what’s known as a Pre-Landfall Decisional Timeline to review and organize emergency shelter evacuation and communication plans, and how supplies and commodities would be accessed and moved should they be needed,” says the Superintendent of the New Jersey State Police, and Head of the Office of Emergency Management, Col. Rick Fuentes.

Col. Fuentes says he became concerned when the tracking models used by meteorologists began to converge – right in the middle of the Garden State.

“We knew this was coming towards us three days out, and we became very worried after the National Weather Service said they had never seen a storm like this before,” says Col. Fuentes.

When Sandy made landfall, the wave action driven by the winds hit the beaches and homes at approximately 75 miles an hour, for 24 hours straight.

“In the hours before landfall, at 2 a.m., we got word that in Moonachie, Little Ferry and Hoboken the surge came into Newark Bay, New York Bay and the Hackensack river, and flooded those communities with five to six feet of water,” he says. “It was almost like fighting a war on two fronts. We were on the barrier islands, but we had to divert rescue resources and uniformed personnel up to the north.”

So is the NJ OEM ready if another huge storm approaches the Garden State?

“We don’t have any control over the storms, the things we can control are the communications. Communications always need to be evolving, how can we do things better,” Fuentes explained. “I think we’re ready, I’m always hesitant to say that. You’re never going to be at 100 percent because emergency management and the art of emergency management is always something that have to be moving forward.”

He adds since Sandy, communications systems have been improved.

“We found that a lot of people, when the phone lines went down, use social media to do 911′s, so now what we’re doing in our Fusion Center is we’re now taking crime analysts during times of states of emergency, and we’re bringing them downstairs to navigate across those social media outlets looking for those signs of people that may need assistance.”

The bottom line, says Col. Fuentes is that he believes New Jersey has the best emergency management team in the country. (Matthau/NJ101.5) 










NJ Assembly Poised For Leadership Change


Current Assembly Budget Committee chairman Vinnie Prieto and Assembly Majority Leader Louis Greenwald today announced 41 members of the Democratic caucus in support of a new leadership team for the 2014-15 Legislature.


The move is contingent upon Democrats keeping control of the House after the Nov. 5 elections.

“The past four years have brought many challenges, many successes and many accomplishments to the General Assembly,” write Prieto and Greenwald in a joint emailed statement. “In presiding over the General Assembly during this period, Speaker (Sheila) Oliver has met each and every challenge with the grace, compassion and determination that is becoming of a great leader.”

According to the lawmakers, the next legislative session will bring an entirely new set of challenges and issues confronting New Jersey. They say, in the interest of bringing to the table new ideas and new advocacy for the principles of the Democratic Party, they are supporting a new leadership team in the Assembly with Prieto as Speaker and Greenwald keeping his role as Majority Leader for the next legislative session in January. (McArdle/NJ101.5) 







 From the Back Room



Garden State Forward Super PAC running ads against LD18 Republicans  

A week after Republican Gov Chris Christie appeared in LD18, Garden State Forward, the super PAC affiliated with the New Jersey Education Association, retaliated.

The PAC has a web ad up and running targeting the team of East Brunswick Mayor Dave Stahl and his running mates. (PolitickerNJ Staff/PolitickerNJ)








Trouble in Trunkland


Sen. President Stephen Sweeney (D-3) wants more than $75,000 in contributions to attorney Niki Trunk frozen because of questions over who gave her the money, according to a report in the Star-Ledger.

“The lawsuit, which names Senate Minority Leader Thomas Kean Jr. (R-Union) and the U.S. Senate campaign of state Sen. Joe Kyrillos (R-Monmouth), claims two large checks initially reported by Trunk as coming from the Kyrillos campaign were illegal and had to be returned. After a complaint had been filed with the state Election Law Enforcement Commission, an amended campaign finance report was filed showing the money had come from the leadership PAC controlled by Kean.” (PolitickerNJ Staff/PolitickerNJ) 








Sharif in charge at Jeffries for Mayor and other Newark News


Veteran Newark Political Operative Carl Sharif is officially working now in his capacity as the political brain of the Shavar Jeffries for Mayor campaign.

Craig Kirby is gone as campaign manager but the stealth-like Sharif won’t wear the moniker of “manager,” according to a source close to the campaign.

Strategist will do, said a source.

That tag comes with a peculiar set of skill this time for the man who once helped lay the local political groundwork for then-Central Ward Councilman Cory Booker. Sharif’s son is also running for mayor: Centeral Ward Councilman Darrin Sharif.

As South Ward Councilman Ras Baraka continues to lead in street polls, there is another shake-up to report in the world of Newark mayoral politics, this one in Anibal Ramos-land. (PolitickerNJ Staff/PolitickerNJ) 














Congressional PACs are not for fun and profit


Area residents who watched CBS News “60 Minutes” Sunday may have been familiar with the ethics charges that are being investigated against U.S. Rep. Rob Andrews, D-1st Dist., of Haddon Heights.

What wasn’t so evident before the show aired a segment featuring Andrews is how many other members of Congress are suspected of doing the same thing he’s accused of — treating campaign donations as a personal slush fund.

Andrews’ use of campaign funds for a family trip to a wedding in Scotland, for a daughter’s big high school graduation bash, and to back a theater group that advanced another daughter’s thespian career first came to light in stories from the Times’ sister paper, the Star-Ledger of Newark. The spending cited is why the House Ethics Committee has set up a subcommittee to probe Andrews’ possible misuse of the funds.

There’s something awfully embarrassing about seeing a local congressman refuse to answer questions on a TV show with 15 million viewers.

“I follow all the rules, met the standards, and there is a matter pending before the House Ethics Committee,” was all Andrews would tell reporter Steve Kroft, even though Kroft said the ethics panel had assured him that Andrews could discuss the accusations. (South Jersey Times) 






On gay marriage, time to expose opponents

High-minded people are celebrating Friday’s big win for gay rights, preparing for wedding parties, and bursting with pride as the long arc of history bends once again toward justice. And that’s all great for those of you who are high-minded.

For the rest of us, it’s time to take names. It is time to expose the little weasels in Trenton who stood in the way of this for years.

Some of them made a crude political calculus and threw gays overboard. Some genuinely couldn’t bring themselves to treat gays as equal citizens under the law. You can decide for yourself which is worse in the year 2013.

But whatever their reasons, they shouldn’t be allowed to join the parade now, as if they helped.

“The public has a right to know where their legislators stand,” says Steven Goldstein, the founder of Garden State Equality. “That’s the No. 1 reason to go for an override.”

He is talking about the next step in this drama: The attempt to override Gov. Chris Christie’s veto of a bill providing for marriage equality. (Moran/Star-Ledger)   Morning Digest: Oct. 23, 2013