Morning Digest: Dec. 10, 2013

Ramos campaign war chest in Newark mayorial race now more than $500,000

BELLEVILLE – Nanina’s in the Park restaurant borders Branch Brook Park, where thousands of cherry blossoms bloom every spring. On Monday night, Newark mayoral candidate Anibal Ramos, Jr., blocks from the North Ward councilman’s neighborhood, hoped that thousands of dollars would appear in his campaign coffers at his holiday fundraiser.

“You all are showing a lot of people that you didn’t get the memo that [Ramos] was dropping out, did you?” said campaign manager Carlos Valentin, Jr. to the more than 150 Ramos supporters assembled, including North Ward power broker Steve Adubato (pictured). “Not only is he not dropping out, but he’s in it to win it.”

Ramos has been trying to quash rumors that surfaced last month that his campaign is troubled, including from allies of Ramos who anonymously told last month that his campaign has not been aggressive enough. (Bonamo/PolitickerNJ)




Christie administration official among Republicans mulling CD 3 run, sources say

A Gov. Chris Christie administration official is also among the field of Republicans mulling a potential congressional bid.

According to multiple sources, John Giordano, the assistant commissioner for Compliance and Enforcement at the state’s Department of Environmental Protection, recently sat down with Republican Party leaders in both Burlington and Ocean counties to discuss the possibility of a congressional campaign.

Giordano is among the field of several GOP officials actively seeking an opportunity to mount a run to fill the seat slated to be vacated by U.S. Rep. John Runyan (R-3).

Prior to joining DEP, Giordano worked as the deputy secretary for administration for the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources. He also served on Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett’s transition team.

Giordano did not immediately return a phone call seeking comment. (Arco/PolitickerNJ)





Nelson Mandela memorial: U.S., world leaders arrive to remember former president of South Africa

JOHANNESBURG — President Barack Obama, the first U.S. president of African descent, will pay tribute here Tuesday to South Africa’s first black president as he eulogizes Nelson Mandela, who died last week at the age of 95.

Joined at Mandela’s state memorial service in the 90,000-plus-capacity FNB Stadium by former Presidents George W. Bush, Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter, plus former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Obama is the only American set to speak, and is expected to deliver 10-to-15 minutes of remarks, the White House said.

The president will, “reflect on what Nelson Mandela meant to the people of South Africa [and] to him personally as well,” deputy national security adviser Ben Rhodes told reporters aboard Air Force One en route to South Africa. (Gerstein and Epstein/Politico)




Cory Booker offers snow shovel services

Cory Booker might be keeping a low profile on the Hill, but in New Jersey, he’s up to his old do-gooder ways. The former Newark mayor direct messaged a Mount Holly resident on Twitter on Sunday afternoon offering to help dig him out of the snow on his way back to D.C.

Mike Davis, whose Twitter picture shows him posing with Gov. Chris Christie, tweeted at Booker with a picture of his vehicles snowed into the driveway.

@CoryBooker can you come dig us out in Mt Holly?

Davis replied that he and his wife had managed the snow on their own, but appreciated the help. (Drusch/Politico)





New Era of Cooperation in Newark Schools Gives Way to Animosity

One year after celebrated signing of teacher contract, national union president charges officials have reneged on promises

A year after final approval of Newark’s teacher contract – a “Kumbaya” moment hailed nationally as a landmark example of labor-management cooperation – the good will appears to be all but gone.

Randi Weingarten, the president of the national American Federation of Teachers who personally helped negotiate the Newark pact, yesterday returned to the city to lambast the district for failing to live up to its promise in that deal – or in much of anything else, for that matter.

Weingarten’s visit was part of a 90-city campaign that the AFT helped lead this week to push back against what it calls the draconian cuts in urban public schools nationwide. Newark has been especially in the spotlight, with continued budget reductions and school closures coinciding with the expansion of charter schools in the city.

An estimated 200 people – including students, union leaders and teachers — joined Weingarten for the rally in downtown Newark, walking up to the front doors of the Newark school administrative offices on Broad Street before being turned away. (Mooney/NJSpotlight) 




Administration Takes a Pas on Multistate Petition to Fight ‘Upwind’ Air Pollution

Signers lobby EPA to require states south and west of region to cut down on emissions within their borders.

For the second time this fall, the Christie administration has declined to join a multistate effort to curb air pollution.

Eight Northeast and Mid-Atlantic states yesterday asked the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to require states to the west and south to take steps to reduce emissions within their borders. The pollution is carried by prevailing winds, contributing to increased asthma attacks, respiratory disease, and other public health problems, according to the eight states.

The petition, seeking to force nine states to take steps to limit air pollution under an EPA order, was first reported Monday in the New York Times.

New Jersey is the only one of nine members of the Ozone Transport Commission (OTC) not to sign the petition. The organization was created in the 1990s to combat air pollution on a regional basis. In October, the Christie administration also opted not to join a multistate effort to promote electric cars and zero-emission vehicles, a move that would help reduce the pollution and greenhouse gases that contribute to smog and global climate change. (Johnson/NJSpotlight) 





Democrats call for resignation of Christie appointee after Assembly hearings on GWB lane closures

Democrats on Monday called for the resignation of Governor Christie’s top appointee at the Port Authority after revelations that one of his key aides tried to keep controversial and unannounced lane changes on the world’s busiest bridge a secret from local officials and commuters.

It was just one of a series of disclosures that painted a picture of a powerful agency employee who was determined to conduct an ill-fated traffic study, even though mid-level agency officials were skeptical about it from the beginning.

Sworn testimony from three Port Authority officials before New Jersey lawmakers on Monday seemed to accelerate the controversy over unannounced lane changes that caused four-hour backups near the George Washington Bridge in September.

The official who ordered the lane changes, David Wildstein, announced Friday he would resign at the end of the year. But that didn’t appease Democratic lawmakers, who turned their focus Monday to the role of Bill Baroni, Wildstein’s boss and the top New Jersey executive at the bi-state agency. Baroni did not appear on Monday, but testified at a previous hearing. (Boburg/The Record)   



N.J. Senate panel advances bill to allow electronic payment of court fees

Court fees could be paid electronically by credit or debit card, should a bill that was released by the Senate Judiciary Committee becomes law.

The bill would allow the courts to set up online payment systems but would forbid bail payments from being made by credit or debit transactions.

The exemption for bail is made because some banks allow for large over drafting and credit cards do not necessarily require a criminal to put up their own money. If they must only place credit on the line, they may be less likely to show up for their court date, said Sen. Nicholas Scutari, D-Linden, the chair of the Judiciary Committee.

“There might be someone who gets released on overdraft protection from their bank,” said Scutari. (Phillis/The Record)    




New York Area Transit Agencies Prep for Super Bowl Crowd

New York and New Jersey mass-transit agencies will add service, offer special deals and suspend work ahead of the 2014 Super Bowl, the first one that relies largely on public transportation to get fans to and from the stadium.

The Feb. 2 championship game at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey, is projected to bring 400,000 visitors to the New York City region. Seventy percent of the 80,000 game attendees are expected to arrive by train or bus, and more will be visiting the area for events such as the four-day Super Bowl Boulevard celebration in Manhattan, said Al Kelly, head of the National Football League’s host committee.

“With hosting duties split between two states, physically separated by a river, the geographic footprint of Super Bowl XLVIII is unlike any other in the game’s history,” Kelly said yesterday in a statement.

New York and New Jersey are both trying to get a bite of the $550 million predicted to flow into the economy from Super Bowl-related activity. They also both are taking steps to ease transportation to and from the game and minimize complaints from people who visit the region. (Dopp/Bloomberg) 





Chris Christie Administration In A Jam Over Charges Of Using Busiest U.S. Bridge in Political Payback

WASHINGTON — The George Washington Bridge connecting Manhattan to Fort Lee, N.J., is the busiest in the country. So it was no small matter when in September, two of the three access lanes to the bridge were shut down, creating significant traffic problems on the New Jersey side.

The shutdown was ordered by a political appointee of New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) at the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey. Christie’s administration said the closure was justified due to a traffic study, while Democrats questioned whether it was political retribution against the mayor of Fort Lee, who weeks before had refused to endorse Christie’s reelection.

But on Monday, the top Port Authority official threw cold water on the Christie administration’s claim, testifying at a state Assembly hearing that he didn’t know about any traffic study. The Christie ally who ordered the closure, David Wildstein, resigned on Friday, reigniting questions about whether the traffic snarl created by the closure was all just political payback — allegations that the Christie administration has dismissed as “crazy.”

Christie brought Wildstein into his administration as a top Port Authority official in 2010. But the two go back much further. Wildstein, who founded the political website PolitickerNJ, and Christie were just a year apart in high school. A 2012 profile of Wildstein in The Record newspaper said figured “prominently” in Christie’s effort to change the Port Authority.

“Longtime employees … privately describe a man intent on carrying out a political agenda rather than one built on reform or improving the region’s transportation system,” wrote the paper. (Terkel/Huffington Post) 





GOP darling Chris Christie headed to Vt.

One of the most popular Republicans in the country will be in Vermont next month to help rally the state’s GOP.

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie will speak at the Vermont Republican Party’s Welcome Winter Gala on Wednesday, Dec. 11, at the Champlain Valley Expo in Essex Junction.

Christie, a potential presidential candidate in 2016, was elected to a second term as governor earlier this month after winning 61 percent of the vote in the heavily Democratic state.

Rep. Heidi Scheuermann, R-Stowe, worked with Lt. Gov. Phil Scott to bring Christie to Vermont to help reignite interest in the Republican Party.

“He’s excited to come to Vermont,” Scheuermann said. “We contacted him to see if he would be willing to come here to help the Republican Party. I was pleased when he said yes.”

Christie’s successful gubernatorial campaign, which won over larger numbers of independent and moderate Democrats, offers insight on how a Republican could take the governor’s seat in Vermont, according to Scheuermann.

“I think it will depend on how things are going and who would want to run for governor,” said Scheuermann of the 2014 gubernatorial race. “We have a very popular Republican lieutenant governor.” (McCormack/Stowe Reporter) 





NJ Seeks to Scrap Outdated Law

A bill to eliminate an archaic state law that bans New Jersey residents from participating in contests of skill was approved by a Senate committee today.

The measure, sponsored by Assemblyman Tim Eustace (D-Bergen/Passaic) said that participation in a contest of skill in which a person pays an entry fee for the opportunity to win money or something else of value is not considered a game of chance and doesn’t constitute unlawful gambling.

“This addresses the reluctance of some contest sponsors to accept entries from New Jersey residents because of their belief doing so would violate New Jersey’s gambling laws,” said Eustace. “As it stands now, New Jersey residents are barred from participating in anything even as simple as a baking or photography contest.”

The legislation defines “contest of skill” as any contest where the winner or winners are selected solely on the quality of an entry in the contest as determined by a panel of judges using uniform criteria to assess the quality of entries. A “contest of skill” doesn’t include any contest, game, pool, gaming scheme or gaming device in which the outcome depends in a material degree upon an element of chance. (McArdle/NJ101.5) 




George Norcross becomes majority owner of Inquirer,

South Jersey power broker George Norcross III has taken over majority ownership of the Philadelphia Inquirer and its related properties according to a report today.

Philadelphia Magazine is reporting that Norcross bought out partner Kris Singh to gain – along with two additional partners – a 58 percent ownership stake in the media company that includes the Inquirer, the Philadelphia Daily News and

Norcross has been entangled in a legal battle with co-owner Lewis Katz, who owns 26.5 percent of the company, over the management of the paper and the firing of Editor Bill Marimow.

The court later reinstated Marimow as the two men continue to duke it out.

Norcross is often called the most powerful non-elected politico in the state and controls much of the political infrastructure in the southern portion of the state.

His power only grew when Gov. Chris Christie came to power as the two men have formed partnership of sorts that has benefitted both.

With his purchase of additional share in the Inquirer, Norcross is signaling that he is all in on the purchase, which was made at a fraction of the paper’s one time value. 

The purchase by the political power player had many in the newsroom fearing that their independence would disappear and the paper would become a vehicle to enhance the new owner’s power. (Isherwood/ 




N.J. Senate panel slashes bill empowering administrative law judges

TRENTON — A state Senate committee today stripped a key component from a bill that would have weakened Gov. Chris Christie’s Cabinet while giving more power to a little-known group of judges who help resolve disputes over state regulations.

The measure (S2555), supported by lawmakers of both parties and passed by the Assembly in April, is meant to overhaul the Office of Administrative Law, an independent agency founded in 1979. The office has a staff of more than 40 judges who look at disputes over state regulations — from driver’s licenses to environmental protections to school-construction codes.

But the judges can be overruled by the heads of state agencies, something the bill’s sponsors had hoped to prohibit. The Senate’s state government committee, however, removed that provision today in a unanimous vote.

“It was a tug of war,” Assemblyman John Burzichelli (D-Gloucester), a primary sponsor, said this afternoon. “It was pretty clear that it was something that was not going to make it into law at this time.”

The bill came out of Christie’s Red Tape Review Commission, a study group that sought ways to roll back the size of government. It includes other provisions that would allow judges to hear testimony for pre-hearing conference by telephone or video conference, to issue oral decisions rather than written decisions in certain cases and to issue decisions in “checklist” form. (Hutchins/Star-Ledger) 




 From the Back Room


Report: Norcross majority owner of the Philadelphia Inquirer  

George Norcross III has become the majority owner of the Philadelphia Inquirer and, according to published reports.

According to, Norcross is expected to announce the purchase of shares that will double his holdings.  (Arco/PolitickerNJ)




Christie Port Authority appointee resigns

The man reported to be at the center of a controversy over lane closures on the George Washington Bridge is resigning from the Port Authority, according to published reports.

David Wildstein, the agency’s director of Interstate Capital Projects, submitted his resignation letter Friday, according to The Record.

“My plan was to leave the agency at some point next year, but the Fort Lee issue has been a distraction, and I think it’s better to move on earlier,” he wrote in a letter to the agency’s Deputy Executive Director, Bill Baroni, according to the newspaper.

“I am grateful to you and Governor Christie for the opportunity to serve,” he wrote.

Wildstein was the former editor of PolitickerNJ before departing in 2010. (PolitickerNJ)







Playing politics with the poor, who needs lawyers:

One of the most common assumptions about our justice system is that you’re entitled to a lawyer, regardless of whether or not you can afford one.

But in reality, that’s true only for criminal cases. In civil cases, many of which are just as life-or-death, being poor almost always means you have to represent yourself.

While hundreds of thousands of low-income New Jerseyans run into legal problems, only about one in six will now get a lawyer to fight for them. That’s because Legal Services, the nonprofit that defends the indigent, saw its funding brutally slashed — most recently by Gov. Chris Christie, in two consecutive years.

The group’s total funding dropped from $70 million to just $39 million over the past five years, as revenue from a lawyers’ trust account dried up and Christie diced its state allocation. As a result, its staff was reduced by half, just as poverty skyrocketed thanks to the recession.

This means its lawyers have to say no to desperate people. They cannot represent every victim of domestic violence, even if it means a battered woman may not win a restraining order. They cannot defend many families with children that are unfairly evicted, or wrongly denied essential food stamps or disability benefits.

For a while, it looked as if some relief might be on the way: Proposed legislation would allow the state Supreme Court to raise certain court fees to provide about $10 million a year for Legal Services. Yet after passing the Assembly, a version of that bill is now stalled in the Senate, as lawmakers negotiate with Christie.

The governor’s spokesmen have refused to comment, but it appears Christie is looking to use the funding for Legal Services as a bargaining chip to further his plan to reform the state’s bail system. (Star-Ledger Editorial Board) 





New Camden police force makes inroads on crime

Around this time last year, Camden was hailing in the holidays with a record number of homicides. The city was like a bloody war zone, hitting 67 slayings by the end of 2012, its most ever.

It could no longer afford its police force, having laid off nearly half the officers when it couldn’t get union concessions. And we saw the grim result: Fewer patrol cars and detectives on the street. Terrorized residents, emboldened criminals and a staggering death rate.

The controversial solution pushed by Gov. Chris Christie and his Democratic ally, South Jersey political boss George Norcross, was to scrap the city’s police department and create a new, cheaper force run by the county. It would be staffed with reassigned Camden officers and fresh recruits, and patrol the city’s streets starting in May.

Without the expensive benefits of the old force, it cut the cost of the average police officer in half.

No doubt about it, this was union busting — not a justifiable tactic in most situations. But Camden was facing a public safety emergency. And now, the results speak for themselves: Homicides have dropped 20 percent in the city, The Star-Ledger’s James Queally reported. Burglaries and robberies have also fallen significantly. And overall crime is down 14 percent.

The county-run force is not perfect. It started by concentrating on neighborhoods of the city, where it already had the backing of small business owners and community leaders, to push out dangerous drug traffickers. In other violent areas, such as North Camden and Whitman Park, Camden residents say they have yet to see real improvement.

But this is still promising progress. And the force will add more officers next year. There are people walking around Camden today who would no doubt be dead if Christie, Norcross and local officials, including Mayor Dana Redd, didn’t team up on this effort. So let’s give credit where it’s due. (Star-Ledger Editorial Board)   Morning Digest: Dec. 10, 2013