Morning Digest: Dec. 12, 2013

Burlington Dems a lock on CD 3 nominee, other candidates still emerge

As names of possible Republican replacements for U.S. Rep. John Runyan (R-3) swirl around GOP circles, so do Democratic congressional hopefuls among their respective party organizations.

The Republican-leaning district that comprises Burlington and Ocean counties has yet to coalesce around a sole GOP candidate, and depending on whom you ask, much of the same can still be said about a Democratic nominee.

With Burlington County in a lock for its Freeholder who has an eye on the federal seat, Aimee Belgard, Ocean is still at play. All the while, two Democratic candidates have emerged who say they’re giving the race serious consideration.

Both Howard Kleinhendler, a corporate lawyer who previously challenged Rep. Chris Smith (R-4), and Jack Fanous, co-founder and executive director of the veterans group G.I. Go Fund, tell PolitickerNJ they’re interested in making a run for the seat.(Arco/PolitickerNJ) 




PolitickerNJ’s 50 Most Powerful Elected Officials

This year’s top 50 list of NJ elected officials comes in the aftermath of another legislative election cycle and relies heavily on those district-by-district outcomes for individual rankings.

This is obviously an inexact science, ultimately only prompting questions about the very nature of New Jersey power.

At the heart of those questions lies the difference between organizational power, where politicians work within a specific political structure to accomplish legislative or executive goals; versus individual power, where  the right to exercise one’s First Amendment without care of organizational consequences, creates its own unique kind of influence.

By definition, New Jersey government renders those elected officials in the upper reaches of Trenton political circles best positioned to make an impact. (PolitickerNJ Staff) 




2016 Poll: Chris Christie 42%, Hilary Clinton 41%

Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie are in a dead heat in a hypothetical 2016 presidential matchup with the recently reelected governor leading by 1 point in a new poll.

Christie leads Clinton 42 percent to 41 percent in a Quinnipiac poll released Wednesday. Christie’s 1-point lead is the same as Quinnipiac’s poll in November, but a far cry from the 13-point lead Clinton held in October. (Kopan/Politico)




Tea partiers line up to tackle GOP senators

GOP senators have aggressively tried to keep their conservative base at bay to ensure there’s virtually no space on their right for a primary foe to emerge.

That didn’t work so well.

Republican primary challengers are lining up to take on sitting senators next year in eight of the 12 races involving sitting GOP senators, gunning for party leaders like Mitch McConnell in Kentucky, veterans like Thad Cochran in Mississippi and Pat Roberts in Kansas and deal-makers like Lindsey Graham in South Carolina. Texas Sen. John Cornyn became the latest target this week, when a fiercely conservative congressman, Steve Stockman, suddenly announced plans to challenge the Senate’s second-ranking Republican in next March’s primary. (Raju and Bresnahan/Politico)




Many New Jerseyans stuck in health care limbo as Dec. 23 deadline nears

With just 12 days to go before the first deadline to enroll in health plans under the Affordable Care Act, New Jersey residents are still having trouble getting on the federal website to purchase medical coverage.

Technical glitches with the website continue to stymie efforts by both individuals and the application counselors who are trying to help them. They have until Dec. 23 to enroll if they want coverage to begin on Jan. 1.

Counselors at the North Hudson Community Action Group, which has nine community health centers scattered across North Jersey, had been successfully enrolling about 50 clients a day using paper applications. But since federal officials told them recently to use the website instead, they’ve been able to sign up only about a dozen each day, said Manny Diaz, the outreach supervisor for the group.

“It’s not a smooth process at all,” Diaz said. “The problems are very similar to before, just less frequently — people are getting error messages or screens that ask them to wait, and sometimes the wait is very long.” (Williams and Washburn/The Record) 




Senators Menendez, Booker plan 24-hour fast in D.C.

NEWARK, N.J. — New Jersey’s two U.S. senators are planning a 24-hour fast in solidarity with protesters in Washington, D.C. pushing for immigration law changes.

Sens. Robert Menendez and Cory Booker visited the group Fasters for Families in Washington on Wednesday.

The group has been on a water-only fast to urge the House of Representatives to consider an immigration reform bill that passed the Senate.

A spokesman for Menendez says he’ll renew his call for the House speaker to bring it to a vote. He is an architect of the bill.

The senators were joined in Washington by The Rev. Seth Kaper-Dale of The Reformed Church of Highland Park, N.J., and several of the church’s Indonesian congregants who have been fighting deportation.

Kaper-Dale says his congregants are planning a modified fast in solidarity. (Associated Press) 




House GOP backs budget agreement

WASHINGTON — House Republicans signaled support Wednesday for a budget deal worked out a day earlier, a plan narrowly drawn but promoted as a way to stabilize Congress’ erratic fiscal efforts, avert another government shutdown and mute some of the partisan rancor that has damaged Americans’ attitudes about their lawmakers.

“There’s a lot to like about it,” said one GOP congressman, John Fleming of Louisiana, as he emerged from a closed-door caucus meeting.

Still, GOP critics said the measure would increase deficits for the next three years and complained that much of its deficit savings would come near the end of its 10-year projections. A preliminary estimate by the Congressional Budget Office says $68 billion, or 80 percent, of the plan’s deficit savings would come in the pact’s final three years. Just $11 billion would accrue in the first three years, an amount that will be far exceeded by the $63 billion in new spending permitted this year and next. (Taylor/Associated Press)





Child abduction bill names for Tinton Falls’ David Goldman passes House with no opposition

WASHINGTON — The House voted unanimously on Wednesday to pass legislation from Rep. Chris Smith of New Jersey that aims to crack down on countries that harbor children abducted by a parent.

The bill was named for David Goldman of Tinton Falls, N.J., whose five-year fight to get his son back from Brazil drew international attention. Goldman’s son Sean was returned to him on Christmas Eve almost exactly four years ago.

“Today, we have hope,” Goldman told reporters shortly before the vote. “Our abducted American children need to be returned.”

Smith’s bill passed 398-0, an impressive show of bipartisan support that Smith says should help the bill attract support in the Senate.

The bill would give the U.S. government authority to pursue sanctions — from a public rebuke to trade and credit suspensions — on countries that refuse to turn over abducted children. (Herman/Asbury Park Press) 




Eminent Domain Ordinance Advances in Toms River

An ordinance to allocate $3,784,800 to pay for the cost associated with eminent domain of beach front properties in Toms River has a to a final reading.

 “The ordinance they passed for eminent domain will allow them to set aside funds for the legal cost, engineering cost, any type of court cost associated with the process for eminent domain,” Council President George Wittman said.

He added that the ordinance also allows them to set aside some money for the payment of easements to hold out beachfront property owners, but he would not say how much they would be offering to them. (Key/NJ101.5)




Senate Pulls All Nighter Over Obama Nominees

The Senate is churning through a round-the-clock session over President Barack Obama’s nominees, the latest chapter in the chamber’s saga of partisan warfare.

Fuming over the Democrats’ new limits on filibusters, Republicans are refusing to give up debate time over 11 nominations that Majority Leader Harry Reid is trying to muscle through this week. So Reid has set the Senate in continuous session through Saturday, unless Republicans relent. There was no sign of that happening.

Early Thursday, the Senate confirmed the first of those nominees, voting 51-44 to confirm Cornelia “Nina” Pillard to the influential D.C. Circuit Court.

The Senate also is slated to consider Jeh Johnson, Obama’s pick to head the Homeland Security Department. The nominations don’t appear to be in jeopardy despite the infighting. (Townsqaure News Media)




New Jersey Suspends Review of PokerStars’ Online Gambling License

The New Jersey Division of Gaming Enforcement has suspended the review of PokerStars’ application for an online gambling license for two years, locking the world’s biggest online poker company out of the largest state to regulate online gambling. The decision is a big setback for PokerStars’ effort to return to the U.S. market, but New Jersey regulators are leaving the door open to reconsidering PokerStars’ application under certain circumstances.

“The Division of Gaming Enforcement has determined that the application of Rational Services Limited (PokerStars) casino service industry licensure (CSIE) will be held in a suspended status for a period of two years,” the New Jersey Division of Gaming Enforcement said in a statement. “The Division, within that period, may consider a request for relief to reactivate the application if significantly changed circumstances are demonstrated at which time the Division’s investigation of PokerStars and its affiliated entities and associated individuals will be resumed to assess suitability.”

The stated reason for the New Jersey Division of Gaming Enforcement’s decision is PokerStars’ continued association with its founder, Isai Scheinberg, who remains under federal indictment. Federal prosecutors in Manhattan indicted Scheinberg in 2011 for violating the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act and the Illegal Gambling Business Act, but Scheinberg, who is not a U.S. citizen, has not come to the U.S. to face the charges. He recently hired former U.S. Attorney General Michael Mukasey as his lawyer. (Vardi/Forbes) 





Group linked to Hilary Clinton attacks Chris Christie over Port Authority lane closure flap

TRENTON — The George Washington Bridge flap has gone national.

A Democratic group connected to Hillary Clinton today attacked Gov. Chris Christie over the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey’s closure of lanes leading to the nation’s busiest bridge.

Correct the Record — an offshoot of the American Bridge, a group specializing in opposition research — created a graphic showing the Republican governor’s frowning face, a highway sign that reads “Lanes Closed. Expect Christie?” and another sign with the words “political retribution.”

CNN first reported the effort, which is significant because polls show Christie and Clinton are early front-runners for their party’s 2016 presidential nominations.

Some New Jersey lawmakers suspect top Port Authority employees closed local lanes in Fort Lee to punish the town’s mayor for not endorsing Christie’s re-election bid.

Christie has denied involvement in the closures, joking that he was working the traffic cones on the sly.

But the Democratic National Committee accused Christie of ducking questions about the issue because the press was told it would be shut out of last night’s fundraiser for the Vermont GOP, his second out-of-state trip since taking over as chairman of the Republican Governors Association. (Portnoy/Star-Ledger)





N.J. Assembly Democrats not on board with state Senate gay marriage bill

TRENTON — While a state Senate panel is moving forward with a plan turn a court decision legalizing gay marriage into state law, the Assembly is not on board.

“New Jersey now has a very strong marriage equality right that is quite possibly the nation’s strongest,” Tom Hester, Jr., a spokesman for the Democrats who control the lower house, said in a statement this morning. “The Assembly is of course willing to listen to all ideas, but considering the strength of the existing right, no action is currently scheduled.”

The Senate Judiciary Committee on Monday will take up a new bill (S3109) that would encode gay marriage into state law. But to send it to Republican Gov. Chris Christie’s desk, the full Senate and Assembly would have to pass it.

While gay marriage is currently permitted in New Jersey, it’s based on a state Superior Court judge’s decision, and some want to secure the right of same-sex couples to marry by writing it into the law books so a higher court cannot overrule it.

But some gay rights advocates say they’re allowed greater rights under the court decision than they would be under the bill, which specifically grants religious exemptions. (Friedman/Star-Ledger)




From the Back Room


Port Authority also conducting an investigation into GWB lane closures

The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey’s inspector general is launching its own investigation into the lane closure controversy on the George Washington Bridge.

According to the Wall Street Journal, the office’s director of investigation, Michael Nestor, told the newspaper the inspector general launched the investigation on Tuesday. (PolitickerNJ) 




CD3 Update: The Field Narrows  

Sources in CD 3 say the contest to replace U.S. Rep. Jon Runyan has come down to a handful of candidates.

Backroom discussions continue right now concerning the prospects for the seat of Assemblyman David Wolfe (R-10), John Giordano, assistant commissioner for Compliance and Enforcement at the state’s Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), and others.

A source told that others want the seat, including former Bogota Mayor Steve Lonegan, Berkeley Twp. Mayor Tom MacArthur, and Evesham Mayor Randy Brown.

Veteran lawmaker Wolfe is making an aggressive push but Giordano has an edge based on his father’s ability to fundraise, sources said.  (PolitickerNJ) 





Subpoena Christie’s political appointees to answer for GWB lane closures

The first time Bill Baroni spoke to lawmakers about the George Washington Bridge brouhaha, it was a laugher. That was just two weeks ago, when Baroni, deputy executive director of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, blamed a secret “traffic study” for traffic jams that crippled Fort Lee in September.

Now that his cover story is starting to unravel, legislators should subpoena Baroni to testify again — this time under oath, with the threat of perjury hanging over his head.

Baroni wants us to believe the Port Authority was studying the bridge’s traffic patterns when it blockaded two-thirds of Fort Lee’s entry lanes, sparking three days of gridlock starting Sept. 9. The agency, he testified, wanted to measure the effect of the Fort Lee shutdown on other bridge traffic. (Hint: It moves faster.)

New Jersey lawmakers, led by Assemblyman John Wisniewski (D-Middlesex) and Sen. Loretta Weinberg (D-Bergen), aren’t buying it. And with good reason: Nobody involved with George Washington Bridge’s operations knew anything about Baroni’s phantom “study.”

That includes Patrick Foye, Baroni’s boss and the Port Authority’s top executive, who was subpoenaed to Trenton on Monday and testified, under oath, that he wasn’t told about the clandestine study, either. When he learned about it from reporters, he demanded the lanes be reopened.

The widely held suspicion is that Baroni and David Wildstein, the PA’s director of interstate capital projects, ordered the traffic squeeze to punish Fort Lee’s Democratic mayor, Mark Sokolich, for refusing to endorse Gov. Chris Christie’s re-election.

It’s the possibility of a Christie link — Baroni and Wildstein are Christie appointees — that’s fueling speculation. And Baroni’s flimsy excuses, coupled with Wildstein’s abrupt resignation announcement last week, only add to the believability.

After Monday’s hearings, Wisniewski called for Baroni to resign from the Port Authority or be fired. That’s jumping the gun. (The Star-Ledger Editorial Board)  

Morning Digest: Dec. 12, 2013