Morning Digest: Dec. 23, 2013

Jeffries campaign sets up Newark ward HQs

NEWARK – Newark mayoral candidate Shavar Jeffries officially opened up campaign headquarters throughout Brick City on Saturday, trying to transform significant campaign resources into street organizational ability.

“We’re going to be engaged in aggressive, intelligence-based community policing,” said Jeffries, the former state Assistant Attorney General, to a crowd of nearly 75 people gathered outside of his new West Ward headquarters on Sanford Avenue in the city’s Vailsburg neighborhood. “We need to re-invest in more officers, and we need our officers to have a more organic relationship with our communities. We need to be walking these neighborhoods, knowing the clergy, knowing the community leaders, knowing the parents, and knowing the residents so we can really identify those folks who are up to no good in our community. And then we’re going to target those people.” 

Jeffries was clearly talking about public safely, a highly relevant topic in New Jersey’s largest city. But Jeffries could have equally been talking about his need to target relevant voters as he seeks the mayor’s seat.

Jeffries has to this point raised the most funds, with close to $600,000 in his campaign war chest. But all of his rivals, including Ras Baraka, Anibal Ramos, Jr. and Darrin Sharif, the councilmen of the South, North and Central Wards respectively, have neighborhood bases to gain their votes from. In particular, Baraka and Ramos have been engaged in classic Newark political street theater in recent weeks, getting labor endorsements and running holiday charity drives, hoping to display both organizational force and street credibility, while Jeffries has been relatively quiet. (Bonamo/PolitickerNJ)





The Southern Strategy and the Road to Drumthwacket Victory

It’s an undeniable truth any New Jersey politician or gubernatorial hopeful will have to contend with if someone south of the state’s North-South divide throws their hat in the ring for the governor’s seat following Gov. Chris Christie’s departure (whenever that may be).

Nowhere is the divide more exemplified in New Jersey than within the state’s Democratic Party.

South Jersey, although unified and in control of the largest voting bloc in the state Legislature, lacks the sheer volume the north holds when it comes to casting ballots. The roadblock means future hopefuls will have to navigate carefully if they hope to grab onto the seat a South Jersey pol hasn’t held in nearly two decades.

“Solid support from the south,” said the state’s last South Jersey executive, Gov. Jim Florio, when asked of the must-haves of any South Jersey hopeful mounting a campaign.

“Solid support,” he said.

A fractured south would dash any hopeful’s chances of a serious campaign. But on the other hand, a unified coalition would give a single South Jersey candidate an edge if northern Democratic factions – known to be singing to different tunes – can’t rally around one candidate.

“The South Jersey legislative delegation is almost uniform,” notes Florio, saying “it was not the case” when he ran for governor, but explaining the uniformity signals solid support – which could translate into serious political gains.

“The north has numbers, but the south has leverage,” said one northern Democratic official. (Arco/PolitickerNJ)






Countdown for Obamacare signups

The White House has been on a December dash to get people to sign up for health coverage by Monday, the first critical enrollment deadline for Obamacare — and the last sign-up opportunity for people who want their new health benefits to kick in on New Year’s Day.

The White House spent the past three weeks trying to move past the double-barreled disaster of the botched website and the millions of canceled health plans. The website now works, although not perfectly. Many of the people who received cancellation notices have found alternatives, though some are still scrambling to get health coverage by Monday.

The rocky start of the health law rollout, a flurry of last-minute policy changes and shifting deadlines has consumers confused and advocates working overtime to get people over the sign-up finish line. Call centers have been beefed up, and outreach groups are texting and emailing people with reminders that the health care clock is ticking. (Cheney and Villacorta/Politico)






SDA Gets New Chief in McKenna, While Larkins is Named State Comptroller

Concerns about school-construction agency’s glacial progress on outstanding projects dominates discussion of personnel changes

Ever in the spotlight, often under fire, the state agency in charge of building and repairing New Jersey’s public schools is about to get a new boss.

Gov. Chris Christie yesterday announced that Marc Larkins, the current chief of the Schools Development Authority (SDA), will move into the state comptroller’s slot.

Charles McKenna, currently Christie’s top counsel, is headed for the SDA. (Mooney/NJSpotlight) 






State commits $100M to repair Newark schools

NEWARK  — New Jersey’s largest school district says the state has committed $100 million to repair its public schools.

Newark Superintendent Cami Anderson says the funding comes from the Schools Development Authority, which oversees $3.9 billion in bonds approved by voters for school construction and repairs. Some funds go to suburban districts, but most of the money is targeted to poor districts.

The money for repairs is in addition to funds already committed for several new schools that will likely be built in the next few years. District officials say about half of Newark’s schools were built between 1851 and 1950. (Associated Press)   






Fort Lee mayor disputes Christie’s claim Port Authority not called over GWB traffic

The Fort Lee mayor on Friday challenged Governor Christie’s claim that the traffic paralysis caused by closed lanes at the George Washington Bridge couldn’t have been such a problem because top Port Authority officials were unaware of the congestion.

Christie said Port Authority Executive Director Patrick Foye, a New York appointee, “had no notification” of the traffic study that supposedly caused the traffic that shut the town down.

“Did the Fort Lee officials — law enforcement, political — lose his number? Could they not get it and find him somehow? How did this happen exactly?” Christie asked during a State House news conference Thursday.

Borough officials, however, called “at least five or six” people at the Port Authority to raise concerns, Mayor Mark Sokolich said Friday.

Fort Lee incessantly called,” he said. “We called the contacts that we always called whenever there was an event. We did not depart from protocol that had been established for 20 years. … We called everybody that we were supposed to call.”

Sokolich made his assertion Friday as the U.S. transportation secretary confirmed his department is looking into the matter and as officials in the state Legislature were reviewing records lawmakers subpoenaed from the Port Authority. (Hayes and Tat/The Record)   






Former assemblyman from Cumberland County fined $500 over traffic stop response

TRENTON, N.J. — A New Jersey assemblyman who lost re-election last month has become the first state lawmaker to be fined by the Legislature’s ethics panel in 35 years.

Democrat Nelson Albano of Cumberland County was fined $500. The ethics committee found this week that his complaint against a trooper who stopped him last year for driving 71 mph in a 55-mph zone had no merit.

In a letter to state police, Albano accused the trooper of humiliating him and showing him disrespect.

State police and the legislative committee found the trooper acted professionally.

Albano’s attorney told The Star-Ledger the legislator apologizes for the episode and will not challenge the fine, but denies violating ethics rules.

Video of the traffic stop taken from the trooper’s dashboard camera and made public by the Ledger contradicted Albano’s version of events. (Associated Press)   






Bill would mandate Pledge of Allegiance at all public meetings in New Jersey

TRENTON — Public meetings in New Jersey typically have a U.S. flag present and someone leads the audience in the Pledge of Allegiance, but state lawmakers think it’s a good idea to mandate those practices.

Bill A-4156, approved by the Assembly in a 78-0 vote Thursday, doesn’t impose any penalties for violators — but sponsor Assemblyman Nelson Albano, D-Cape May, in a news release said the measure is necessary because it “streamlines the opening procedures of all meetings of government.’’

Albano’s bill includes language that leaves no confusion on which pledge should be said.

“At the commencement of every meeting of a public body,’’ the bill states, “the person presiding shall lead those persons present in a recitation of the following pledge of allegiance to the flag: “I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America and to the republic for which it stands, one nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.”

It’s unclear whether the bill sponsors believe that flag salutes are not occurring at some public meetings. Co-sponsor Assemblywoman Mary Pat Angelini, a Republican from Monmouth County, did not respond to an email asking if she knew of any particular instances or why a law with no penalties is needed. (Jordan/Asbury Park Press) 





Rough health law fallout tightens key Senate races

GRAND RAPIDS, MICH. — Thanks to the fiasco that followed the launch of President Barack Obama’s health care law, Democrats are bracing for hard-fought Senate races in states they hoped to win with ease just two months ago.

Weeks of technical problems with the health insurance enrollment website and anxiety over insurance cancellations for millions of people have erased early advantages enjoyed by Democratic candidates Gary Peters in Michigan and Mark Udall in Colorado.

As the election year dawns, those problems have widened the narrow opening for Republicans to retake control of the Senate. (Associated Press) 





Cuomo vetoes bill to fix Hackensack River flooding in N.J. and N.Y.

BERGEN COUNTY — New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo vetoed a bill Wednesday night that would have created a commission to address flooding from the Hackensack River, Sparkill Creek, Saddle River and Ramapo River, reported.

The bill provides no funding to support the commission’s operations, an estimated $600,000 annually shared between New York and New Jersey, Cuomo wrote in his veto statement. Gov. Chris Christie signed a similar measure in January 2012.

The Hackensack River feeds reservoirs in Woodcliff Lake and Oradell. (Ma/ 






Casinos take over airwaves in online gambling marketing blitz

ATLANTIC CITY — It’s nearly impossible to escape.

The TV commercials and radio spots are blasting into households all over New Jersey and neighboring states. Banner ads are plastered on news websites. Billboards line major highways. Marketing crews are in shopping malls and ferry terminals proclaiming the news:

Online gambling is legal in New Jersey and you should give it a try.

The marketing blitz — orchestrated by the Atlantic City casinos and several online gaming companies — is a sign of how big a deal internet betting is for the state. It represents the most significant expansion of gambling since the first casino opened in 1978. It also offers a look at a struggling Atlantic City’s fight to survive.

“They are using every angle — every traditional media angle they can,” said Donald Hoover, an expert on the casino industry and a professor at Fairleigh Dickinson University. “They are spending a lot of money advertising.” (Hutchins/Star-Ledger) 






From the Back Room


Former Corzine spokeswoman dating Spitzer, Daily News reports

Lis Smith, last seen tearfully absorbing the news of Jon Corzine’s 2009 gubernatorial loss, has surfaced in New York City in two-pronged fashion.

She’s Mayor-elect Bill de Blasio’s spokeswoman; and, according to the Daily News, the girlfriend of former Gov. Eliot Spitzer. (PolitickerNJ)







As Trenton Mayor Tony Mack’s trail nears, case against him builds with JoJo’s plea

Rats seem to be an unfortunate meme in Trenton these days.

Earlier this month, Times staffer Alex Zdan reported on a stuffed rat, its mouth taped shut, being slammed around the office of the Trenton Water Works. It was brandished as a warning to Water Works employees contemplating going to the Mercer County prosecutor’s office to talk about shady dealings linked to City Hall.

Two employees who lost their jobs say they were fired in retaliation for giving the prosecutor’s office information that led to the arrest and imprisonment of Trenton Mayor Tony Mack’s brother, Stanley “Muscles” Davis.

Last week, Zdan reported on signs with the image of a rat and the name JoJo cropping up at three locations connected to Joseph “JoJo” Giorgianni. Giorgianni had been a co-defendant with Mack and his brother Ralphiel Mack in a federal corruption case.

But Giorgianni, a longtime associate of Tony Mack, unexpectedly took a plea deal and implicated the mayor in an extortion scheme set up by undercover FBI agents. (Times of Trenton Editorial Board) 



Christie knows GWB lane closure flap has opened eyes

The road map drawn up after Governor Christie’s landslide reelection in November did not run through Fort Lee.

Christie’s plan called for traveling the country to get fellow Republican governors elected and then reaping the rewards of a national fundraising database and a roster of grateful state leaders that he could tap when and if he decided to jump in the 2016 presidential pool.

And like a stubborn husband refusing to ask directions, the governor sees no need to detour just because the national media and a key United States senator have joined those in New Jersey asking questions about the simmering scandal caused by his political appointee and high school friend, who closed access lanes to the George Washington Bridge for a questionable “traffic study.”

“It’s not that big a deal,” Christie declared last week, providing a classic display of the self-assurance that got him where he is.

Christie knows he’s facing the first real test in the national spotlight that presidential candidates endure.

How he handles it is being watched in Washington not only by the Democratic National Committee, which is commenting on every new development, but also operatives for Democratic political committees that can raise and spend unlimited amounts.

The conflicting explanations about the lane closures caught the attention of the chairman of the Senate committee that has considerable power over issues that are important to the Port Authority, and if hearings are held, Republicans in Congress will have to decide whether to take up Christie’s defense or stand by quietly as potentially new questions emerge. (Jackson/The Record)    Morning Digest: Dec. 23, 2013