Morning Digest: Dec. 31, 2013

Jeffries: “We’re in the mist of an historic epidemic of violent Newark crime Sign Up For Our Daily Newsletter Sign

Jeffries: “We’re in the mist of an historic epidemic of violent Newark crime

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In a city barraged by violent crime, 104 murders this year, 45 of them in the South Ward, mayoral candidate Shavar Jeffries on a cold street corner this afternoon doubled down on an attack plan to retake control of Newark.

In crisis mode, the former Assistant Attorney General, a native of the South Ward, stood with grieving families in front of the elementary school in the South Ward attended by slain teenager Zainee Hailey.

“We’re in the midst of an historic epidemic. [But] even during this time of despair, there is cause for hope,” said Jeffries. “We are optimistic because our own history in Newark teaches us that we can do better. We are optimistic because leaders and residents in places like East Orange, the Bronx, and Brooklyn have turned war zones that were violently unlivable into safe, secure neighborhoods by investing in the right policies and programs. (Pizarro/PolitickerNJ)





Webber won’t run for the U.S. Senate

Assemblyman Jay Webber (R-26) will not be a candidate for U.S. Senate in 2014.

Webber and his wife are expecting a seventh child and the Republican assemblyman wants to be there for his family.

U.S. Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) is up for re-election next year. (Pizarro/PolitickerNJ)






New Obamacare figures: 975,000 in December

Nearly 1 million people signed up for health insurance through the federal Obamacare exchanges between Dec. 1 and the Dec. 24 deadline for getting coverage by the start of the new year, according to figures released by the administration Sunday. 

The 975,000 people who enrolled during that window bring the total number of federal sign-ups to more than 1.1 million since the rocky rollout of the government’s website on Oct. 1. (Allen/Politico)




Michael Barbaro to cover Christie

Michael Barbaro, the New York Times reporter who covered Mayor Michael Bloomberg, has been assigned to cover Gov. Chris Christie ahead of the 2016 presidential race, editors told staff on Friday.

“After a dazzling year in which he captured the ups, downs, and all around excitement of the mayor’s race, the leftward turn of the city’s electorate and the ending of the Age of Bloomberg, Michael Barbaro will turn his attention to another great political story: Chris Christie,” editors Carolyn Ryan and Wendell Jamieson wrote.

“Christie has emerged as a powerful and intriguing figure on the Republican stage, and his influence and impact will only grow in 2014, as he takes his message and his political operation national, as head of the Republican Governors Association and a potential candidate for president,” they wrote. “Michael will build on the stellar work of Kate Zernike, our virtuoso New Jersey correspondent, who has reported aggressively and written revealingly of Christie’s post-Sandy management, his opposition to same sex marriage, his fiscal stewardship and his reputation for hardball politics. Michael’s new assignment will allow Kate to dive into more of the issues affecting New Jersey, and the stories unfolding there, from Camden to the Pine Barrens.” (Byers/Politico) 



Chris Christie’s Twitter nostalgia raises right-wing ire

Gov. Chris Christie decided to get a little nostalgic today and post on Twitter some GIFs of his favorite moments of 2013.

There is the gov hugging Bon Jovi as First Lady Mary Pat Christie applauds in the background. There’s one of Prince Harry and Christie looking tre cool in their sunglasses.

There’s even a compilation of the governor’s favorite newspaper covers of the year, including our favorite from the Trentonian (forgive us, APP!).

All of these, plus more, were cross-posted on BuzzFeed by the governor himself (a “community member,” according to the post, which features an avatar of a much younger Christie).

But it was the GIF of Christie tossing footballs with President Barack Obama at the Jersey Shore that really prompted the ire of conservatives. It seems the president’s boardwalk frolic with Christie brought back some bad memories. (Schoonejongen/Asbury Park Press)     






Christie lets concealed gun law go undefended during appeal

Governor Christie’s administration did not defend one of the state’s stringent gun laws in a case where two retired arson investigators challenged rules over who can carry a concealed weapon, according to an appeals court decision released Monday.

The attorney general who made that decision, Jeffrey Chiesa, is one of Christie’s closest advisers and left that law enforcement job when the governor named him to a temporary post in the U.S. Senate earlier this year. He notified the court that the state would not be appealing a trial court decision in papers filed a month before the Newtown, Conn., school shooting last year that prompted a push for gun restrictions including a ban on high-caliber assault weapons in New Jersey.

In Monday’s ruling, a state appeals court upheld restrictions on gun carry permits, and noted the Attorney General Office’s failure to defend the state’s own statutes saying the attorney general “regrettably” decided not to participate. (Phillis and Linhorst/The Record)   






Civilian drones could be tested in New Jersey skies

A bombing range in the Pinelands in southern New Jersey and airspace over the Atlantic Ocean could be part of a nationwide effort to develop guidelines for using unmanned aerial drones in civilian life.

The Federal Aviation Administration on Monday picked a proposal using those test sites, developed by Rutgers University, Virginia Tech and the University of Maryland, as one of six projects around the country that will oversee “critical research.”

Drones have been used mainly by the military for spying and rocket strikes in areas where manned aircraft would pose a risk to those personnel, but some have questioned the morality of remote-control warfare. Civilian uses range from package delivery to environmental testing to crop dusting, but raise other issues, including privacy, terrorist attacks or the danger to those on the ground if two drones crash.

Today, drone use is tightly restricted, with operators such as researchers or police needing waivers from airspace regulations. Congress last year told the FAA to develop operational guidelines to streamline the process by the end of 2015. (Jackson/The Record) 




NJ minimum wage gets $1 bump on Jan. 1; 250K getting a raise

Some political sound bites just never go away, particularly when it comes to Gov. Chris An estimated 250,000 workers in New Jersey will get a raise Wednesday as the minimum wage is boosted by a dollar, to $8.25 an hour, thanks to voters who overwhelmingly approved the increase in November. New Jersey is among 13 states where the wage is rising for 2014.

New Jersey advocates of the higher wage say it will help the working poor and boost the state’s economy, as low-income households get millions more to spend. But business groups say the raise will burden employers — and they’re especially upset that the November vote changed the state constitution to lock in annual cost-of-living increases for minimum-wage workers.

“The increase is on autopilot,” said Jack Mozloom, spokesman for the New Jersey chapter of the National Federation of Independent Business, a small-business group. “You’re going to see real pressure on small businesses to find ways to avoid hiring people.”

About 49,000 people in New Jersey make the minimum wage, according to federal Bureau of Labor Statistics. But New Jersey Policy Perspective, a progressive group that supports the higher wage, says that a total of 254,000 make between $7.25 and $8.25 an hour. In addition, NJPP says, another 189,000 make between $8.25 and $9.25 and will probably get a pay bump as salary scales are adjusted. (Lynn/The Record) 






With 2016 Uncertain, Christie and NJ Prepare for 2014

Until New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie makes an official announcement about his future political plans, analysts say everything the Republican does will be viewed through the prism of a possible 2016 presidential run.

If that holds true, what do those analysts believe Christie needs to do in the Garden State over the next few years to ensure he remains the GOP front-runner?

“I think he’s going to play small ball,” said Ben Dworkin, professor of political science at Rider University. “There isn’t the money to do big, grand things. The key thing for him in the coming year will be to manage a budget where the money is going to be very tight.”

New Jerseyans can probably expect a much more partisan atmosphere in 2014, according to Dworkin, who said legislative Democrats may want to put Christie in a situation where he is trapped into vetoing a popular bill. (McArdle/NJ101.5) 






Congress Letting 55 Tax Breaks Expire at Year End

In an almost annual ritual, Congress is letting a package of 55 popular tax breaks expire at the end of the year, creating uncertainty — once again — for millions of individuals and businesses.

Lawmakers let these tax breaks lapse almost every year, even though they save businesses and individuals billions of dollars. And almost every year, Congress eventually renews them, retroactively, so taxpayers can claim them by the time they file their tax returns.

No harm, no foul, right? After all, taxpayers filing returns in the spring won’t be hurt because the tax breaks were in effect for 2013. Taxpayers won’t be hit until 2015, when they file tax returns for next year. (Associated Press) 







A look at the year ahead in N.J. politics, from Chris Christie to Cory Booker

TRENTON — After enjoying a banner year that saw him romp to re-election and raise his profile as a potential presidential contender, Gov. Chris Christie may not find things as easy in 2014.

Christie, who will travel across the country trying to get Republican governors elected, is already the target of Democratic firepower in Washington, where the national party is sharpening its knives with an eye on 2016.

In Trenton, Democrats and even some Republicans are expected to stand up to Christie to position themselves to run for governor — an opportunity that could come sooner than expected if he runs for the White House.

And Christie will share the 2014 spotlight with New Jersey’s newest U.S. senator, Cory Booker, who will run for his first full term with the advantage of incumbency and millions in the bank. The year ahead for Jersey politics — which is never dull — will also feature races for 12 congressional seats and Newark mayor, as well as legislative battles over taxes and budgets. (Portnoy/Star-Ledger) 






From the Back Room


Bramnick consistently working the U.S. Senate phones

Republican sources continue to tell that Assembly Minority Leader Jon Bramnick (R-21) has consistently cultivated conversations about a 2014 U.S. Senate bid with GOP Party leaders.

Other would-be challengers to U.S. Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ), including state Sen. Mike Doherty (R-23), have not had those face-to-face discussions with chairs from all corners of the state.

As recently as last week, Bramnick was on the phones to power players, sizing up a run at Booker. (PolitickerNJ)




DePalma and Sheridan join NJGOP State Committee Staff 

Chairman Samuel S. Raia today announced that Amanda DePalma and Peter Sheridan will join the New Jersey Republican State Committee as members of the Committee’s senior staff.

Effective Jan. 1, DePalma will be rejoining the Committee as its Executive Director, a role in which she served in 2011 and 2012 before moving on to become Gov. Chris Christie’s Deputy Campaign Manager in 2013.  Sheridan will serve as the Deputy Executive Director of the Committee.  John C. Raue, who has served as Executive Director throughout 2013 and Political Director from 2010-2012, will be joining Christie’s Administration in an official capacity.

“I am sorry to lose John Raue but I know that his skills and dedication will serve him and all of us well in his new duties. Amanda and John have been critical in the growth and development of the NJGOP organization in the last three years,  bringing it to an organization that all Republicans in N.J. can look at with pride,” said Raia.

“DePalma and Sheridan’s work on Governor Christie’s campaigns has proven them to be two of the most talented political operatives our state has seen, and the Republican State Committee is fortunate to have added them to our team,” said National Committeeman Bill Palatucci. (PolitickerNJ)






Toms Kean Jr. in a fight he just can’t win

It was Christmas season, a light snow covered the ground, and all across New Jersey children were mailing letters to Santa Claus swearing they had been good.

But in the state Senate, a political brawl was breaking out, one that guarantees the New Year in Trenton will start with a heavy dose of bipartisan bitterness.

In one corner is Senate President Stephen Sweeney, a Democrat, a former ironworker, and a guy who once loved picking bar fights and today runs the Senate under the same basic principles.

In the other corner is Sen. Tom Kean Jr., the Republican leader and prince­ling of the Kean clan, who is incensed over behavior he considers to be beneath the dignity of the institution.

“This is just toxic to democracy,” Kean says. “It’s unprecedented. It’s not only an abuse of power, it’s wrong.”

Why was Kean so hot and bothered? Because Sweeney had just cut about $50,000 from Kean’s personal office budget. Worse, Sweeney overruled Kean’s allotments to other Republican senators, intruding on a power that is traditionally left to each party leader.

“He’s trying to dictate the future of our caucus!” Kean says. “That’s a gross stepping over the boundaries. Our ability to stand up and question the potential tyranny of the majority is sacrosanct.”

Overheated stuff, for sure. Is cutting office funds really such a potent weapon that it could destroy democracy? One hopes our senators are made of sterner stuff.

But Kean’s bigger problem is that he started this knife fight and has no way to win it. (Moran/Star-Ledger)  

Morning Digest: Dec. 31, 2013