Morning Digest: Dec. 4, 2013

Donovan rolls out Bergen County Exec re-election campaign

CARLSTADT – In this Bergen borough on the edge of the Meadowlands, Bergen County Executive Kathleen Donovan announced her re-election bid on Tuesday, with the Republican hoping to emerge from the swamp of county politics triumphant in the November 2014 election. 

Speaking before a crowd of approximately 300 supporters at Il Villaggio in Carlstadt, Donovan set the tone for an anticipated hard fight against a yet-to-be-named Democratic challenger. 

“Despite what you may have heard, and much to my enemies’ unhappiness, I’m running for re-election as Bergen County Executive,” Donovan said. “We inherited a government run by political bosses that knew no limits on wasteful spending. We stopped that. We made changes – and we angered some people who liked things they way they were. (Bonamo/PolitickerNJ)




Garretson defeats Menza in Hillside Mayor’s contest

HILLSIDE – Councilwoman Angela Garretson defeated incumbent Mayor Joe Menza in tonight’s runoff election.

The unoffocial vote totals were Garretson 1,936 and Menza 1,556.

“The election is over and it a very humbling moment,” said the victor. “I stayed true to myself and we’re just so proud. So many wonderful people are a part of this.” (Pizarro/PolitickerNJ)





Profile: Governor’s New Chief Of Staff Takes Second-Term Helm

Regina Egea’s role will be critical as Christie campaigns nationwide for the Republican Governors Association and scrutiny mounts heading into 2016 presidential race

Name: Regina M. Egea

Who she is: Appointed Chief of Staff to Governor Chris Christie on Monday,

Hometown: A resident of Harding Township in Morris County since 1996, she has served on both the Harding Township Board of Education and the Harding Township Committee.

What she does: Traditionally, the chief of staff runs the Governor’s Office, serves as one of the governor’s lead negotiators on policy and political issues, and effectively functions as the gatekeeper to the governor. With Christie traveling more frequently as chairman of the Republican Governors Association throughout 2014 and as a prospective GOP presidential candidate the following year, more of the day-to-day responsibility will fall upon Egea and Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno to keep state government running smoothly. (Magyar/NJSpotlight)   



State Agency Tells PSE&G It Can’t Boost Prices for Natural Gas

BPU orders state’s largest utility to continue supplying fuel to Red Oak power plant at discounted rate

In a dispute that could affect electricity customers and air quality, the state is intervening on the behalf of a power plant involved in a row with Public Service Electric & Gas about how much the utility charges for natural gas to operate the unit.

The New Jersey Board of Public Utilities has ordered the Newark-based utility to continue providing fuel to the Red Oak power plant in Sayreville at the same rate it has been charging for the past 11 years, preventing PSE&G from boosting the cost of natural gas by $10 million annually. (Johnson/NJSpotlight)   




Obamacare fix wins applause, but troubles remain

For House Democratic Caucus Chairman Xavier Becerra, the new, improved Obamacare website is better than it was — but the law won’t be a success “until every American who has a chance to qualify for these health insurance policies gets it.”

For Jeremy Milarsky, who works for one of the “navigator” groups in Missouri that’s helping people sign up, the website is improved enough to make the job easier, mainly because of a new health plan browser feature that actually works.

But for health insurers across the country, the new isn’t even close to a success — and won’t be until the Obama administration finishes the critical parts that aren’t even built yet.

The fixes to the federal Obamacare enrollment website are holding up well enough — so far — that they mark a small but crucially important milestone in the rollout of President Barack Obama’s signature health care law. For the first time since October, Democrats are ready to go on the offensive again, and advocates of the law are ready to start inviting people back. And Republicans are saying, hey, it was never all about the website anyway. (Nather/Politico) 




Bill Clinton: Media jumping gun on Hilary

Bill Clinton took an indirect shot at The New York Times and other news outlets that are already covering his wife Hillary as if she were a presidential candidate.

“We have newspapers that have people devoted to doing nothing but covering a campaign that doesn’t exist. So then they have to decide to create stories,” the former president told Fusion host Jorge Ramos in an interview on Tuesday.

The remark was a knock against outlets that have dedicated reporters to the Clinton beat ahead of what is seen as Hillary’s almost certain bid for the White House. Both the Times’ Amy Chozick and POLITICO’s Maggie Haberman have dedicated much of their recent reporting to the Clintons.

“We don’t need that,” the former president told Ramos on Tuesday. “We need to focus – the American people have economic and other challenges. And our region and world have challenges. We should be focused on those things. And that’s what Hillary thinks too.”

Earlier on Tuesday, the liberal watchdog group Media Matters accused the New York Times and the mainstream press of being on “a seemingly never-ending hunt for bad news about Hillary Clinton and her political prospects,” citing a recent front-page Times article by Chozick and Jonathan Martin about the former first lady’s relationship with African-Americans. (David Brock, the founder of Media Matters, has become a staunch Clinton ally and attack dog.)

In his interview with Ramos, Clinton also said that the media should not concern itself with Chris Christie, the New Jersey Governor who is likely to make a bid for the Republican nomination.

“Neither one of them. I bet you he would say the same thing. Or maybe he wouldn’t. I don’t know,” Clinton said. “But I – this country needs to be about the business of dealing with our challenges today. And we’ll have plenty of time for a campaign later. And I just think it’s way too soon.” (Byers/Politico)   



 Rutgers appoints ethics officer following string of scandals

As it makes ambitious plans for its future, Rutgers University took a step on Tuesday to try to avoid the mistakes of its past by tapping a former deputy attorney general as its ethics czar.

The move comes on the heels of sports scandals that have roiled the university for the better part of a year — tarnishing the reputation that Rutgers hoped to burnish as it acquired prestigious medical schools and entered the high-profile Big Ten Athletic Conference.

Ted Brown was named a senior vice president in charge of the newly created office of enterprise risk, compliance and ethics. The appointment came at a meeting of the university’s governing board where President Robert L. Barchi outlined plans that include more building and faculty for the state university.

Barchi said Brown, the former counsel for the state’s medical university, will serve as a point person — and his office “an early warning system” — to help him identify potential areas of trouble. Barchi was blindsided by controversy early on in his tenure when tapes were broadcast nationally of men’s basketball coach Mike Rice verbally and physically abusing his players.  (Alex/The Record)   




New Jersey gambling sites sign up to 50,000, but bugs linger

The first week of legal online gambling in New Jersey ended Tuesday with more than 50,000 players signed up on the 13 Atlantic City casino-affiliated websites authorized by the state — but also with the continuation of some of the same registration struggles that dogged the system the first day.

“The good news is that people are not getting on the site from outside the state, and that’s the most important part,” said Steve Callender, general manager of Tropicana Casino. “Unfortunately, some people in the state are having trouble getting in. It’s a brand-new technology, and very detailed, and we still have to work some things out. But people have been very patient.”

Callender added that instances of “geofencing” errors that mistakenly shut out players even though they are within state borders have roughly been matched by players being shut out because their credit cards failed to make transactions.

The in-state geography of players successfully signing up has been “across the board,” Callender said, adding that “those who live far away from Atlantic City are the kind of players we’re looking for” because the casino can then market to those customers to try to entice them to come to the brick-and-mortar casino.

There have been anecdotal stories about players getting bounced offline in the middle of a poker hand, but Lisa Spengler, a spokeswoman for the state Division of Gaming Enforcement, said the agency has not yet received any such complaints. (Brennan/The Record) 





Atlantic City Casino Tax Refunds Increase Borrowing Costs

Atlantic City’s borrowing costs have risen as much as 21 percent since 2012 as the New Jersey gambling resort increases debt to refund property-tax bills appealed by casinos struggling with a seven-year business slump.


Investors in the $3.7 trillion municipal market are punishing Atlantic City as gambling revenue slides amid competition from nearby states. New Jersey is three years into Governor Chris Christie’s five-year plan to turn around the oceanside city, which is showing few signs of recovery, even as the state legalizes Internet wagering. (Dopp and Varghese/Bloomberg)   




Governor Chris Christie Is Being Watched Like a Hawk

Governor Christie insists the fact that he’s been labeled the frontrunner for the Republican nomination for President in 2016 is “meaningless,” but many political experts disagree.

“The fact that one is the frontrunner means one has national media attention all the time. It means people will parse every word you say, so it means that a lot more people will come to your banquets and pay money to hear you, but it also means you’re going to be in for a boatload of criticism any time you slip up,” said FDU political science professor Dr. Peter Woolley.

He also stressed it means that people are going to be setting their sights on you whether they’re in the Democratic Party or whether they are rivals in the Republican Party. (Matthau/NJ101.5) 





Newark Audit Finds ‘Questionable Spending’

Newark is being called out by the state for instances of questionable spending in its payroll, timekeeping, and operating practices.

An audit by the Office of the State Comptroller (OSC) makes a series of recommendations for the city to address employee compensation and a disproportionally large City Council and Clerk budget.

The report, which looked back as far as 2010, found Newark appropriated $10 million towards its clerk and council offices in 2012.

“Newark spent six times more than Jersey City did on those offices, eight times more than the city of Paterson did, and more than 16 times than the city of Elizabeth,” said New Jersey State Comptroller Matthew Boxer. (Hemlin/NJ101.5)   





NJ Senate president taking to Twitter

TRENTON — New Jersey’s state Senate president says he’s taking to Twitter to answer citizens’ questions once per week.

Democrat Steve Sweeney says he will answer at least five questions from the public every Thursday.

He says it’s a way to be in closer contact with constituents on topics from policy to football.

Sweeney is already on Twitter. But with just over 1,600 followers he’s not nearly as popular there as two other New Jersey politicians. Gov. Chris Christie has 418,000 followers and U.S. Sen. Cory Booker has more than 1.4 million. (Associated Press)   




House extends ban on undetectable guns

WASHINGTON — The U.S. House approved Tuesday a 10-year extension of an existing federal law banning guns that can go undetected by metal detectors and X-ray machines.

The measure passed on an overwhelming bipartisan vote despite reservations from Democrats who would like to expand the scope of the law to address concerns about 3-D printing technology. 3-D printers can produce solid objects out of digital models — including firearms — and did not exist commercially when the law was first enacted. Without significant opposition, the House did not record members’ votes on the bill.

“As a practical matter it looks like the choice before the country and the Congress is whether to let this ban on the plastics expire or not. It should not expire,” said Rep. Robert Andrews, D-N.J., who acknowledged that an effort by Senate Democrats to expand the restriction is unlikely to overcome GOP opposition. (Davis/USA Today)   




GQ names Chris Christie ‘Boss of the Year 2013’

TRENTON — They compare him to French President Charles de Gaulle at the end of World War II. They call him a “happy warrior.”

But above all, the staff members of GQ bestowed a new honor on Gov. Chris Christie:“Boss of the Year 2013.”

The magazine included the Republican governor in its latest Men of the Year edition, saying “he might be the only politician in America who had a good 2013.”

“In New Jersey, he was stalwart in the wake of (Hurricane) Sandy — first providing storm victims a shoulder to cry on, then browbeating D.C. politicians into delivering the aid money those victims desperately needed,” GQ writes in a featurette on Christie. “Nationally, he was a lone voice of reason in an increasingly insane GOP, picking fights with everyone from John Boehner (over that Sandy relief) to Rand Paul (national security). Along the way, he turned himself into that most unlikely of pols: a happy warrior.” (Johnson/Star-Ledger)   




Hundreds of lawyers join the ranks in N.J. despite tough job market

TRENTON — New Jersey minted nearly 670 lawyers this year — the most since the state began keeping track six years ago — despite a difficult job market for law graduates across the country, according to court officials.

At a packed ceremony in the Trenton War Memorial Tuesday, more than 500 law graduates who recently passed the bar exam took the oath to start their legal careers, with friends and relatives in tow to cheer them on and snap photos. Nearly 150 others were sworn in at a ceremony in February, and some lawyers take the oath in private.

A total of 667 lawyers passed the bar and asked to take the oath to join the state and federal bars this year, according to a court spokeswoman, Winnie Comfort.

That’s the highest number since the courts began to keep track in 2007, and a 17 percent increase over last year. (Rizzo/Star-Ledger)   



Ironman to Bring 70.3-Mile Triathlon to New Jersey in September

Dec. 4 (Bloomberg) — World Triathlon Corp. will stage its first half-Ironman distance race in New Jersey next September, two years after canceling the New York City Ironman after one edition because of logistical problems.

The 70.3-mile (113-kilometer) race — the first Ironman- branded triathlon held entirely in the U.S.’s most densely populated state — will be held at Mercer County Park in West Windsor, New Jersey, on Sept. 21, according to World Triathlon Corp., the owner of Ironman.

The event will take place two years after Providence Equity Partners Inc.’s World Triathlon scrapped plans to continue with its 140.6-mile New York City Ironman because of transportation issues and a backlash over a $1,200 registration fee.

“There’s a huge tri community in the New York tri-state area,” said Ken Rideout, a 42-year-old Katonah, New York, resident and director of credit sales at New York’s Credit Agricole who competed in the New York Ironman and the Ironman World Championship in Hawaii in October. “Any time I can drive to a race and stay in my own bed, that race would definitely be at the top of my list.” (Buteau/San Francisco Chronicle) 


 From the Back Room


Mazzeo victorious again following recount

Northfield Mayor Vincent Mazzeo, a Democratic candidate for the Assembly in Legislative District 2, has again defeated incumbent Assemblyman John Amodeo (R-2) following a recount.

Mazzeo beat Amodeo by 39 votes in the recount, which finished about 6:15 p.m.

Republican allies of Amodeo’s had requested the recount.

“I should be recertified and I am ready to serve the residents of District 2,” Mazzeo said. (PolitickerNJ)





Christine Shipley names executive director of Senate Republican Office

Christine Shipley has been named Executive Director of the Senate Republican Office.

“On behalf of our caucus, I thank Christine for stepping up to this vital leadership role in New Jersey’s Legislature,” said Senate Minority Leader Tom Kean Jr., “Senate Republicans and our staff members appreciate her diligence, loyalty and how the people will continue to benefit from her diverse experiences in public service. There is not a more professional and upstanding individual to head the Senate Republican Office as we pursue the people’s priorities.”

Shipley previously served as a Legislative Analyst in the Government Relations Office of the Pennsylvania Department of Education under Gov. Tom Ridge, and as Assistant Counsel to Gov. Christine Todd Whitman. (PolitickerNJ)






Vague N.J. distracted driving proposal veers attention from important texting while driving message

There’s no doubt that state Assemblyman Sen. John Wisniewski means well.

But his bill proposing tough sanctions on all manner of distracted driving is so vague it’s virtually useless.

The measure would ban drivers from engaging in “any activity unrelated to the actual operation of a motor vehicle in a manner that interferes with the safe operation of the vehicle on a public road or highway.”

Instances of such distraction include talking to a passenger, glancing at a billboard, sipping coffee, changing the radio station and getting dressed on the way to work. (Oh, it happens.)

As they’re wont to say on “Sesame Street,” one of these things is not like the others. But the measure, unanimously approved by the Assembly Transportation Committee, makes no distinction on the degrees of distraction. Instead of addressing that nearly impossible task, the bill leaves it up to police, thereby opening this can of worms: Anything and everything could be constituted as a distraction

Wisniewski (D-Middlesex) argues that creating the specific offense of distracted driving would help stop some of the outrageous behavior we have all witnessed on the highways of New Jersey. (Times of Trenton Editorial Board) 





What’s next for the Christie Cabinet?


Let the guessing begin on what changes are in store for Gov. Chris Christie’s cabinet.

When Christie announced some personnel tweaks in his administration Monday, he at several points indicated other changes that are coming would be limited in number — until at the end of the press conference, when he said, “You’ll be seeing a lot of me in these next few weeks as we have more of these kinds of announcements.’’

Christie left no other clues about a shakeup but did say he’s huddling with former state Attorney General David Samson and former U.S. Sen. Jeff Chiesa who “are helping me in an informal way to vet through any changes that we need to make. I don’t want to characterize what I expect to happen.’’

Candidates for places in the administration must have two qualities, Christie said.

“There are two things you can’t teach in politics. You can’t teach smart and you can’t teach loyal. You can teach everything else,’’ he said. (Jordan/Asbury Park Press)  

Morning Digest: Dec. 4, 2013