Morning Digest: Dec. 5, 2013

Former Mayor Gibson endorses Baraka for mayor if Newark

NEWARK – Former Mayor Ken Gibson tonight formally backed South Ward Councilman Ras Baraka for mayor of Newark at a campaign event at the Robert Treat Hotel.

“I’m endorsing Ras Baraka for mayor,” Gibson told in the Crystal Ballroom. “He and I go back to the time that his father and I worked together. He’s a real Newarker. He didn’t just come to the City of Newark. I think he has more experience with the people of the city and that makes a difference. Ras Baraka is the most committed candidate in the race.

“Being a high school principal is not an easy job anywhere, but in Newark, in Central High School, where I went to school, he’s getting the best experience that anybody could get.”

Newark’s first African-American mayor, Gibson served from 1970 to 1986.

Baraka was humbled by the endorsement. (Bonamo/PolitickerNJ)




Garden State Equality Director blasts Christie for Fallin fundraiser

On Thursday Gov. Chris Christie is scheduled to headline a fundraiser for Oklahoma Governor Mary Fallin and Garden State Equality disapproves.

Last month, Fallin became the only governor among the more than thirty states with constitutional amendments barring same-gender marriage to refuse to process applications for spousal benefits at state-owned facilities of the Oklahoma National Guard. All applicants, regardless of sexual orientation, can now only apply at federally owned Guard facilities, limiting access and adding considerable burden to military families.  Oklahoma does not have an LGBT-inclusive hate crimes law or laws barring housing or employment discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity.

This contrasts sharply with the record of Governor Christie, said Garden State Equality Executive Director Troy Stevenson. (Pizarrro/PolitickerNJ)




GOP men tutored in running against women

The National Republican Congressional Committee wants to make sure there are no Todd Akin-style gaffes next year, so they’re meeting with top aides to sitting Republicans to teach them what to say — or not to say — on the trail, especially when their boss is running against a woman.

Speaker John Boehner is serious, too. His own top aides met recently with Republican staff to discuss how lawmakers should talk to women constituents.

“Let me put it this way, some of these guys have a lot to learn,” said a Republican staffer who attended the session in Boehner’s office. (Bresnahan and Palmer/Politico)




Enrollment surge on

About 29,000 people signed up for health insurance through on Sunday and Monday — a figure that surpasses the total for the whole month of October, an official familiar with the program told POLITICO.

The quickened pace of enrollments came as the White House hit its self-imposed Nov. 30 deadline to fix the troubled Affordable Care Act website.

The preliminary numbers for the two-day period provide the clearest evidence yet that the federal exchange is on the mend. About 26,000 people selected a health plan during October and about 100,000 people did so in November, the official said. (Brown/Politico)




Legislation Seeks to Break Logjam Delaying Solar Grid-Supply Projects

Lawmakers side with developers who have filed lawsuit against Board of Public Utilities

ome New Jersey lawmakers are backing efforts by big solar-energy developers to build grid-supply projects on farmland and other areas, in a dispute that already has landed in the courts.

The legislators, saying a state agency has misinterpreted a 1-year-old law aimed at reviving the solar sector, called on the Board of Public Utilities to take action to reinstate solar grid-supply projects that have been blocked by the Christie administration.

After the agency approved just three of 57 grid-supply projects pending before it, a trade association representing the developers filed a half-billion-dollar, 16-count lawsuit against the agency last month, claiming they have lost millions of dollars they had invested in the projects.

Lawmakers are taking up their cause, including the sponsor of the legislation, which is dubbed the Solar Act of 2012. (Johnson/NJSpotlight)   





Fine Print: Newark and Charters Set Up Universal Enrollment System

Landmark agreement would give preference to high-needs students picking their schools

What it is: The 11-page memorandum of understanding (MOU) between the Newark Public Schools and 16 charters — 76 percent of the city’s total — sets up a central enrollment system for both district schools and participating charters for the 2014-2015 school year.

What it means: Called “One Newark” and first announced last spring, the enrollment system administered by the district will essentially allow families a one-stop location to pick their preferences for schools, whether they’re in the neighborhood, across town, or an independent charter. The MOU wrapped up in the past two weeks is notable for the preferences it gives to high-needs students — special education, limited English skills, and other disadvantages. (Mooney/NJSpotlight)   




N.J announce $508 million for school construction

TRENTON  — New Jersey’s School Development Authority has announced plans to use $508 million to help pay for construction projects in the majority of the state’s school districts.

The state said Wednesday that it will pay 100 percent of the costs in 31 lower-income districts and at least 40 percent of the costs in other districts for projects that address health and safety concerns and overcrowding.

Including the local districts’ contributions, the total costs of the projects is estimated at $1.1 billion.

The state’s portion of the funding comes from $3.9 billion in bonds the Legislature authorized in 2008 for school facilities projects.

Overall, more than 1,500 projects are planned in 331 districts.  (Associated Press) 




N.J. approves alternatives to GED test

To curb price increases for adults seeking high school diplomas in New Jersey, the state board of education Wednesday approved three new test options for getting the credential.

Next month applicants will be able to take exams created by Educational Testing Services or McGraw-Hill, via computer or pen-and-pencil. Another test, Pearson VUE, will give computer-based testing, with paper tests offered only as an accommodation under the Americans with Disabilities Act. Now about 32 test centers offer such exams, which cover writing, reading, math science and social studies.

In the past, there was only one option, called the General Education Development, or GED test. Its average price was expected to triple to $195 per test-taker, according to a state report. In August, the state department of education solicited proposals from competitors, bringing the projected price to an average of $112.

These tests from private vendors will still be more expensive than the current paper tests, which were originally offered nationwide by a non-profit called the American Council for Education. In 2010, the council joined Pearson to form a for-profit, Pearson VUE, for such exams. (Brody/The Record)   





Formula One Race in New Jersey in 2014 Delayed Due to Finances

The Formula One race along the Hudson River waterfront in New Jersey tentatively scheduled for June 2014 was postponed for a second consecutive year due to financial difficulties.

Promoter Leo Hindery said in an e-mailed statement yesterday that he’s working toward holding the race in 2015.

“Our entire management team and our supporters in New Jersey, New York and throughout the Formula One community obviously want to see the inaugural Grand Prix of America at Port Imperial take place as soon as possible,” Hindery said. “Bringing a world-class race to the world’s largest media market is a huge undertaking that has required balancing construction of our road course, without tapping any public money, with the sport’s own timing demands.”

F-1 head Bernie Ecclestone said in the release that he had “no doubt” the race would be held in 2015.

“New races can take many years to get started, but there is significant momentum and we are close to realizing a New York City F-1 race,” Ecclestone said.

Plans to reinstate Mexico after a 22-year gap also were scrapped, according to the schedule published on the FIA website, while the Korean and Indian grand prix races were dropped from the calendar. The two additions next season will be races in Sochi, Russia, which is also the venue for next year’s Winter Olympics, and Austria, which hasn’t hosted a Formula One race since 2002.

The New Jersey event was postponed in October 2012 from its original date of June 16, 2013. Hindery said this year that the first postponement also was due to financial difficulties. (Novy-Williams/Bloomberg)   




Improving Communication After NJ Disasters

After Hurricane Irene and then again after Superstorm Sandy, tens of thousands of New Jersey families were without power for days. A new bill moving through the state legislature could make it easier for those families to know when they can go back home.

The bill requires every public utility, telecommunications company, and cable company to submit annual written requests to its customers, in order to obtain alternate contact information not associated with those customers’ accounts and facilitate communication in the case of a service interruption or emergency. (McArdle/NJ101.5)   




Christie Begins Making Inaugural Plans

The governor announced the formation of his inaugural committee on Wednesday and named his brother, Todd, and former law partner Bill Palatucci as its chairmen.

Todd Christie and Palatucci co-chaired the governor’s 2010 inaugural committee. Palatucci is one of Christie’s closest advisers. He also chaired Christie’s re-election campaign.

The inaugural festivities will take place Jan. 21. Information on purchasing tickets and other details will be released in coming days. Proceeds from the events will be donated to charity.

Christie’s first inaugural netted nearly half a million dollars for three charities selected by the Republican. (Townsquare Media/NJ101.5)





N.J. judiciary receives failing grade in financial disclosure, report says

Only twice has the state Supreme Court ever punished its own — a 2007 censure of an associate justice for improperly using his title to influence a lower-court case involving his son, and a 1990 reprimand for a justice who drove while intoxicated.

New Jersey, along with dozens of other states, is ripe for more trouble ahead because of lax financial disclosure rules for their high court justices, a watchdog group predicted Wednesday.

The Center for Public Integrity said New Jersey’s “self-policing form of oversight” and its high threshold for disclosure of gifts are among the reasons why the state gets an “F” in its report — the same grade received by 42 other states. The Garden State’s score was the 39th worse.

Winnie Comfort, spokeswoman for the state judiciary, said the ratings are flawed because they compare states such as New Jersey, where judges are appointed, to states where judges are elected. (Jordan/Asbury Park Press) 




NJ Senate panel to consider online harassment bill

TRENTON — A New Jersey Senate panel is considering a bill that would make online harassment a crime.

The Budget Committee is scheduled to vote on the proposal after a public hearing Thursday. The bill specifies that cyber-harassment occurs when someone uses a smart phone, tablet or computer to harass, threaten or post lewd information about another person.

Adults convicted of cyber-harassment would be fined up to $10,000 with jail time possible. Minors would be required to complete a class on the dangers of online bullying.

Adults who impersonate minors to harass someone else online could receive a stiffer penalty.

The bill, which was introduced early this year, has bipartisan sponsorship. A companion bill is pending in the Assembly. (Associated Press) 




Chris Christie leaves for Oklahoma Thursday, raising ire of Democrats and gay rights activists

TRENTON — Gov. Chris Christie leaves late Thursday afternoon for his first out-of-state fundraising trip as chairman of the Republican Governors Association — and liberal groups have noticed.

Christie first heads to Oklahoma to campaign for Gov. Mary Fallin, and Friday he’ll travel to Idaho on behalf of Gov. Butch Otter. Next week, it’s on to Vermont to raise money for the state party.

Garden State Equality tonight slammed Christie for supporting Fallin’s re-election bid, despite her efforts to block spousal benefits at state-owned facilities of the Oklahoma National Guard. Christie opposes same-sex marriage, but is more moderate on the issue. His administration dropped its appeal to a state court ruling effectively legalizing gay marriage in New Jersey.

“As a native Oklahoman, I find Governor Fallin’s anti-LGBT stand reprehensible. Ending service to all rather than offering service to a minority is not equality, it is discrimination of the highest order,” said Troy Stevenson, executive director of Garden State Equality. “While Governor Christie has never been a proponent of the freedom to marry, he has always claimed to support equal protections for all. In a time when LGBT rights are quickly becoming a non-partisan issue, it is tragic that Governor Fallin has chosen time and time again to marginalize LGBT Oklahomans.”

The Democratic National Committee also tonight released a web video calling attention to Christie’s comment that electing and re-electing GOP governors is “priority one, two and three.” The ad says Fallin likened the Dream Act to amnesty, among other claims. (Portnoy/Star-Ledger)   




Christie atop GOP presidential contenders in new California poll

Though Gov. Chris Christie this week dismissed his 2016 presidential front-runner status as “meaningless” a new poll shows he’s got a leg up in yet another state – this time California.

The poll form the Field Research Corporation shows the New Jersey governor is viewed more favorably in the Golden State than any of his potential challengers.  He’s also the only one viewed favorably by the state’s broad based electorate.

In all, 47 percent of California voter view Christie favorably, against just 19 percent who have an unfavorable view.   He is the only Republican of five included in the poll who is viewed for favorably than unfavorably by the entire electorate.

All of those polled – Christie, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul and Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida are viewed favorably among the state’s Republican base, though Christie is head and shoulders above the rest of the field with a 59 percent favorability rating.  Bush is next at 51 percent followed by Cruz at 50 percent.

A CNN poll released last week showed Christie as the overall favorite among Republicans with 24 percent with Paul a distant second at 13 percent. (Isherwood/   




 From the Back Room


Dem group likening Christie to Steve King on immigration

A Democratic group is going after Gov. Chris Christie in a video for his recent announcement that he would not support the version of New Jersey’s DREAM Act set to hit his desk.

American Bridge, a Democratic super PAC, is claiming in a video posted online that New Jersey’s governor is akin to Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa).

The video shows excerpts of Christie’s pre-election speech in which he told a group of Latino supporters he supports in-state tuition rates for undocumented students and then flashes to Christie’s radio interview where he told listeners he wouldn’t support the state Senate’s version of the bill. (PolitickerNJ) 




Schroeder claims he has only $100 in cash

Embattled Assemblyman Robert Schroeder (R-39) claims to have little more than $100 in cash assets, office furniture and a few hundred dollars in jewelry to his name, according to published reports.


The state lawmaker, who was indicted last year on charges that he defrauded investors out of nearly $2 million and wrote millions in bad checks, claimed in court everything else is either being sold off or seized, according to The Bergen Record.


The newspaper reported six of Schroeder’s commercial properties are scheduled to be auctioned today and that the lawmaker still owes millions in real estate. (PolitickerNJ) 









Christie administration is blowing smoke on Sandy

As thousands of Hurricane Sandy victims desperately wait for word on whether or not they’ll get relief money to rebuild, the Christie administration continues to brush off the most basic questions about its grant programs.

So far, more than a year after the devastating storm, it’s distributed only 10 percent of its funds for rebuilding homes — the largest pot of the Sandy relief package — and many people have little clue where they stand in the process.

Some were told they’re ineligible and have no idea why. Others were placed on a waiting list but don’t know if they’re first or last in line.

Yet the governor and his top officials are refusing to answer any questions from the public, and staffers at the state’s call centers were reportedly instructed to stonewall applicants, too.

Now, we have an even more troubling report from Fair Share Housing, the nonprofit group that sued the state for information on its process. Apparently there were no clear guidelines in place for these grant programs until most of the eligibility decisionswere already made. It wasn’t until October that a 172-page manual was finally adopted for the state’s largest rebuilding program, and it was never made public.

Why not? A program like this should have detailed procedures available to everyone before it starts awarding money. How do we know some Sandy victims weren’t unfairly rejected?

A spokesperson for the agency running these programs, the state Division of Community Affairs, said its guidelines were merely “refined or clarified” along the way, “to make the programs better.” But did these “refinements” come too late for some applicants?

The state says Sandy victims who were rejected were informed in writing of the reason for their ineligibility, and can always appeal. But applicants say they got only a cryptic form letter saying they failed to meet one or more of an undisclosed list of qualifying factors. And they were never informed that they can appeal a wide variety of state decisions, not just an outright determination of ineligibility, housing advocates say.  (Star-Ledger Editorial Board)  

Morning Digest: Dec. 5, 2013