Morning Digest: Dec. 6, 2013

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Lance looking to ensure CD 3 ‘remains in Republican hands’

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LAWRENCEVILLE – U.S. Rep. Leonard Lance (R-7) was no stranger on the campaign trail for Steve Lonegan.

When the former Bogota mayor made a bid for the U.S. Senate, Lance traveled outside of his district to celebrate Lonegan’s primary victory in Secaucus in August and was on hand when Gov. Chris Christie endorsed Lonegan’s Senate bid later that same month.

Lonegan ultimately lost his bid to Democratic challenger Sen. Cory Booker, but with recent news of the former mayor mulling a congressional bid to fill the upcoming vacancy in CD 3, Lance is again faced with the possibility of being able to work alongside Lonegan in Washington. (Arco/PolitickerNJ)




Lesniak bill would draw international internet gambling to Atlantic City

who last month announced plans for an international level of expansion laid out some of the nuts and bolts today of his proposal.

Sen. Ray Lesniak, (D-20), Union, a leading proponent of internet gaming, introduced S3084, which is designed to help make Atlantic City a magnet for international gaming companies that could produce jobs and revenue.

The bill would require the companies to be located in Atlantic City, where Lesniak said they could take advantage of the business and regulatory infrastructure already in place for the casino industry

In addition, it would authorize the Division of Gaming Enforcement to provide licenses to companies that offer Internet gaming to other countries where it is legal. That would allow overseas customers, including casinos, to place wagers on casino games via the Internet.

Under the bill, the service would be restricted to foreign countries and regulatory agreements would have to be implemented between New Jersey and the foreign jurisdiction. (Mooney/PolitickerNJ)





Nelson Mandela Tribute: Obama honors Nelson Mandela

President Barack Obama Thursday eulogized Nelson Mandela as “a man who took history in his hands and bent the arc of the moral universe toward justice.”

Obama, speaking shortly after South African President Jacob Zuma announced Mandela’s death, called the man for so long known as Prisoner 46664 as “one of the most influential, courageous and profoundly good human beings that any of us will share time with on this earth.”

“We will not likely see the likes of Nelson Mandela again — so it falls to us as best we can to forward the example that he set: to make decisions guided not by hate, but by love, to never discount the difference that one person can make, to strive for a future that is worthy of his sacrifice.” (Dovere/Politico)




In Second Year of Anti-Bullying Act, Reports Drop Sharply in NJ Schools

Latest data indicates fewer incidents of bullying and harassment, shows districts take different approaches to problems

New Jersey schools seem to still be searching for their equilibrium when it comes to bullying and harassment, according to the latest data. They also show a fairly wide range of responses to these incidents.

The state Department of Education released its latest school violence and vandalism data for the 2012-2013 school year, the second full year of the Anti-Bullying Bill of Rights Act. (Mooney/NJSpotlight)   




South Jersey Residents Happier, More Economically Equal Than Most of NJ

Rutgers researcher finds nature, small towns and nearby urban opportunities make region a happy place to live. 

Income inequality may be “the defining challenge of our time,” as President Barack Obama told the Center for American Progress this week, but according to one Rutgers University researcher, it doesn’t pose much of a problem in South Jersey.

Speaking at what could be coined a “State of South Jersey” forum held at Cumberland County College Wednesday, assistant public policy professor Adam Okulicz-Kozaryn revealed that New Jersey’s eight southernmost counties score an average of 40 out of 100 points on the Gini Coefficient, the most common inequality scale used by social scientists.

The score, which would assign a zero to areas with evenly distributed income and a 100 to a theoretical place where one person held all of the wealth, compares with 46 for New Jersey and the nation. What’s more, said Okulicz-Kozaryn, the counties’ scores also keep pace with one another despite the social and economic differences between them.

What does it mean? In part, that South Jersey residents — those living in Cumberland, Salem, Cape May, Atlantic, Gloucester, Camden, Burlington, and Ocean counties — report higher-than-average levels of happiness. (Nurin/NJSpotlight)   



Bill to increase cyber-harassment punishments heads to NJ Senate

A bill that would make cyber harassment a criminal offense punishable by prison and fines heads to the full state Senate for a vote.

The Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee unanimously released the bill Thursday.

The bill, sponsored by Sen. Donald Norcross, D-Camden, Sen. Nicholas Sacco, D-North Bergen and co-sponsored by Sen. Bob Gordon, D-Paramus, and Sen. Anthony Bucco, R-Morris, closes a loophole in state law that prevents the criminal prosecution of online harassment of minors by adults and other juveniles. (Hayes/The Record) 




New Jerseyans admired Mandela’s courage, compassion

North Jerseyans mourned and remembered Nelson Mandela for his fight against oppression and inequality.

Some called the Nobel Peace Prize winner their hero, while others said they couldn’t fathom a world without Mandela, the first black to ever be elected president of South Africa, an event that followed his many years of imprisonment.

“He has been part of my growing up, he has lived a long time, and I don’t think any of us, even though we knew it was coming, in our hearts we didn’t want to see him go,” said a crying Violet Cherry of Englewood, who was born in South Africa. “He was the center of all our lives when we were growing up, and I don’t think there is a child in South Africa who didn’t know who Nelson Mandela was.”

The announcement of Mandela’s death, although anticipated, was met with sorrow from those who admired and followed Mandela’s life from a young revolutionary to an elderly statesman. (Alvarado/The Record) 





Pension of Michael Ritacco, imprisoned former Toms River Regional superintendent, revoked by state board

TRENTON — If Toms River Regional hopes to see the $4.3 million in restitution owed by former Superintendent Michael Ritacco, the school district can’t count on his pension for part of it.

The Teachers’ Pension & Annuity Fund voted unanimously Thursday to revoke Ritacco’s $155,040 annual pension, in the wake of his 2012 guilty plea to federal charges for accepting more than $1 million in bribes from insurance broker Francis Gartland and others between 2002 and 2010.

Ritacco’s lawyer, Steve Kalebic, asked the fund’s board to consider only reducing the pension, pointing to 32 years of “distinguished and exemplary service” before the bribe-taking began. An assistant federal prosecutor similarly asked for moderation, saying the United States wanted to be able to garnish the pension and steer all those funds to the Toms River schools.

But the pension board, after considering its options in closed session for 17 minutes, opted for the maximum penalty. (Symons/Asbury Park Press)   




Why Gov. Chris Christie is stonewalling public record requests

TRENTON — In advance of an expected 2016 presidential campaign, Chris Christie’s administration is stepping up efforts to control the Republican governor’s image at all costs — even skirting sunshine laws that permit public access to government records.

Getting the Christie administration to release its grip of records tracking use of federal Sandy recovery money has been particularly difficult for watchdog groups and media outlets, including the Asbury Park Press.

The Fair Share Housing Center recently received the first detailed information about housing recovery programs supported by federal grants — only after suing the administration for not complying with a public records request. (Jordan/Asbury Park Press)   




Gun owners barrage Sweeney on first ‘Twitter Thursday’

Senate President Steve Sweeney was barraged today with questions from gun owners and 2nd amendment rights advocates during his first Twitter town hall.

Sweeney took to the Twittershpere today as part of a new Twitter Thursday initiative designed to put him in touch directly with constituents.

And while tweeters asked Sweeney questions on taxes, the Green Bay Packers and marijuana decriminalization, the vast majority of queries came from gun rights advocates.  A group of seven 2nd amendment rights advocates barraged Sweeney with question after question, most of which went unanswered.

“Does @NJSenPres agree with w/@BillPascrell’s attempt to tax firearms at 20% & ammo at 50%?” asked Twitter user “NJ2AS Media Army.”

“Why are you more concerned with law abiding gunowners, over criminals who will never follow any law you propose?” asked user ANJRPC.

In all roughly 50 of the 65 posts from users using the #AskSenPres hash tag came from gun rights advocates. (Isherwood/   




N.J. Senate presidents says Chris Christie’s administration stalling off-shore wind plans

TRENTON — The state Senate president accused Gov. Chris Christie’s administration today of moving too slowly in developing regulations for off-shore wind energy turbines, potentially costing New Jersey jobs.

State Senate President Stephen Sweeney (D-Gloucester) said the failure of the Board of Public Utilities to act on the goals of the Offshore Wind Economic Development Act was costing New Jersey at least 1,000 new jobs. He said the window is closing to be the first state on the East Coast to have off-shore wind energy. Missing that opportunity, he said, would mean manufacturing facilities would be built elsewhere.

“Either they do their job or get it out of the way at this point,” Sweeney, a sponsor of the act, said at a Statehouse press conference with the group Environment New Jersey. “They can’t continue to hold back opportunities.”

Environment New Jersey released a report today in which it estimated the state could create enough off-shore turbines to reduce carbon pollution by 825,000 metric tons in 2018 — but only if state and federal officials move forward. That’s equivalent to taking about 171,000 cars off the road, said Doug O’Malley, the group’s director. (Hutchins/Star-Ledger) 





Chris Christie endorses Gov. Fallin but misses OKC fundraiser

OKLAHOMA CITY — New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie canceled a scheduled appearance in Oklahoma City on Thursday, but announced his endorsement of Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin for re-election.

“Mary Fallin is a results-driven leader who has delivered for the people of Oklahoma,” said Christie. “Her economic reforms have led to tens of thousands of new jobs and helped to raise incomes for middle class families. She’s cracked down on government waste by eliminating or consolidating unnecessary agencies, boards and commissions. And she’s focused on improving education, understanding that good schools eventually lead to good jobs and good wages for her citizens.”

Many observers believe Christie is an early front-runner for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination.

Christie was to have appeared at a birthday party/fundraiser for Fallin in Oklahoma City’s Cox Convention Center, but canceled because of weather. The event went on as planned. (Tulsa World)   



 From the Back Room



DNC targeting Christie

The Democratic National Committee is targeting Gov. Chris Christie as the New Jersey executive begins his term serving as chairman of the Republican Governors Association.

The DNC released a new web ad today as Christie is set to appear as a special guest fundraiser for Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin (R), Talking Points Memo reports. (PolitickerNJ)





Weinberg picks Das as new chief-of-staff

Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg (D-37) this week announced the appointment of Sonia Das as her chief-of-staff.

Das, of Lambertville, has worked on the staff of the Senate Democratic Majority for seven years, currently as a senior research associate. She previously worked in the governor’s office in Democratic administrations and on New Jersey campaigns.

She is a graduate of the University of Washington.

“I am proud to appoint Sonia from the staff of the Senate Democrats where she has proven herself to be an accomplished professional with a strong grasp of policy and politics,” said Weinberg. “She is smart, hard working and resourceful. I look forward to working with her to advance the priorities of the Senate Democratic Majority.” (PolitickerNJ)






Christie’s officials are hiding something in Bridge-gate

At first, it seemed crazy to believe that Gov. Chris Christie’s allies at the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey would be stupid enough to mess with the traffic flow at the George Washington Bridge as an act of revenge against a mayor who refused to endorse the governor’s re-election.

But the administration, including the governor, has been so evasive and secretive that it’s obvious they have something to hide.

Most of the relevant players have simply refused to testify. And the one who did, Deputy Executive Director Bill Baroni, was implausible. He said the closures, and the resulting traffic horrors in Fort Lee, were part of a traffic study. But he could not produce the study, or any e-mails discussing the need for a study, or an explanation as to why the agency broke its routine by failing to give advance notice to police, ambulance crews or even relevant employees within the agency.

Now the governor has jumped in. Asked Monday about the lane closures, he mocked the question with this: “I worked the cones,” he said. “Unbeknownst to anyone, I was working the cones.”

Here’s what we know for sure: The lanes were ordered closed by David Wildstein, a political appointee of the governor, not a traffic expert. The agency’s executive director, Patrick Foye, exploded when he learned of the move. He ordered it reversed at once, and called it “dangerous” and “probably illegal.”

He promised to investigate “how the PA process was wrongfully subverted and the public interest damaged, to say nothing of the credibility of this agency.” (Star-Ledger Editorial Board)  

Morning Digest: Dec. 6, 2013