Morning Digest: Jan. 10, 2014

A trail of apologies: Christie repentant, lays blame on key aide

He started with the most contrite apology of his political career. Next he said he had fired a trusted senior staff member, calling her a liar and saying her actions were stupid. Then he said he had dismissed his campaign manager and close political adviser.

And finally, he ended the day in the shadow of the George Washington Bridge, where he reached a détente with the mayor who had become his most vocal critic.

Through it all, Governor Christie displayed the full range of emotions that have endeared him to and sometimes alienated him from voters — and all of it before the cameras. Christie laid out a message to the public that, win or lose, he was banking his political future on that larger-than-life persona, the one that put him in the upper ranks of national politics until a traffic jam — that most Jersey of life’s troubles — threatened his popularity and his clout.

“I’m heartbroken about it, and I’m incredibly disappointed. I don’t think I’ve gotten to the angry stage yet, but I’m sure I’ll get there,” Christie said in one of the many times he apologized during a news conference Thursday. “I work hard at this job, and it’s incredibly disappointing to have people let you down this way.” (Hayes/The Record) 



NJ Senate committee urges Congress to restructure Port Authority

A measure urging Congress to restructure the Port Authority to improve its transparency passed a state Senate committee on Thursday with support from the panel’s three Democrats. The two Republicans on the Senate State Government Committee abstained.

The resolution is only a request. If it passes the Legislature, New Jersey would officially ask Congress to examine the authority and find ways to “to increase accountability and transparency at the Port Authority for the safety of the region’s residents.”

It says the agency’s current structure does not serve the public well.

“The Port Authority has failed to honor the public trust,” the resolution says, citing the controversy over Christie appointees closing local access to the George Washington Bridge in September. “The Port Authority would benefit from efforts to improve its accountability and transparency.”

It is sponsored by state Sen. Loretta Weinberg, D-Teaneck, one of the most outspoken legislators in the bridge scandal.

For the request to be sent to Congress, it will need to pass the state Senate and Assembly before the current session ends on Tuesday. (Linhorst/The Record) 



Camden Coalition’s Tracking of Healthcare ‘Hot Spots’ Could Spread Statewide

Nationally recognized program to work with five communities to gather data to better target medical resources

New Jersey already has one organization that’s received national attention for targeting healthcare by mapping “hot spots” where frequently hospitalized patients live, but soon it may have several groups pursuing the same approach.

The Camden Coalition of Healthcare Providers will be working with five other groups or hospitals to develop “hot-spotting” tools to improve patient care, as part of a project sponsored by the Nicholson Foundation.

Coalition Executive Director Dr. Jeffrey Brenner has led an effort to use data to better understand why some people become frequent users of hospital emergency departments and why some areas have a higher frequency of inpatient admissions.

For example, the coalition mapped out where patients with chronic diseases like diabetes and congestive heart failure live, then targeted those areas for intensive visits from nurses and others to make sure the patients were taking their medication and keeping appointments with healthcare providers.

The effort has received national attention, and Brenner recently was named a MacArthur fellow.

Now the coalition is working the Affiliated Accountable Care Organizations (AACO), a coalition of groups focused on improving healthcare by better coordinating care, to spread the model across the state. (Kitchenman/NJSpotlight) 


Despite Deregulated Power Sector, NJ Consumers Stick to Utilities 

Assembly panel votes out bill that would make it easier for third-party suppliers to pick up new customers

It has been 15 years since New Jersey broke up its electric monopolies and ushered in a new era in which consumers could shop for cheaper power for their homes and businesses in a more competitive energy marketplace.

To some, that goal has yet to be realized.

As of this past October, only 19 percent of the electricity serving residential customers was provided by power suppliers not affiliated with traditional utilities. It is far less than the number of residential customers who have switched in neighboring states, such as New York and Pennsylvania, where 37 percent to 50 percent of homeowners have made the move.

To retail energy marketers — the ones providing electricity often at rates cheaper than traditional utilities charge — New Jersey’s low percentage is a signal that changes need to be made to the regulatory system set up under the state’s deregulation law.

If that is going to happen, it probably will require legislative action, which occurred yesterday when an Assembly committee voted out a bill (A-4552) aimed at promoting more competition in the marketplace, a move long sought by retail energy marketers, also known as third-party suppliers. (Johnson/NJSpotlight) 



Chris Christie’s damage control

Chris Christie did about as well as he could, given the circumstances. All he can do now is wait, and hope it passes without many more revelations. 

That was the sentiment coming from people who wanted to offer support to the Republican governor of New Jersey, a man whose sky-high political stock took a hit in the last week over a bizarre, seemingly picayune story about closed traffic lanes on a bridge.

 A day after many Republicans were wondering whether their possible 2016 standard-bearer was on the brink of implosion, Christie quieted the anxiety with a forceful performance in which he apologized profusely and let go two top advisers. But the positive reviews came with a big caveat: Christie was so adamant about his noninvolvement in the bridge scandal that any proof otherwise down the road could be his political undoing.

 Many Republicans familiar with Christie’s world privately predicted the biggest difficulty he will face over the next six months is the reordering of his inner circle after he ousted longtime aide Bill Stepien over his emails concerning the lane closures. Christie, whose supply of close aides is short, had relied on Stepien for many years.

 The loss comes just as Christie is trying to transition from local sensation to true national figure. (Haberman/Politico)



New Jersey Residents File Lawsuit Against Chris Christie, Others Over Bridge Controversy  

TRENTON, N.J. (AP) — Six New Jersey residents have filed a federal lawsuit against Gov. Chris Christie, the state of New Jersey, the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, and others over traffic jams in September.

The suit filed in federal court Thursday appears to be the first civil claim over traffic that appear to have been caused as political punishment for the Fort Lee mayor.

The plaintiffs want it certified as a class action.

Lawyer Rosemarie Arnold says she filed it after learning this week that lane closures on an approach to the George Washington Bridge were “deliberate actions.” She says that her clients were late for work and that one suffered a panic attack.

Christie has denied involvement. His spokesman did not respond to an email seeking comment. (Associated Press/Huffington Post) 

NJ Transit Looks to Shelter Trains

The agency on Wednesday awarded a $7.6 million contract to a company to perform engineering and design work to transform a rail yard near New Brunswick into a long-term site for storing rail equipment.

NJ Transit was criticized for not moving rail cars and locomotives out of a rail yard in Kearny and another one in Hoboken during Superstorm Sandy. Flooding caused more than $100 million in damage. (Associated Press/NJ101.5) 

Bill would mandate middle schoolers learn social media savvy

TRENTON — Middle school students would get a mandatory course on how to use social media responsibly under a bill passed by the state Senate today.

The bill (A3292), which passed 37-2, would require school districts to instruct sixth through eighth graders on “cyber safety, cyber security, and cyber ethics” on social media websites such as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

Kids would also be taught about the consequences of online bullying and other bad behaviors.

“Cyber-bullying is becoming a serious problem among children who may not understand the significance of their online actions. It is never too early to teach our youth that actions in the digital world have far-reaching consequences in real life, and this bill goes a long way towards doing that,” said Senator Ruiz (D-Essex).

The state Department of Education would be required to give school districts guidance through “sample learning activities and resources.”

The courses would be required starting in the 2014-2015 school year. (Friedman/Star-Ledger) 




Chris Christie bridge scandal: Humbled gov still has explaining to do

No more sarcasm today.

At a news conference that carried on for nearly two hours, the brash governor was unusually contrite — but still insisted he was “blindsided” by yesterday’s release of explosive e-mails linking the George Washington Bridge scandal to his office. 

“How did this happen?” Christie mused before a room overflowing with state and national reporters, insisting he was brazenly lied to by top aides and political appointees.

“There’s this reputation out there of me being a micromanager. I’m not.” 

So far, the body count today is two: Christie’s deputy chief of staff, Bridget Anne Kelly, who famously wrote, “Time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee,” and Bill Stepien, his campaign manager, liaison to the Republican Governor’s Association and nominee for state party chair, who called the Fort Lee mayor “an idiot.”

Christie promised to apologize in person today to the mayor and people of Fort Lee who suffered through four hour traffic jams that went on for four days. This would include paramedics trapped in gridlock as calls came in of car wrecks, chest pains and a 91-year-old woman who suffered a heart attack. (Star-Ledger Editorial Board)  Morning Digest: Jan. 10, 2014