Morning Digest: Jan. 2, 2014

Camden’s real mayor on American Hustle film version: “I’m not really inclined to go see it” Sign Up For Our

Camden’s real mayor on American Hustle film version: “I’m not really inclined to go see it”

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BRICK – A key character in the critically acclaimed film American Hustle is based on former Camden Mayor Angelo Errichetti. Renamed Carmine Polito and played by actor Jeremy Renner, Errichetti is portrayed as a man of the people tripped up by con artists and federal agents working together to take down crooked politicians in disco ball-tinged 1970s America.

But when Camden Mayor Dana Redd was asked if life imitated art in the film, she said she didn’t know and had no plans to find out.

“I’m not really inclined to go see it. I really am not,” Redd said outside the swearing-in ceremony of Brick Township Mayor John Ducey on Wednesday. “My heart goes out to his family, and his family has paid the price. He was held in high regard by many in the city of Camden – he was iconic. He helped a lot of people.” (Bonamo/PolitickerNJ)






James begins term of service on local East Orange Council

EAST ORANGE – Chris James assumed the oath of office this afternoon as a councilman representing the 1st Ward of East Orange.

“Chris James is respected in Trenton,” Senate President Steve Sweeney (D-3) told an appreciative crowd in the Cicely L. Tyson Community School of Performing and Fine Arts.

Currently the deputy executive director of the New Jersey Assembly Democratic Office, James was chief-of-staff to Speaker Sheila Oliver (D-34).

He personally thanked Oliver as his mentor while the departing speaker looked on from the front row of the packed auditorium.

“Thank you for just being here,” James told the speaker. (Pizarro/PolitickerNJ)






DWI legislation would replace drunken driving suspensions with ignition locks

Most convicted drunken drivers in New Jersey could avoid mandatory license suspensions under a new bill making its way through the Legislature — a proposal that constitutes a major shift in how the state deals with the offense.

The bill would require all drivers convicted of DWI to install an ignition interlock device on their cars that would prevent them from starting the engine unless they are sober. More than 35,000 drivers are convicted of DWI in New Jersey every year, including more than 3,200 in Bergen County and more than 1,500 in Passaic County, according to state court figures.

But the proposal to eliminate license suspensions — a sanction which has long been a fixture in the state’s drunken-driving laws — has provoked debate among lawmakers, anti-drunken driving advocates and defense attorneys. Among the bill’s staunch supporters is Mothers Against Drunk Driving, or MADD, which said the bill is its top legislative priority in New Jersey.

“Taking away the license of a driver is not the best approach,” said Frank Harris, state legislative affairs director for MADD. “This is about a change in behavior and saving lives. It’s more of an effective approach to stopping drunk driving.”

The bill’s opponents, however, say that it would eliminate the strongest deterrence to drunken driving: The loss of one’s driver’s license and possibly one’s job. (Markos/The Record) 






Former Port Authority official called to testify before N.J. Lawmakers

 The former Port Authority official who orchestrated controversial lane diversions at the George Washington Bridge was ordered on Tuesday to testify under oath in front of state lawmakers who said their widening investigation was leading outside the agency.

The subpoena came on the same day that Fort Lee released phone records that show borough officials made nearly a dozen phone calls to Port Authority representatives during the week of the surprise lane closings in September. Fort Lee’s mayor, Mark Sokolich, has said his pleas for answers from Port Authority officials that week were ignored, leading him to believe the move was “punitive.”

David Wildstein, a onetime political consultant and childhood friend of Governor Christie’s, is the fifth Port Authority official to receive a subpoena forcing an appearance before a panel investigating whether the lane diversions were political payback against the Fort Lee mayor, a Democrat who did not endorse Christie in the lead-up to the governor’s landslide reelection victory.

Assembly Deputy Speaker John Wisniewski, a Democrat from Sayreville who is leading the inquiry, said on Tuesday that the decision to order Wildstein to testify was based on a review of documents Wildstein supplied in response to a previous subpoena that “go to the heart of why this lane diversion took place and how it was implemented and who else knew about it.” (Boburg and Phillis/The Record) 






Bergen, Passaic towens hold swearing-in ceremonies for new officials

Several North Jersey towns kicked off the new year on Wednesday with their annual reorganization meetings, where recently elected officials began new terms and talked about their goals and the challenges the face.

Reorganization meetings or swearing in ceremonies, some peppered with music and words from religious leaders, were held in Bergenfield, Carlstadt, Cresskill, East Rutherford, Elmwood Park, Hasbrouck Heights, Ho-Ho-Kus, Park Ridge, Rutherford, Totowa, Wayne and Woodland Park.

Some towns, including Bergenfield and Elmwood Park, began the year with a different political party in control. In Bergenfield, Republican Norman Schmelz, who beat Carlos Aguasvivas in the mayoral race, was sworn to the top elected post. In Rutherford, Republicans Jack Manzo and Mark O’Connor took their spots on the council, which will now be evenly split between both parties. Mayor Joe DeSalvo is a Republican. (Diduch and Alvarado/The Record) 






Don Guardian takes over as Atlantic City mayor 

Don Guardian was sworn in to office on Wednesday, becoming the first Republican to lead the seaside gambling resort in 23 years.

Guardian beat Democratic incumbent Lorenzo Langford in an upset last month. Guardian says one of his goals is to work better with Gov. Chris Christie on matters of concern to Atlantic City.

The 60-year-old Guardian was the longtime head of Atlantic City’s special improvement district, tasked with planting flowers, installing benches, cleaning streets and generally sprucing up key areas of the resort.

His priorities include addressing the city’s crime and cleanliness problems, streamlining the process for developers to build and putting vacant land back on the tax rolls.  (Associated Press) 






GOP, Dems try to repackage arguments for 2014

ATLANTA — Both Republicans and Democrats are looking for fresh ways to pitch old arguments as they head into the final midterm election year of Barack Obama’s presidency.

Eager to capitalize as the president’s job approval rating hovers in the low 40s, Republicans are looking to hammer the clumsy implementation of Obama’s health care overhaul and bemoan an economy that, while improving, still grows too slowly. They’re already painting Democrats as fiscally irresponsible underlings of an increasingly unpopular president whose government creates more problems than it solves.

Democrats say they’ll run as the party of average Americans and paint Republicans as out-of-touch allies of the wealthy, with a stubborn streak that forced a partial government shutdown and still prevents practical solutions for national problems. They’re advocating populist positions like a minimum wage increase and an end to tax breaks for energy companies, and they’re already reminding voters of Republicans’ struggle to connect with women, non-whites and younger Americans. They’re also looking to exploit the rift between tea party conservatives and establishment Republicans.

Republicans hold the House majority, and Democrats control the Senate; so each side wants to reclaim a second chamber to end the Capitol Hill divide that has largely resulted in gridlock for the past three years. Also at stake are a majority of governors’ seats, which control key policy decisions around the country and will help shape the landscape for the 2016 presidential election.  (Associated Press) 






Top NJ Lawmaker Calls Economy Top Issue in 2014

What will or should be the most pressing issue for New Jersey in 2014? The top lawmaker in the legislature said this year should be all about job creation and economic growth.

“We need to fix the economy,” said State Senate President Steve Sweeney (D-West Deptford). “That’s the number one issue in this state. It surpassed property taxes in all the polling and everything else. It’s the economy and that’s because we have too many of our friends who have been out of work.”

According to Sweeney, Gov. Chris Christie vetoed 30 job creation and economic growth bills between 2010 and 2012 and he never returned anything back to the legislature. Christie actually conditionally vetoed some and he later signed eight of them into law.

“We gave the governor a plan and he didn’t like it,” Sweeney said. “He needs to give us something back that’s actually going to put New Jerseyans back to work. Being 45th in employment is not a position we want to be in in the State of New Jersey.” (McArdle/NJ101.5) 






Cory Booker addresses uptick in Newark violence at Edison event

EDISON — As homicides surge in the city he governed for seven years, U.S. Sen. Cory Booker today addressed the killings in Newark for the first time since leaving City Hall in October.

“It’s grievous,” he said at an event in Edison, where he attended the swearing-in of Mayor Thomas Lankey. “Any time you have over 100 people murdered in Newark, it should capture the focus of everyone who represents it.”

Booker oversaw steep reductions in crime during his first years in office, but Newark’s homicide rate has been moving upward through 2013, when the city recorded 111 murders, the most in 23 years.

Booker said he’s looking at several programs to overhaul the U.S. criminal justice system and end the war on drugs, which he said fuels much of the violence. (Giambusso/Star-Ledger) 



N.J. Assembly to vote on warrant requirement for drones

TRENTON — New Jersey law enforcement agencies would need to get a warrant each time they deploy a drone to investigate a crime under a bill up for a vote in the state Assembly on Monday.

The Assembly measure (A4073) is nearly identical to a version that passed the state Senate in June — but the Senate bill did not include a warrant requirement. The Senate instead said the agency chief should approve each request to use a drone.

Drones, or unmanned aerial vehicles, are set to enter U.S. airspace in 2015 under a new federal law, and state lawmakers have introduced a series of competing billsto limit their use by law enforcement agencies.

The flying, remote-controlled devices have sparked concerns about privacy and safety because of their surveillance capabilities and their use by the federal government as deadly weapons in the war against terrorism abroad.

Supporters say the cutting-edge devices soon will revolutionize the way products are transported in the United States, and say they can help law enforcement capture photos, videos, sounds and heat signatures, among other uses. Lobbyists predict drones will contribute tens of billions of dollars to the U.S. economy within a decade.

Businesses and law enforcement agencies will set 30,000 drones in the air for nonviolent purposes by 2020, according to an estimate by the Federal Aviation Administration, which has issued hundreds of test permits since 2006 and this weekauthorized six test sites across the country. (Rizzo/Star-Ledger) 



From the Backroom



Oliver writing a book

Speaker Sheila Oliver (D-34), who served four years as leader of the General Assembly, has a story to tell.

The first African-American woman to serve as speaker plans to write a book about her experiences, a source told (PolitickerNJ) 



Sources: 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) 








Christie’s punt on unemployment benefits

When Sandy struck, and Congress dawdled on providing help, Gov. Chris Christie won a special place in many Jersey hearts by blasting his own party’s leadership over its cold-hearted lethargy. When he pounded that podium, he pounded it for us.

So where is he now as Republicans in Congress cut the lifeline for the long-term unemployed by refusing to extend benefits, despite the rotten job market? On Saturday, roughly 90,000 New Jersey families lost these meager payments, averaging $269 per week. Within the next six months, another 90,000 will lose benefits.

This time, the Big Dog can’t find his bark. Here’s what he said about the issue on his radio show Saturday: “That’s really a federal decision. The best thing I can do is to shepherd into existence here in this state an improving economy. Because I know everyone who’s been on unemployment extension would rather be working.”

Give him this much: Christie acknowledges these folks would prefer to be working. He doesn’t accuse them of being seduced into lethargy by this grand bounty of $269 a week, as other Republicans have. (Star-Ledger Editorial Board)  

Morning Digest: Jan. 2, 2014