Morning Digest: Jan. 3, 2014

Civil Service ‘banding’ proposal awaits Assembly vote

TRENTON – The Legislature is scheduled to take up the contentious issue of blocking a proposed civil service change next week.

The Assembly has scheduled a vote Monday on a resolution in opposition to the Christie administration’s decision to establish what is called a “job banding” program. The Senate, which has a session scheduled for Thursday, has not announced what bills and resolutions it will vote on yet.

Opponents say the administration is trying to ram through with scant public review a wide-ranging reform that will make it easier to promote unqualified personnel in the name of political patronage.

Its supporters say it actually will facilitate justifiable promotions while cutting costs and red tape. (Mooney/PolitickerNJ)




Van Drew plans to decide about Congressional run by the end of the month

State Sen. Jeff Van Drew (D-1) said he plans to decide by the end of the month what he intends to do about a Congressional run in the 2nd District.

Democrats have long viewed Van Drew as a future congressman.

U.S. Rep. Frank LoBiondo (R-2) plans to run again this year, and attorney Bill Hughes, son of the former congressman of the same name, is already in the contest.

A dentist by trade, Van Drew said he wants to take his time to talk to family, his longtime chief-of staff Alison Murphy, and political allies. (Pizarro/PolitickerNJ)




Storm warning in effect till mid-afternoon; Christie declares state of emergency

With a winter storm expected to dump as much as nine inches of snow and plunge northern New Jersey into a deep freeze with wind chills below zero, Governor Christie declared a state of emergency for the entire state and closed all state offices for Friday.

“I encourage all New Jerseyans to stay off the roads if possible so that our first responders and public safety officials can safely respond to any emergency situations,” Christie said.

The National Weather Service said a storm warning is in effect until 1 p.m. Friday.

“Heavy snowfall and blowing and drifting of powdery snow tonight into Friday will create dangerous travel conditions and could impact snow plowing operations,” the weather service said. “Wind chills below zero could lead to frostbite or hypothermia for anyone exposed to the cold.”

The snowstorm that has dropped nearly 2 feet of snow just north of Boston, shut down major highways in New York and forced U.S. airlines to cancel thousands of flights nationwide is continuing its bitter cold journey through the Northeast.

Hazardous driving conditions were expected throughout the area as visibility was reduced by wind-whipped snow, the weather service said. It predicted winds from the north at 15 to 25 miles an hour with occasional gusts up to 35 m.p.h. and visibility at a quarter mile or less at times. (Norman/The Record) 




Cries of politics over AG’s role in probe present new challenges for Christie 

A lawsuit in which a former prosecutor accuses the Attorney General’s Office of having fired him for political reasons is reaching a critical juncture more than three years later.

Ben Barlyn, the former prosecutor, contends that he was dismissed in September 2010 because he objected to the quashing of an indictment against three local officials in Hunterdon County. Barlyn, who insists that the indictment was thrown out for political reasons, asked an appeals court last month to order the release of documents he said could help substantiate his claims against the state.

Barlyn was part of a group of lawyers in the Hunterdon County Prosecutor’s Office who investigated the local sheriff, Deborah Trout, and two of her subordinates between 2008 and 2010. The three officials were charged with a total of 43 criminal counts, but the charges were dropped in 2010 after the Attorney General’s Office took over the case.

Local prosecutors, angry at what they viewed as improper actions by the Attorney General’s Office, part of the Christie administration, ignited a legal battle that is still being waged more than three years later. The Christie administration denies any political involvement in the case, but Barlyn hopes to prevail in the suit by showing how politics entered into an arena — law enforcement — that is supposed to be free of such influence.

The facts of the case are knotty and disputed, with resentments still lingering. But it is reaching a critical juncture at a time when two of Governor Christie’s political associates face allegations that politics played a role in their decision to shut down access lanes to the George Washington Bridge in September, causing huge traffic jams in Fort Lee. (Phillis/The Record)   




Christie administration opts out of defending state’s handgun law

The Monmouth County Prosecutor’s Office – not the state attorney general – will argue that New Jersey’s stringent laws on carrying handguns should be upheld in a case before the state Supreme Court.

The Prosecutor’s Office, the Attorney General’s Office and a spokesman for Governor Christie say it is not unusual for a local office to argue before the state’s highest court.

But this case, where a landscaper argues that he should be able to carry a gun out of fear of being robbed, marks the second time in which the Attorney General’s Office is not making the argument for the state’s gun laws. On Monday, an appeals court judge in another case noted the attorney general “regrettably” declined to argue for the law.

The gun-control question is a politically sensitive one for Christie, a Republican seen by many as positioning himself for a possible 2016 presidential run, and with that a likely challenge in conservative primary states where gun restrictions are unpopular. (Phillis and Linhorst/The Record)   




Chris Christie Expects ‘Significant Results’ From Faltering Atlantic City Casinos

ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. (AP) — The new year is a crucial one for Atlantic City’s future, and 2014 won’t start auspiciously.

This is the fourth year of a five-year grace period New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie has given the seaside gambling resort to turn around its struggling fortunes before considering expanding casinos to other parts of the state — something casino executives fear will decimate the already wobbly market.

And it will begin with the closing of one of the city’s 12 casinos, the Atlantic Club Casino Hotel, which is shutting its doors on Jan. 13, the victim of a takedown in bankruptcy court. Two national gambling companies with casinos in Atlantic City, Tropicana Entertainment and Caesars Entertainment, are paying a combined $23.4 million for the business, and the right to strip it for parts and close it down.

Tropicana is taking the slot machines, table games and customer lists, while Caesars is getting the property and its 801-room hotel. Neither has any desire to operate the casino in the now diminished Atlantic City market.

In remarks made the day before the Atlantic Club closing was announced, Christie said 2014 is time for Atlantic City to start putting up measurable results. (Parry/Huffington Post) 




2016 Watch: Iowa Republicans receive holiday cards from N.J. Gov. Chris Christie

Several Iowa Republicans received a holiday greeting this season from New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, a gesture immediately interpreted as indicative of his interest in running for president in 2016.

Christie, a Republican, is seen as a potential candidate for president and Iowa, of course, is home to the first in the nation presidential caucuses.

The holiday card, first reported by the website Buzzfeed, includes two photos from the night last November when Christie was reelected as governor, a Bible verse and the greeting, “Wishing you peace and happiness this holiday season and throughout the coming year.” (Parry/DesMoines Register) 




Christie asks FEMA to revise time limit for filing lawsuits over Sandy flood claims

The governor has asked the federal government to revise the time limit for residents affected by Hurricane Sandy to file lawsuits regarding their flood insurance claims.

Gov. Chris Christie thanked Craig Fugate, the administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, in a recent letter for again extending the deadline for individuals to file documents, called proofs of loss, supporting the amount they are claiming under their policies. FEMA, which administers the National Flood Insurance Program, extended that deadline to April 28 in October.

But Christie said in the Dec. 26 letter that in order to truly benefit from the additional filing time, FEMA should ensure that the one-year timeline to file litigation arising from a claim does not begin until the agency denies or disallows a claim “based upon the insured’s fully supported and sworn proof of loss.”

Christie said in the letter that a Nov. 21 memo from James Sadler, the director of claims for the National Flood Insurance Program, left open the possibility that the one-year time limit may be triggered for some denials issued prior to filing the proofs of loss. (O’Neill/Star-Ledger) 




N.J. child welfare director resigns

TRENTON — The director of New Jersey’s court-monitored child welfare agency, the state Division of Child Protection and Permanency, quit today and is leaving the post next week.

“Today Kara Wood announced that she will be leaving DCF at the end of next week,” according to an email blast Department of Children and Families Commissioner Allison Blake sent after 5 p.m. to employees and people who work in the child protection field.

“Kara has served the children and families of our state in several capacities since joining DCF in the summer of 2008, most recently as the director of our division of Child Protection and Permanency ,” Blake said in her email. “We have continued to make progress in our child welfare reform efforts and have been fortunate to have Kara as a member of our team, providing leadership in our work. I have no doubt she will continue to make positive and impressive contributions in her next endeavor.”

Blake’s email did not say who will become director of the Division of Child Protection and Permanency, formerly known as the Division of Youth and Family Services. (Livio/Star-Ledger)




NJ man to challenge NY Rep. Charlie Rangel for House seat

A Democrat challenging U.S. Rep. Charlie Rangel (D-NY) for his House seat lives not only outside New York’s 13th Congressional District, but he lives outside New York entirely.

In fact, he’s from right here in New Jersey.

Pastor Michael Walrond listed Edgewater as his primary residence on paperwork he filed in October. Candidates from outside of congressional districts run all the time, and election law allows it.  Walrond would need to relocate to the district, which covers upper Manhattan and a small portion of the Bronx.

According to the NY1, which first reported the story, a spokesman for Walrond said he plans to move to Harlem.

According to the report, Walrond is part of Rev. Al Sharpton’s National Action Network and the senior pastor at Harlem’s First Corinthian Baptist Church.

Rangel, 83, has served in the House of Representatives for 42 years.  In 2010 he was censure by the House for ethics violations including failing to pay taxes, inaccurate financial disclosures and accepting favors from corporate donors. (Isherwood/ 




From the Backroom



Democrat Gandolfo will challenge Smith in CD 4 race

BRICK – Democrat Angela Gandolfo confirmed on Wednesday at the Brick reorganization meeting that she is challenging Republican incumbent U.S. Rep. Chris Smith (R-4) in the 2014 Congressional race.

A Millstone Township resident, Gandolfo has worked as a social researcher and as a journalist. In a Daily Kos posting on Tuesday, Gandolfo criticized Smith for voting to support the October federal government shutdown. (Bonamo/PolitickerNJ)   







N.J. worker bees to study drones

The drones are coming to New Jersey, and we don’t mean that the stressed honeybee population is returning.

New Jersey, in a joint application with Virginia, has been accepted as one of six sites around the nationwhere the Federal Aviation Administration will test how the commercial version of the unmanned aircraft will integrate with crowded airspace used by conventional airplanes and helicopters.

In other words, before starts delivering parcels to our door with oversized versions of remote-control toys, the FAA has to determine that they won’t smack into light planes taking off from Teterboro.

U.S. Rep. Frank LoBiondo, R-2nd Dist., working with Gov. Chris Christie, helped secure the test designation. He sees it as a coup for our region. Surely, with the William J. Hughes FAA Technical Center in Egg Harbor Township, South Jersey has the right stuff to conduct the investigative fights and analyze the data.

In addition, most of the other announced test sites (Alaska-Hawaii-Oregon, Nevada, North Dakota, Texas, and New York) do not have the highly congested skies of the Northeast, where close-together airports already juggle the limited space where thousands of manned-aircraft operations occur each day. (South Jersey Times) 




Obamacare ushers in a healthier 2014

As we wish our friends and family a happy, healthy New Year’s, these words have renewed meaning in 2014.

Today is a new day in health care for millions of families and individuals in the Newark area and throughout New Jersey.

It’s now against the law for insurance companies to deny you coverage or charge you more because of a pre-existing medical condition like diabetes, high-blood pressure, or asthma. And they can no longer drop you from coverage just because you get sick or get into an accident.

What’s more, insurance companies can no longer impose an annual cap on your health benefits. They can’t deny you coverage simply because you made a mistake on your paperwork. Most plans must now cover preventive services like cholesterol and cancer screenings, at no out-of-pocket cost. And, being a woman is no longer a pre-existing condition.

It’s all thanks to the health care law: the Affordable Care Act. (Sebelius/Star-Ledger Editorial Board)   Morning Digest: Jan. 3, 2014