Morning Digest: Jan. 6, 2013

Sharif opens Newark mayoral campaign HQ; scoffs at idea of dividing black vote

NEWARK – Central Ward councilman and Newark mayoral candidate Darrin Sharif opened his campaign headquarters on South Orange Avenue on Saturday, declaring his candidacy to be neither quixotic nor a compromise.

“I’m running for mayor because I’m the most qualified person to move our city forward, plain and simple,” said Sharif to a crowd of more than 50 supporters in the city’s Vailsburg section. “You don’t see the big political bosses and developers in this room – all the people who make the deals behind the scenes in the dimly-lit restaurants where you and I are never invited. I have all in the respect in the world for my opponents, but when you hold my resume of accomplishment and achievement next to theirs, it’s not even close.”

Sharif, 52, who scored an upset victory in 2010 when he defeated incumbent Charles Bell, backed by then-Mayor Cory Booker, by 11 votes in a runoff, pointed to the Central Ward as a place where he believes Newark’s fortunes have risen in recent years. (Bonamo/PolitickerNJ)




Pascrell on potential Lonegan candidacy in CD3: ‘It’s great for us’

HOBOKEN – Steve Lonegan’s interest in a CD 3 seat has Democrats already cackling with glee.

“It’s great for us,” U.S. Rep. Bill Pascrell (D-9) told PolitickerNJ on his way out of Hoboken Mayor Dawn Zimmer’s swearing-in ceremony. “If he wins a [Republican] Primary, that is great news for us.”

Pascrell routinely savages the Tea Party movement and right-wing views as a chief source of federal government gridlock.

Lonegan is an arch conservative who last year during his unsuccessful U.S. Senate run told News 12’s Luke Margolis that he advocated turning away federal Hurricane Sandy aid.  (Pizarro/PolitickerNJ)



Hillary Clinton’s shadow campaign

Early last summer in her Georgian-style home near Washington’s Embassy Row, Hillary Clinton met with a handful of aides for a detailed presentation on preparing for a 2016 presidential campaign.

Three officials from the Democratic consulting firm Dewey Square Group — veteran field organizer Michael Whouley, firm founder Charlie Baker and strategist Jill Alper, whose expertise includes voter attitudes toward women candidates — delivered a dispassionate, numbers-driven assessment. They broke down filing deadlines in certain states, projected how much money Clinton would need to raise and described how field operations have become more sophisticated in the era of Barack Obama. (Haberman/Politico)   





Running in GOP primaries might push governor further to the right on school reforms

After four years of political drama involving school reform and education policy in New Jersey, could Gov. Chris Christie’s second term be even more eventful?

Three major speeches by the governor over the next two months are sure to highlight education.

In the meantime, many observers are already speculating about Christie’s unfinished education-related business as he begins his next term – and possibly embarks on a run for certain higher office.

“Education is always an important political issue, because it involves two things everyone cares about: kids and money,” said Ben Dworkin, director of the Rebovich Institute of New Jersey Politics at Rider University.

“Even in a second term after a first term that saw some significant accomplishments, Chris Christie will still prioritize it,” Dworkin predicted. ”There are still schools that don’t do well, still issues in fully funding the state’s school funding law, and challenges around charter schools and vouchers. (Mooney/NJSpotlight) 




Transportation experts question impact of soaring World Trade Center costs on agency finances, tollpayers

While political attention remains riveted on the Bridge-gate scandal that forced the resignation of Gov. Christie’s top two lieutenants at the Port Authority, the bistate agency remains embroiled in a lawsuit challenging the legality of its massive multiyear toll hike. At the heart of the suit is the allegation that toll revenue is being illegally diverted from transportation projects to pay for billions of dollars in cost overruns on the World Trade Center project.

For two years, the Port Authority has been battling to block the release of documents showing its internal deliberations leading up to its controversial September 2011 decision — jammed through after just one day of hearings — to raise tolls on the Lincoln and Holland Tunnels; George Washington, Bayonne and Goethals bridges; and the Outerbridge Crossing from $8 then to $12 today and $15 by 2015. (Magyar/NJSpotlight) 



N.J. bill on regulating drones says the sky has limits

State lawmakers are rushing to restrict how police and firefighters may deploy aerial drones in New Jersey — even if so far no one is using them to track criminals or douse fires.

Supporters say legislation is necessary to strike a balance between legitimate public safety needs, from aiding a criminal investigation to scanning a forest fire, and privacy concerns, though some argue the bill already goes too far.

The bill,which already has been passed by the state Senate and has bipartisan backing, is scheduled to go before the full Assembly today. It would restrict how police, firefighters and other first responders can use unmanned aircraft, and it would include a ban on any drone outfitted with weapons, such as those employed by the federal government to target terrorists overseas.

The lawmakers’ effort comes as an increasing number of Americans express their sensitivity to how government is using technology. Citizens have learned more and more about the sweeping collection of personal information by federal officials in disclosures by former national security consultant Edward Snowden.

Currently, drones are primarily employed by the military, and the use of unmanned aircraft in the U.S. is tightly restricted. Waivers are needed if researchers or police require the help of a drone. (Reitmeyer/The Record) 



Deadlock over state funding threatens N.J. open space 

The future of New Jersey’s open-space program is at a standstill as unlikely opponents square off on how best to fund the state’s long-standing — but broke — effort to increase parkland, preserve farmland and demolish flood-prone homes and businesses.

Two competing funding bills have pitted state Senate Democrats against Assembly Democrats in a deadlock that may not be resolved by the time the current legislative session ends a week from Monday.

If no action is taken by then, it will be the first time in decades that no funding has been allocated for the state’s 52-year-old Green Acres program, a taxpayer-funded program that has led to the preservation of 640,000 acres. Without those funds, all sides agree, there will be a dramatic drop-off in open-space acquisitions at every level, since counties, towns and non-profit groups often depend on matching grants from the state program.

“Conceivably … something could get done, but we’re not optimistic,” said Tom Gilbert, chairman of NJ Keep It Green, a coalition of 185 conservation, agricultural and historic preservation groups. “It’s a shame because right now we have a chance to do something and do it right.” (Fallon/The Record) 



After 40 years, new plans but no consensus on affordable housing in N.J.

TRENTON — Gov. Chris Christie is bracing for another legal battle over New Jersey’s affordable housing system, The Star-Ledger has learned, prolonging a 40-year saga that has exasperated mayors, developers, advocates for the poor and even one of his former cabinet officials.

While the Republican governor has not publicly announced plans beyond the hiring of consultants, his spokesman, Michael Drewniak, said the administration had brought in those consultants “as part of a litigation process” and was now “in a litigation posture.”

Drewniak said attorneys would address the state Supreme Court’s deadline next month for overhauling the system and address another suit filed by an advocacy group.

It is not known whether the governor will challenge the court’s demands, ask for an extension or plot another course. (Rizzo/Star-Ledger) 



Chris Christie postpones ceremonial signing of Dream Act in Union City

TRENTON — Gov. Chris Christie has called off his plans to travel to Union City on Monday morning for a ceremonial signing of the Dream Act, which allows the children of immigrants who came to this country illegally, and grew up in New Jersey, to pay in-state tuition at its public colleges and universities.

“The event was postponed to ensure that everyone who has worked on and is interested in this important piece of legislation will be able to attend,” Christie spokesman, Michael Drewniak, told The Star-Ledger.

Christie will still hold a news conference Monday afternoon at the Statehouse with U.S. Rep. Frank LoBiondo, who will announce his re-election bid, according to the state GOP.

First elected in 1994, LoBiondo (R-2nd) will be seeking an 11th term in Congress. LoBiondo represents all of Atlantic, Cape May, Cumberland and Salem counties, and parts of Camden, Gloucester, Ocean and Burlington counties. (Portnoy/Star-Ledger) 

New N.J. Assembly speaker, a former bodybuilder, promises to flex political muscle

TRENTON — Next week, everyone will start addressing Vincent Prieto as “Mr. Speaker” after he takes the oath as the Assembly’s new leader — and becomes the third most powerful politician in New Jersey state government.

But it won’t be the first time the mustachioed Hudson County Democrat will respond to a pretty impressive monicker.

Two decades ago they called him “Mr. New Jersey.”

That’s when the plumber from Secaucus bested all comers in a statewide bodybuilding contest.

“It was a different time in my life,” said Prieto, who’s been known to show colleagues photos of his shirtless form on his cell phone.

Now he will be matched up with a couple of strong-willed guys — Gov. Chris Christie, a Republican, and Senate President Stephen Sweeney, a fellow Democrat — to form Trenton’s political power trio.

Prieto, 53, says he’s looking forward to it.

“I’m always ready for the next level,” he said. “That’s the way I look at it. I’m going to be relevant in the conversation. And without the Assembly, nothing gets done.” (Friedman/Star-Ledger) 



From the Backroom



Gubernatorial appointments made

TRENTON – Gov. Chris Christie filed the following direct appointments with the Secretary of State’s Office.




N.J. officials discussing minimum wage increase on Power and Politics 

News 12’s Power and Politics host Luke Margolis will be discussing New Jersey’s recent increase in the minimum wage this weekend.

The state’s minimum wage increase went into effect Jan. 1, giving a quarter million low-wage workers a $1 pay bump from $7.25 to $8.25. Margolis will discuss the increase and its effects on the state with New Jersey Policy Perspective’s Gordon MacInnes and John Galandak, president of the Commerce and Industry Association of New Jersey.

Power and Politics will also highlight upcoming legislation set to be discussed in the New Jersey Statehouse next week, as well as the State Attorney General’s decision not to defend gun laws in court. (PolitickerNJ)





Sweeney and Kean’s rivalry could threaten the Senate’s work

The feud between Senate President Stephen Sweeney and the Republican leader, Sen. Tom Kean Jr., is threatening to spin out of control.

The root problem is that the rules of the Senate give Sweeney such sweeping powers that he can reach across the aisle to chip away at Kean’s rightful authority as minority leader. If Sweeney (D-Gloucester) were to press his advantage, he might even be able to dethrone Kean (R-Union) and see him replaced as Republican leader.

That’s not how it’s supposed to work. All 16 Republicans in the Senate represent about 220,000 New Jersey voters. If these senators are effectively neutered, then so are those voters.

The Senate rules were devised in a day when legislators were collegial and restrained. They give the Senate president enormous powers. He decides which bills reach the Senate floor for a vote. He makes all the committee assignments. He decides which senators get the good corner offices. And he sets the level of money senators get to pay staff members.

Normally, a Senate president defers to the minority leader on most of this. So it would be Kean who would assign his members to committees, allot them staff money and assign them offices. (Star-Ledger Editorial Board) 


Jackson: Menendez splits from Obama on threat to add Iran sanctions

Sen. Bob Menendez is not backing down from his push to have tougher economic sanctions written into law and ready to go if Iran uses negotiations in Geneva as a stalling tactic while secretly continuing work on a nuclear weapon.

“The burden rests with Iran to negotiate in good faith,” he said last month as he introduced a sanctions bill supported by more than one-quarter of the Senate. “Prospective sanctions will influence Iran’s calculus and accelerate that process.”

President Obama said more sanctions could disrupt negotiations, however, and hinted that could ultimately lead to military action being needed to stop Iran’s nuclear program.

“It is very important for us to test” whether a diplomatic agreement is possible, “not because it’s guaranteed, but because the alternative is possibly us having to engage in some sort of conflict to resolve the problem with all kinds of unintended consequences,” he said on Dec. 20.

The dispute marks the first significant policy break that Menendez has had with the Obama administration since he became chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee nearly a year ago.

It’s a high-stakes game that affects not only international security and domestic 
politics, but also questions about the constitutional role Congress has in foreign policy, and whether diplomacy can happen when one side takes an action that the other side sees as hostile. (Jackson/The Record)    Morning Digest: Jan. 6, 2013