Morning Digest: Jan. 8, 2013

Baraka slate mates John Sharpe James and Patrick Council talk togetherness, and about Mayor James 

NEWARK – Newark Councilman-at-Large John Sharpe James, now confirmed as a candidate on South Ward councilman and mayoral candidate Ras Baraka’s slate, sat in his City Hall office on Tuesday with Patrick Council, one of Baraka’s at-large candidates.

In brief, the main topics of conversation were simple: teamwork and 1960s pop culture.

“We made a team decision to put the strongest team forward to take the city back,” said James, an Army veteran of the Afghanistan War who was overwhelmingly elected to the Newark City Council last year. “I’d glad that Patrick Council is with us now. We don’t just put people on teams just to fill spots. We expect to win.”

James replaced Council in the South Ward slot on Baraka’s ticket in order to increase the chances of a slate victory in the highly-competitive ward, according to a source who spoke to The James family has long enjoyed the South Ward as its traditional power base – former Mayor Sharpe James began his political career when he was elected as South Ward councilman in 1970. (Bonamo/PolitickerNJ)




Former FBI agent seeking Republican Party support for U.S. Senate run

A third name is making rounds among some Republican Party county officials as a possible GOP challenger to U.S. Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.).

Robert “Turk” Turkavage, a retired FBI Agent, has spoke to multiple county party leaders in an effort to seek out the Republican Party’s nod for a U.S. Senate campaign, PolitickerNJ has learned. Turk ran as an Independent against U.S. Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) in 2012.

“I’m very serious about this,” Turk said by phone Tuesday evening.

“I have been actively attempting to speak with county chairs in regard to a possible run,” he said. “I’m trying to gauge what the sentiment would be for me to run.”

Turk hopes to be a candidate who has not “come up through the ranks” of the political establishment, and instead offer voters an option to vote for someone with a background in investigating public corruption who’s focused on tackling the nation’s debt, he said. (Arco/PolitickerNJ)





Record cold weather puts strain on power grid, creates seller’s market for electricity suppliers

Record cold temperatures may be causing misery for millions, but power suppliers are enjoying a rare seasonal windfall as prices for electricity soared to record levels in the past few days.

As people bundled up to cope with the coldest air mass to descend on much of the country in 20 years, the nation’s largest operator of a regional electric grid struggled to meet demand, which set a record yesterday for power use in winter months.

That demand led to an enormous spike in power prices. Typically in the $40 to $60 per megawatt range at this time of year, they skyrocketed as high as $1,800 per megawatt hour across the entire PJM region, including New Jersey. A megawatt of electricity is enough to power about 1,000 homes. (Johnson/NJSpotlight) 





Revised middle-school math exams alter profile of what students need to know in grades 6 to 8

The move to online testing in 2015 may have grabbed most of the attention, but the state’s NJASK exams will also be seeing some more changes this spring, as the current elementary and middle school tests are brought into line with the Common Core State Standards.

The state has already started the phase-in of the new national standards, revising NJASK’s grades 3-8 language arts and grades 3-5 math sections. But it left intact the grades 6-8 math exams while the younger students had the necessary instruction.

Now it’s the turn of the middle-school math tests. Some content areas will be moved entirely to different grades. Ratios and relationships, for example, will be addressed in grades 6 and 7; mathematical functions more heavily weighted in grade 8.

“The idea was that the scaffolding of content was special for math, so we staged that implementation,” said Bari Erlichson, assistant education commissioner in charge of the testing. (Mooney/NJSpotlight) 




Dream Act Takes Effect in New Jersey

UNION CITY, N.J.—New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie ceremonially signed into law a bill to allow undocumented college students to pay in-state tuition rates, underscoring his position among national Republicans as a moderate on immigration.

The governor framed the bill’s passage as a wise move financially. The state invests tens of thousands of dollars in public education for students regardless of immigration status, and keeping them in New Jersey for college will help maximize that return, Mr. Christie said. 

“In you we see, most importantly, infinite possibilities of the human spirit,” said Mr. Christie in front of hundreds of students in this heavily Hispanic town just west of New York City. The Republican also came to Union City after he won re-election in November—in part due to support from Democrats in this Hudson County enclave.

At least 16 states currently allow undocumented immigrants to pay in-state tuition at colleges, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Four states have barred the measure. (Haddon and Wright) 



Christie Pulls N.J. Top Court Pick in Feud With Democrats

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie pulled one of his picks for the state Supreme Court amid a yearlong stalemate with Democrats, and instead nominated him for a lower judgeship.

In an e-mail to the secretary of the state Senate yesterday, Christie said he intends to nominate Robert Hanna to a Superior Court position. Hanna, 55, a registered independent, was one of two people nominated by Christie in December 2012 who have yet to receive a confirmation hearing in the Senate.

Christie, a 51-year-old Republican, won a second term in November. During his first term, Democrats who control the legislature blocked Christie’s efforts to reshape the high court. The governor has accused justices of “legislating from the bench” on issues affecting state spending, including decisions on school funding and affordable housing.

Democrats criticized Christie, a former U.S. attorney, after he denied reappointment in 2010 to John Wallace, the court’s only black justice. That sparked a standoff that lasted a year and delayed hearings on Christie nominee Anne Murray Patterson, a Republican. Christie and Senate President Stephen Sweeney later agreed to let Patterson replace Justice Roberto Rivera Soto, who retired in September 2011. (Dopp and Young/Bloomberg) 




N.J. GOP committee members to have one day to review subpoenaed records in GWB flap

The Republican members of the state Assembly panel that’s investigating the ongoing George Washington Bridge controversy have found out they will have to wait until Wednesday to review hundreds of pages of subpoenaed documents, said Assemblyman Scott Rumana, R-Wayne.

That leaves only one day for them to review the material before Thursday’s scheduled committee meeting, which is not enough time, Rumana said.

“Allowing Republican committee members less than 24 hours to review more than 900 pages of information is a disservice to the bipartisan committee process,” he said. “Giving us a few hours to examine the documents certainly calls into question the fairness of the process.”

The Assembly Transportation Committee has been investigating the September lane diversions at the George Washington Bridge, which is administered by the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, and so far two of Governor Christie’s top appointees have stepped down in the wake of the investigation into what they called a traffic study.

Local officials claimed the traffic backups that ensued hampered public safety efforts and that Port Authority officials did not notify them of the traffic study before it started. The Assembly panel exercised its authority under state law to issue subpoenas, both for testimony from key agency officials and for hundreds of pages of documents. 
Former Livingston mayor and political blogger David Wildstein, who Christie appointed to a top job at the Port Authority in 2010, has been called to appear before the committee Thursday. (Reitmeyer/The Record)   



Menendez pushes bill to delay flood insurance rate hike

A bill to delay steep increases in federal flood insurance premiums looming for many homeowners in New Jersey has strong bipartisan support and could come up for a vote in the Senate this week, Sen. Bob Menendez said Tuesday.

Menendez, a Democrat from North Bergen, stopped short of saying the bill has the 60 votes needed to advance, but said at a Capitol news conference with a dozen other senators he was hoping a big majority would persuade the House to quickly follow suit.

A 2012 law known as Biggert-Waters mandated an end to subsidies on many policies in the flood insurance program, which owes the Treasury nearly $24 billion because of losses from Superstorm Sandy and Hurricane Katrina.

Menendez said his bill would postpone increases on primary homes facing higher rates either because new flood maps put a property in a higher risk zone, or because low rates that were grandfathered in when maps changed in the past are now being phased out.

The Congressional Budget Office said Tuesday that delaying rate increases would cut the program’s revenue by $2.1 billion over the next decade.

Many homeowners never knew they were getting subsidized rates and are stunned when told of the true cost of providing coverage. The added cost, which Menendez said could raise annual premiums from $1,000 to $10,000 in some cases, also can make homes unaffordable and unsellable. (Jackson/The Record)   



Jobless benefits bill clears Senate hurdle in bipartisan surprise

WASHINGTON — Election-year legislation to revive expired federal jobless benefits unexpectedly cleared an early hurdle on Tuesday, offering a hint of bipartisan compromise in Congress and a glimmer of hope to the long-term jobless and their families.

“Let’s get this done,” implored President Obama at the White House, shortly after six Republicans sided with Democrats in a 60-37 Senate vote to keep the measure alive.

Even so, the fate of the three-month reinstatement remained uncertain in an atmosphere of intense partisanship at the dawn of a congressional election year. The two parties have made it clear that they intend to battle for the support of millions of voters who have suffered economically through the worst recession in decades and the slow, plodding recovery that has followed. (Lightman and Clark/The Record) 




N.J. Supreme Court: Leaning on a porch is not grounds for arrest

TRENTON — In a ruling that strengthens “the right to walk freely on the streets of a city,” the New Jersey Supreme Court said today that police were wrong to arrest a man for leaning on a private porch in a high-crime area.

Police later discovered 13 bags of crack cocaine on David M. Gibson, but the search that uncovered those drugs and Gibson’s arrest were both unconstitutional, the high court ruled in a 6-0 decision citing privacy rights in the state and federal constitutions.

The justices ordered a new trial for Gibson, who has been imprisoned since 2010. The drugs Gibson was carrying cannot be used as evidence against him because they were seized illegally, Justice Barry Albin wrote for the court.

“The right to walk freely on the streets of a city without fear of arbitrary arrest is one of the guarantees protected by the Fourth Amendment of the United States Constitution” and the state constitution, Albin wrote. (Rizzo/Star-Ledger) 


Essex County psychiatric hospital corrects long list of problems and passes inspection

The Essex County Hospital Center in Cedar Grove passed re-inspection last month following a scathing report in July that faulted the facility for failing to administer drugs safely, sterilize equipment properly and allowing patients to be left alone in restraints for hours.

The Joint Commission, an independent body funded by the 20,000 health care facilities it accredits through unannounced inspections, awarded the 180-bed psychiatric facility its seal of approval for three years.

“There were no requirements for improvement identified,” according to the commission’s Dec. 23 letter to the acting hospital Director Frank J. DelGaudio. (Livio/Star-Ledger) 





From the Backroom



Stepien’s chairmanship of State Party excites Republican leaders

The news today of Bill Stepien’s elevation to State Party Chair energized GOP County chairs around the state.

“I think it’s great for the party,” said Ocean County GOP Chairman George Gilmore.

Atlantic County Republican Chairman Keith Davis was likewise enthusiastic about the choice, as were Morris County Chairman John Sette and Monmouth Chairman John Bennett.

“He’s a great choice,” said Bennett.

“When was the last time we had an operative of that caliber as state chair?” a Republican source asked

To a man, the chairs interpreted in the selection of Stepien Gov. Chris Christie’s commitment to GOP Party-building even as he zooms toward higher office. (Pizarro/PolitickerNJ)







Chris Christie retreats, but deadlock with Democrats continues over Supreme Court nominees

In a nod to political reality, Gov. Chris Christiewithdrew his nomination of Robert Hanna to the state Supreme Court, a tactical retreat in his attempt to reshape the court in his conservative image.

Don’t read this as a knock on Hanna. He is known as a man of integrity and competence, and this should not tarnish his reputation one bit.

This is on the governor. He started this fight in 2010 by removing Justice John Wallace Jr. for purely ideological reasons. No governor had done that before. It had been a bipartisan tradition in New Jersey to reappoint justices after their initial seven-year term, barring evidence of incompetence or unethical behavior.

The reason is that justices should be free to consider only the merits of the cases before them, with no fear of political retaliation. Gov. Tom Kean famously reappointed Justice Robert Wilentz in 1986, despite profound ideological disagreements, to safeguard that basic principle.

Christie cast that aside when he removed Wallace, a centrist Democrat and the court’s only African-American. Worse, he made it clear that was only his first move in a broader attack on the court’s independence.

He even spelled out a litmus test for new justices — he wanted conservatives whom he could trust to overturn some of the court’s most important opinions, the Abbott vs. Burke cases on school funding and the Mount Laurel cases on affordable housing. (Star-Ledger Editorial Board)   Morning Digest: Jan. 8, 2013