Morning Digest: Feb. 10, 2014

Christie bridge scandal: NY lawmakers says NJ can reform Port Authority

TRENTON — With the George Washington Bridge scandal reviving calls to reform the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, a longtime New York State lawmaker says New Jersey can make the powerful agency more accountable almost immediately.

Richard Brodsky, a Democrat who served nearly three decades as an assemblyman in Albany, says New Jersey lawmakers and Gov. Chris Christie could reform the Port Authority by passing an identical version of an authorities law he sponsored in 2009 that would “end the secrecy.”

“Bridgegate illuminates the fundamental problems of the Port Authority that won’t go away once Bridgegate goes away,” said Brodsky, who left the New York State Assembly in 2010. “This is something of a poster child for how not to run an institution in a democracy.” (Friedman/Star-Ledger) 




Lawmakers for Chris Christie seeking documents connected to Hoboken mayor’s allegations, report says

The legal team tasked with representing Governor Chris Christie in the fallout from the George Washington Bridge lane closure scandal has requested documents connected to Hoboken Mayor Dawn Zimmer’s allegations that the governor’s office threatened to withhold Hurricane Sandy aid from her city, according to a report in The Record.

In letters obtained by The Record, attorney Randy Mastro requested the documents and a private interview with Zimmer. Last month, the Hoboken mayor claimed Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno threatened to withhold funding from the city unless she backed a real-estate project connected to the law firm of Port Authority Chairman David Samson, a Christie appointee.

Christie and Guadagno have repeatedly denied those allegations.

Zimmer declined the request, according to the report, and her attorney questioned whether it was appropriate for the Governor’s office to investigate itself or obtain documentation that was already in the hands of federal investigators.

Zimmer’s accusations are just one in a series of scandals that have rocked Christie’s inner-circle in recent months. Christie has been under fire for weeks after letters surfaced showing members of his staff were involved in a lane closure scandal at the world’s busiest bridge that tied up traffic in Fort Lee for days, and the matter is now subject to review from a joint legislative committee and the U.S. Attorney’s Office. (Queally/Star-Ledger) 




Prominent New Jersey Newspaper says it regrets endorsing Chris Christie

New Jersey’s most highly-circulated newspaper, The Newark Star-Ledger, said on Sunday that it regrets endorsing Chris Christie in his last campaign for governor.

A piece penned by Tom Moran, the editor of the paper’s editorial page, says the Star-Ledger “blew” its endorsement of Christie for governor in October.

The admission came weeks after Christie’s administration was accused oforchestrating a massive traffic jam in Fort Lee, N.J., as political retribution, and ofthreatening to withhold Hurricane Sandy funds in order to get support for a project. 

Earlier this month, the attorney for David Wildstein, a former Port Authority official,told the New York Times that there is evidence that Christie knew about his administration’s orders to close the traffic lanes. The FBI is also looking into Hoboken mayor Dawn Zimmer’s allegations that Christie aides told her that she needed to support a real estate project backed by the administration “or we are not going to be able to help you” with Hurricane Sandy aid.

“Yes, we knew Christie was a bully,” Moran wrote Sunday. “But we didn’t know his crew was crazy enough to put people’s lives at risk in Fort Lee as a means to pressure the mayor. We didn’t know he would use Hurricane Sandy aid as a political slush fund. And we certainly didn’t know that Hoboken Mayor Dawn Zimmer was sitting on a credible charge of extortion by Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno.”

Moran acknowledged that the editorial board had had plenty of “hesitations” before endorsing Christie — the endorsement itself called Christie “overrated” — but reasoned that “voters have to push one button or the other, and we felt The Star-Ledger should belly up to the challenge and offer them our best advice.” (Fung/Huffington Post) 



Norcross basks in list of statewide support for his CD1 run 

Today State Senator Donald W. Norcross (D-5) issued the following statement in response to the support (see complete list below) he’s received following the retirement announcement of U.S. Rep. Robert E. Andrews (D-1):

“I am truly honored to have received these significant endorsements in my campaign for Congress,” said Norcross. “As someone who spent my earlier career as a union electrician working on high tension wires, the tops of major bridges, and other dangerous workplaces, it is a very humbling experience to enjoy this depth of support in my continued fight for South Jersey’s struggling middle class. 

“Make no mistake about it, I am a proud Pennsauken boy who never forgot where he came from. Being a fighter for people is not a cliché or a cheap political slogan to me. It’s who I’ve always been prior to entering public life. As Congressman, I will work to provide world class educational and vocational training opportunities so our kids can compete in the ever-evolving global economy. As I’ve done quite successfully in Trenton, I will work with Democrats and Republicans in Washington to ensure that New Jersey gets its fair share from the extraordinary amount of taxes we pay back to the federal government. I will also work with business and industry to lure the kinds of good-paying, family-sustaining jobs that South Jersey needs most right now. I get results. Now let’s get to work.” (PolitickerNJ)

Norcross basks in list of statewide support for his CD1 run | Politicker NJ



Monmouth Dems react to arrest of GOP former mayor of Manalapan 

MANALAPAN – Monmouth County Democratic Chairman Vin Gopal reacted to the arrest of Republican former Manalapan Mayor Andrew Lucas on Friday by questioning the use of taxpayer funds by Lucas and local officials. 

“The scandal involves the use of taxpayer-funded programs for a land deal that funneled $1.2 million dollars directly into the pockets of Lucas – with the help of the local and County Republican politicians,” Gopal said in a prepared statement. “In order to receive the money, the deal was approved by the Republican-controlled Monmouth County Freeholder Board.” 

The former Republican mayor of Manalapan was arrested on Friday on charges that he submitted falsified 2007 and 2008 tax returns in order to purchase a farm property in Manalapan and that he provided federal  investigators and a federal grand jury with a fabricated document in 2013, U.S. according to U.S. Attorney Paul J. Fishman.

Lucas, 36, was arrested as a result of an 11-count indictment charging him with wire fraud, illegal monetary transaction, loan application fraud, false statements to the IRS, aggravated identity theft, obstruction of a grand jury investigation and falsification of records in a federal investigation. (Bonamo/PolitickerNJ)

Monmouth Dems react to arrest of GOP former mayor of Manalapan | Politicker NJ 



Budget tops big to-do list as N.J. legislature begins new session

New Jersey has record-high property taxes, with several huge loopholes still in place. The state is still recovering from Superstorm Sandy, with many homeowners not yet back on their feet. And the cost of benefits promised to public employees is still going up, threatening the state’s already low bond rating because of a pension system teetering toward insolvency.

All of these serious problems are among the many before Governor Christie and lawmakers as they begin a new two-year legislative session, one that started last month with ceremonies largely obscured by the controversies surrounding Christie, including questions about the politically motivated lane closures at the George Washington Bridge and the distribution of Sandy aid.

A new state budget from the governor is due to be released at the end of the month, and it will serve as the first real test of whether Christie, a Republican once considered a top contender for his party’s presidential nomination in 2016, and the Democrats who control the state Legislature — some of whom are driving the legislative inquiry into the bridge lane closures — can effectively put the controversies aside and get things done. (Reitmeyer/The Record)



Cabinet secretary from N.J. recounts family’s history with Civil Rights Movement  

NEWARK — The story of how the great-grandson of a Virginia slave became secretary of Homeland Security reflects the larger story of African-Americans, Jeh Johnson said. 

“It is representative of the history of many of you in the room,” Johnson, who was sworn in two months ago at his Montclair home, told a predominantly African-American audience of about 300 at the New Hope Baptist Church on Sunday.

Johnson’s story underscored the theme of the fourth annual Black History Month event hosted by U.S. Sen. Bob Menendez, D-N.J.: “Standing on the Shoulders of Giants.” This year’s event also celebrated the 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

Johnson told the history of his family, including its convergences with the Civil Rights Movement.

He recounted how his grandfather, Charles S. Johnson, the sociologist and former president of Fisk University, wrote an article for The New York Times Magazine in 1956 titled “A Southern Negro’s View of the South.” It drew many letters, among them one from a pastor who was 27 years old at the time, he said. (Park/The Record) 



Affordable care act remains spotty in some regions of N.J.

With seven weeks to go until the March 31 deadline for state residents to buy health insurance or face federal tax penalties, gaps remain both in the outreach effort to let people know about the new federal health insurance marketplace and in the programs to enroll them.

One of the largest gaps: six New Jersey counties that did not receive federal funding for so-called Navigators, organizations that get the word out about ACA coverage and help residents sign up for what they need.

The problem can be traced back to Gov. Chris Christie’s decision to rely on a federally run marketplace, rather than setting up a state-operated system, which severely limited the state from qualifying for federal funds that can be used for outreach.

What makes the situation particularly frustrating for healthcare advocates is that federal money may be available. The feds originally gave New Jersey $7.67 million to build its own exchange, but when the administration opted not to, the funds were off the table.

Or are they? State and federal officials are deadlocked over how to use the money — which must be spent by February 22. (Kitchenman/NJSpotlight) 


State Gives Nod to Developers of Nearly 20 Grid-Supply Solar Projects

Hoping to revive a sluggish solar sector, the state last month approved 19 relatively large projects to provide electricity from solar panels to the power grid over the next few years.

The projects, which could end up supplying 140 megawatts of electrical capacity to the grid, are in line with recommendations of bipartisan legislation enacted nearly two years ago to help revive the solar industry in New Jersey.

Unlike many of the solar projects installed in the past, when arrays were deployed on homes and businesses as a way of cutting energy bills, these systems would feed electricity directly into the grid. The bill would have allowed up to 240 megawatts of grid supply projects over the next three years, so the amount approved by the state Board of Public Utilities is far less than legislators envisioned.

Typically, one megawatt of electrical capacity can provide enough power to light up to 800 homes, but that is not true of solar energy because of the intermittent nature of sunshine. Thus, solar arrays typically deliver about 25 percent or more capacity of traditional power plants, depending on the location.

The action by the regulatory agency, however, was welcomed by clean energy advocates, who have witnessed a steep drop in the number of solar installations in New Jersey. At one time, there were more than 40 megawatts of solar capacity being installed each month in the state, but that has fallen into the single digits in recent months. (Johnson/NJSpotlight) 




Trenton Mayor Convivted of Extortion, bribery

TRENTON, N.J. (AP) – The mayor of New Jersey’s capital city could soon be removed from office.

A federal jury convicted Tony Mack on Friday of bribery, fraud and extortion Friday. And state law prevents him from staying in office.

The panel found Mack and his brother, Ralphiel, participated in a scheme to take money in exchange for helping get approvals to develop a downtown parking garage. The deal was fictitious and part of a government sting.

Jurors did not buy Tony Mack’s defense that he was unaware of the nature of the building project and never accepted any bribes. Neither defendant testified during the trial.

Mack has been mayor since 2010.

He joins a list of other New Jersey mayors who have been convicted or pleaded guilty to corruption charges. (New Jersey Herald) 



From the Back Room


PolitickerNJ on Reporters Roundtable

PolitickerNJ sat down with three other members of the New Jersey Press Corps for this week’s edition of Reporters Roundtable on NJTV.

Matt Arco joined Reporters Roundtable host Michael Aron and fellow reporters Melissa Hayes of The Bergen Record, David Matthau of Town Square Media and Josh McMahon of

The group discussed the latest in the George Washington Bridge controversy, Gov. Chris Christie’s handling of the so-called Bridgegate scandal and other topics in New Jersey politics, including U.S. Rep. Rob Andrews departure from Congress.

Reporters Roundtable with Michael Aron airs Saturday on NJTV at 5:30 p.m. and Sunday at 9 a.m.

Aron also sat down with Senate President Steve Sweeney for this week’s edition of On The Record, which airs Saturday at 6:30 p.m. and Sunday at 10 a.m. (PolitickerNJ)

PolitickerNJ on Reporters Roundtable | Politicker NJ




Katz inks Christie book deal

The Associated Press is reporting that Christie chronicler Matt Katz of WNYC has signed a deal with Threshold Editions to publish an as-yet-untitled Christie biography for spring 2015. (PolitickerNJ)

Katz inks Christie book deal | Politicker NJ Morning Digest: Feb. 10, 2014