Morning Digest: Feb. 11, 2014

Christie’s office and Port Authority staffers set to receive new round of subpoenas

TRENTON – Port Authority staffers and employees connected to officials already subpoenaed by a joint legislative committee investigating the George Washington Bridge lane closure controversy are among the people slated to be served with a new round of subpoenas, according to sources.

Staffers and assistants to officials hit with a first wave of subpoenas – including Port Authority Executive Director Patrick Foye and former authority officials Bill Baroni and David Wildstein – are among the people named in a new round of subpoenas, sources with knowledge of the investigation told PolitickerNJ. The list also includes additional officials within the Gov. Chris Christie administration.

The news comes after legislative committee members announced a fresh round of more than a dozen subpoenas are expected to be issued as soon as Monday evening or Tuesday. (Arco/PolitickerNJ)

Christie’s office and Port Authority staffers set to receive new round of subpoenas | Politicker NJ



DiVincenzo amid Bridgegate uproar: “the governor will be here for another four years’

Don’t count Essex County Executive Joe DiVincenzo among those regretful of endorsing Republican Gov. Chris Christie.

“I’ve talked to him and he sounds very strong,” DiVincenzo said of Christie. “I have to take him at his word. This situation is being handled by the right people now.”

He’s referring to Bridgegate, the scandal that prompted the U.S. Attorney’s Office to subpoena Christie’s campaign and the NJ GOP. In contrast to the county executive, the highest profile Democrat to publicly endorse the governor last year, the Star-Ledger this weekend backpedaled on its own endorsement of Christie in light of the George Washington Bridge Scandal and reports of the administration’s creation of a Hurricane Sandy slush fund.

“I did not even read it,” DiVincenzo said of the piece. “What I think in reference to my support is I still support him. There’s an investigation going on. It’s a mistake for people to jump to conclusions now. Look, he helped Essex County. OI approached past governors and they had no interest. This guy stepped in when I told him I need to have caps on spending. That’s the main reason I supported him, because of how he did things Democrats couldn’t get done.”

The powerful Democrat did note that Christie worked with Sweeney to accomplish the two percent cap on government spending. (Pizarro/PolitickerNJ)

DiVincenzo amid Bridgegate uproar: “the governor will be here for another four years’ | Politicker NJ



New Jersey Bridge Probe Panel Issues New Set of Subpoenas

New Jersey lawmakers investigating intentional traffic jams at the George Washington Bridge authorized 18 new subpoenas in a widening probe into the administration of Governor Chris Christie, a Republican who has been mentioned as a potential presidential contender.

The joint Assembly-Senate committee yesterday also said two Christie aides had no grounds to fight its subpoenas and will get a last chance to comply before “all legal options” are unleashed.

The 51-year-old Republican has said he knew nothing about lane closings on the world’s busiest span that backed up traffic for four days in Fort Lee, whose mayor hadn’t endorsed Christie. The governor’s office, re-election campaign and 18 individuals were ordered last month to turn over documents and communications related to the scandal.

The committee yesterday narrowed the scope of subpoenas sent to Bridget Anne Kelly, the governor’s former deputy chief of staff, and Bill Stepien, his campaign manager, Assemblyman John Wisniewski said. Both had said they wouldn’t comply with the orders, citing their right against self-incrimination under the Constitution’s Fifth Amendment. (Dopp and Niquette/Bloomberg) 




Some current, former N.J. employees ask state to cover legal fees in GWB probe

Several current and former state employees have asked the attorney general’s office to pay their legal fees related to the George Washington Bridge scandal which is being investigated by a joint committee in the Legislature and also the U.S. attorney’s office.

“We have had several requests that are under consideration,” said Leland Moore, a spokesman for the Attorney General’s Office.

Moore did not say how many state employees and former employees had sought help with their legal bills in the scandal nor did he say when a decision is expected.

So far 20 subpoenas have been handed down by the legislature’ joint investigative committee and many of those have gone to state employees. Current employees involved include Michael Drewniak, Governor Christie’s spokesperson, as well as his former chief of staff Kevin O’Dowd and former chief counsel Charles McKenna. Bridget Anne Kelly, former deputy chief of staff for Christie, is at the center of the scandal for her “time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee” message.

It was unclear if the requests for tax-payer funding for legal fees included Kelly and Christina Genovese Renna, another former Christie aide who was subpoenaed by the committee. (Phillis/The Record)   



Lawyers for Christie administration seeking documents, interview with Hoboken mayor

A team of attorneys retained by Governor Christie’s office in the aftermath of the George Washington Bridge scandal is seeking documents and a private interview with the Hoboken mayor, whose explosive allegations have added to the governor’s woes.

In January, Mayor Dawn Zimmer of Hoboken alleged that members of Christie’s administration had threatened to withhold Superstorm Sandy aid if she did not fast-track a particular real estate development project. Her allegations are the focal point of a federal inquiry.

In letters obtained by The Record, lawyer Randy Mastro asked that Zimmer and four other Hoboken officials provide his legal team with documents already handed over to federal investigators.

The governor’s office, Mastro wrote, takes Zimmer’s allegations “very seriously.”

But Zimmer, who has already met with the U.S. Attorney’s Office and gave authorities a journal in which she recounted the alleged threat delivered by Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno, declined the invitation.

“We question whether it is appropriate for the Governor’s Office, in essence, to be investigating itself, particularly when an investigation of the same subject matter is being conducted by the U.S. Attorney’s Office,” Zimmer’s attorney wrote in a reply letter sent to Mastro on Thursday. The Christie administration and Guadagno have denied Zimmer’s claims. (Boburg/The Record)



Christie bridge scandal: Panel looking into whether governor flew in helicopter over Fort Lee 

TRENTON — The state legislative committee investigating the George Washington Bridge scandal is looking into whether Gov. Chris Christie flew in a State Police helicopter over Fort Lee at the time of last year’s controversial lane closures, according to a source with knowledge of the probe.

The source, who is not authorized to speak about the investigation, requested anonymity.

The panel issued a new set of 18 subpoenastoday, including one to the New Jersey State Police aviation unit, which oversees the governor’s helicopter travel.

Democrats have accused Christie’s office of organizing traffic-snarling closures at the nation’s busiest bridge last September in a case of political retribution. But the Republican governor has maintained that he did not know about the closings until after they were over and reported in the media.

Colin Reed, a spokesman for Christie’s office, confirmed today that the Republican governor did fly in a helicopter from New York City to Trenton on Sept. 11 of last year — the third day of the closures. But asked whether the aircraft passed over the bridge, Reed declined comment. (Johnson/Star-Ledger) 




State lawmakers from Union County back higher pay for Newark airport workers

ELIZABETH — As pressure mounts for major airlines to pay their contract workers at New York City’s two airports a higher wage, three New Jersey lawmakers from Union County are calling for the same pay hike for workers at Newark’s airport.

Sen. Raymond Lesniak and Assembly members Joseph Cryan and Annette Quijano (all D-Union) today sided with members of Service Employees International Union (SEIU) in calling for a wage increase to $10.10 an hour for workers at Newark Liberty International Airport.

Union members protested outside the terminal for Newark airport’s largest carrier — United Airlines — demanding their pay be increased to the level President Obama has pledged the federal government will pay its contract workers.

Like Obama, Democratic lawmakers in New Jersey have been blocked by Republicans in raising the minimum wage. Gov. Chris Christie last month vetoed a bill that would have increased the state’s $7.25 minimum wage. Instead, the Republican governor countered with a plan to phase in a $1-an-hour-increase over three years.

The Newark airport workers are piggybacking on the demands by New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo and Patrick Foye, his top appointee to the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, who are pushing for wage increases from airlines operating out of LaGuardia and John F. Kennedy airports. (Spoto/Star-Ledger) 



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) 




N.J. Transportation Chief orders review of NJ Transit Super Bowl logjam

Transportation Commissioner Jim Simpson has directed two NJ Transit board members to look into why thousands of Super Bowl fans who heeded the call to use mass transit to get to the game were left stranded for hours in the Meadowlands.

Board members Bruce Meisel, a Bergen County attorney and founder of First Westwood Realty, and Jamie Finkel, a transportation lawyer, will lead the investigation, Simpson said today.

They will “review everything from planning to the execution of the plan, to the lines at the end of the night and getting everybody out, and what happened, and have a full report in a month,” Simpson said. “They’re going to be interviewing people, everybody that was involved, whatever the media reports were.”

“We want to learn what was NJ Transit’s role,” Simpson said. “What happened? Obviously the estimates were blown on the ridership.”

The NJ Transit review marks the second case this year in which Governor Christie’s administration is conducting an internal probe about a transportation debacle. In January, the administration hired Randy Mastro, a high-powered attorney to conduct a review of the lane closures at the George Washington Bridge and to coordinate with the investigations being conducted by the U.S. Attorney’s office in Newark and the state Legislature.

Just days before the Feb. 2 game at MetLife Stadium, an NJ Transit spokesman told The Record that projections called for 12,000 customers to take the NJ Transit Meadowlands Rail Line service from the Secaucus Junction station to MetLife. That represented a 50 percent increase from the typical 8,000 people that take the train to a normal Jets or Giants home game. (Rouse/The Record) 



Chris Cerf to Step Down as New Jersey Commissioner of Education

Chris Cerf will be leaving office at the end of this month after three years as Gov. Chris Christie’s education commissioner, leaving behind big changes — and some tumult.

Appointed in late 2010, Cerf yesterday said he will join the educational software company led by his old boss, former New York City schools chancellor Joel Klein.

Cerf, who was deputy chancellor in New York under Klein, will serve as CEO of Amplify Insight, a division of Amplify Inc. The company is owned by News Corp., the media giant led by Rupert Murdoch.

He submitted his resignation earlier this month, effective March 1. No announcement has been made as to Cerf’s successor.

The department is expected to announce the resignation today, but Cerf yesterday confirmed the decision and said it came out of both his uncertainty about staying on for a second term and a job offer that was difficult to pass up. (Mooney/NJSpotlight) 




State Proposes Special Fund to Bankroll Energy Resiliency Projects 

The Christie administration is proposing to create a new $210 million pot of money, bankrolled by federal funds, to help pay for projects aimed at curtailing electrical outages during extreme storms.

The recommendation is detailed in a report to the federal government on the state’s request for aid to help finance infrastructure upgrades in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy. The so-called Sandy Action Plan, released earlier this month, recommends ways to prevent outages like those that occurred during the October 2012 storm, along with many other measures to rebuild housing and transportation, and to address other needs.

The storm left one-third of the state’s residents without power for six days or more, crippled 100 high-voltage electricity transmission lines and put them out of service, and required replacement of more than 4,000 damaged utility transformers. Each of those Sandy-related incidents left tens of thousands of customers without power, unlike smaller outages caused by tree limbs falling on power lines and leaving neighborhoods in the dark. (Johnson/NJSpotlight) 



From the Back Room

Burton working for Menendez

Veteran Democratic Party operative Charles Burton started work today in the office of U.S. Sen. Bob Menendez (D-NJ).

A longtime staffer to Assemblyman John Wisniewski (D-19), Edison resident Burton is now serving as advisor to the senator for Business, Labor, Transportation and Veterans Affairs. (PolitickerNJ)

Burton working for Menendez | Politicker NJ



INKY: Hughes part of Andrews legal team

A U.S. Congressional candidate in the 2nd District did legal work for embattled U.S. Rep. Rob Andrews (D-1), who is resigning next week rather than run for re-election.

Andrews hired Democrat Bill Hughes as part of his legal team, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer. (PolitickerNJ)

INKY: Hughes part of Andrews legal team | Politicker NJ



Tomorrow in Chicago: Chris Christie and the Ohio Connection 

Former Ohio Governor Ted Strickland has scheduled a DNC press conference near Gov. Chris Christie’s Tuesday Republican Governors Association (RGA) stop in Chicago  to heap scorn on Christie’s record as governor and to discuss the Bridgegate scandal.

It’s payback time for Strickland, who came out out on the losing end of a 2010 re-election battle against Republican John Kasich.

Kasich campaigned for governor with the help of Christie. “He’ll bring fiscal sanity back to Ohio and allow the private sector to grow jobs and put people back to work,” Christie said on the trail in 2010.

In the wake of Bridgegate this year, Kasich stood by Christie; a spokesman told The Columbus Dispatch that the Ohio governor still supports Christie as head of the RGA. (PolitickerNJ)

Tomorrow in Chicago: Chris Christie and the Ohio Connection | Politicker NJ




Chris Christie should keep Rabnor as Supreme Court Chief Justice

Last month, in his State of the State address,Gov. Chris Christie apologized to the people of New Jersey for actions taken regarding lane closures on the George Washington Bridge.

The governor acknowledged that as the leader of the state, he is responsible for its achievements and its missteps. He uttered the phrase so many before him have said: “Mistakes were clearly made.”

While the governor was referring to the Bridge­gate controversy, parallels can be drawn to his actions toward the judicial branch — our third, separate and co-equal branch of government.

The New Jersey State Bar Association believes a mistake was clearly made when the governor took the unprecedented action to not reappoint Justice John Wallace Jr. Another mistake was clearly made when he chose to personally vilify Justice Barry Albin. And, of course, a mistake was clearly made when he refused to nominate Justice Helen Hoens for reappointment last fall.

Mistakes are part of the human experience. We can and do make them every day in the course of our personal and professional lives. It is such a part of the fabric of our existence that magnets and bumper stickers abound bearing commentator Esther Dyson’s entreaty to “always make new mistakes.”

The reverberations of these past mistakes continue to be felt throughout the judiciary. This spring, Chief Justice Stuart Rabner will complete his initial term of seven years as head of the state’s judicial branch, making him eligible for tenure. Through his opinions and his administration of the courts, he has demonstrated the qualities every chief justice should have. In fact, he epitomizes the very qualifications the governor recently said he looks for in a justice. (Lamparello/Star-Ledger Guest Columnist)  

Morning Digest: Feb. 11, 2014