Morning Digest: Feb. 14, 2014

Newark mayoral race become proxy potential gubernatorial contest

NEWARK – The last few days of the shifting Newark mayoral race could leave a casual observer to wonder if they are standing on Newark’s Broad Street or Trenton’s State Street.

While events have conspired to whittle the race down to two candidates, several notable New Jersey politicians and power brokers who have either been governor, run for governor, want to be governor or who help to install governors have swarmed to the Newark race. The atmosphere could resemble a Cold War geopolitical chess game to some, with the fate of the state’s largest city at stake.

On Wednesday, both North Ward Councilman Anibal Ramos, Jr. and Central Ward Councilman Darrin Sharif dropped out of the race, with South Ward Councilman Ras Baraka and former state Assistant Attorney General Shavar Jeffries left to battle for Newark’s top political spot. (Bonamo/PolitickerNJ)

Newark mayoral race becoming proxy potential gubernatorial contest | Politicker NJ



Sabrin says he’s running for U.S. Senate

“Yes, I’m in,” Ramapo College Finance Professor Murray Sabrin declared today in an email blast to supporters.

Sabrin said he wants to fight for the GOP nomination to face incumbent U.S. Senator Cory Booker in the 2014 general election.

“Corey (sic) Booker is a celebrity politician,” wrote Sabrin, 67, of Fort Lee. “A master of the sound bite and the slogan.  But behind it all are more of the failed policies of a government too big to get out of our way.
”I’m Murray Sabrin, and I’m running for the United States Senate to begin a serious, mature discussion about America’s future. An honest discussion about the role of government and the free market in achieving the individual goals of every American. For thirty years, I have been writing and teaching about the dangers of government intrusion into our lives.  I’ve become known as New Jersey’s foremost defender of economic freedom and individual liberty.”

Sabrin last ran for the U.S. Senate in 2008, an unsuccessful bid that found him finishing third in the Republican Primary behind former U.S. Rep. Dick Zimmer and state Sen. Joe Pennacchio. (Pizarro/PolitickerNJ)

Sabrin says he’s running for U.S. Senate | Politicker NJ




Ex-Prosecutor Urges Legislative Probe in Hunterdon Sheriff’s Case

Charles Ouslander, the Hunterdon County first assistant prosecutor who supervised the 2010 indictment of Republican Sheriff Deborah Trout and two aides for official misconduct, yesterday asked the Legislature’s Select Committee on Investigation to expand its inquiry to include whether Gov. Chris Christie’s Attorney General, Paula Dow, was politically pressured by her boss to take over the prosecutor’s office and kill the indictment.

“As a former career county and state-level prosecutor with firsthand knowledge of the events in question, I again express my belief that the actions of the Attorney General were unlawful and, from my vantage point, obviously influenced by improper political considerations,” Ouslander wrote in a letter to Assemblyman John Wisniewski (D-Middlesex), the committee’s co-chair, that he emailed to the committee’s special counsel yesterday. “As such, it is of vital public importance that the Committee undertakes an exhaustive investigation into the conduct of the attorney general.”

For Christie and his inner circle, the allegations charging that the governor’s office brought pressure to kill the Hunterdon County indictments are as serious both criminally and politically as Bridgegate and Hoboken Mayor Dawn Zimmer’s charge that Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno threatened to withhold Sandy aid if she did not approve a high-rise development represented by a Christie insider’s law firm. The administration has been fighting to suppress the release of information on the case, which is the subject of a civil lawsuit that has been winding its way through the courts. (Magyar/NJSpotlight) 



NJ Quietly Fires Second Contractor Hired to Help Sandy Victims

The Christie administration is quietly terminating a contract with a second company involved in a much-criticized program for Sandy victims, WNYC has learned.

Those homeowners who were relying on URS Corporation to supervise the rebuilding of their homes are being notified by state officials this week that the job will be picked up by another company.

“As we note in the letter, this change will have no impact on their assigned housing adviser or their case status,” said Richard Constable III, the commissioner for the Department of Community Affairs, which signed the contract, in a statement.

URS signed a contract for about $20 million. But the $600 million Reconstruction, Rehabilitation, Elevation and Mitigation program that it helped to run — which provides grants up to $150,000 — has come under fire from those it was intended to serve.

Applications were wrongly rejected, with a nonprofit advocacy group finding that 74 percent of those who appealed an RREM rejection were actually eligible. And at a hearing this week, Sandy victims complained of confusion and a nine-month wait for approved grant money. One man described the process as more stressful than when he was fighting in Afghanistan. (Katz/NJSpotlight) 




Deal puts focus on placing New Jersey’s disables kids in local classrooms

Thousands of special-needs students across New Jersey could get the support they need to attend mainstream classes or return from out-of-district programs to their local schools after a settlement was reached in a seven-year court fight over whether disabled children were unfairly segregated.

The federal suit, filed by an array of advocacy groups, contends that the state violated the rights of disabled children to attend school — to the greatest extent possible — with children who do not have disabilities and in their neighborhood schools. The suit said that because of the state’s failures, countless disabled children were unnecessarily separated from their peers.

About 15 percent of New Jersey’s 1.4 million public school students have special needs, and about 8 percent of the disabled go to out-of-district sites.

The settlement, approved by the state Board of Education on Wednesday, requires that for three years, the state must scrutinize the placement of special-needs children in more than 55 districts that put a disproportionate share of students in restrictive settings. That includes Westwood, Hackensack, Garfield, Passaic, Elmwood Park and Englewood.

If the state finds districts are not doing their utmost to include students in regular classes, school staff must undergo extra training in tailoring lessons to the children and giving them aides and other individualized services.

Ruth Lowenkron, an attorney at the Education Law Center, which was one of the plaintiffs, said the settlement could help many special-needs students in a state that has historically put more of them in separate programs than is typical nationwide. (Brody/The Record)   





Instead of a snow day, one New Jersey school trying a “virtual school day”

MONTVALE, N.J. (AP) – One New Jersey school district is having students log on for a “virtual school day” in an experiment that could alter the meaning of snow days.

Bergen County’s Pascack Valley Regional High School District officials tell The Record newspaper ( ) that Thursday’s experiment is possible because all students at its two schools are issued laptops.

While students won’t be on campus, they are expected to log in, complete assignments found on teachers’ web sites and communicate with teachers throughout the day.

The state Education Department will evaluate how the day went to decide whether to count the day as an official one for the district.

If it doesn’t, students will have to make up a day during spring break. (Press of Atlantic City) 




Proposed Law Could Mean Trouble for Corrupt Politicians

If legislation first introduced in 2012 was law in New Jersey today, elected officials such as Trenton mayor Tony Mack — who was found guilty last week of corruption charges — might have been ousted a long time ago.

Despite the charges against him, Mack refuses to leave office. He is still drawing a taxpayer-funded paycheck and he still has executive powers. The acting state Attorney General is using the courts to try and have Mack removed.

If the previously introduced was law, this would not be an issue. The measure’s sponsor plans to re-introduce it next week.

The resolution proposes a constitutional amendment that calls for the suspension, without pay, of any elected officials as soon as they are indicted. If the official is acquitted or the charges are dropped, the official would return to office and be paid retroactively. The official would be permanently removed from office if convicted. 

“If my bill would have been in effect, he (Mack) would have been removed from office at the time of indictment,” said state Sen. Shirley Turner (D-Trenton). “The city would have been allowed to move ahead and not deteriorate as it has right now.”

The senator understands that many indicted officials don’t resign their office on the advice of legal counsel, who may argue that doing so would be tantamount to admitting guilt. Turner said the suspension provision of the amendment takes away that argument because it allows officials who are innocent of criminal charges to resume office upon their acquittal. (McArdle/NJ101.5) 




Japanese official outraged over proposed NJ bill changing reference to Sea of Japan, report says

TRENTON — It appears New Jersey legislators may have stepped into an transcontinental dispute.

Lawmakers in Trenton introduced a bill earlier this week that would require state officials to refer to the body of water between the Korean peninsula and Japan as the “East Sea” as opposed to the “Sea of Japan.”

But the name of that stretch of water has been in dispute here and abroad.

In Japan, it is called the Sea of Japan and in South Korea it known as the East Sea, the BBC reports.

South Korea rejects the former name because it became popular when Japan controlled Korea as a colony, the BBC report said. The two countries also disagree about who owns a group of lands in the middle of the, known as Dokdo in South Korea and Takeshima in Japan, BBC said.

Earlier this month, Virginia’s house of delegates gave preliminary approval to a bill requiring its school textbooks to include both the Korean name and the Japanese name for the stretch of wateraccording to the Washington Post.

The bill drew such intense scrutiny abroad that the Japanese government hired a lobbying firm to advocate against the legislation, according to NPR.

New Jersey’s bill has not gone unnoticed in Japan.

“It’s extremely regrettable,” Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga told Kyodo News International. Suga said the Sea of Japan has been formally recognized by the international community, including the U.S. federal government. (Nix/Star-Ledger) 




Chris Christie spends his snow day on Twitter

TRENTON — Stuck inside on this snowy day and feeling a little bored? Tweet at the governor.

Gov. Chris Christie has taken to Twitter today to chat with New Jerseyans about the latest winter weather to blanket the state.

Manning his official account — @GovChristie — the Republican governor has sent out dozens of messages since 7 a.m.

He encouraged users to send him snow photos. (Johnson/Star-Ledger) 




From the Back Room


New Republic: Christie’s ‘really just mastering’ N.J. political machine

The New Republic is out with a feature on New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie that chronicles his ascent into the governor’s office.

The piece, titled “Chris Christie’s Entire Career Reeks,” details Christie’s rise from local politics to the U.S. Attorney’s Office, as well as his relationship with South Jersey Democratic power broker George Norcross III. (PolitickerNJ)

New Republic: Christie ‘really just mastering’ N.J. political machine | Politicker NJ





Raising gas tax is the last thing NJ needs: Letter 

Apparently the new speaker of the state Assembly, Vincent Prieto (D-Hudson) has no pulse on what is going on with the taxpayers of New Jersey.

We have the highest real estate taxes in the country and the highest insurance costs in the country. One thing New Jersey had going for itself was low gasoline prices. So what does Prieto suggest? Let’s raise the gasoline tax and screw the taxpayers on the very last good thing going in our state.

We are losing business in our state to other areas because of these high costs and too much regulation, and higher gasoline prices will only add to businesses leaving. Do we want more residents on the government dole?

This guy should be removed as speaker of the Assembly before he comes up with more bad ideas. (Letter to the Editor/Star-Ledger) 




Christie has traded his SUV for a Pinto

ONE OF THE most pronounced differences between the Christie administration and the Corzine administration was how their respective front offices ran. The front office is the inner circle around the governor and that includes the communications department.

During Corzine’s term, the parts were always better than the whole. Individually, Corzine had some very smart people working for him. And by and large, they were amiable folks. But collectively, the front office felt like a Pinto waiting for impact. My perception was Governor Corzine got in his own way too often, choosing to micromanage the wrong issues.

Governor Christie was the opposite. In the early days of his first term, if you called the Governor’s Office, someone got back to you. Information flowed and, lord love him, Christie always gave you a great quote. Corzine could talk for 20 minutes and you still wouldn’t have a decent quote. Christie could chomp on a doughnut and you would have a 750-word column.

Then something happened to the well-trained team that was the Christie front office. When it happened, I am not so sure, but it was long before Bridget Anne Kelly thought it was time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee. Now the Christie front office is running the field without a playbook. It isn’t pretty to watch.

First there was a memo attacking David Wildstein — the Christie appointee at the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey who ordered the closing of two access lanes at the George Washington Bridge — not for what Wildstein did at the Port Authority, but for what he did in high school. Christie and Wildstein went to the same high school, but Christie was the cool one.

On Monday, I received an email that combined the unemployment rate in Atlantic City with an online story about Chris Christie’s “rare record of accomplishment” – in college. Christie is 51 years old. He is a second-term governor. If Christie’s press office has to divert attention from the GWB scandal by talking about his college days, the front office is in sad shape.

If it looks like Pinto, sounds like a Pinto and drives like a Pinto, better stand clear when it goes into reverse.

Which leads me to the most bizarre of emails sent Tuesday by the same press office. The subject line was “Setting The Record Straight (Again) On The New York Times” but it was focused on what I call the “Zernike Affair.” (Doblin/The Record)




Analysis: Should Fifth Amendment protections apply to documents in GWB case?

As more subpoenas are issued by state lawmakers investigating the George Washington Bridge scandal, perhaps the most unforeseen aspect of the ongoing probe is the Fifth Amendment protection being invoked to stymie requests for documents and testimony.

It has been cited by three key aides to Governor Christie, figures who arguably know the most about why the Fort Lee access lanes to the bridge were closed for more than four days during the morning rush in September. Yet the use of the protection — one most Americans are familiar with through fictional courtroom scenes in which characters emphatically say “I plead the Fifth!” — is a tricky one. And the way it’s being used in the growing controversy is filled with nuance and uncertainty.

In its most complex use, Christie’s former campaign manager Bill Stepien and former deputy chief of staff Bridget Anne Kelly are using their right against self incrimination to protect documents in their possession — the very documents state lawmakers believe could shed light on who did what, who knew what, and perhaps most importantly, when they knew it.

The committee is certain that it can prevail over the Fifth Amendment objections raised by lawyers for Kelly and Stepien, but legal experts say the two former Christie staffers may be on sound legal ground that will be supported by the courts. (Sudol/The Record)  Morning Digest: Feb. 14, 2014