Morning Digest: Feb. 18, 2014

Norcross formally kicks off congressional campaign

BELLMAWR – State Sen. Donald Norcross (D-5) jumped full swing into a congressional campaign Monday morning as he officially kicked off his candidacy outside of Camden surrounded by union workers and a who’s who in South Jersey politics.

“Let’s get to work,” declared Norcross on stage inside a Bellmawr VFW post with Senate President Steve Sweeney and the co-chairman of the Camden County Democratic Committee, state Sen. James Beach (D-6), near his side. (Arco/PolitickerNJ)

Norcross formally kicks off congressional campaign | Politicker NJ



Stating ” the state has failed us,’ Baraka outlines Newark education plan

NEWARK- Newark mayoral candidate Ras Baraka offered his vision of how he hopes the state’s largest public school system will be run if he wins the May election.

While outlining his plans to help shape decision-making in Newark’s state-run public school system, the largest in New Jersey, Baraka also focused his ire on the person who presently runs the system: Newark School Superintendent Cami Anderson.

“The ‘One Newark’ plan is more like the ‘One Person’ plan,” Baraka said before a crowd of more than 100 people at Rutgers-Newark on Monday. “I don’t have the right, and neither does Cami, to force what I believe on [ten of thousands] of parents in this city.” (Bonamo/PolitickerNJ) 

Stating “the state has failed us,” Baraka outlines Newark education plan | Politicker NJ




Fort Lee mayor won’t comply with Christie lawyer’s request for information

Another key player in the investigations surrounding Governor Christie on Monday refused to cooperate with the lawyer hired by the governor’s office.

This time, Fort Lee Mayor Mark Sokolich rejected a request from the attorney, Randy Mastro, to provide documents and sit down for an interview, according to a letter dated Feb. 17 and obtained by The Record.

Granting an interview with Mastro, or supplying the documents he has requested, would not be appropriate while the other investigations are continuing, said the letter, which was sent to Mastro from Sokolich’s lawyer, Timothy Donohue.

But Sokolich “fully intends to cooperate” with those other investigations — by the U.S. Attorney’s office and the joint legislative committee — Donohue said.

Documents released last month suggested the four days of closures, which created huge traffic jams in Fort Lee, were a response to Sokolich’s refusal to endorse Christie’s reelection campaign. They were apparently initiated after Bridget Anne Kelly, a deputy chief of staff for the governor, told a top Port Authority official, “Time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee.” (Linhorst/The Record) 




Governor Christie postpones town-hall-style meeting due to snowstorm

Governor Christie will postpone his 110th town-hall-style meeting, which was to have been held in Middletown on Tuesday, because of the winter storm expected to sweep across New Jersey, his office said Monday night.

The meeting, which was also to have presented what was called a “Sandy recovery mobile cabinet,” will be rescheduled for a time later this week, a spokesman for the governor said.

The National Weather Service predicted snow to start after midnight Monday, turning into rain by 2 p.m. Tuesday, with a total accumulation between three and five inches. (Norman/The Record)   



Police Union Implicated in Bridgegate Owned Hundreds of Jobs to Christie

Governor boasted of saving jobs at Freedom Tower and airports for Port Authority police, who told stalled motorists on GWB to call Fort Lee mayor. 

Gov. Chris Christie won the loyalty of the Port Authority police union whose actions are under investigation in Bridgegate by guaranteeing that its rank-and-file would be in charge of security at the new Freedom Tower and by pushing a Port Authority police expansion that added hundreds of union jobs and dues-paying members.

Now the police union and its leaders are under investigation by both the Legislature and the Port Authority for enforcing the George Washington Bridge lane closures, telling disgruntled motorists to call Fort Lee Mayor Mark Sokolich to make sure he knew the lane closures were aimed at him, and backing up the Christie administration’s cover story that the closures were part of a legitimate traffic study. (Magyar/NJSpotlight) 




Outspoken Rutgers Faculty Objects to School’s New Strategic Plan

Some professors argue that they were not included in drafting process, while others say plan puts New Brunswick above other campuses.

The newly released Rutgers University strategic plan is coming under fire from some faculty members, who argue that it is undemocratic and was created without real input from them. Speaking three weeks after the Board of Governors approved President Robert Barchi’s much ballyhooed plan — the first for the school in more than 15 years — outspoken professors are accusing him of devising a strategy that continues to put New Brunswick above the Newark and Camden campuses and that favors the health sciences at the expense of the liberal arts.

Despite an 18-month research process that included stakeholder surveys, focus groups, retreats, town hall meetings, and 13 review committees, New Brunswick Faculty Council Vice Chair Mark Killingsworth says the majority of his peers are “very, very skeptical” of the plan and don’t believe the administration’s claims that it wants to engage them on academic and procedural matters. (Nurin/NJSpotlight) 




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) 




Report: Another ‘Bridgegate’ figure

A Port Authority police officer and longtime friend of embattled Gov. Chris Christie has been implicated in the George Washington Bridge lane-closure scandal, according to a report. 

Lt. Thomas Michaels, whose brother is a political powerhouse in the New Jersey GOP, personally drove embattled Christie aide David Wildstein on a tour of the area as traffic worsened from lane closures, according to the report by MSNBC’s Steve Kornacki. (DelReal/Politico)



Chris Christie’s office says he never talked to PAPD lieutenant about GWB lane closures

Gov. Chris Christie’s office says he never spoke about September’s George Washington Bridge lane closures with a Port Authority Police lieutenant he knows personally, and whose conduct during the closures is now the subject of an internal review.

Christie’s office also said governor had never spoken about the closures to Lt. Thomas “Chip” Michaels’ brother, Jeffrey Michaels, a Republican lobbyist and former GOP legislative aide.

“The governor has never had any conversations with either Jeff or Chip Michaels on this topic,” Christie spokesman Colin Reed said in a statement this morning. (Strunksy/Star-Ledger) 




Three-fourths of Sandy fund applicants say NJ has forgotten about them, poll says

The overwhelming majority of Sandy victims who have applied for state aid say they have been “largely forgotten,” a new poll says.

The Monmouth University poll reveals that just 26 percent indicated New Jersey’s efforts are focused on helping people in their situation.

Still, nearly half (49 percent) of the 854 New Jersey residents asked between early September 2013 and early January 2014 agree the state has been at least somewhat helpful, according to the poll that was released today.

Meanwhile, just 36 percent of applicants to reNew Jersey Stronger, the federally funded Sandy assistance program said they are satisfied with the state’s recovery effort. People who are still displaced give the program even lower marks — just 21 percent told pollsters they are satisfied. (Star-Ledger Staff) 




From the Back Room


Adubato v. Sweeney tonight on NJTV

Steve Adubato goes one-one-one with Senate President Steve Sweeney (D-3) this evening.

Sweeney talks taxes, pensions, his relationship with Governor Chris Christie, and the prospects for progress in the Statehouse with investigations on several fronts including “Bridgegate.”

This interview, taped on location at the Statehouse, airs on “One-on-One with Steve Adubato” on Monday, February 17th on NJTV at 7:00pm & 11:30pm and on Thirteen WNET New York at 12:30am. (PolitickerNJ Staff)

Adubato v. Sweeney tonight on NJTV | Politicker NJ



Where’s George?

Dozens of Democrats came out Monday to support state Sen. Donald Norcross’ (D-5) congressional campaign kick off, but notably absent was his oldest brother.

George Norcross III wasn’t among the packed crowd of supporters and elected officials who attended Donald Norcross’ campaign launch at a Bellmawr VFW.

“I assume they’re doing what they do every day,” Donald Norcross told reporters when pressed why the South Jersey Democratic power broker was absent.

“Working,” he said.

Donald Norcross, 55, has three brothers: George, John and Philip. (Arco/PolitickerNJ)

Where’s George? | Politicker NJ





Chris Cerf’s decision to Leave Education Post is New Jersey’s Loss 

If the Garden State is truly committed to education reform, it will find another commissioner cut from the same cloth. 

Someone ought to give Chris Cerf a flak suit as he parachutes out of Gov. Chris Christie’s shrinking inner circle. New Jersey’s departing Commissioner of Education has a new gig at the education technology firm Amplify Insight, but warm wishes are scant.

Instead, critics are lobbing rocks at Cerf for two perceived transgressions: one, his shift to the private sector, particularly to a company with a sullied reputation in the Garden State, and two, his education agenda, which some regard as insufficiently deferential to traditional public schools.

Let’s get the first one out of the way. Last week Cerf announced his descent from the pristine tower of the Department of Education to the debased netherworld of Amplify Insight, a private company that sells data services to support student assessments.

Immediately the NJEA lobbed this blitz: “[Amplify] will profit from selling assessment products and services to public schools struggling to adapt to exactly the kind of misguided mandates that Cerf’s Department of Education is currently imposing on New Jersey’s schools.” (Waters/NJSpotlight)  

Morning Digest: Feb. 18, 2014