Morning Digest: Feb. 21, 2014

Senator Turner’s Full Statement on CD12

Senator Shirley K. Turner (D-15) today released the following statement regarding her decision concerning a congressional run for the 12th district seat being vacated by Congressman Rush Holt:

“After much deliberation and discussion with my family, I have decided against seeking the nomination for the 12th congressional district.  I am grateful to the voters who provided me with another four-year term, and I am committed to completing that term… 

“I believe that I can be far more productive here in New Jersey addressing the needs of my constituents than I can be in Washington, D.C.  My heart is with my constituents and advancing our agenda of issues affecting our state.  The state issues I want to tackle over the next four years will make a greater difference in the lives of our residents than anything I can accomplish in Washington.  It’s difficult enough to work through New Jersey’s political system to enact meaningful legislation; however, the dysfunction in Washington makes that same task impossible.  Moreover, we have all witnessed that Congress is out of touch with main stream middle class interests and the day-to-day struggles of our citizens.  I want to empower our middle class and those who are disadvantaged, and I can do that more effectively at the state level. (Pizarro/PolitickerNJ)

Senator Turner’s Full Statement on CD12 | Politicker NJ




Dueling strategists assess Bergen County Exec’s race as Dems turn to Tedesco

HACKENSACK – The battle lines in the Bergen County Executive’s race became more sharply drawn this week when the Bergen Democrats lined up behind Freeholder James Tedesco’s candidacy in advance of their March convention. But Kathleen Donovan, the Republican incumbent, is expected to be tough to beat in a county where she has been a public servant for decades and has high name recognition.

Two partisan strategists spoke to on the condition of anonymity to assess the relative strengths and weaknesses of their respective candidates.

“Kathe Donovan has great name recognition. Do people know Lou, I mean Jim, Tedesco? It’s an honest mistake,” said a Bergen Republican strategist. “This is his first year as a freeholder, and now he’s running for county executive. There are 70 towns in Bergen County, and Kathe Donovan has been a hard campaigner in every one of them.” (Bonamo/PolitickerNJ)

Dueling strategists assess Bergen County Exec’s race as Dems turn to Tedesco | Politicker NJ




40,000 tons of New Jersey’s rock salt stuck in Searsport

NEW YORK — Rock salt was in short supply in the Northeast on Tuesday after successive winter storms led to critical shortages in Connecticut, New York and Pennsylvania, while New Jersey scrambled to secure a huge shipment stuck at a port in Maine.

The shortages come as the East Coast was slammed by a third winter storm system in a single week, leaving many states over budget for snow removal and running low on critical supplies, such as rock salt, which is used to help melt ice- and snow-packed roads and public areas.

The 40,000 tons of rock salt remained in Searsport, Maine, days after New Jersey was denied a waiver of federal shipping rules that would have allowed an available foreign-flagged vessel to bring it into a Newark port.

Instead, efforts to get the ice-melting material to New Jersey remained stymied by the 1920 Maritime Act, also known as the Jones Act, enacted to protect the American shipping industry from foreign competition.

“It’s very frustrating. We could have had that shipment here by this past weekend,” said New Jersey Department of Transportation spokesman Joe Dee. Salt supplies were running so low in the state that crews were “scraping the bottom of the barrel,” he said. (Cavaliere/Bangor Daily News) 




Law from 1920  Blocks Aid To New Jersey As State Runs Out Of Rock Salt

As New Jersey faces another round of harsh winter weather, 40,000 tons of New Jersey-bound rock salt has been stuck at a port in Maine because the Department of Homeland Security denied the state’s request to waive a provision requiring transport on an American-flagged vessel, according to New Jersey 101.5.

The shipment, which could reach the Port of Newark in two days, was held up for failing to comply with the Jones Act, a 1920s maritime law that mandates commercial vessels transporting shipments between U.S. ports to be built and operated by U.S. citizens and to fly a U.S. flag, according to Jim Simpson, New Jersey’s transportation commissioner.

“I’ve got a shipload of salt, 400 miles from here with a ship sitting empty at the dock that can bring it to Newark and we’re working with the federal government because we don’t have an American flag vessel,” Simpson said in an interview on the Townsquare Radio Network on Friday. “And the only thing that we’ve been able to define as an American flag vessel would take us a month to get the salt here when I can have the salt here in a day and a half.” (Ashtari/Huffington Post) 




Christie warned on chief justice

TRENTON — The New Jersey Bar Association is urging the reappointment of the chief justice of the state Supreme Court, telling Gov. Chris Christie that a refusal to rename him would represent “an unprecedented intrusion of politics” into the judiciary.

The association made public on Thursday a resolution that endorses the re-nomination of Chief Justice Stuart Rabner, whose term ends in June. It says Rabner has served with distinction and “authored dozens of opinions that exhibit intellectual rigor, clear reasoning and an unbiased commitment to improving New Jersey law.”

Christie made the composition of the court an issue during his first run for governor, saying that if elected, he would reshape a court he viewed as too activist. He has criticized its rulings on issues including affordable housing, education funding and gay marriage, and refused to reappoint two previous justices. He has not yet revealed his position on Rabner, who was appointed by former Gov. Jon Corzine, a Democrat. (Associated Press) 




Ex-Christie aide gets post at Port Authority

TRENTON — A former aide to Gov. Chris Christie who was his liaison to the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey now has landed a high-level job with the agency.

The Star-Ledger reported that Nicole Crifo has been named chief of staff to the new deputy director Christie named to the Port Authority amid a political payback scandal involving the administration and the bi-state agency.

Crifo served as the liaison from the governor’s office to the Port Authority for three years.

Last week, she received one of 17 subpoenas issued by a legislative committee investigating the apparently politically motivated closing of access lanes in September to the George Washington Bridge. The bridge is run by the Port Authority.

Crifo will be paid the same as her New York counterpart, $184,000. She was paid $110,000 working for the governor. (Associated Press) 




Long lines of trucks at Ports of Newark and Elizabeth causing financial strain, traffic jams

Backups that have plagued operations at the Ports of Newark and Elizabeth since January have exploded in recent days into giant truck traffic jams, causing hundreds of tractor-trailers to idle up to seven hours in lines that stretch more than a mile and a half and threaten to spill onto the New Jersey Turnpike, according to truckers, terminal companies and leaders of the Port Authority.

The lines are causing headaches and financial difficulties for businesses large and small, from major retailers and the ports’ sprawling container terminals to individual truck drivers, many of whom are independent contractors who depend on quick turnarounds at the port to keep their businesses profitable.

A combination of factors appears to be causing the jams, including frigid weather, equipment problems, labor shortages and out-of-date work rules. The congestion also is exacerbating long-running tensions between different factions that must work together to keep the port functioning smoothly. (Magg/The Record) 




New Jersey gets $9 million in federal funds for improving schools

Poorly performing public schools in New Jersey can apply for part of $9 million in federal “turn around” money awarded to the state on Thursday.

In all, nine states will receive more than $71 million in School Improvement Grants, the federal education department announced. It is the third round of funding for the program, which began in 2010.

School districts must apply by April 1 for the money, which can be used for such things as staff changes, teacher training, technology and curriculum improvements.

About 20 schools in urban New Jersey have participated in the program including Schools 4 and 10 in Paterson, which have each received about $6 million, according to the state education department’s website.

Paterson will apply on behalf of two other schools this go around, said Terry Corallo, spokeswoman for the district. She declined to say which schools. (Alex/The Record) 




Transportation Experts Urge Bistate Blue-Ribbon Panel to Fix Port Authority

Robins, Doig say Assembly GOP plan ignores lesson of Bridgegate by giving governors too much power. 

Calling for the creation of a bistate commission to reform the embattled Port Authority, two of New Jersey’s leading transportation policy experts yesterday said legislation proposed by Assembly Republicans ignores the lessons of Bridgegate by giving too much power to the state’s governors.

Martin E. Robins, director emeritus of Rutgers University’s Alan M. Voorhees Transportation Policy Institute, and Jameson W. Doig, author of the definitive history of the Port Authority, endorsed Assembly Republican proposals to enhance ethics, transparency, and financial disclosure at the Port Authority.

But Robins and Doig both sharply criticized the logic of the main reform the GOP legislators proposed to protect the agency from political interference. (Magyar/NJSpotlight) 




NJ Loses Nearly $8 Million in Standoff Over Affordable Care Act Funds

Deadline passes with no agreement on use of federal grant intended for creation of state-run insurance marketplace. 

New Jersey lost a $7.67 million federal Affordable Care Act grant yesterday as state and federal officials failed to reach agreement on how the money could be spent.

The crux of the dispute appeared to be over Medicaid costs. While the state largely wanted to use the money to support expansion of the state’s Medicaid program, federal officials maintained that the grant must be used more directly to support the ACA insurance marketplace. (Kitchenman/NJSpotlight) 




Christie Town Hall Remains Sandy-Focused

Hosting his first town hall since the Bridgegate debacle unfolded, Gov. Chris Christie witnessed a rather calm crowd. The focus of Christie’s opening remarks was the distribution of federal Superstorm Sandy aid, and it steered many of the crowd’s questions in the same direction.

Christie visited Port Monmouth on Thursday to conduct his first town hall meeting since June 2013. The second half of the program was devoted to a question-and-answer format, but no one grilled the governor over his administration’s role in lane closures approaching the George Washington Bridge late last year.

With another $1.4 billion headed to New Jersey to help homeowners and infrastructure recover from Sandy, Christie laid out the state’s current plans for how to spend the aid. He stressed to the crowd of hundreds that the state will end up receiving $15-20 billion from Washington, even though Sandy caused $37 billion worth of damage. (Flammia/NJ101.5) 




At town hall, Chris Christie pins blame for slow Sandy recovery on feds

MIDDLETOWN — This time it was different.

Not that long ago when Gov. Chris Christie walked to center stage at a town hall meeting, he was the rising star of American politics.

He was heading into a re-election campaign and was expected to trounce his Democratic opponent. He was widely considered a top GOP contender in the 2016 presidential race. And when he held a town hall he was greeted by a loud and adoring audience.

This time, nobody asked him if he was going to make a bid for the White House.

Instead, at the first town hall meeting he has held since controversy engulfed his administration over lane closures at the George Washington Bridge and the distribution of Hurricane Sandy aid, a woman in the audience held up a sign that said “Resign Christie.” The sign was taken away by Christie aides, but she simply pulled another from her jacket. (O’Neill/Star-Ledger) 




Judge sets date in Christie GWB scandal subpoena challenge; lawmakers unveil authority reforms

TRENTON — A state judge Thursday ordered two of Gov. Chris Christie’s former confidants to explain why they don’t have to comply with subpoenas issued by a legislative panel investigating the George Washington Bridge scandal.

Attorneys for Bill Stepien, Christie’s two-time campaign manager, and Bridget Anne Kelly, the governor’s former deputy chief of staff, must appear before Superior Court Assigning Judge Mary C. Jacobson in Mercer County on March 11.

Christie fired Kelly last month after emails turned over to the committee revealed she was involved in the decision to close the lanes. “Time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee,” she wrote to David Wildstein, a Christie ally at the Port Authority. (Hutchins and Livo/Star-Ledger)



From the Back Room


In Trenton mayoral race, Jackson cinches support of key clergy members

Over two dozen Trenton clergy members today endorsed Eric Jackson as Trenton’s next mayor.  

“Eric Jackson’s vision of restoring ethics in municipal government and his work on behalf of our school children, our families and our community makes him the best person to lead Trenton,” said Reverend Keith Marshall, Pastor of the Macedonia Baptist Church and the head of the Interdenominational Ministerial Alliance.  “I am proud to support his candidacy and proud that he will serve our city as our next mayor.”

“Eric Jackson’s commitment to reducing gun violence, bringing more jobs and economic development to Trenton and improving our schools is as important as his demonstrated record of ethical leadership,” said Reverend Mark Broach, Pastor of the Trenton Deliverance Center and President of Trenton Concerned Pastors.  “There is simply no better person to serve as our next mayor.”

Jackson served the city of Trenton for 17 years, most recently as the Director of Public Works.  Prior to that, he worked as Director of Operations and Personnel for the nonprofit Henry J. Austin Center, a Trenton-based primary health care provider. He is active in the health and growth of Calvary Missionary Baptist Church, where he has served as a Deacon, Vice Chairman and Chairman over the last 20 years. (PolitickerNJ)

In Trenton mayoral race, Jackson cinches support of key clergy members | Politicker NJ



Chivukula’s worst nightmare

As for the race for congress in the 12th District quickly takes shape, Assemblyman Upendra Chivukula faces an uphill battle in his quest to edge state Sen. Linda Greenstein (D-14) and Assemblywoman Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-15).

As he runs, Chivukula will have this persistent and intimidating shadow looming over him. (PolitickerNJ)

Chivukula’s worst nightmare | Politicker NJ





Who’s afraid of the big, bad wolf (and Samson)?

I FIRST met David Samson not long after he was named chairman of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey. We met for lunch at Pal’s Cabin in West Orange, the iconic restaurant in North Jersey where politics was liberally shaken on everything but the cream of mushroom soup.

Pal’s Cabin has since been demolished. The same might be said about Samson’s once peerless reputation as a savvy lawyer who could balance a high-end law practice with equally high-profile political appointments.

As I look back, the purpose of that lunch must have been to size me up – figure out my weaknesses and play to my vanity. I was outclassed. Samson is a smart guy. He listened to some of my pet issues involving the Port Authority – toll hikes, the out-of-control rebuilding at the World Trade Center site and PATH.

We last spoke during the week of Jan. 6. It was Monday or Tuesday and since the conversation was off the record, I will only note two things: He called me and he was trying to size me up once again. This was just days before all hell broke loose when The Record broke the story that members of Governor Christie’s senior staff were implicated in the lane closures at the George Washington Bridge in September.

As I think back on that last conversation, I am left with the singular impression that Samson wanted me to think well of him. We have not spoken since.

After subpoenaed documents from Port Authority officials were made public, Samson has not been getting the attention he would like. And attention is the last thing he ever wanted. Smart, politically connected lawyers do best when the media and public do not pay much attention to them. They thrive behind the scenes; when the backdrop is lifted and they are put in full view, the carefully constructed illusion on stage is destroyed. (Doblin/The Record)    Morning Digest: Feb. 21, 2014