Morning Digest: Feb. 5, 2014

Amid Ethics inquiry, South Jersey Democrat Is Giving Up House Seat for a New Job

WASHINGTON — Representative Robert E. Andrews announced on Tuesday that he would resign from Congress after more than two decades, but said it had nothing to do with a bleak outlook for Democratic chances of retaking the House or with an ethics investigation into alleged misuse of his campaign funds.

“I love Congress, but I love my family more,” Mr. Andrews, who represents part of southern New Jersey, said in an interview.

Mr. Andrews said at his Haddon Heights office that he would leave office on Feb. 18 to lead the government relations practice of Dilworth Paxson, a law firm that once employed his wife and is run by partners who attended his wedding.

“It’s an offer that won’t be there at the end of my term,” said Mr. Andrews, who added that he joined the firm, which has offices in Washington, New Jersey and Pennsylvania, to “help my family be financially secure.”

He has two college-age children, but the resignation also coincided with a sinking feeling among Democrats that their chance of recapturing the House is slipping away. His move comes in the wake of the decision to retire by Representative George Miller, Democrat of California and another key ally of the House Democratic leader, Nancy Pelosi. (Horowitz/New York Times) 



‘Our best days are ahead,’ says CD1 candidate Norcross

State Sen. Donald Norcross (D-5) of Camden  today announced his candidacy for the 1st Congressional District to replace the retiring Rob Andrews in the gerrymandered Democratic district.

”I am running for Congress because South Jersey needs someone who is going to stand up for us in Washington, D.C., as Rob Andrews has done for more than two decades,” said Norcross, head of the AFL-CIO Central Labor Union and president of the Camden County and Vicinity Building Trades Council. “I have spent my career fighting for middle class families, senior citizens and workers.  It is a sad truth that while some are doing better, too many are falling further behind.  If elected to Congress, I will focus on creating jobs across South Jersey and an equal opportunity for everyone.”

”My father believed that every child deserved a good education and every worker deserved a fair shake,” added the senator, brother of South Jersey Democratic Party pooh-bah George Norcross III. “Those are the principles and priorities I took with me to Trenton and will take with me to Washington, DC if I am elected.”

Active in the United Way of Camden County for over almost two decades, serving as chairman from 2002 through 2004, Norcorss serves as a board member of the United Way of Greater Philadelphia and Southern New Jersey. Since 1993, he has also been a member of the Board of Trustees of the Union Organization for Social Service (UOSS), the nation’s first labor agency devoted to community service. (Pizarro/PolitickerNJ)



North jersey towns scrambling for salt; Christie declares state of emergency 

With more snow, freezing rain and sleet about to clobber North Jersey, a road salt shortage has emerged: Bergen County’s government, for one, announced Tuesday that it doesn’t have any left to share, with no chance of resupply before Friday.

Meanwhile, emphasizing the severity of the weather expected, Governor Christie declared a state of emergency and authorized the closing of state offices for all non-essential employees. In similar expectation, many school districts announced they would be closed Wednesday.

In a conference call with municipal emergency officials late in the day, County Executive Kathleen Donovan said the county had no more salt to distribute locally.

In Passaic County, spokesman Keith Furlong said the county expected imminent delivery of 600 tons of road salt but would use it for county roads only, leaving municipalities to fend for themselves. Once the salt arrives, Furlong said, half will be sent to the storage dome in Paterson and the other half to a storage site in Pompton Lakes.

A survey of communities also found some already in short supply.

Officials in Englewood said there was enough salt on hand to apply only to major thoroughfares, and they made plans to block off other roads as necessary.

In Westwood, the Public Works Department had one truckload of salt, said DPW Superintendent Rick Woods, who said he was calling other towns in hopes of getting more. “We’re waiting days for deliveries,” Woods said. “I don’t know what the issue is.”

The issue is a particularly severe run of winter weather that has exhausted salt stocks, a situation Donovan said also is stressing at least four other New Jersey counties — Essex, Middlesex, Morris and Hudson — as well as the rest of the winter-battered Northeast and the Midwest.

For today, the National Weather Service predicted an accumulation of up to 6 inches of mixed snow, freezing rain and sleet in southern parts of Bergen County by the time the storm tapers off early in the night, and up to 8 inches in western Passaic County.

“Aside from the treacherous morning commute,” said Joe Pollina, a weather service meteorologist, “there will be a lot of heavy snow left over from Monday, topped by new snow and ice, on tree branches and power lines. Limbs and lines will come down. There will be power outages throughout the area.”

And below-normal temperatures, rising into the low 30s early in the day but dropping into the low 20s as nightfall, will solidify the icy coating to as much as four-tenths of an inch, Pollina said. (Norman/The Record) 



Peaceful end to 1979 campaign flap between young David Wildstein, teacher

David Wildstein, once Governor Christie’s high school classmate and now his  antagonist, was a political operative who was out for himself even in high school.

That was the gist of a personal attack made by the governor’s office this week against Wildstein, who was involved in closing access lanes at the George Washington Bridge last year and whose attorney last week accused the governor of lying about when he knew of the closures. Wildstein resigned from the Port Authority amid the scandal.

Christie’s aides dug deep into the past, referencing an incident from 1979 when Wildstein was a high school student and running for a seat on the Livingston school board. A teacher, they said, accused Wildstein of “deceptive behavior.”

But they did not mention that Wildstein and the teacher, Albert Adler, later made up and said they simply had a “misunderstanding.”

It began when Wildstein asked the teacher to sign a piece of paper that turned out to be a letter endorsing his candidacy. It was published in a weekly newspaper, the West Essex Tribune, under Adler’s name on March 29, 1979.

“The election of David Wildstein will pave the way for a successful school system — now and in the future,” it said.

But Adler told the weekly paper that he did not write the letter.

Adler issued a statement at the time saying he signed it without reading it, believing it to be a petition supporting “a write-in campaign.” He said he was in a rush at the end of a school period and was talking to someone. He indicated that he had been manipulated. (Koloff/The Record) 



Conservationists Petitions State DEP for Tighter Rules to Curb Runoff 

Contaminated stormwater is largest contributor to water pollution in New Jersey. 

A coalition of environmental organizations yesterday urged the state to curb runoff from storms, the largest source of water pollution in New Jersey — and a longstanding problem that makes most of the state’s waterways unsuitable for swimming or fishing.

In a petition filed with the state Department of Environmental Protection], the nine groups call on the agency to update the nearly five-year-old permits governing runoff from municipal storm sewer systems, highways, and other developed sites where much of the pollution occurs.

Runoff, which contains pollutants such as animal waste, fertilizers, oil and petroleum products, has long been recognized as one of the state’s most intractable problems in cleaning up its waterways. But the cost of dealing with the problem — projected to run into billions of dollars — has led various administrations to shun the issue.

In the meantime, the problem has only gotten worse, at least according to Larry Levine, a senior attorney with the Natural Resources Defense Council, one of the organizations filing the petition with the DEP.

“As of 2010, New Jersey has identified an astounding 14,000 miles of rivers; more than 28,000 acres of lakes, reservoirs and ponds; nearly 200 square miles of ocean and near-coastal waters where polluted runoff made the water unsafe for fishing, swimming, boating, drinking or other uses protected by state and federal law,’’ Levine said in a blog post about the petition. (Johnson/NJSpotlight) 



Federal Farm Bill – A Good Deal for NJ, Despite Cuts to Food Stamps? 

Farm groups praise compromise measure as good for state agriculture, but anti-hunger activists argue this is not the time to trim food stamp benefits. 

The $956 billion federal farm bill that now heads to President Obama’s desk for final approval has won praise from state farm groups who say the compromise legislation is beneficial for New Jersey agriculture and the best option for the state’s low-income families, though some New Jersey anti-hunger advocates are criticizing its 10-year, $8.6 billion cut in food stamps.

The bill, which passed the House of Representatives 251-166 on Wednesday and the Senate 68-32 on Tuesday, is likely to be signed by the president shortly after he gets it, according to press reports. Nine of New Jersey’s 12 members of the House — five Democrats and four Republicans — voted against the bill, as did newly elected Sen. Cory Booker, a Democrat. Sen. Robert Menendez, also a Democrat, voted for the bill.

The 2014 farm bill would cut $23 billion in spending over 10 years by changing food-stamp eligibility, ending direct payments to farmers, and consolidating farm conservation programs.

The bill also expands subsidized risk-management and insurance programs, which are similar to the federal flood insurance plan. Farmers buy into the insurance program and receive payments when they experience losses from weather-related and other disasters.

The crop insurance program will be expanded to include what are called “specialty crops,” or fruits, vegetables and horticultural activities, which will aid a significant number of New Jersey farmers, according to the state Farm Bureau. While the bulk of New Jersey farm acres are in wheat, corn, and other grains, almost two-thirds of the nearly $1 billion in farm revenue generated in the state comes from specialty crops.

In addition, the bill continues water conservation programs supported by many environmental groups, programs that fund agricultural research at Rutgers University, and other smaller grant programs that benefit smaller New Jersey farmers. (Kalet/NJSpotlight) 



Obama’s statement on Andrews departure 

President Barack Obama and the first lady issued a statement thanking U.S. Rep. Rob Andrews (D-1) for his service Tuesday.

The president issued the statement the same day news broke about Andrews’ abrupt decision to resign from office.

“In his twenty-three years in the United States Congress, Rob Andrews has served the people of southern New Jersey with tenacity and skill.  He helped put into place key workplace protections for hardworking Americans, pushed to improve education for American students, and fought for clean energy programs to foster America’s energy independence,” Obama said in the statement.

“More recently, Rob was an original author of the Affordable Care Act and has been a vital partner in its passage and implementation,” he said. “The grandson of shipyard workers and the first in his family to attend college, Rob has worked hard to preserve the American Dream for future generations. Michelle and I thank Congressman Andrews for his service and partnership, and we wish him, his wife Camille, and their two daughters the very best.” (Arco/PolitickerNJ)



Baraka campaign drops 11,00 petitions on Newark city clerk’s office  

NEWARK – A human armada descended on Newark City Hall Tuesday morning as more than 100 supporters bearing approximately 11,000 ballot petitions for mayoral candidate and South Ward Councilman Ras Baraka arrived in force.

Baraka entered City Hall surrounded by a coterie of supporters as a campaign school bus parked in front of Newark’s main municipal building and several cars marked with campaign signs double parked along Broad Street.

Baraka saw the petition effort as a sign of enhanced organizational strength for the campaign. 

“It shows the commitment of the organization that we have,” Baraka said. “We have a solid ground organization, probably comparable with any organization in the city, or the county for that matter. We are able to put bodies on the street without expending hundreds of thousands of dollars to do it. There is a difference between supporters and believers. Believers believe in the cause, and they’re going to go all out. Today is an example of that.” (Bonamo/PolitickerNJ)




More answers demanded on ‘NJ Transit’s Super Bowl fumble’ 

A day after the Assembly Transportation Committee chair called for a review of the mass transit bottleneck at the Super Bowl, the chair of the state Senate Budget Committee today also demanded answers on “NJ Transit’s Super Bowl fumble.”

“The Denver Broncos weren’t the only ones who delivered a disappointing performance at the Super Bowl,” said state Sen. Paul Sarlo (D-Bergen), who chairs the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee and has MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford in his district.

“NJ Transit once again dropped the ball in planning for a major event,” he added, referring to an ill-fated decision to leave trains at rail yards in Kearny and Hoboken that ended up flooding during Hurricane Sandy 15 months ago. “Their poor planning for Superstorm Sandy cost the state $120 million in damaged equipment. Now their poor planning for the Super Bowl gave our state a nationally publicized black eye that detracted from what should have been a triumph for New Jersey.”

Sarlo also is a member of the Senate Legislative Oversight Committee.

On Monday, Assembly Transportation Committee chair John Wisniweski (D-Middlesex) called for a review of the mass transit mess, which left train riders packed like cattle in lines in Secaucus on the way to the game and at the stadium on the way home.

NJ Transit officials said 22,000 of the 32,000 riders from the stadium to Secaucus bought their tickets on the day of the game, indicating that it was a last-minute decision to attend the game that way.

The NFL and NJ Transit initially were expecting 12,000 to 15,000 riders by train, but the relatively mild weather Sunday left NJ Transit anticipating more.

NJ Transit executive director Jim Weinstein defended his agency’s performance during the Level One security event (a higher level of security for any American event except the presidential inauguration) and said, “Eighty two thousand people can’t leave one place at one time and not create congestion.” (Frassinelli/Star-Ledger) 



Jeff Bell, Republican U.S. Senate candidate from 1978, wants to challenge Booker

TRENTON — When Jeffrey Bell first ran for U.S. Senate in 1978, IBM had not yet introduced the personal computer.

Now Bell wants to run against the Twitter senator.

Bell, a 70-year-old conservative policy wonk who has lived in northern Virginia for the last 31 years, rented a home in Leonia today and said he plans to seek the state’s Republican nomination to challenge U.S. Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) in November.

Bell called Booker, who won a special election in October to replace the late Sen. Frank Lautenberg, a “nice, intelligent fellow.”

“But he really represents the worst of Washington and the worst of Wall Street,” Bell said. “He isn’t thinking about people who have a job but their wages cannot keep up with the constantly-rising prices.”

In 1978, Bell won an upset in the GOP primary, toppling the last Republican New Jersey voters elected to the U.S. Senate: Clifford Case. Bell then lost the general election to Rhodes scholar and basketball star Bill Bradley.

Bell unsuccessfully sought the Republican U.S. Senate nomination in 1982, losing the nomination to U.S. Rep. Millicent Fenwick. Bell moved to Virginia the next year. (Friedman/Star-Ledger) 



From the Back Room


Bell, Booker and Candle

eff Bell, who ran and lost a 1978 bid for the U.S. Senate, wants to come back and face incumbent U.S. Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) this year, according to a report in the Star-Ledger.

Movement conservative Bell beat incumbent Clifford Case, then got dismantled by Bill Brdaley in the general election.

Here’s the story. (PolitickerNJ)



Running list of officials backing Norcross for Congress

Former congressman and Gov. Jim Florio and U.S. Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) are among the list of officials rallying behind state Sen. Donald Norcross for Congress.

The two are among a list of public officials circulating who are backing the state senator for the congressional seat. Norcross emerged as a contended for the position just as U.S. Rep. Rob Andrews (D-1) announced abruptly Tuesday his plans to vacate the seat. (PolitickerNJ)



NJ Transit’s Super Bowl blunder calls for a closer look

Obviously, none of the muckety-mucks crowing about New Jersey’s Super Bowl success took the train. Leave it to NJ Transit to turn Seahawks’ fans chants from “We’re No. 1” to “Jersey sucks” before the buzz of their $16 beers wore off.

This was supposed to be the “first mass-transit Super Bowl” — a never-been-tried experiment in big-game logistics. After fans spent hours stewing on train platforms to get to the Meadowlands, and again to leave, that point of pride is an official embarrassment.

Instead of an easy ride, they got the Fort Lee treatment. Sounds like a job for John Wisniewski — the assemblyman investigating that other bottleneck — who said he wants a “thorough review” of our Super Bowl transit flub. We’re hoping he takes charge.

How did NJ Transit fumble the numbers so badly?

Early on, the NFL predicted 12,000 people would arrive by train, 40,000 by bus. With 13,000 parking passes sold, officials assumed 30,000 by car. Somewhere, the math was off. Did scalpers snap up parking passes they couldn’t sell? Did thousands buy bus tickets, but take the train instead? (Star-Ledger Editorial Board) 


Christie plan for new round of Sandy aid repeats past mistakes

The Christie administration just released its plan for how it will spend the second round of federal Hurricane Sandy relief money, a pot of $1.46 billion, and it’s giving the public more opportunity for “robust” comment this time.

That’s a good thing — especially since it doesn’t seem to have incorporated any of the major criticisms it got on its spending the last time around.

We’re hearing the same complaints all over again: Housing advocates say this new plan again distributes money inequitably, short-changing the lowest-income renters. Climate change experts say it fails to take sea level rise into account in much of our rebuilding, which could mean hundreds of millions in future damage.

And incredibly, despite the scores of homeowners still waiting for grants to rebuild and an ongoing federal investigation into the governor’s tourism ads, it seeks a waiver of federal law to spend yet another $5 million on the “Stronger Than the Storm” campaign.

Will this mean another shameless television spot featuring our governor?

In a tightly controlled press briefing by phone yesterday, Gov. Chris Christie’s “Sandy Czar,” Marc Ferzan, left us with plenty of questions — mostly because he refused to answer them. (Star-Ledger Editorial Board) 


Morning Digest: Feb. 5, 2014