Morning Digest: Feb. 7, 2014

Port Authority eliminates ‘director’ job created for Wildstein In all the vast history of the sprawling bureaucracy known as the

Port Authority eliminates ‘director’ job created for Wildstein

In all the vast history of the sprawling bureaucracy known as the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey there has never been a job like it.

It came with no actual job description.

In the end, it had only one occupant, and he didn’t even have to submit a résumé.

Nobody seemed to have the vaguest idea what he was really doing.

But he was paid $15O,020.

The job of director of interstate capital projects, a special niche created for David Wildstein, the central figure in the George Washington Bridge scandal, has officially been abolished, the agency confirmed yesterday.

This means Wildstein will be forever known as the first and last DICP appointee.

A spokesman for the Port Authority, Chris Valens, did not say why the agency had eliminated the interstate capital projects directorship.

But some critics said that it was a fairly logical move. (Strunsky/Star-Ledger) 



For Lee provides mayor an attorney for GWB probes 

FORT LEE — Mayor Mark Sokolich will have a borough-paid attorney representing him during further involvement in multiple investigations into whether George Washington Bridge access lanes were closed by associates of Governor Christie as payback for the mayor’s decision not to endorse the governor’s reelection.

The Borough Council voted unanimously Thursday to retain criminal defense attorney Timothy M. Donohue, a partner at Arleo, Donohue & Biancamano, LLC, in West Orange. Donohue has experience with jury trials in federal and state courts and has been retained by a number of local, county and state public officials, according to his firm’s website.

Sokolich has not been subpoenaed, but council members thought it would be prudent to have an attorney ready should he be ordered to submit documents or to testify, officials said.

A legislative panel is investigating whether access lanes to the world’s busiest bridge were shut down without notice for four days in September to intentionally create havoc in Fort Lee. The U.S. Attorney’s Office also is probing whether federal laws were broken.

Governor Christie fired his former deputy chief of staff, Bridget Anne Kelly, after her now-notorious email — “Time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee”  — became public. His two top appointees to the Port Authority, the agency that operates the bridge, have resigned, as has a Christie aide. (Tat/The Record)

The governor has repeatedly denied he had anything to do with the lane closures. 



GOP lawmaker’s reaction to first glimpse of GWB documents: ‘It’s going to take time’ 

RENTON – Assemblywoman Amy Handlin (R-13), the first Republican lawmaker to get a glimpse of newly released subpoenaed documents surrounding the George Washington Bridge controversy, says lawmakers should be prepared to be in it for the long haul.

The lawmaker, who serves on the joint legislative committee investigating the lane closure controversy, said she spent two hours behind closed doors reviewing the latest round of subpoenaed documents. The documents were made available to lawmakers today by the Office of Legislative Services.

“My overall takeaway is this process is going to be much like building a 3D model,” she said Thursday afternoon, a while after she poured over hundreds of pages of documents.

“It’s very fragmentary because it’s just the first round,” Handlin said. “What we’re looking at now is just the tip of the iceberg – if that. What we’re dealing with is akin to a puzzle that is made up of 100 tiny pieces … and it’s going to take time.”

Handlin declined to give details on the documents she viewed, but said she failed to come across any sort of major revelation in the ongoing investigation. (Arco/PolitickerNJ)

GOP lawmaker’s reaction to first glimpse of new GWB documents: ‘It’s going to take time’ | Politicker NJ



At Ironbound rally, Codey endorses Baraka in Newark mayoral race

NEWARK – Former Governor and current State Senator Richard Codey (D-27) endorsed Newark mayoral candidate and South Ward Councilman Ras Baraka at a rally in front of one of the Seabra’s supermarkets in the city’s Ironbound neighborhood.

“I believe in Newark, and I believe in Ras,” said Codey before a small but boisterous group of Baraka supporters on a frigid Thursday afternoon in front of Seabra’s Supermarket on Lafayette Street, as forklifts carrying fruits and vegetables zoomed by.

Codey quoted statistics he claimed showed improvement at Central High School, where Baraka has taken a leave of absence as principal, as part of his reasons for backing Baraka.

“Tell me if I’m wrong now, councilman – you went from a 50 percent graduation rate to 80 percent?” Codey said. “When you can do that, it tells us a lot about this man.

“Of all of the candidates, what person in this city can get down on the streets and talk to the people that we need to talk to?” Codey, whose 27th Legislative District included parts of the City of Newark, before the 2011 legislative redistricting, added. “Ras Baraka is about doing something about crime in this city that helps helps the county, that helps the state. As we all know, at one point he negotiated a gang truce [in 2004] as a deputy mayor. Think what he could do as your mayor. (Bonamo/PolitickerNJ)

At Ironbound rally, Codey endorses Baraka in Newark mayoral race | Politicker NJ



Assembly Panel Wants to Establish New Reliability Standards for Utilities

Proposed measure would require power companies to restore service rapidly in wake of extreme weather.  

A day after a half-million people in the mid-Atlantic region were left without power — including 60,000 in New Jersey because of an ice storm — a legislative committee voted yesterday to require the state to adopt new reliability standards for utilities in restoring service.

The Assembly Telecommunications and Utilities Committee approved the bill, A-1412), a measure that was first drafted in 2012 in the wake of Hurricane Irene, according to Assemblyman Upendra Chivukula (D-Somerset), the chairman of the panel and the bill’s sponsor.

Since then the state has been battered a number of times by extreme weather, most notably Hurricane Sandy in the fall of 2012, which left more than seven million people without power. Many had to wait up to two weeks or more to have service restored.

The extensive outages spurred widespread criticism from utility customers, local officials, and lastly, state regulators, who have convened their own proceedings to determine how to prevent such massive service disruptions in the future. The primary focus is what needs to be done — and at what cost — to make the power grid more resilient when extreme storms occur.

Chivukula noted the state Board of Public Utilities, which oversees utilities in New Jersey, already has established reliability standards, but said those rules lack key elements that require utilities to provide reliable service and quick restoration in the event of extreme storms — or face civil penalties if they fail to do so.

The issue is significant because the state’s utilities have filed petitions with the BPU to spend more than $4 billion on upgrades to make their gas and electric power grids more resilient. Those costs would be borne by utility customers, already saddled with some of the highest energy bills in the nation, according to consumer advocates.

Each utility would be required to submit a reliability plan to the state, but it would differ depending on the service territory a company serves. (Johnson/NJSpotlight) 



NJ’s Awash in Federal Sandy Aid, But Funds Just Tricke Out of DCA’s Spigot 

State agency has given homeowners only $25 million out of $600 million as reimbursements for storm-damage repairs.  

More than 15 months after Superstorm Sandy, New Jersey has approved awarding little more than a quarter of the money available from the largest housing assistance program it established to help those most affected by the hurricane, and has actually paid out even less.

State officials established the Rehabilitation, Reconstruction, Elevation and Mitigation program using $600 million in federal aid to help homeowners repair or rebuild a primary residence.

Lisa Ryan, a spokeswoman for the Department of Community Affairs, said the state has signed grant awards amounting to more than $137 million of that money for about 1,200 applicants.

Of that amount, the state has actually provided $25 million in reimbursements for completed work.

But Ryan said it is the amount the state has agreed to distribute that paints the more accurate picture of aid from RREM because “the $137 million in grant assistance we have obligated is money that these homeowners can absolutely count on.”

The state has given out more money from the $180 million Resettlement program (RSP), sending checks of $10,000 each to nearly 16,700 homeowners, she said, with another 700 checks being processed.

That amounts to roughly $167 million distributed through RSP and a total of $174 million that the program is obligated to pay. (O’Dea/NJSpotlight) 



Christie’s inaugural committee donates $225,000 to charities 

Governor Christie didn’t get to celebrate his second inauguration with a big party, but his fundraising committee was still able to donate nearly $225,000 to charity. 

The inaugural committee announced Thursday that Save Ellis Island, the New HopeBaptistChurch in Newark and New Jersey Heroes – a charity founded by First Lady Mary Pat Christie – will each receive $75,000.

Christie was set to celebrate the start of his second term with a party in the Great Hall at Ellis Island – a backdrop that could have put him in a national spotlight as a potential GOP presidential frontrunner before the George Washington Bridge lane closure scandal rocked his administration – but it was cancelled when a snow storm hit the state Jan. 21. 

At the time the 2014 Inaugural Committee issued a statement thanking those who bought $500 tickets to the event for their generosity. The catered food was donated to local pantries in the Jersey City area.

After Christie’s 2010 inauguration the committee donated nearly $450,000 to charity.

“We are incredibly proud to continue the tradition started four years ago of using the inauguration as an opportunity to partner with and support charitable organizations that are giving back to our communities in incredible ways,” Todd Christie and Bill Palatucci, co-chairmen of the inaugural committee said in a joint statement. (Hayes/The Record) 



DOT: No secret stockpile of road salt at MetLife stadium

A spokesman for the state Department of Transportation today dispelled rumors that the state is hoarding a secret stockpile of ice-melting salt at MetLife stadium, causing shortages for townships throughout New Jersey.

DOT Spokesman Joe Dee said today the rumor is utterly false and the state is facing a salt shortage just like everyone else.

“We are in the same boat as everybody else.  Our salt levels are uncomfortably low for the DOT like a lot of counties and municipalities not only here in New Jersey but from the Midwest to New England.”

Dee said he’s not sure how the rumor started but it may have been a misinterpretation of a press release issued prior to the Super Bowl saying the state had the capacity to store up to 60,000 tons of salt within 30 miles of MetLife stadium. The press release concerned the state’s readiness for a Super Bowl Sunday storm, should one have occurred.

“There is no separate stockpile,” he said. (Isherwood/ 



N.J. lawmakers consider bills on printer ink, gambling addicts, unsolicited checks

Assembly committees met Thursday and considered bills that ranged from requiring printer cartridges to display their yield to allowing people to ban themselves from casinos online gambling without signing a form that declares them addicted to gambling. (Phillis/The Record) 



No Recourse on Sandy Aid

Superstorm Sandy victims who were rejected for New Jersey recovery grants won’t be able to appeal those decisions, state officials said Thursday, even after it was revealed that faulty data was used to throw out some of their applications.

The decision by New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie’s administration came as the state faced mounting criticism over its handling of its two main rebuilding programs for individual residents struck by the 2012 storm. Mr. Christie’s handling of the storm’s aftermath was initially given high marks, but his Republican administration has dismissed a key Sandy contractor and faced calls Thursday from two of the state’s congressmen, both Democrats, for an independent monitor to oversee the state’s storm spending.

Attention was focused Thursday on the state’s decision to use Federal Emergency Management Agency data to help determine which homeowners get approved for the state’s two main rebuilding grants. FEMA said it made it clear to New Jersey officials that the damage estimates were limited to essential repairs, not to support long-term recovery programs, but the state went ahead with the information.

The result: Some Sandy victim’s damages were undervalued, making them ineligible for rebuilding grants under two state programs, officials said. (Haddon and Dawsey/Wall Street Journal) 



Tax Hike Talk in Trenton

The Star-Ledger reports that Assembly Speaker Vinnie Prieto (D-Secaucus) is open to considering a gas tax increase and reinstatement of the millionaires’ tax, in addition to looking for ways to cut government spending.

The top Republican in the Assembly said Prieto should probably just focus on that last part.

“I’ll make this real simple: no new taxes,” said Assembly Republican Leader Jon Bramnick (R-Westfield). “New Jersey is already one of the highest-taxed states in the country. We will not tax ourselves out of the economic problems that we face.”

The Ledger also reports that Prieto is not opposed to discussing a fee on water use, and he would be willing to consider reducing the state’s workforce in order to help balance the budget.

Bramnick said he supports Prieto’s openness to finding spending cuts, but he cannot and will not back any proposals to increase taxes or fees. (McArdle/NJ101.5) 

Tax Hike Talk in Trenton [AUDIO]




From the Back Room


Adubato V. Prieto this weekend

Steve Adubato will host an in-depth interview with Assembly Speaker Vincent Prieto (D-32), who will talk about his opposition to Governor Christie floating the possibility of not fully funding the state’s pension payment, along with other critical issues.

The program airs this weekend, Saturday on WNET at 8:30am and Sunday on NJTV at 8:00am & 12:00pm. (PolitickerNJ)

Adubato V. Prieto this weekend | Politicker NJ



Little not running against Pallone after all

Apparently three times isn’t the charm for former Highlands Mayor Anna Little.

She won’t challenge U.S. Rep. Frank Pallone (D-6) this year, according to More Monmouth Musings. (PolitickerNJ)

Little not running against Pallone after all | Politicker NJ



Is bridge scandal distracting Chris Christie?

Gov. Chris Christie has never been shy about sharing his opinion. So it was strange to see him sit back one day last month and let nearly four dozen bills quietly die, with no action from his office.

He hasn’t offered public reasons for allowing them to expire — what’s known as a “pocket veto” — or even told their sponsors what the problem was.

Many of the 44 proposals passed easily and seemed unobjectionable, such as protecting Hurricane Sandy victims from inept contractors or consumers from bad business practices. Others were just plain necessary, including requiring cameras in municipal police cars and public warnings when raw sewage spills into our rivers.

Oddly enough, Christie did explain his decision for two of the bills he did not sign — so why not all the others?

His spokesman has said there wasn’t enough time to properly vet the legislation. Christie’s chief attorney is responsible for that. With the recent chaos roiling the governor’s office, swamped with subpoenas from Bridge­gate investigators, was he simply unable to do his normal job?

Scandal or no scandal, that’s not how a democracy is supposed to work. Many of these bills had been in the works for a long time, and the consequences of Christie’s inaction now are serious. For example: One pocket veto leaves investigators with less ability to solve serious crimes and exonerate the innocent. This legislation would haveexpanded our state’s DNA database by requiring samples from all convicted criminals, just as New York does. (Star-Ledger Editorial Board) v  Morning Digest: Feb. 7, 2014