Morning Digest: March 10, 2014

Greenstein versus Watson Coleman in Princeton

PRINCETON – When Princeton Community Democratic Organization (PCDO) Chairman Jim Durbin announced a second ballot runoff tonight and the losers headed for the back of the room, he alerted committee members to the names of the two surviving competitors.

But people already knew they would have to choose between Assemblywoman Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-15) and state Sen. Linda Greenstein (D-14), the two women in the race for U.S. Rep. Rush Holt’s (D-12) Congressional seat fighting to be New Jersey’s sole woman representative at the federal level.

The rivalry is unmistakable.

So far, their public clashes have consisted of Watson Coleman slapping at Democrats who didn’t go all out last year for unsuccessful Democratic gubernatorial candidate Barbara Buono, and Greenstein taking aim at Tea Party extremism – lingering on that last word as if its application might also be appropriate elsewhere. (Pizarro/PolitickerNJ)

Greenstein versus Watson Coleman in Princeton | Politicker NJ



Two fresh faces dive in CD12 contest burnishing PhD closeness to Holt

PRINCETON – The room in the downtown municipal building buzzed early tonight with the presence of two new candidates in the CD12 race, each with his own resume heavy on academic achievement in proud public view: Andrew Zwicker, a plasma physicist from Princeton University and Kingston resident; and Frank Gibson, a chemist from Hopewell.

Both hold PhDs.

In a presentation to the Princeton Community Democratic Organization (PCDO), each packaged himself as the natural torchbearer of the U.S. Rep. Rush Holt (D-12) mystique, to the jesting chagrin of at least one candidate already in the contest who’s tried to pitch himself as the egghead apparent with Holt’s announced retirement.

“He recruited me to come to Princeton before he was a congressman,” Zwicker said of Holt. 

Now the plasma physicist wants Democrats to simply strip the name of Rush Holt off the bumper stickers and leave the tag “my congressman is a rocket scientist” to accompany Zwicker’s efforts. (Pizarro/PolitickerNJ)

Two fresh faces dive into CD12 contest burnishing PhD closeness to Holt | Politicker NJ



As new Superstorm Sandy aid arrives, N.J. faces same worries

Just as a second round of federal disaster aid is reaching New Jersey, Governor Christie’s administration faces a critical juncture in the Superstorm Sandy recovery: Can it fix a litany of grant funding problems identified by storm victims, advocacy groups and lawmakers who are doubtful that much will change?

As New Jersey began to dole out $1.8 billion in relief aid last spring, legislative and state offices were flooded with complaints about lost paperwork and unknowledgeable representatives. A disproportionate number of African-American and Latino applicants were denied aid, a housing advocacy group said. And a company charged with overseeing programs that provide grants for the repair or rebuilding of homes was quietly fired by the state because of “performance-related concerns.”

Christie has placed most of the blame on Congress for delaying approval of the aid and has pointed to stringent federal requirements that have caused further delays. But he has acknowledged that New Jersey made mistakes and can do better. And while the state appears to be taking steps to avoid similar problems when overseeing the distribution of an additional $1.46 billion, critics still have concerns.

“I wish I could say that the state would do things better and differently than what they did with the first pot of money, but it doesn’t appear that they’ve heard any of the complaints, criticism or suggestions for the last six months,” said Staci Berger, the president and chief executive officer of the Housing and Community Development Network of New Jersey, a statewide association of 150 community development organizations. “People would have more respect for the process if the governor and administration said we did a bad job in this and we’re going to fix it. That’s the part that doesn’t ring true.”

Sandy victims have taken issue primarily with the slow pace at which the money — intended to help homeowners and businesses recover from the damage incurred during the storm that hit on Oct. 29, 2012 — has been distributed.  (Sudol and Hayes/The Record) 



Gridiron Club correspondents dinner set to spoof Christie, Bridgegate

Governor Christie was due to be in Georgia on Saturday night, but he was also scheduled to be the target of musical parodies by Washington reporters at a white-tie dinner headlined by Secretary of State John Kerry.

Four different songs at the annual Gridiron Club and Foundation dinner mention Christie and the closure of lanes on the George Washington Bridge, including two devoted exclusively to the subject, according to a script provided at dress rehearsal.

In the first, a performer playing former Christie aide Bridget Kelly sings of the joy of being able to inflict traffic jams to the tune of “Feelin’ Groovy” after members of the chorus bring out a mock suspension bridge with 6-foot-high towers. The song begins:

Slow down, you move too fast / We’re here to kick your mayor’s ass / Just laying down some traffic cones / Payback is fun when you’re Chris Christie

It concludes:

You got one rule to know / No endorsements, no dough / Ask Newark and Camden and Hoboken, yo / Now the busiest bridge in the world doesn’t flow/ Life’s a toll road / With Chris Christie.  (Jackson/The Record) 




Experts say Opioids Are as Available as They Are in Cities

From heroin to marijuana, prevention network works to head off drug use and addictions.

New Jersey drug-prevention and law-enforcement officials who deal with the growing use of heroin and other opioids say they are now as available in the suburbs as in cities.

That was part of the message at the recent annual New Jersey Prevention Network conference in Atlantic City, a gathering of professionals who work to prevent addiction.

The ready access to these drugs is reflected in the list of the 10 towns in 2012 with the most heroin and other opioid-abuse cases. Listed in descending order according to the number of cases, they are Newark, Jersey City, Paterson, Atlantic City, Camden, Brick, Elizabeth, Toms River, Vineland, and Trenton. (Kitchenman/NJSpotlight) 



PSE&G Wants to Put Its Money – and Its Customers’ – Into Building Better Grid

Company looking to invest $10 billion in utility projects rather than new power plants. 

Public Service Electric & Gas once again is ramping up spending on its grid, saying it will invest $10 billion over the next five years — a 40 percent increase from its projections just a year ago.

The plans, outlined at an annual investor’s conference in New York City on Friday, reflect the changing nature of the energy industry, where many big companies find it more profitable to shift investments to their utilities with a guaranteed rate of return, instead of building new power plants, a far riskier proposition. (Johnson/NJSpotlight) 



New Jersey lawmakers seek to quash subpoenas

TRENTON, N.J. — Two key figures in a political payback plot that has overshadowed Gov. Chris Christie’s administration for two months will attempt to convince a judge that they should not be forced to turn over documents to a legislative investigatory panel.

Lawyers for former Christie campaign manager Bill Stepien and fired deputy chief of staff Bridget Kelly have asked a judge in Mercer County to throw out their subpoenas, which seek documents involving a plot to create massive traffic jams near the George Washington Bridge.

Oral arguments are scheduled for Tuesday. (Associated Press/Politico)



Chris Christie ranks fourth in CPAC straw poll; Rand Paul takes first place

Gov. Chris Christie told a conservative gathering this week that the Republican party needs to “come out of this conference resolved to win elections again.”

But those who attended the Conservative Political Action Conference in National Harbor, Md. indicated that Christie wasn’t the man who should be tapped to win election to the nation’s highest office.

The Republican governor took fourth place in the straw poll, with just 8 percent of the vote.

U.S. Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) easily won first place, with 31 percent of the vote.

U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) registered 11 percent of the vote and Ben Carson, a former Johns Hopkins pediatric surgeon, took 9 percent. Former U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania and Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker tied with 7 percent of the vote.

The conference serves as an early test for Republicans considering a 2016 presidential run. (O’Neill/Star-Ledger) 



Property tax battle: Deadline looms on expiration of key law

TRENTON — Mayors say a group with an obscure and achingly bureaucratic name has been the most important tool in slowing the growth of New Jersey’s property taxes, the highest in the nation.

For the last three years, arbitrators who decide contract disputes between towns and their police and fire unions — known collectively as the Interest Arbitration Task Force — have been limited to increasing the workers’ salaries by just 2 percent.

But if the Legislature doesn’t act by April 1, that limit will expire. That would leave towns constrained by a 2 percent cap in overall tax increases but with less control over how much to pay police officers and firemen.

“We’re playing a little Russian roulette here,” said Bill Dressel, executive director of the League of Municipalities. “We could see arbitration awards potentially exceed the 2 percent cap that would put a stranglehold on municipalities to the extent that they would have to cut services.”

Gov. Chris Christie in his January State of the State speech called on the Legislature to make the cap permanent. (Friedman/Star-Ledger) 



Three N.J. Cities Eye Bike-Sharing

ERSEY CITY—Commuters here lock their bicycles to just about anything they can find near the Grove Street PATH train station—bike racks until they fill up, then scaffolding and even small trees.

It is a sign of an emerging bike culture that could get a boost this summer if Jersey City, Hoboken and Weehawken launch their own short-term bicycle rental system.

The City Council in Jersey City plans to vote Wednesday on a five-year agreement that would create a regional bike share akin to New York’s Citi Bike across the Hudson River. Hoboken and Weehawken have already approved the plan, which would bring 800 bicycles to docking stations at mass transit hubs, parks and neighborhoods.

“It would be really cool,” said Shashi Kara, a 36-year-old attorney, as he unlocked his silver hybrid from a sign post at the Grove Street stop on his way home from work in New York. “A lot of people are definitely using bikes to get to the trains.”

The program would bring the northern New Jersey towns in line with a growing number of cities with bike-share programs. It would still be dwarfed by New York’s 6,000-bike system, and programs in Boston and Chicago have about 1,000 and about 3,000 bikes, respectively. (Tangel/Wall Street Journal) 



Ex-Christie aides: Withdraw traffic jam subpoenas

TRENTON — Two key figures in a political payback plot that has overshadowed Gov. Chris Christie’s administration for two months will attempt to convince a judge that they should not be forced to turn over documents to a legislative investigatory panel.

Lawyers for former Christie campaign manager Bill Stepien and fired deputy chief of staff Bridget Kelly have asked a judge in Mercer County to throw out their subpoenas, which seek documents involving a plot to create massive traffic jams near the George Washington Bridge.

Oral arguments are scheduled for Tuesday. (Associated Press/Asbury Park Press) 




Are the Rich Leaving New Jersey? 

New Jersey’s income taxes, estate taxes and property taxes are driving the wealthiest residents out of the state, a new study suggests.

The RegentAtlantic Capital report stated New Jersey’s high-income residents are learning to live elsewhere once they realize the amount of money they can save on taxes.

“New Jersey competes with other states, and not the federal government,” said David Bugen, managing partner. “The tax structure in New Jersey encourages high-income residents to move to Pennsylvania and still work in New Jersey.”

The report noted a high-wage earner could save $1.8 billion over 25 years by living in Pennsylvania instead of the Garden State.

New Jersey’s estate tax was also criticized by the report. The exemption for the tax on the deceased is $675,000 in New Jersey. No such charge exists in other locations, such as Florida.

“New Jersey is the most expensive state in this country in which to die,” Bugen said.

Unlike the majority of other states, New Jersey still prohibits residents from deducting charitable gifts on their state income tax return. Bugen suggested the state “does not encourage philanthropy,” creating another reason for an exodus of those with lots of money to spend. (Flammia/NJ101.5)

Are the Rich Leaving New Jersey? [AUDIO] 




From the Back Room


Paynes to assemble with Jeffries camp in Newark on Monday

After weeks of speculation, the direction of the Newark mayoral race may take an important turn today as prominent members of the Payne political family gather at Newark’s Robert Treat Hotel at 11:30 a.m.

The campaign of Newark mayoral candidate Shavar Jeffries has called a press conference at which both U.S. Rep. Donald M. Payne, Jr. (D-10) and Essex County deputy chief of staff and former state Assemblyman William D. Payne will be present. 

The former assemblyman, who is the congressman’s uncle, endorsed Jeffries last month and agreed to serve as the Jeffries campaign co-chairperson. Payne, a Democrat who represented the 29th Assembly district from 1998 to 2008, has reportedly taken out petitions to run for an at-large council seat. 

When Jeffries announced his council slate last month, a sole at-large council slate spot was left conspicuously open. (Bonamo/PolitickerNJ)

Paynes to assemble with Jeffries camp in Newark on Monday | Politicker NJ



Chivukula’s irritating staffing jab at Greenstein

The presence of Assemblyman Upendra Chivikula (D-17) was already annoying to the allies of state Sen. Linda Greenstein (D-14), who need Middlesex to be strong in their candidate’s Democratic Primary war with Assemblyman Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-15) of Mercer County.

Chivukula is scrambling to get support in Middlesex, where the bulk of his own legislative district is concentrated.

Now the assemblyman is staffing up with former Greenstein stalwarts, who, in the words of one insider, “know the lay of the land on Linda’s turf.”

Chivukula’s campaign manager, Henry de Koninck, was Greenstein’s field director in 2011. The Somerset county CD12 candidtae’s senior advisor is Steve Lenox, Greenstein’s former chief of staff. (PolitickerNJ)

Chivukula’s irritating staffing jab at Greenstein | Politicker NJ




Candura done in Morris County


Lew Candura, the veteran chair of the Morris County Democratic Committee, will retire this year and back the organization’s executive director, Chip Robinson, to serve as his successor.

Robinson will have to fight to get the job. He’s up against Vice Chair Mary Dougherty. (PolitickerNJ)

Candura done in Morris County | Politicker NJ




Mason’s ELEC Mess in Hoboken


ELEC’s complaint against Hoboken Councilman Beth Mason is a nightmare for the former mayoral candidate, who could face $2.6 million in fines.

When you tally all the alleged violations of Mason and her team, it adds up to an unbelievable $14.3 million.

Take a look at this break out of the 387 violations Mason alone faces. (PolitickerNJ)

Mason’s ELEC Mess in Hoboken | Politicker NJ



Democratic Heavyweights honoring Currie tonight


Democratic Party insiders are converging tonight on the Morristown home of attorney Phil Sellinger.

Organized by Party stalwart John Graham, the event is designed to honor State Party Chairman John Currie.

Those on the invite list include the major players in the North Jersey Democratic Party universe, including U.S. Sen. Bob Menendez (D-NJ), Jersey City Mayor Steve Fulop – and Newark mayoral candidates Ras Baraka and Shavar Jeffries.

A source in attendance said Fulop and Baraka didn’t show. 

But attendees among the 50 or 60 people included powerful Essex County Executive Joe DiVincenzo. (PolitickerNJ)

Democratic Heavyweights honoring Currie tonight | Politicker NJ







N.J. law protects consumers from misleading energy supplier calls


When temperatures plummet well below zero and we are faced with the risk of home pipes freezing and people who own them not far behind — the list of things to worry about is long. The last thing we need to concern ourselves with is the truthfulness of the stories we were told (often repeatedly) by third-party energy suppliers about how switching to them would result in lower energy rates. But as demonstrated by the soaring bills that have been hitting the mailboxes of many New Jerseyans this winter, it seems that indeed, many consumers were misled straight into massive energy bills at a time when they could least afford it.

This is why AARP applauds Gov. Chris Christie and legislative sponsors for the recent enactment of A3422, a new law establishing strong consumer protections on a variety of fronts, including the emerging energy market. The bill prohibits certain energy suppliers from making false and misleading claims to potential customers and prohibits suppliers’ repeated cold calls.

The bill, sponsored by Assemblyman Dan Benson (D-Mercer) and Sen. Linda Greenstein (D-Middlesex) passed the Legislature with near-unanimous bipartisan support. The bill was signed into law by Gov. Christie in January.

New Jersey deregulated its energy supply market more than a decade ago, but it is only recently that a third-party energy market has emerged with the drop in natural gas prices. Reports of aggressive marketing tactics and confusing and/or misleading information raised concerns at AARP and with members of the state Legislature. (Abramo/New York Times)   Morning Digest: March 10, 2014