Morning Digest: March 11, 2014

 FDU Poll: Christie plummets 20 points

Gov. Chris Christie’s job approval took a 20 point drop in three plus months, according to this morning’s Fairleigh Dickinson University PublicMind Poll.

Christie’s post Bridgegate job approval rating stands at 41% (with 44% who disapprove), down from 61% last November.

Currently about equal numbers of registered voters like or dislike everything about him. About a third (31%) say they like the governor and his policies while virtually the same number (33%) dislike the governor and his policies. (PolitickerNJ)

FDU Poll: Christie plummets 20 points | Politicker NJ




Former Orange Mayor Hawkins announces bid for Mayor of West Orange

The former mayor of Orange wants to run again for mayor.

This time he wants to be mayor of West Orange.

“In addition to growing up and attending schools such as St Joseph’s, Redwood School and Seton Hall Prep here in West Orange, I am the former Mayor of a neighboring community,” Hawkins said tonight in a statement. “Knowing I had returned here to my home town some time ago with governmental experience, various residents expressed to me dissatisfaction with the high taxes, failed redevelopment on Main Street and rise in crime under the current West Orange administration.”

Son of a former Assemblyman and noted attorney, Hawkins, a former West Orange cop, ran for mayor of Orange after the meltdown and subsequent jailing of Mayor Mims Hackett.

Running with the support of former Gov. Dick Codey, Hawkins won the 2008 mayor’s race, got booted by the voters in 2012 when he lost to Dwayne Warren, and resurfaced last year in West Orange. (PolitickerNJ)

Former Orange Mayor Hawkins announces bid for Mayor of West Orange | Politicker NJ



In Paterson, Torres says Pascrell would make a ‘big mistake’ to endorse in mayor’s race

PATERSON – Former Mayor Jose “Joey” Torres showed up at U.S. Rep. Bill Pascrell’s (D-9) St. Patrick’s Day celebration tonight as if nothing were amiss; as if Pascrell and company weren’t right up against the edge of backing Torres’ rival, Council President Andre Sayegh.

The former two-term mayor found hands to shake and shook them in this crowded, kilt-replete bash at the Brownstone, an homage to old school Paterson politics where the conqueror solemnly honors the traditions of the conquered; where Pascrell walked in under chandeliers accompanied by his wife and the trudging, synchronized shriek of live bagpipes.

“I think the congressman is going to support who he sees fit,” said Torres (pictured above, right), referring to the May 13th nonpartisan election. “If he’s going to do that – get involved in a local race – it will be the first time in a long time. If he does it, more power to him. But it’s a big mistake. It sends the wrong message. (Pizarro/PolitickerNJ) 

In Paterson, Torres says Pascrell would make a ‘big mistake’ to endorse in mayor’s race | Politicker NJ




Fed withdraw subpoena of Port Authority chairman in conflict of interest investigation

Federal prosecutors in Manhattan took steps late last week to open an inquiry into Port Authority Chairman David Samson, only to withdraw their subpoena for documents Monday afternoon and cede control of any potential investigation to the U.S. attorney in New Jersey, multiple sources said.

Although it was still unclear Monday night whether federal authorities in New Jersey would pick up the inquiry, the development was a potentially troubling sign for a close adviser of Governor Christie who is the founder of a powerful law firm and was once New Jersey’s attorney general.

Samson has come under intense scrutiny recently over his involvement in Port Authority decisions that appeared to benefit clients of his private law firm. Samson’s troubles are an outgrowth of the George Washington Bridge lane-closure scandal, set off when a separate Port Authority executive and Christie ally ordered the shutdown of access lanes to the bridge in September, apparently as an act of political retribution.

New Jersey’s U.S. Attorney Paul Fishman was already investigating the lane closures when his counterpart in New York, Preet Bharara, issued the subpoena on Friday for records related to Samson. Bharara’s office, however, notified the Port Authority early Monday afternoon that it was “withdrawing” the subpoena, adding that Fishman’s office “may” request similar documents in the future. The reason for the withdrawal was unclear, and as of Monday evening, Fishman’s office had not issued a subpoena to the Port Authority related specifically to Samson, a knowledgeable source said. (Boburg and Hayes/The Record) 




NJ fights decision requiring new affordable housing rule by end of March

The Attorney General’s Office has filed papers with the state Supreme Court to stay an appeals court decision requiring the Council on Affordable Housing to meet and adopt new affordable housing rules by the end of March.

The council originally asked for a five-month extension of its Feb. 26 deadline. The high court in September said current rules didn’t do enough to incentivize affordable housing for low- and moderate-income residents.

When the deadline for the council to develop the new rules passed in February, the Fair Share Housing Center sued, claiming the only alternative the state is offering “is indefinite delay.”

An appeals court ruled Friday that the council had failed to act properly and promptly, but it did not go as far as to take over the rule-making process itself. (Phillis/The Record) 




Menendez critical of New Jersey’s Sandy recovery programs

With more federal funds on the way, and as thousands of New Jersey residents still struggle to rebuild after Superstorm Sandy, Sen. Bob Menendez on Monday criticized the state’s recovery programs as “obtuse,” disorganized and wasteful.

Menendez met with a dozen residents from across the state at his Newark office Monday afternoon — most described endless waiting lists for grant and relief programs they did not understand, paperwork lost, applications denied, and a lack of information or transparency in every level of the recovery process.

“I can’t imagine a worse system that could have been contrived to help these people,” Menendez said after the roundtable discussion, adding that there appeared to be a “systemic” problem with the state’s housing recovery apparatus. “The clear process as to what you need to be in a position to be fully qualified for any of these programs is obtuse, to say the least.”

Governor Christie and other state officials have maintained that delays in housing recovery funds, particularly $600 million worth of $150,000 rebuilding and elevation grants, stem from extensive federal regulations. (O’Brien/The Record) 




Mental-Health Crisis Intervention Program Available in Only 11 Counties  

Assembly members, healthcare providers call for quickly expanding program statewide.  

Advocates want to quickly expand a program that offers an alternative to the longstanding practice of bringing people to hospital emergency rooms when they are experiencing a mental-health crisis.

Early Intervention Support Services (EISS) provides treatment for up to 30 days through community providers, frequently allowing patients to become stabilized after crises without visiting hospitals.

The state has been building the program, which is under the auspices of the Department of Human Services, for several years. It’s currently available in 11 counties. Support for speeding up expansion of the program was voiced during an Assembly Human Services Committee hearing on mental-health crisis response held yesterday.

While every county has a 24-7 screening center that answers mental-health-related calls and aims to prevent crises, not all of them have enough funding to do the outreach necessary to prevent frequent emergency-room visits, according to policy experts. (Kitchenman/NJSpotlight)




U.S. Sought Port Authority Records Tied to Chairman

Federal prosecutors in Manhattan on Friday subpoenaed the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey for records related to potential conflicts of interest involving its chairman, David Samson, a prominent New Jersey lawyer and close political ally of Gov. Chris Christie, according to people briefed on the matter.

On Monday, the subpoena was withdrawn, apparently to clear the way for the investigation to be pursued by federal prosecutors in New Jersey, who had already been reviewing the politically charged closing of access lanes to the George Washington Bridge in September, according to two of those briefed on the matter.

The business dealings of Mr. Samson and his law firm, Wolff & Samson, have come under intense scrutiny as a result of the lane closings and the scandal that ensued, which are the subject of a separate inquiry by federal prosecutors in New Jersey, who are examining the roles of several current and former aides and allies of Mr. Christie. (Rashbaum and Zernike/New York Times) 



From the Back Room


Former Passaic Valley Sewerage Commission Officials found guilty

A former administrator and a former shop foreman at the Passaic Valley Sewerage Commission were convicted at trial today of charges that they directed subordinate employees to complete repairs or improvements at private homes while on-duty for the PVSC, according to Acting Attorney General John J. Hoffman.

Anthony Ardis, 59, of Paterson, and Paul Bazela, 47, of Northvale, were found guilty today by a Passaic County jury following a two-week trial.

Ardis is a former PVSC Commissioner who later was employed as Clerk to the Board of Commissioners, Director of Management Services and Chief Ethics Liaison Officer for the PVSC.  Bazela is the former foreman of the PVSC carpenter’s shop.

Both men were found guilty of third-degree charges of conspiracy, official misconduct and pattern of official misconduct, and a fourth-degree charge of theft by unlawful taking or disposition.  Third-degree crimes carry a sentence of three to five years in state prison and a fine of up to $15,000. Because Ardis and Bazela were convicted of conduct that occurred after April 14, 2007, when enhanced penalties for official misconduct took effect, each defendant faces a mandatory minimum sentence of two years in state prison without possibility of parole.  The judge will enter orders requiring both men to forfeit their pensions and be permanently barred from public employment or office in New Jersey. (PolitickerNJ)

Former Passaic Valley Sewerage Commission officials found guilty | Politicker NJ



George Norcross hosting CD1 fundraiser

State Sen. Donald Norcross’ congressional campaign is getting a little help from the lawmaker’s older brother.

George Norcross III is hosting a fundraiser for Donald Norcross as the legislator builds a campaign to Congress following former U.S. Rep. Rob Andrews (D-1) decision last month to step down. GN3 is hosting the fundraiser with Senate President Steve Sweeney and Assemblyman Louis Greenwald.

Donald Norcross’ name emerged as congressional candidate hours after news broke Andrews planned to step down.

The state lawmaker has the backing to take the reins of the left-leaning district from nearly every South Jersey Democratic establishment official.

The fundraiser is slated for March 25 in Deptford. (Arco/PolitickerNJ)

George Norcross hosting CD 1 fundraiser | Politicker NJ





Jeffries campaign conference with Paynes in Newark cancelled

The anticpated press conference that was to be held today by the Newark mayoral campaign of Shavar Jeffries involving members of one of Newark’s most prominent political families has been cancelled, according to the Jeffries campaign. 

The campaign had called an 11:30 a.m. press conference for Monday 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 were scheduled to be present. 

But less than two hours before the press conference was scheduled to begin, the Jeffries campaign issued the following statement. 

“Due to an unforeseen conflict, this morning’s press conference is cancelled and will be rescheduled at a later date in the near future,” the statement read. (Bonamo/PolitickerNJ)

Jeffries campaign conference with Paynes in Newark cancelled | Politicker NJ






What’s Wrong With Chris Christie’s Government?

Delays and errors in Sandy aid, NJ Transit woes are just the latest administration failures to come under legislative scrutiny. 

Four weeks before superstorm Sandy struck New Jersey and turned him into a media superstar, Gov. Chris Christie delivered a sarcastic but little-noticed evaluation of his own administration: “Sometimes, I know it’s going to be shocking for everyone to hear, government doesn’t always work the way it’s supposed to.”

Christie’s comment at a press conference in Dover on October 1, 2012, was meant to be a flip throwaway excusing the inexplicable failure of his Department of Community Affairs over an 18-month period to get $300 million in federal foreclosure aid into the hands of tens of thousands of New Jerseyans facing eviction from their homes — in sharp contrast to 17 other states participating in the same program.

It wouldn’t happen again, Christie vowed.

Nevertheless, the same agency last month was the subject of a Senate Legislative Oversight Committee hearing into its failure to get $600 million in federal aid into the hands of homeowners who lost their homes to Sandy. The agency yet to fully explain its secret firings of two of the largest private contractors hired to administer Sandy relief programs.

Last week, an NJ Spotlight/WNYC investigation revealed that the Christie administration’s system for awarding $25 million in Sandy energy grants was so riddled with errors that it awarded large grants to towns that were unscathed by the superstorm, gave no money at all to flood-prone municipalitites like Belmar and Atlantic City, and shorted Hoboken by $700,000. (Magyar/NJSpotlight)   Morning Digest: March 11, 2014