Morning Digest: March, 18, 2014

Chris Christie’s chief political strategist included in new Bridgegate documents

Gov. Chris Christie’s chief political strategist was included in discussions about the George Washington Bridge lane closure controversy, according to newly released emails.

Mike DuHaime, who has previously escaped scrutiny as members of Christie’s administration have been hit with subpoenas, was forwarded on a December email from a campaign worker asking how to respond to a media inquiry.

According to the documents, Matt Mowers, who worked in the Statehouse before transferring to Christie’s re-election campaign, sent an email to DuHaime and former campaign manager Bill Stepien a month after the election.

Mowers sent the email after a Wall Street Journal reporter contacted him for comment on a story. (Arco/PolitickerNJ)

Chris Christie’s chief political strategist included in new Bridgegate documents | Politicker NJ





Atlantic County Sheriff’s Race: Munoz wants to go up against Balles 

Retired Atlantic City police officer Dennis Munoz announced today that he will seek the Democratic Party nomination to run against Frank Balles for Atlantic County Sheriff.

Last year, Balles, a Republican, ran unsuccessfully against state Sen. Jim Whelan (D-2).
”I am running for county sheriff because I believe more needs to be done to share and coordinate our law enforcement services to provide better protection at a lesser cost to taxpayers”, Munoz, 63, who has lived in Egg Harbor City for the last 38 years. “I believe my 31 years experience as a police officer and my 25 years as a Special Operations soldier combined with my local government experience present ideal qualifications to lead our Atlantic County Sheriff’s Department.
”Because of its countywide presence and interaction with every local and state police agency, our sheriff’s department  is in the unique position to work hand in hand with law enforcement agencies  across the county,” added the Democrat. “We need to expand the role of the county sheriff’s department  to better assist  local governments in meeting current challenges and pressures in order to insure the public’s safety.”
As an Atlantic City Police Officer for 29 years, Munoz was a member of the SWAT team for the entire 29 years, where he served as team member, SWAT instructor and team sniper.  Munoz was elected to Egg Harbor City Council and served one term. (Pizarro/PolitickerNJ)

Atlantic County Sheriff’s Race: Munoz wants to go up against Balles | Politicker NJ




Union Showdown: Amato rips DiVincenzo on incremental salary issue

Powerful Essex County Executive Joe DiVincenzo apparently doesn’t have to worry about a Democratic Primary opponent, but that doesn’t mean PBA Local 382 won’t refrain from criticizing the controversial Democrat in the strongest possible terms. 

PBA Local 382 President Joe Amato is angry at DiVincenzo for praising corrections officers who work at the county jail and touting the jail’s fiscal health, while refusing to pay what he said were agreed-upon contractual salary increments.

The local prez asked his entire 550 member local and their loved ones to personally contact the executive who last year personally endorsed Republican Gov. Chris Christie, and other county officials.

“To the executive, we are just numbers on a piece of paper that he thinks he can play with for his personal gain and opinion and I need our members to present a human face and a family unit to those numbers and our executive needs to be made to understand that these are peoples live he’s playing with,” Amato said. (Pizarro/PolitickerNJ)

Union Showdown: Amato rips DiVincenzo on incremental salary issue | Politicker NJ




Emails show Christie’s ex-campaign manager thanked ex-Port official for testimony that was eventually discredited 

Governor Christie’s former campaign manager congratulated a top Port Authority executive for his now-discredited testimony before lawmakers claiming that the George Washington Bridge lane closures were part of a traffic study, records released on Monday show.

“Hey, great job yesterday,” Bill Stepien wrote to the Port Authority’s Deputy Executive Director Bill Baroni on Nov. 26. “I know it’s not a fun topic, and not nearly as fun as beating up on [former U.S. Sen.] Frank Lautenberg, but you did great, and I wanted to thank you.”

Lautenberg, a longtime Democratic U.S. senator from New Jersey whom Baroni sparred with in April 2012 when he was called to Washington, D.C., to testify about the Port Authority’s toll hikes, died in June of last year. 

The message was among more than a dozen previously unreleased texts and emails made public Monday when they were submitted to a Superior Court judge in Mercer County. The judge is weighing whether Stepien and Bridget Anne Kelly, Christie’s former deputy chief of staff, must comply with a legislative subpoena from an investigative committee seeking documents related to the closures. 

The former Christie allies have refused to turn over their records, arguing that it would violate their constitutional protection against self-incrimination. A federal criminal investigation into the closures is under way. The committee’s release of the messages prompted a fierce rebuttal from attorneys for Stepien and Kelly. (Boburg/The Record) 




NJ eyes ban on fracking waste from any state 

TRENTON, N.J. (AP) — New Jersey lawmakers are considering a ban on treating or storing waste products created by hydraulic fracturing operations in the natural gas exploration industry.

A state Senate committee advanced a bill on Monday that would prohibit the treatment, discharge, disposal, or storage of any wastewater, solids, sludge, or other byproducts resulting from a gas recovery technique commonly known as fracking.

The procedure injects water and other fluids into the ground at high pressure to break rock structures and free natural gas deposits trapped in them. It has significantly added to natural gas supplies and lowered their price, but has also caused concern about water contamination and other environmental problems.

Favored by environmentalists and opposed by business groups, the bill now goes to the full Senate for consideration. (Boburg/The Record)   




NJ long-term open space funding plan advances

TRENTON, N.J. (AP) — A proposal that would redirect about $150 million in taxes to fund open space was advanced by a New Jersey legislative panel on Monday.

The measure would dedicate 6 percent of corporation business taxes to open space allocations for the next 30 years. Voter approval would be required because the proposal changes the state constitution.

Four percent of CBT taxes are currently diverted to environmental programs. This measure would raise the rate and reallocate how the money is distributed.

The open space preservation fund is out of money. Voters have consistently approved short-term borrowing while advocates have sought a long-term funding source.

A proposal to dedicate a portion of the sales tax failed in the Legislature last year.

A similar resolution is pending in the Assembly. (Associated Press) 




NJ’s Plan for Next Batch of Sandy Aid Keeps Focus on Homeowners, Renters

Critics complain that not enough attention is being paid to making infrastructure less vulnerable.  

Last March, when the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development announced its requirements for New Jersey to receive its first $1.8 billion in Community Development Block Grant funding, the emphasis was on dealing with the immediate storm recovery.

Sandy had made landfall just a few months earlier, and the needs of individual residents and business owners were paramount, so federal officials said the state could spend the money on “necessary expenses related to disaster relief, long-term recovery, restoration of infrastructure and housing, and economic revitalization in the most impacted and distressed areas.” As a result, New Jersey earmarked $1.3 billion — or about 70 percent of its initial allotment — on housing initiatives.

A year later, it’s a different story. Though the needs of homeowners and renters remain great, and stories about people waiting for Sandy aid still seem to appear in the headlines nearly every week, federal officials have signaled a shift in emphasis. In their notice published last November, detailing how New Jersey should spend its second tranche of $1.46 billion, they indicated a desire to move beyond the immediate recovery to instead focus on underlying infrastructure needs to make the state less vulnerable to future storms. That would include investments in mitigation-related measures, regional planning efforts, and the enhancement of natural defenses like beaches, wetlands and dunes.

But the state is not hewing close to the federal recommendations. Most of the Sandy money is still going to housing, a situation that is angering some environmentalists and planning groups. (Gurian/NJSpotlight) 




Teachers, Administrators Give Mixed Reviews to New Evaluations after Test Run  

But survey of educators who took part in tryout of new system shows most not worried about impact on jobs, tenure.

For all the debate going on outside classroom walls, New Jersey schoolteachers who actually have been through the new state-mandated evaluation system have not found it to be as nerve-wracking as everyone thinks.

In a survey conducted by a team of Rutgers researchers, teachers and administrators who took part in the two-year pilot rollout of the evaluation system had mixed reactions to the new rules and the potential consequences for their careers.

On one hand, there was a wide range of opinion regarding whether the system was entirely fair and accurate, with administrators expressing much more faith than teachers — by a more than 2-to-1 margin.

Nevertheless, three-quarters of teachers surveyed by the Rutgers team said they were not worried that the new evaluations – including those newly tied to student performance — would have a negative impact on their tenure protections.

Even among teachers working to attain tenure, a majority said the new metrics would have little impact or might actually help them more than hurt in keeping their jobs. There were some pockets of anxiety over job security, to be sure, but the Rutgers researchers said it was not widespread – at least not yet. (Mooney/NJSpotlight)  





Ex-Chris Christie aided lands at GOP firm

A central figure in the George Washington Bridge scandal looming over New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie quietly accepted a job at a top Republican consulting firm late last month.

Bill Stepien, who ran both of Christie’s gubernatorial campaigns, signed on to help the phone-banking and data giant FLS Connect with sales and strategy on its voter contact products, according to a source with knowledge of the relationship. 

Sheila Berkley, the company’s president, acknowledged the hiring in a statement to POLITICO. “FLS Connect is excited to have Bill Stepien join our team,” said Berkley, who is also a partner in the firm. “His extensive national experience and knowledge will be an asset to our clients and our company.”

It’s a soft landing for Stepien, who was rising quickly in GOP politics and had drawn comparisons to Karl Rove before becoming embroiled in the Bridgegate scandal.

Emails released as part of an investigation into the apparently politically motivated closure of lanes on the bridge showed Stepien was kept apprised of the resulting traffic problems and made light of them. (Vogel/Politico) 



Telemarketers beware: Bill would create unit to investigate fraudulent calls 

TRENTON — New Jersey would have a group of investigators tasked with looking into telemarketing fraud under a bill making its way through the Legislature.

The state Senate’s Community and Urban Affairs Committee today approved a bill (S247) to establish a “telemarketing fraud investigation unit” run by the state Division of Consumer Affairs.

The unit would investigate consumer complaints about calls from callers who ignore the do-not-call list, block their information from caller ID, call after permitted hours and “other such consumer complaints related to telemarketing practices as determined by the director.”

“The technology is more sophisticated, and the number of telemarketers who have been breaking the law has been growing,” said state Sen. Jeff Van Drew (D-Cape May), a sponsor. “There are two levels of fraud. One is they’re breaking the law by calling when they shouldn’t be… And then secondly, what they are doing at times is fraudulent. It’s a fraudulent product or fraudulent practice.”

Rob Nixon, a lobbyist who is director of government affairs for the New Jersey State Policemen’s Benevolent Association, said the organization does not make telemarketing calls, but is often blamed for “fraudulent” groups that do make calls and purport to support New Jersey police officers. (Friedman/Star-Ledger) 





Protests planned for Port Authority meeting in Jersey City

TRENTON — Protesters will descend on Jersey City on Wednesday for a meeting of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey to demand that the embattled chairman, David Samson, resign.

New Jersey Working Families Alliance also recently filed a formal complaint with the state Ethics Commission against Samson, who has been accused of using the powerful public appointment to enrich his law firm, Wolff & Samson.

Samson has apologized on behalf of the Port Authority for the huge traffic jam triggered by lane closings on the George Washington Bridge last September, and has received a vote of confidence from fellow New Jersey commissioners. Gov. Chris Christie appointed Samson, a close adviser and head of his transition team, to the Port Authority in late 2010.

Working Families Alliance was also one of the organizers of an attention-grabbing protest of Christie’s town hall meeting in Mount Laurel last week.

“Christie rose to national fame by shouting down teachers and mocking ordinary citizens at town hall meetings. Now, with his administration mired in scandals and his poll numbers plummeting, he can’t take his own medicine,” the director of the alliance, Analilia Mejia said in a statement. “Working families everywhere are outraged by the pattern of abuse and cronyism that has come to light since Bridgegate.”

Christie has two town halls this week: Tuesday’s event at St. Mary Community Center in South River will focus on Hurricane Sandy recovery and Thursday’s event at St. Magdalen de Pazzi Parish Center in Flemington will focus on budget issues.  (Portnoy/Star-Ledger) 




One more reason to hate the snow: official blame storm clean up tax increase in Middletown

MIDDLETOWN — Municipal taxes are going up and you can blame old man winter for it, said township officials.

Township Committee members introduced a $70.2 million 2014 municipal budget, which bumps up taxes by one cent per $100 of assessed value to cover increased costs of snow removal during the harsh winter season. Last year’s introduced budget was $67.93 million.

“The story is the crushing snow,” said Mayor Stephanie C. Murray about the budget.

Cleaning up after seemingly back to back winter storms cost the township $1.478 million, which was $1.1 million over what it paid for storm clean-up in 2013, said Colleen Lapp, chief financial officer.

The proposed 2014 tax rate of 50.6 cents per $100 of assessed value represents a 2 percent increase over the 2013 municipal tax rate of 49. 5 cents per $100. The owner of the average home valued at $375,600 would pay $37.56 more than the $1,840 they paid for municipal taxes last year. Those rates don’t include school or county taxes.

“Had we not had the snow costs, we probably would be flat or have come down a little,” Lapp said of the proposed municipal tax rate. (Higgs/Asbury Park Press)




From the Back Room


Baraka hires campaign media heavyweights, sources say

Sources have told that the campaign of Newark mayoral candidate Ras Baraka has hired two notable campaign media firms in the run-up to the May municipal election.

BerlinRosen Public Affairs, a public relations and political consulting firm with offices in New York City and Washington, D.C., has been hired by the Baraka campaign, according to sources. The firm, which helped Bill de Blasio win a come-from-behind victory in last year’s New York City mayoral race, will be in change of campaign mail efforts.

Putnam Partners, a multimedia campaign firm based in the D.C. suburbs, has been hired by the Baraka campaign to produce their television commercials, sources say. The firm produced the commercials for Jersey City Mayor Steve Fulop during his 2013 mayoral campaign. Putnam Partners also produced the television commercials for President Barack Obama during the 2012 presidential campaign.  (Bonamo/PolitickerNJ)

Baraka hires campaign media heavyweights, sources say | Politicker NJ






Tesla ban in New Jersey only hurts the consumer

It’s not even April, but New Jersey has already played its citizens for fools.

By committee edict, the New Jersey Legislature has said April 1 is the deadline by which Tesla showrooms in New Jersey must stop selling their cars directly to consumers. The state’s action will directly increase costs and reduce choice available to consumers while protecting the profits of auto dealers. James Appleton, president of New Jersey’s dealer association, said the statue “is on the books to protect consumers” while conceding, “Tesla’s business model crushes competition.”

Every time an automobile changes hands on the way to the final purchaser at the dealer, another layer of margin is added to the costs that consumers eventually pay. Dealerships add an estimated $2,225 to the cost of a new car sold for $26,000. Buying a car in a dealership is also one of the least favorite American pastimes, with nearly 60 percent of Americans saying they hate the car-buying experience, according to Kelley Blue Book. Despite this, efforts to streamline the auto distribution process have so far not been successful.

This prohibition of direct sales can be traced to the automobile’s infancy. To finance their growth, auto manufacturers offered dealerships territory in perpetuity so long as dealers agreed to purchase a certain number of cars per year. These arrangements eventually gave automobile dealers enough clout within their state’s political system to pass self-serving laws.

The new statute is based on the supposed acknowledgement that “inequality of bargaining power continues to exist between motor vehicle franchisors (manufacturers) and motor vehicle franchisees (dealers).”

Basically, the dealers argue they have simply invested too much and employ too many people (2,000 in New Jersey) to be permitted to fail. What dealers are really arguing, however, is that they need laws to guarantee them as much money as possible whether or not their business can withstand competition. In the case of Tesla, the direct-to-consumer sales were competing with New Jersey dealers.

Tesla is not alone. Businesses that disrupt established markets have always engendered strong reactions from those making money in the status quo. Taxi commissions across the United States have recently sought bans against more efficient solutions to on-demand transportation, such as the apps Uber and Lyft. The taxi commissions’ claims are the same as the New Jersey dealers: Regulations are synonymous with consumer protection, and “unregulated” newcomers are not in consumers’ best interests. (Colangelo/Star-Ledger Guest Columnist)  

Morning Digest: March, 18, 2014