Morning Digest: March 19, 2014

First Encounter: Five candidates take to the stage in Trenton Mayor’s contest

TRENTON – Despite all characterizations to the contrary, the question going into this first encounter in the mayor’s contest was how long it would take before someone threw an elbow at perceived frontrunner Eric Jackson, director of Public Works for the City of Plainfield.

“This is a forum, not a debate,” the reverend emcee implored as much as announced over groans in the crowd where at least one audience member in the front row described sitting in a “ringside seat.”

“I repeat – a forum, not a debate.”

Oliver “Bucky” Leggett, a former director of the Trenton Housing Authority and former North Ward councilman, appeared determined to gently, humorously mix it up in this early, five-man scrap (candidate Councilwoman Kathy McBride didn’t show) where grand magnanimity and substance mostly subbed for the usual political mud wrestling.

Yet under the manners and genteel trappings, complete with an English accented moderator from the League of Women Voters, urgency abided in this standing room only crowd of West Ward residents.

The city’s sitting mayor, after all, is heading to prison on federal corruption charges. (Pizarro/PolitickerNJ)

First Encounter: Five candidates take to the stage in Trenton Mayor’s Contest | Politicker NJ




Weinberg slams State Police practice of snapping pictures of protestors as “Nixonian tactic”

New Jersey’s Senate majority leader and an outspoken critic of Gov. Chris Christie issued a scathing statement in response to a self-identified New Jersey State Police officer snapping photos of protesters Tuesday.

Sen. Loretta Weinberg (D-37) referred to the practice of a plainclothes officer snapping pictures of protesters at a Christie town hall as “a Nixonian tactic.” The lawmaker demanded the governor “repudiate” the tactic.

The statement was a response to a PolitickerNJ report Tuesday that noted a plainclothes individual who later identified himself as a member of the New Jersey State Police was spotted snapping pictures of protesters. The individual didn’t identify himself by name, but said he was a member of the State Police after he was asked if he was with either the local police agency or State Police.

A police spokesman, Capt. Stephen Jones, said Tuesday afternoon he could not immediately confirm the individual at the Christie town hall was a member of the State Police. (Arco/PolitickerNJ)

Weinberg slams State Police practice of snapping pictures of protesters as “Nixonian tactic” | Politicker NJ




New Jersey’s heroin crisis worsens

Flimsy regulation, outdated drug education, irresponsible prescribing practices and myriad barriers to treatment have enabled and exacerbated a growing crisis of heroin and opiate addiction among New Jersey youth, according to an ambitious — and long-delayed — state task force report released Tuesday.

The 88-page report, the result of two years of research, public hearings and official review, offers a wide range of policy recommendations, from public awareness campaigns and strengthened oversight of doctors to insurance reform and expanded treatment programs. It also firmly places New Jersey among a group of northeastern states, from Pennsylvania to Maine, grappling with an alarming surge of heroin addiction.

“The skyrocketing use of heroin and other opiates has become the number one health care crisis confronting New Jersey,” the report says. And the numbers are stark: Nearly two-thirds of the state’s 1,294 drug-related deaths in 2012 involved opiates, including heroin. In 2012, there were more than 8,300 admissions to state-certified substance abuse treatment programs for prescription drug abuse — an increase of nearly 700 percent over the past decade.

The Governor’s Council on Alcoholism and Drug Abuse received the report Tuesday and posted it on the council website later in the day. But despite enthusiasm among lawmakers and officials, it remains to be seen whether the proposed reforms will gain traction.

The report and its 18 recommendations do not differ substantively from a confidential October draft of the report obtained and written about by The Record in December: at the time, the council and Governor Christie’s office exchanged blame for its delayed release.

New Jersey’s task force report appears to be the first of its kind and scope, but other states across the Northeast have raised alarms about the rise in heroin addiction. (O’Brien/The Record) 





Stepien’s lawyer says GWB investigation illegally released e-mails, text messages

A lawyer for Governor Christie’s former campaign manager said Tuesday that a panel of lawmakers investigating the George Washington Bridge scandal illegally released e-mails and text messages as part of court papers filed on Monday.

In a letter to the investigative committee’s attorneys, Bill Stepien’s lawyer, Kevin Marino, wrote that release of the documents required a majority vote by the full committee. He asked for the names of those responsible for releasing the records and said they could be deemed “disorderly persons” under state law.

A co-chair of the committee, Loretta Weinberg, a Teaneck Democrat, waved away the letter’s claims.

“It’s lawyers doing what lawyers get paid to do: muddy up the water for their clients,” she said. “He’s the one who asked for this, and the documents were released.”

Most of the messages had been made public weeks ago, but more than a dozen were new, including some to or from Stepien. They showed he was updated on media inquiries after the lanes were re-opened and that he was immediately notified of the Fort Lee mayor’s complaints while the lanes were still closed.

The special investigative committee is locked in a court battle with Stepien and Christie’s former deputy chief of staff, Bridget Anne Kelly, who have refused to comply with a subpoena for documents related to the lane closures. It was Kelly who wrote the e-mail: “Time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee.” (The Record) 




Draft Bill Sets Aggressive Goals for Renewable Energy, Power Consumption 

Measure would boost NJ’s reliance on renewable energy to 80 percent by 2050, slash energy consumption by 30 percent at same time. 

A yet-to-be-made public bill could radically change New Jersey’s energy future by sharply increasing the state’s reliance on renewable energy at the same time that it decreases energy consumption by 30 percent by 2050.

The draft legislation, still to be introduced, drew dozens of lobbyists, energy executives, and others to a private stakeholders meeting Monday afternoon in a first-floor committee room in the Statehouse Annex. Little was decided and another session is scheduled for May 6. (Johnson/NJSpotlight) 





Reviving Suburbia: Giving Aging Malls and Office Parks a New Lease on Life  

Rather than standing empty, yesterday’s archetypes of suburban sprawl are being reinvented as vibrant places to work, play, and live.

Holmdel’s iconic Bell Labs Research complex — the site of at least one Nobel prize discovery — now has another distinction, one that residents and elected officials would sooner do without.

The circa 1962 complex is the largest empty office building in the nation.

Architecturally significant for its mirrored glass façade, the 2 million-square-foot facility has sat abandoned on its 473-acre campus since 2006.

The empty building exemplifies the deep trouble that New Jersey’s office parks and shopping centers face, victims of the recent trend that favors reinvesting in urban centers over continuing suburban and exurban sprawl — a trend taking hold across the state and the country.

This urban migration compounds the problem of an existing glut of retail space that real estate analyst Jeff Otteau predicts will meet the state’s needs for another 17 years. He also cites a surfeit of office space that won’t be used up until 2043. And because the state’s suburban corporate and commercial construction boomed more than 20 years ago, the New Jersey League of Municipalities Educational Foundation calls the current building stock not just aging but obsolete.

Some developers and municipalities are finding success creatively reusing these so-called stranded assets, converting them into mixed-use projects that offer a place to live and a place to work — vibrant daytime and nighttime activities.

But to do that, they first have to ensure cooperation from the public and loosen zoning restrictions that allow for corporate or commercial use only. Only then can they hope to reverse the tide and keep these structures relevant.

“Information technology, globalization, and demographics have changed the very internal functions of office buildings, and their preferred locations,” the foundation wrote last summer to promote a forum on redeveloping suburban office parks. (Nurin/NJSpotlight) 





Inquiry Seeks Port Authority Records That Involve Christie Ally 

Federal prosecutors in New Jersey issued a subpoena last week to the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey seeking records relating to its chairman, David Samson, and contracts on two bridge projects worth $2.8 billion that he voted to award to construction companies with some ties to his law firm, according to people briefed on the matter.

The subpoena focused on Mr. Samson’s potential conflicts of interest. It was issued by the United States attorney’s office in New Jersey, which along with the Federal Bureau of Investigation is conducting a criminal inquiry into the lane closings at the George Washington Bridge and other suspected wrongdoing by current and former aides, appointees and associates of Gov. Chris Christie, the people said. They spoke on the condition of anonymity because the investigation is continuing.


The interest in Mr. Samson, a close political ally of Mr. Christie, represents a significant widening of the scandal that has grown out of the closing of two bridge access lanes in Fort Lee, N.J., in September. Emails between aides to Mr. Christie, a Republican, suggest the closings were politically motivated retribution against the Fort Lee mayor, Mark Sokolich, a Democrat, who had declined the Christie campaign’s entreaties to endorse him for re-election. (Rashbaum/The New York Times) 



Christie, Obamacare advocate clash 

Republican Gov. Chris Christie got into a testy exchange with an Affordable Care Act advocate at a town hall-style event in New Jersey on Tuesday, accusing her of misleading people about his position.

Christie gained his reputation as a colorful straight-talker largely through interactions with critics like these — but the potential White House hopeful has displayed that side less since a traffic scandal shook his administration earlier this year. 

Events like the one on Tuesday have helped him re-enter the spotlight in front of relatively friendly crowds, although this was the second consecutive gathering where hecklers interrupted Christie and were escorted out.

Christie called on the health law advocate, who identified herself as Maura Collinsgru of the New Jersey for Health Care Coalition and pressed the governor on why his administration wasn’t doing more to work with her organization on getting uninsured people in New Jersey “connected to coverage.”

“The Medicaid program has been expanded,” Christie told her during the extensive back-and-forth. “We’re spending more dollars today, both federal and state, on Medicaid than we did at the beginning of my administration so you’re simply wrong and to stand up here and to misinform people because you have an agenda is just simply incorrect.” (Titus/Politico)





NJ Democrat accuses Christie of ‘political intimidation’ at town hall

TRENTON — A top state Senate Democrat accused the Christie administration of using a “Nixonian tactic” when someone identified as a state trooper took pictures of protesters at a town hall in South River today.

Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg (D-Bergen) issued a statement in response to a PolitickerNJ report about a man who said he was a member of the State Police.

“Having undercover State police officers taking photos of people who are exercising their right of free expression at the Governor’s Town Hall meeting is a Nixonian tactic that has no place in New Jersey or anywhere else in this country ,” Weinberg said. “I can’t imagine what rationalization the Governor would have for allowing this to happen but it comes across as an act of political intimidation.”

Christie’s spokesman referred questions to the State Police who would not confirm or deny the report and had no response to Weinberg’s statement. (Portnoy/Star-Ledger) 





2014 NCAA Tournament: Cory Booker picks his bracket and the winner is…

When it comes to national championships in basketball, Cory Booker wants it to be known: He is something of an expert.

“I am the only elected official in America who has won a national championship game,” he said.

Come again?

“It was the British national championship game,” Booker said, delivering the punch line. “When I was at Oxford, we beat Cambridge in the final. I tell you, a girls’ jayvee team probably could have beaten us.

“But in England? I was Michael Jordan. I was a dominating force. I couldn’t give you an accurate number (for my scoring average), because it gets better each year.”

So in keeping with the long history of politicians filling out their NCAA Tournament brackets, the junior senator from New Jersey seemed like the perfect choice.

During Booker’s time as Newark mayor, he has rubbed elbows with Shaquille O’Neal, a Newark native. He expects that, once he gets settled in Washington, he’ll be invited to play in some of the high-powered pickup games.

But if President Obama invites him to play in a White House game, the answer will be a surprising “no thank you.”

“I play a very physical style of basketball,” he said. “I’m more of a Charles Barkley bruiser, and the thought of being tackled by the Secret Service is nothing something that inspires me.” (Politi/Star-Ledger) 




From the Back Room


The Fulop back story

The Jewish Standard did a piece this week on Jersey City Mayor Steve Fulop that contains the most detailed background exploration yet on the mayor and his family and their roots.

It’s worth reading and can be found here. (PolitickerNJ)

The Fulop Back Story | Politicker NJ




Human Trafficking story brings out The Beast 

The Daily Beast today tears into Gov. Chris Christie on the issue of human trafficking, asking if the then-U.S. Attorney went easy on a trafficker just to bust a small time politician.

Read the story here. (PolitickerNJ)

Human Trafficking story brings out The Beast | Politicker NJ



The New York Times on the Newark Mayor’s Race

New York Times columnist David Brooks was glimpsed over the weekend in Newark at a Shavar Jeffries campaign rally.

Today in his column, Brooks examines the Jeffries candidacy and the mayor’s race. (PolitickerNJ)

The New York Times on the Newark Mayor’s Race | Politicker NJ



Paynes to hold press conference on Newark mayoral race today

Sources have told that U.S. Rep. Donald M. Payne, Jr. (D-10) will hold an 11 a.m. press conference at the Robert Treat Hotel to discuss his family’s forthcoming role in the Newark mayoral race.

It is uncertain if Essex County deputy chief of staff and former state Assemblyman William D. Payne will be present, sources say. 

The former assemblyman, who is the congressman’s uncle, endorsed former state Assistant Attorney General Shavar Jeffries last month and agreed to serve as the Jeffries campaign co-chairperson. reported earlier this month that Congressman Payne, who replaced his father, Donald M. Payne Sr., in the Tenth Congressional District in 2012 following the longtime Congressman’s death, is seriously considering backing Jeffries in the Newark mayoral race.

A potential Payne family endorsement of Jeffries could shift the race’s momentum, which some political observers believe favor Jeffries’ rival in the campaign, South Ward Councilman Ras Baraka.  (Bonamo/PolitickerNJ)

Paynes to hold press conference on Newark mayoral race today | Politicker NJ



POLITICO: Stepien’s Landing Pad

Former Chris Christie Campaign Manager Bill Stepien has joined FLS Connect to help the phone banking and data giant connect with sales and strategy on its voter contact products, according to POLITICO.

Read the story here. (PolitickerNJ)

POLITICO: Stepien’s Landing Pad | Politicker NJ





NJ has the chance to provide better schools and jobs

New Jersey has the 38th-worst unemployment rate in the nation, and for construction workers the jobless rate is even worse. At the same time, thousands of school children, their teachers and other staff face serious health and safety hazards and poor learning conditions in buildings that may be more than a hundred years old.

Put these facts together and it becomes obvious that Gov. Chris Christie has a golden opportunity to put New Jersey’s building and construction trades­people to work modernizing our schools and making them safe, energy-efficient, productive learning environments.

In 2008, facing the worst unemployment in generations, the state Legislature authorized nearly $4 billion in funding for school construction and renovation. More than five years later, at least one-third of students in 31 school districts with the worst facilities attend school in buildings that “fail to meet basic health, safety and educational suitability standards,” according to an unpublished Department of Education report obtained after the Education Law Center made an Open Public Records Act request last December.

According to a Rutgers University study, urgently needed school construction projects would generate an average of 9,357 jobs each year, $2.5 billion in income and nearly $160 million in tax revenues to support essential local and state services in our communities.

The governor already approved 30 school construction projects in 2011 and 2012. Now, in 2014, his administration needs to see that construction begins. The shovel-ready Oliver Street School project in Newark alone would create an estimated 700 jobs. In addition, the state can act on more than 700 “emergent” repairs that have been identified by school districts. These are conditions that are “so potentially hazardous” that they cause “an imminent peril to the health and safety of students or staff.”

Putting trades­people to work on school construction and repairs will help ensure that students have access to 21st century technology. Reduced absenteeism rates will ensure more continuity for students, staff and parents. (Singelton and Grant/Star-Ledger Guest Columnist)   Morning Digest: March 19, 2014