Morning Digest: March 21, 2014

Avery and Walsh prevail for GOP freeholder support in Bergen County 

The Bergen County Republican Organization tapped Ridgewood Councilwoman Bernadette Walsh and Ridgefield attorney Robert Avery to run for two freeholder seats this year on the organization line.

In a three way contest at BCRO headquarters in downtown Hackensack tonight, the pair beat Dierdre Paul, an Englewood educator and author. (Pizarro/PolitickerNJ)

Avery and Walsh prevail for GOP freeholder support in Bergen County | Politicker NJ





Source: Majority to replace Watson Coleman on Bridgegate Investigative Committee

Speaker Vincent Prieto (D-32) reached into South Jersey to summon a replacement for Assemblywoman Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-15) on the Select Committee on Investigations.

His choice?

Assemblyman Paul Moriarty (D-4), a former reporter, according to a Democratic Party source.

Running for Congress in the 12th District, Watson Coleman left the committee after provoking questions about her objectivity as an investigator when, in an appearance on MSNBC, she said Gov. Chris Christie should resign. (Pizarro/PolitickerNJ)

Source: Moriarty to replace Watson Coleman on Bridgegate Investigative Committee | Politicker NJ





Cardinale wishes Lonegan would have challenged Pallone

HACKENSACK – As voting members of the Bergen County Republican Organization (BCRO) tried to pick two out of three candidates to represent the party in this year’s freeholder contests, a familiar figure stood at the front of the room and received outstretched hands.

It was state Sen. Gerry Cardinale (R-39), curious about the outcome of  Ridgewood Councilwoman Bernadette Walsh; versus Robert Avery, a Ridgefield lawyer, versus Dierdre Paul, an Englewood educator and author.

PolitickerNJ asked the veteran Cardinale about federal politics, and specifically the GOP’s failure to summon a clear-the-decks challenger to incumbent U.S. Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ), and the CD3 candidacy of Cardinale’s old Bergen nemesis Steve Lonegan, the former mayor of Bogota.

“It’s hard to get people to believe he’s not beatable,” Cardinale said of Booker. “If you had a name person who came in with a lot of money, maybe you could do something, but there’s too much starpower and Hollywood money with Booker. How do you overcome that?” (Pizarro/PolitickerNJ)

Cardinale wishes Lonegan would have challenged Pallone | Politicker NJ





NJ lawmakers introduce sweeping education reforms aimed at lowering college costs

A package of bills that would dramatically change everything from how college students pay for their meals and textbooks to how quickly tuition could rise was introduced Thursday by Democratic lawmakers who want to force the state’s colleges to graduate more students and keep costs in check.

But the 20-bill initiative faces several political and practical hurdles in a state that is home to the most expensive higher education in the nation.

The proposals include a four-year tuition freeze, a tax-credit for student loans and provisions to shut down schools with low-graduation rates. The concepts behind the bills — introduced in the Assembly on Thursday — have appeared elsewhere as states try to grapple with the national problem of escalating college costs, but the sweeping scope of the New Jersey package appears unique.

“The quantity of bills is unusual,” said Patrick M. Callan, president of the Higher Education Policy Institute, a non-profit group in Washington, D.C. “The public pressure for college affordability is really being felt by politicians at all levels.”

While federal initiatives have helped, the problem is largely one for the states to solve because more than three-quarters of college students attend public institutions, which are funded by states and counties, Callan said. (Alex/PolitickerNJ) 





New Jersey beach smoking ban proposal advances

ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. (AP) — Smoking would be banned at all public beaches and parks in New Jersey under a bill approved by the New Jersey Assembly on Thursday.

The 64-7 vote, with four abstentions, now sends the measure to the state Senate, where a vote has not yet been scheduled.

The bill is designed to eliminate exposure to secondhand smoke at beaches and parks, cut down on litter and improve fire safety in those public areas. Smoking would still be allowed in parking lots near beaches and parks.

“Tobacco is the leading cause of preventable disease and death in the state and the nation, and tobacco smoke constitutes a substantial health hazard to the nonsmoking majority of the public,” said Assemblywoman Valerie Vainieri-Huttle, a Bergen County Democrat. “The prohibition of smoking at public parks and beaches would better preserve the natural assets of this state by reducing litter and increasing fire safety in those areas, while lessening exposure to secondhand tobacco smoke among the public. This is the right thing to do.”

Violators could get a $250 fine for a first offense, $500 for a second offense and $1,000 for subsequent violations. (Associated Press) 





New Jersey Residents’ Ancestral Roots are All Over the Map 

Italian, Irish and German heritages account for over 40% of population, 20% are Hispanic or Asian, while 40% list background as ‘other’.

Data are from the US Census Bureau’s American Community Survey, averaged for the years 2008-2012. This shows the most common ancestry by municipality. People were able to answer with multiple ancestries, so the totals of all ancestries typically exceeds the number of residents.

Based on the number of parades and celebrations held in New Jersey leading up to St. Patrick’s Day, it may seem hard to believe that most New Jerseyans are not Irish.

In fact, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, only 15 percent of New Jerseyans, or 1.3 million, have any Irish ancestry.

Italians dominate in the state that has become well-known for the TV series “The Sopranos,” which chronicled the life and times of a fictional Italian mobster from New Jersey and his families, both real and in the Mafia. The Census estimates roughly 17 percent of New Jerseyans, or 1.5 million, are of Italian heritage.

Germans, who number more than 1 million, place third, and are the only other ancestry claimed by more than 1 in 10 state residents.

While large, those well-established groups pale in comparison to the ranks of the “others,” according to the Census estimates, drawn from its 2008-2012 American Community Survey data released last year. Four in 10 New Jersey residents, or more than 3.5 million, have some heritage other than the 100 or so specifically measured by the Census’ ACS. That’s due in large part to the way the bureau reports information on race and ethnicity.

The ACS counts some more obscure ancestries, include Zimbabwean (134 in New Jersey), Cajun (152) and Basque (190, specifically excluded from the category French, which also excludes French Canadian). (O’Dea/NJSpotlight) 





Chris Christie pressed on ‘Bridgegate’ at town hall

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie was asked directly about the “Bridgegate” scandal at a town hall-style event on Thursday for the first time since the traffic controversy was linked to his office earlier this year.

The question added to the growing number of tense moments at these trademark Christie events, where he has largely found refuge in friendly crowds following January’s revelations.

The Republican leader, a potential 2016 White House hopeful, called on a man in the audience who asked why he seemed to fire aide Bridget Anne Kelly for lying and not for her apparent involvement in the scandal itself. (Titus/Politico)   





Cory Booker: My dinner with Ted Cruz

Sen. Cory Booker said Thursday that when he met last week with Republican firebrand Sen. Ted Cruz for dinner, they had a “great intellectual discussion” and “no filibusters.”

The New Jersey Democrat said he’s trying to work with Republicans, even when finding common ground is difficult — including in restaurant selection.

“First of all, he’s a Texas meat-eating cowboy, I’m a Jersey boy, vegetarian, so choosing the restaurant alone,” Booker joked Thursday when asked about the meeting on “Good Day New York” on the local Fox affiliate.

Booker and the Texas Republican were spotted dining together at Capitol Hill restaurant Bistro Bis last week.

“We went to a place close to the Capitol and we sat, what was going to probably be an hour meeting, we sat for three hours,” Booker said. “He and I sat for three hours looking for common ground. We found some good areas that we agree on.” (Kopan/Politico)





Panel Proposes Change to New Jersey Bail System

Criminal defendants in New Jersey would be held or released based on the risk they pose, rather than merely their ability to pay, under major changes to the state’s bail system proposed by a panel led by the chief justice of New Jersey’s Supreme Court.

The panel, the Supreme Court Joint Committee on Criminal Justice, which includes judges, defense lawyers and prosecutors, also recommended that the Legislature pass a speedy-trial law, setting specific timelines for indictments and trials.

The state Constitution requires that bail be set for all defendants charged with crimes that are not capital offenses. Recommending the changes on Thursday, Chief Justice Stuart Rabner said that this presented problems “at both ends of the system”: people who pose little risk to public safety are held in jail because they cannot afford to pay even minimal bail, while even the most violent and dangerous defendants must be released if they make bail.

A recent study cited in the report from the committee found that 12 percent of people held in New Jersey’s county jails were there because they could not post bail of $2,500 or less. More than two-thirds of those 12 percent were minorities. Studies have shown that people who are held while awaiting trial are more likely to plead guilty, be convicted, and receive harsher prison sentences than defendants who are released pending trial.

The bail provisions recommended in the report would require a constitutional amendment to allow judges to order defendants held pending trial. And the committee also said that the changes should not be enacted unless the Legislature also establishes a system to monitor defendants who are released on conditions other than bail. (Zernike/The New York Times) 




New Jersey Employee Stole Almost Half-a-million Dollars… In Quarters

A Bergen County public works inspector who admitted to swiping about 1.8 million quarters—roughly 11.25 tons—over 25 months won’t go to prison, but he will begin paying back the stolen money

A public works inspector in New Jersey admitted Wednesday to stealing more than $460,000 in quarters over a span of 25 months.

Thomas Rica, 43, was arrested last year and fired for taking $500 in coins. A Bergen County investigation found that his coin collection was, in fact, much larger. He pleaded guilty Wednesday to four counts of third-degree theft from the village of Ridgewood, The Record newspaper reports.

Officials say Rica gained access to a room in the Village Hall with his master key, where he regularly took handfuls of coins, sometimes several times a week. Four separate times, he took more than $500, his lawyer Robert Galantucci, said at Wednesday’s hearing.

Rica deposited his illicit earnings at coin machines in multiple different bank branches, eluding authorities even though the coins he took over two years amounted to more than half of Ridgewood’s total annual collection from parking meters. (Rayman/Time) 





Chris Christie cites tourism data as evidence that ‘Stronger than the Storm’ worked

Gov. Chris Christie Thursday held up growth in tourism spending as proof a controversial ad campaign promoting the Jersey Shore after Hurricane Sandy worked.

But spending decreased last year in two of the four coastal counties that fuel roughly half of all tourism activity statewide.

More than 87 million visitors came to New Jersey last year, shelling out nearly $38.4 billion for hotels, restaurants and other items. That’s an increase of 1.3 percent from 2012, according to a study called “The Economic Impact of Tourism in New Jersey.” A broader measure of tourism activity, which includes spending on capital investment to build hotels and other attractions, bumps the statewide total up to $40.4 billion, compared with nearly $39.6 billion in 2012.

Citing the larger figure at a town hall in Flemington Thursday, Christie touted the “Stronger Than the Storm” campaign, which featured his family, as a success. (O’Neill/Star-Ledger) 






Bob Menendez is banned from Russia

Hopefully, U.S. Sen. Bob Menendez had no plans to summer in Moscow this year as he’s been banned from Russia.

Menendez was one of six federal lawmakers who along with a number of advisors to President Obama were banned from Russia in retaliation for U.S. economic sanctions imposed by the president.  The president announced the sanctions today over what he called the “illegitimate” annexation of Crimea by the Russians.

In addition to Menendez, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, House Speaker John Boehner and Sens. Mary Landrieu, Daniel Coats and John McCain were banned along with Obama advisors  Caroline Atkinson, Daniel Pfeiffer, and Benjamin Rhodes. (Isherwood/ 





From the Back Room


Goldberg gets another line

Running for the Republican nomination for U.S. Senate, businessman Brian Goldberg picked up another county organization endorsement tonight. 

He won Ocean County last night and this evening, Goldberg plucked the Cumberland County GOP line, according to Chairman Bob Grec

 Goldberg gets another line | Politicker NJ




Wanted (kind of): GOP candidate to take on Pascrell 

HACKENSACK – The Republicans thought they had just the right fit for a respectable kamikaze candidate in CD9. Attorney Michael Oren Epstein of Englewood looked ready and willing, and had even “talked it over with family.”

But he folded three days ago, leaving the part scrambling – but only in slow motion – for a replacement.

On the one hand, a commitrtee member explained to PolitickerNJ here in Bergen County Republican Organization (BCRO) HQ, it’s embarrassing to think of no one going up against U.S. Rep. Bill Pascrell (D-9).

Right now, that’s the situation. (PolitickerNJ)

Wanted (kind of): GOP candidate to take on Pascrell | Politicker NJ



SEIU backs Watson-Coleman in CD12

The Service Employees International Union (SEIU) New Jersey State Council, representing 40,000 service workers in the private and public sectors around the state, today announced its endorsement of Bonnie Watson Coleman for Congress in the 12th Congressional District.

“Bonnie Watson Coleman’s long and distinguished career in public service has consistently reflected and demonstrated her unapologetic advocacy on behalf of working and middle-class families, and for social and economic fairness,” said Milly Silva, Council President, and Executive Vice President of 1199SEIU.  “She understands the tough issues facing our state, and she will be a progressive, fearless and compassionate leader in Washington, D.C.”

“As a member of Congress, Bonnie Watson Coleman will hit the ground running given her longtime experience with Garden State concerns,” said Tim Foley, Council Secretary-Treasurer, and Political Director of CIR (Committee of Interns and Residents).  (PolitickerNJ)

SEIU backs Watson-Coleman in CD12 | Politicker NJ






The More you Earn, The Better Christie’s Property Tax Record Looks

Property taxes rise half as much under Christie as Corzine, but those making under $150,000 pay more under Christie once rebates are deducted

Gov. Chris Christie yesterday claimed victory in the battle against property taxes, touting a 1.3 percent statewide increase in 2013 as evidence that his programs are working. But Christie’s approach to property taxes has benefited wealthier New Jerseyans more than middle-income and working-class homeowners.

For families and individuals earning more than $150,000, Christie’s success in limiting average property tax increases to 9.7 percent during his first four-year term is a clear improvement over the 20.1 percent hike during his Democratic predecessor Jon Corzine’s four years in office.

But that’s not the case for homeowners making up to $75,000, senior citizens earning up to $150,000 and renters whose large Corzine-era property tax rebates were cut or eliminated by Christie. With the cuts in the rebates included, net property taxes for lower- and middle-income residents actually rose 20.3 percent under Christie compared to 14.1 percent in Corzine’s four years, a New Jersey Spotlight analysis of state Department of Community Affairs property tax tables shows.

Assessing the impact on property taxes of the 2 percent cap, the pension and health benefits overhaul, and limits on interest arbitration pushed through by Christie in partnership with state Senate President Stephen Sweeney (D-Gloucester) and other Democratic legislative leaders is critical to the ongoing debate over whether New Jersey needs to cut its highest-in-the-nation property taxes or simply continue to limit property tax growth: (Magyar/NJSpotlight)   Morning Digest: March 21, 2014