Morning Digest: March 24, 2014

CD12 Update: Greenstein wins the line in Middlesex County 

As expected, state Sen. Linda Greenstein (D-14) romped to victory this afternoon in her CD12 bid to win the Democratic Party line in her home county of Middlesex.

Of a total 194 ballots cast, Greenstein received 157 votes or 81%.

Assemblywoman Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-15) received 15 (7.7%), and Assemblyman Upendra Chivukula (D-17) got 14 (7.2%).

Princeton University Plasma Physicist Andrew Zwicker came in fourth with eight votes (4.1%).

This coming Wednesday, Watson Coleman will attempt to pick up 60% of her home county’s support to win the line in Mercer.

That same night, Chivukula will try to land the Somerset County line in his home county.

Watson Coleman already won the Union County line for the 12th District Primary. (Pizarro/PolitickerNJ)

CD12 Update: Greenstein wins the line in Middlesex County | Politicker NJ





Newark mayor’s race:  At North Ward endorsement rally, Jeffries campaign shows resurgence, defiance

NEWARK – Newark mayoral candidate Shavar Jeffries came to El Flamboyan Manor in Newark’s North Ward to accept the endorsements of state Senator Teresa Ruiz (D-29) and state Assemblywoman Eliana Pintor-Marin (D-29) on Saturday. Ruiz and Pintor-Marin are from the North and East Wards respectively, two wards where Jeffries is counting on a high level of support in the May municipal election. But in remarks to the more than 300 people in the crowd, Jeffries asked Newark voters to look to another ward before they go to the polls in 51 days. 

“We want the whole city to be strong and vibrant. But if you want to know what this city will look like if we don’t do what we need to do in this election, drive through the South Ward any time of the day,” said Jeffries, a South Ward resident, referring to the leadership of South Ward Councilman Ras Baraka, his main opponent in the Newark mayoral race. “I’ve got to call my wife when the sun goes down to make sure she’s OK, and we’ve got to tell our babies to go in the house. It’s a disgrace. And if we want this city to look like what it looks like in the South Ward, elect the person who presided over that for the last four years.”

Jeffries’ continued hammering of Baraka’s record in the South Ward, where Jeffries, the former state Assistant Attorney General, has pointed to a 70 percent increase in murders during Baraka’s time on the city council, was augmented by an air of increased confidence in the Jeffries campaign. 

Jeffries’ endorsement on Tuesday by U.S. Rep. Donald Payne Jr.(D-10) gave the mayoral candidate support from one of Newark’s most prominent political families and helps to deflect attacks from the Baraka campaign that try to paint Jeffries, a Newark native, as an outsider.  (Bonamo/PolitickerNJ)

Newark mayor’s race: At North Ward endorsement rally, Jeffries campaign shows resurgence, defiance | Politicker NJ





Ruiz, Pintor-Marin endorsing Jeffries in Newark mayor’s race

NEWARK – State Senator Teresa Ruiz (D-29) and state Assemblywoman Eliana Pintor-Marin (D-29) will endorse Newark mayoral candidate Shavar Jeffries at a North Ward rally tomorrow, according to the Jeffries campaign. 

The endorsement event, which will be held at the El Flamboyan Manor on Verona Avenue in Newark’s North Ward on Saturday, is part of the Jeffries campaign’s attempt to consolidate support in Newark’s North and East Wards going into the May municipal election. 

The two endorsing politicians represent two critical voting blocs needed by Jeffries, the former state Assistant Attorney General, in his campaign to defeat his main rival in the Newark mayoral race, South Ward Councilman Ras Baraka. (Bonamo/PolitickerNJ)

Ruiz, Pintor-Marin endorsing Jeffries in Newark mayor’s race | Politicker NJ




Proposed N.J. cap on college tuition faces stiff resistance

A bill to mandate a fixed-rate four-year tuition at the state’s colleges and universities would, if made into law, put New Jersey in the vanguard of states trying the tactic in an effort to hold down college costs.

But the measure — introduced as the “signature piece” of a 20-bill higher education reform package last week — is likely to face stiff opposition from the schools and critics who say there is no evidence that it will stem tuition in the long run.

“There’s reason to oppose any bill that caps tuition,” said Paul Shelly, spokesman for the New Jersey Association of State Colleges and Universities. “We’re already at 1990s levels of state funding and now you’re going to handicap the colleges from raising the money they need?”

There are different variations of fixed-rate tuition plans around the country. Rates can be locked in for four, five or even six years. Some colleges just fix tuition and not fees, while others include housing. Some schools charge more for the fixed-rate plan at the outset, with families hedging against future tuition increases.

The trend is still small, with less than 7 percent of the nation’s colleges and universities offering fixed-rate plans last year, according to the National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators. But the numbers are growing. The legislatures in Illinois and Texas have both approved bills requiring that public colleges offer a fixed-rate plan. (Alex/The Record) 





Rally on Rutgers campus seeks to drum up support for conservation bill

PISCATAWAY — With the coffers of the state’s open-space program depleted, environmentalists, state legislators and town officials convened Saturday to discuss ways to restore funds for the protection of undeveloped land.

Organized by the New Jersey Conservation Foundation and other partners, the 18th annual Land Conservation Rally at Rutgers University’s Busch campus zeroed in on ways to preserve open space, farmland and historic properties.

“With New Jersey expected to reach its full build-out by midcentury, the next decades are critical to meeting our preservation goals and will determine the landscape face for years to come,” said Tom Gilbert, chairman of NJ Keep It Green, a coalition of 185 conservation, agriculture and historic-preservation groups.

In the past 50 years, about 670,000 acres of open space has been preserved and in the last 30 years more than 200,000 acres of farmland have been set aside, Gilbert said. Yet there are another 650,000 acres of priority open space and 400,000 acres of farmland that need to be saved, he told the crowd.

The last funding infusion for state preservation programs was a $400 million bond approved in 2009 that has since been spent. (Sudol/The Record) 





Bill Would Put Undocumented Residents on Road to Driving Privileges

Advocates cite improved safety, access to work; opponents complain that it encourages illegal residency. 

Legislation that would extend New Jersey driving privileges to the state’s estimated half-million undocumented immigrants has once again been introduced by lawmakers, though the bill’s final shape and when it might be considered remain up in the air.

The legislation –- A-2135 and S-1696 — would create a driving privilege card that could be used only for driving and not for other purposes, such as government identification. To qualify for the card, which would be valid for four years, potential drivers would have to prove both identity and residency, pass a written driver’s test similar to the exam required for other New Jersey drivers, and then pass a road test. (Kalet/NJSpotlight) 





Bayshore Pursues Recovery Plan After Missing Out on Bulk of Federal Funding

Four towns in Cumberland County are putting together and acting on a Sandy-recovery initiative of their own.

Four townships along Cumberland County’s Delaware Bayshore are setting out their own plan to recover from Sandy and defend against future rises in sea level. The initiative comes after these four — along with the rest of the county — missed out on much of the federal funding that is helping nine other New Jersey counties to rebuild.

The Cumberland County Delaware Bayshore Recovery Plan is seeking around $170 million from federal, state, and local sources for projects such as rebuilding dunes and beaches, purchasing emergency generators, dredging silted-up creeks, elevating flood-prone roads, and reviving tourism in an area that was economically depressed even before Sandy struck.

The plan, whose most recent version was published in late February, is a wide-ranging effort to repair and improve the defenses of a community that sees its failure to qualify for the main tranche of recovery funding as the latest example of neglect by state and federal authorities. (Hurdle/NJSpotlight) 




New Jersey Chief Justice Could Fall Victim To Political Tides

TRENTON — Stuart Rabner rose from the ranks of federal prosecutor to New Jersey’s chief justice with accolades from his former boss, Chris Christie.

As U.S. attorney for New Jersey, Christie recommended Rabner to Democratic Gov. Jon S. Corzine, who recruited Rabner in 2005 as his chief counsel. Within 18 months, Corzine had nominated Rabner to the Supreme Court.

Calling Rabner “a fabulous choice,” Christie said: “There is not a job in the law that Stu Rabner could not do well.”

As chief justice, Rabner has earned respect for his scholarly opinions and efficient administration of the court system. Lawyers and former judges praise the soft-spoken, Ivy League-educated jurist as intelligent, fair, and principled.

But shifting political fortunes may jeopardize his position. (Hanna/Huffington Post) 





In New Jersey, rising flood insurance rates not just an issue at the shore

BURLINGTON CITY — If flooding were a real concern for Taylor Rambo, he said he wouldn’t have built a bar in his basement.

Yet he pays about $2,700 each year for flood insurance he is required to have as part of his mortgage, and the amount is likely to rise quickly as the federal government raises premiums paid by home and business owners through the subsidized National Flood Insurance Program.

“It worries me a lot because it makes my escrow go up and I can’t afford it,” said Rambo, who said he hasn’t had any water in his basement in the 17 years he’s owned his house in Burlington City, a blue-collar town between Philadelphia and Trenton and about 45 miles from the New Jersey shore, where flooding has become a high-profile and expensive problem. 

More than 1,000 property owners in Burlington City, which is situated along the Delaware River, paid $1.5 million in premiums subsidized by the program last year. In the 40 years the community has been part of the program, residents have received payouts of only about $500,000.

That’s a sharp contrast with several towns on the shore — including Toms River, Union Beach and Sea Bright — where the historic payouts have been 50 times the premiums collected there each year. (Associated Press/Press of Atlantic City)




Protestors keep heat on Christie over bridge scandal

TRENTON — After protesters had interrupted his previous town hall meeting, Gov. Chris Christie was ready for the dozen or so who showed up last week in South River.

“Well, congratulations,” Christie told the town hall crowd. “You have now seen the latest gift given to you by the public sector unions in the state of New Jersey.”

Since January, when the George Washington Bridge scandal brought crisis to the high-flying Christie and his poll numbers began to plummet, a coalition of labor unions, liberal interest groups and college students have sprung into action and have followed the governor virtually everywhere he’s gone in New Jersey.

They’ve stood outside town halls with placards, and infiltrated the events — long a target of critics who have called them thinly veiled political rallies aimed more at helping Christie’s career than answering constituents’ questions.

They’ve protested at the George Washington Bridge and filed an ethics complaint against Christie confidant David Samson, the chairman of the Port Authority.

While the group of protesters is diverse, public sector unions — who have long fought with Christie — have played a key role in organizing them, keeping the bridge scandal in the news as the governor works to put it behind him. (Friedman/Star-Ledger) 





Water board’s 4-year silence under Christie ‘pretty scary’ former chairman says

TRENTON — No one ever accused the state Drinking Water Quality Institute — a panel of scientists who help set safety standards for tap water — of being the sexiest sliver of government in New Jersey.

But the board’s influence over the last three decades has been undeniable, with the panel establishing some crucial rules that limit chemical levels in the water.

After the administration of President George W. Bush considered increasing the amount of arsenic allowed in drinking water, for instance, the board went in the opposite direction, successfully proposing that New Jersey’s levels for the toxic element be cut in half.

It’s that record that has left some environmentalists flummoxed that the institute has not met in four years, though it is poised to reconvene in April or May for the first tine since Gov. Chris Christie’s third month in office.

“It’s shameful that, for four years, they haven’t met, because this delay can actually impact people and people’s health,” Jeff Tittel, the state director of the Sierra Club, said. (Hutchins/Star-Ledger) 




From the Back Room


Pezzullo gets the line for U.S. Senate in Monmouth; Sabin wins Middlesex

In Monmouth County, where two freeholder seats are up this year, Republican incumbent Lillian Burry survived a tough challenge by just 28 votes against Howell Councilman Bob Walsh at today’s county party convention.

Freeholder Gary Rich received 294 votes, Burry 227 and Walsh 199, giving Burry and Rich the nominations.

At their own convo, Democrats nominated Joe Grillo of Asbury Park, a principal at Ideal Tile Franchises and Larry Luttrell, a Holmdel based attorney.

For US Senate, Republicans held two ballots to get a winner. Home county resident Rich Pezzullo of Freehold won. The first ballot was Pezullo 164, Murray Sabrin 105, Brian Goldberg 72 and Robert Tukevage 44. The second ballot was Pezullo 153, Sabrin 101.

Monmouth based Assemblyman Declan O’Scanlon had strongly backed Pezzullo.

Republican Congressman Chris Smith was voted by the Republicans by acclimation and Old Bridge attorney Anthony Wilkinson by acclimation to run against Democratic Congressman Frank Pallone. Democrats nominated attorney Ruben Scholvanio, a former New York City prosecutor, to challenge Smith and nominated incumbent Senator Cory Booker by a acclimation for a full-term.  (PolitickerNJ)

Pezzullo gets the line for U.S. Senate in Monmouth; Sabrin wins in Middlesex | Politicker NJ





SEIU New Jersey State Council backs Baraka in Newark mayor’s race

The Service Employees International Union (SEIU) New Jersey State Council, representing 40,000 service workers in the private and public sectors around the state, endorsed Newark mayoral candidate Ras Baraka on Thursday. 

“Ras Baraka’s record on key issues affecting our working families in Newark clearly demonstrates that as mayor he will continue to provide the type of leadership that is needed more than ever, and the SEIU New Jersey State Council proudly endorses him,” said Milly Silva, Council President, and Executive Vice President of 1199 SEIU.  

“We proudly support Ras Baraka for mayor because he backs his words with actions when it comes to the quality of life and economic issues that Newark’s residents and our workers are facing daily,” said Wilfredo Larancuent, Council Trustee, and Co-Manager of the Laundry, Distribution and Food Service Joint Board, Workers United. (Bonamo/PolitickerNJ)

SEIU New Jersey State Council backs Baraka in Newark mayor’s race | Politicker NJ






Christie’s campaign treasurer goes to bat for underfunded agency

TRENTON — It’s no secret that the Election Law Enforcement Commission — the state’s campaign finance watchdog — isn’t particularly well-financed.

While commission officials have been calling for more money for years, the situation really hit home this year when users trying to download campaign finance information found messages about difficulties because of its outdated computer system.

The Bergen County freeholders and county executive called for better financing in a resolution earlier this month. Now, Gov. Chris Christie’s own campaign treasurer is going to bat for the agency.

“ELEC obviously has a few budget issues, and it’s most prevalent of course when you go on your website and you see the little notice about some of the repairs and how old the system is,” saidRon Gravino, who is the campaign treasurer for a number of Republicans, including Christie. “You really haven’t had any budget money there and I’m hoping this year, whoever puts this budget together can come up with something to make the users able to get into it.”

Gravino said information was “not as readily available as it used to be” on the commission website, “but it needs to be.”

Christie’s proposed budget this year includes a slight bump in financing for the commission, whose funding was flat in the previous two budgets. The agency would get $4.325 million, $71,000 more than the $4.254 million it got in the previous budget. (The Auditor/Star-Ledger)   Morning Digest: March 24, 2014