Morning Digest: March 25, 2014

Sources: Multiple Freeholder changes in Essex County  

NEWARK – Big changes in Essex County tonight, according to sources emerging from the backrooms of Democratic Party power.

Veteran incumbent freeholders Carol Clark of East Orange, Blonnie Watson of Newark and L. Bilal Beasley of Irvington?


They won’t be on the party line in June.

“This is about Leroy putting his imprint on the county,” said a party source, referring to new Party Chairman Leroy Jones and changes resulting in four new freeholder candidates. (Pizarro/PolitickerNJ)

Sources: Multiple freeholder changes in Essex County | Politicker NJ





Sources: The Return of Dana Ron

NEWARK – Dumped out of her Central Ward City Council chair in 2008, Dana Rone is back.

She will have the line in Essex County as the Democratic Party’s candidate for register, sources tell PolitickerNJ.

That’s the position left vacant by the late Essex County Democratic Chairman Phil Thigpen, who died last year.

The move by Essex Democrats presumably props up part of the battleground Central Ward in favor of County-backed Newark mayoral candidate Shavar Jeffries.

Rone’s return shocked fellow Democrats.

A judge in 2008 ruled that video tape evidence made it difficult not to jettison Rone from office, following review of a Dec. 20, 2006 traffic incident, when the then-councilwoman attempted to intervene on behalf of her nephew during a trafic stop.

Stripped of her office, Rone left a council seat that Councilman Charles Bell assumed after winning a contentious special 2008 election. (Pizarro/PolitickerNJ)

Sources: The Return of Dana Rone | Politicker NJ





Bergen County Exec’s race: Attempt to add two freeholders to county police mrger lawsuits fans family ties flmaes

HACKENSACK – The ongoing legal battle related to the proposed merger of the Bergen County Police Department and the county’s Sheriff’s Office took another twist last week when County Executive Kathleen Donovan, the Republican incumbent seeking re-election in November, attempted to add an ethics complaint against two Democratic freeholders into the police merger lawsuit. 

Donovan has struggled with the freeholder board over plans to merge the Bergen County Police Department and the county Sheriff’s Office. Donovan is opposed to the plan, while the majority of the freeholder board, now controlled by the Democrats by a 5-2 veto-proof margin, supports the move. The final decision depends on the outcome of ongoing legal battles related to the merger proposal. 

As part of this wider struggle, Donovan has called on two Democratic freeholders, Steve Tanelli and David Ganz, whose son and daughter respectively are employed by the Sherriff”s Office, to recuse themselves from law enforcement issues. 

Tanelli, whose son Dan is an investigator with the crime scene unit, and Ganz, whose daughter Pam works a a clerk for the sheriff, declined to do so. (Bonamo/PolitickerNJ)

Bergen County Exec’s race: Attempt to add two freeholders to county police merger lawsuit fans family ties flames | Politicker NJ





GWB scandal: Top Dem questions Christie lawyers’ internal probe that clears governor

The team of lawyers Governor Christie hired to handle his administration’s probe of the September lane closures at the George Washington Bridge is going to clear him of any direct involvement, a newspaper reported Monday, drawing immediate praise from the governor’s office and new skepticism from lawmakers conducting their own investigation.

A story published in The New York Times and quoting the New York-based attorney leading the probe Christie launched in January is the first hint of evidence to back Christie’s claims that he played no role in the lane-closure plot carried out by a top aide and his appointees at the Port Authority.

The story, which included comments from the governor’s communications director, came during a lull in the scandal that threatens Christie’s 2016 presidential ambitions.

State lawmakers are awaiting a judge’s ruling on whether three key Christie allies will have to comply with the subpoenas their investigative committee issued several weeks ago. Federal investigators, meanwhile, are conducting their own probe, which has involved subpoenas sent to Christie’s office in Trenton.

Critics have faulted Christie’s internal review, saying it was being headed by an attorney with deep ties to the governor’s mentor, Rudy Giuliani, and to the Port Authority itself. And, according to a source, one of the lawyers interviewing Christie’s staff for this review had earned a contract from Christie when Christie was U.S. attorney, and her daughter served as an intern in the governor’s office. (Retimeyer and Boburg/The Record)





NJ lawmaker introducing bill to legalize marijuana

Adults in New Jersey would be able to buy up to an ounce of marijuana and grow their own plants all while the state takes its cut in taxes.

That’s the plan from a Democratic lawmaker who announced the details Monday.

Sen. Nicholas Scutari, D-Union, also said too many people were carrying around criminal convictions that carried permanent consequences because of petty marijuana laws.

The bill he introduced Monday would legalize marijuana possession and use for those who are at least 21 years old. If it does become lawn, and there is strong opposition to it from Governor Christie, New Jersey would be the first on the east coast and third state in the country to legalize the substance.

Individuals would be able to carry around less than an ounce of the substance, which would be distributed by legitimate businesses and taxed at a 7 percent rate. Taxes would go to road repairs, a drug enforcement fund and women’s health.

Christie has said he is against legalization. Currently, a limited number of strictly regulated medical marijuana distributors are operated in the state.

“It would bring marijuana out of the underground market,” Scutari said. “Just as alcohol has been for decades.” (Phillis/The Record)






Report: Chris Christie’s Bridgegate probe clears gov

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie’s review of “Bridgegate” has found that he was not involved in the controversial George Washington Bridge lane closures in September that have plagued his administration, according to a report. 

Citing those with “firsthand knowledge of the inquiry,” The New York Times reported that while the investigation cleared Christie of any role in the closures, it is not known whether the review established if the governor “created or condoned a culture that fostered political intimidation.” 

The paper reported that the probe was commissioned by Christie, who selected a legal team from the firm of Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher. The story notes the firm “has close ties” to the Christie administration. 

The lawyer leading the review, Randy M. Mastro, dismissed any speculation of sugarcoating and said the review will lay out a timeline of events as well as communications leading up to the closures. (McCalmont/Politico)





Gov. Christie Retroactivity Cuts State Pension Payment

Governor’s fiscal maneuver helps plug current budget gap, but putting $900 million less into pensions over next four years will make unfunded liability worse.

Facing another year of fiscal problems, Gov. Chris Christie unilaterally changed the funding formula for the state’s pension contribution so that he could cancel $93.7 million in previously budgeted pension payments due in June, cut next year’s pension bill by $150 million, and put $900 million less into the underfunded pension system by the end of his term.

Christie’s decision to change the pension calculation formula will further add to New Jersey’s $47 billion unfunded pension liability — which was one of the main reasons Fitch’s Ratings cited last Friday when it followed Moody’s and Standard & Poor’s in downgrading the state’s credit outlook from “stable” to “negative.” Over a 30-year period, Christie’s formula change would swell the state’s unfunded pension liability by 10 percent, actuaries for the state’s pension funds reported.

Christie complained during his annual Budget Message on February 25 that the rising costs of pensions, retiree health benefits, and debt service were crowding out other budget priorities. The governor threatened to take unilateral action unless the Democratic-controlled Legislature took further steps to reduce the state’s retiree liabilities, presumably by requiring public employees to pay more toward their pensions. (Magyar/NJSpotlight) 





Federal Health Chief Makes Last-Minute Insurance Push in New Jersey

Sebelius emphasizes low cost of subsidized marketplace plans, ACA consumer protections. 

With about a week left to sign up for health insurance for 2014 — the first year of the individual mandate under the Affordable Care Act — U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius visited New Jersey yesterday to grab the attention of the largest media market and get as many people in the state enrolled as possible.

New Jersey has the 10th largest uninsured population in the country.

At a press conference at Montclair State University, Sebelius pushed back against a reporter’s question citing criticisms of the ACA, and emphasized that many people are purchasing health insurance for the first time and benefiting from the law’s consumer protections.

“We’re urging people to take advantage of the last eight days,” Sebelius said, referring to the March 31 end of the open enrollment period. (Kitchenman/NJSpotlight) 





New Jersey Tourism Revenue Climbs to Record $40 Billion

New Jersey’s tourism business rose 1.3 percent to a record $40.4 billion in 2013 as visitors chose northern attractions over shore areas damaged by Hurricane Sandy.

Revenue in Ocean and Atlantic counties, the state’s two biggest tourism markets, dropped 2.3 percent and 3.2 percent, respectively, according to a report by Tourism Economics of Wayne, Pennsylvania. Spending was less because of a 5.9 percent decline in casino win at Atlantic City resorts and widespread damage to coastal homes that are rented to vacationers.

The state drew a record 87.2 million visitors, or 5.5 percent more than in 2012. Republican Governor Chris Christie, 51, used $25 million in federal Sandy relief funds for a “Stronger Than the Storm” tourism campaign in which he and his family encouraged visitors to return after the October 2012 hurricane. Spending on the spots, shown as Christie was running for re-election, are the subject of a review by the inspector general for the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

Morris County, about 25 miles (40 kilometers) west of New York City, led tourism growth, with a 6.9 percent sales increase over 2012. The area is home to Revolutionary War sites and also draws visitors to its parks, lakes and bed and breakfasts. Sussex, Hudson, Union, Middlesex and Somerset counties also saw more tourists.

Visitors to New Jersey will increase this year to more than 89 million as the recovery continues, Tourism Economics predicted. (Young/Bloomberg) 




New Jersey gaming regulators aim to go global  

A plan to let New Jersey casino regulators oversee foreign Internet gambling companies if they shift their operations to Atlantic City moved closer to approval on Monday.

The state Senate Government, Wagering, Tourism and Historic Preservation Committee approved the bill, which was sponsored by state Sen. Raymond Lesniak, D-Union. He says many overseas gambling companies want the stamp of approval that would come from submitting to New Jersey’s casino regulators, who are reputed to be among the strictest in the nation.

“This could help make New Jersey the leader in online gaming, across the country and around the world,” Lesniak said. “We could be the ‘Silicon Valley’ for high-tech gaming. We should take advantage of this dynamic opportunity for a business sector with enormous growth potential.”

The foreign firms would not be able to take bets from anyone in the United States.

They would pay the same 15 percent tax that New Jersey’s casinos do on Internet revenue.

But lawmakers dropped a provision in the original bill requiring the companies to contribute to a fund to raise $20 million a year for three years to help New Jersey’s struggling horse racing industry. (Las Vegas Review-Journal) 





NJ ranked 5th most expensive state in U.S. for renters, report shows

TRENTON — New Jersey once again had one of the nation’s most expensive average rents for a two-bedroom apartment — a problem made worse by the lingering effects of Hurricane Sandy, according to a study released Monday.

The report, released annually by the National Low Income Housing Coalition, shows a family must earn $51,838 a year to afford the average fair-market rental rate of $1,296 for a two-bedroom apartment in New Jersey, including utilities. The fair-market rate means a renter does not spend more than 30 percent of their income on housing.

That ranked New Jersey fifth-most expensive in the nation in the survey of the 50 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico. The report has ranked New Jersey fourth or fifth every year since 2008.

“Every resident in this state should have access to a safe, decent home they can afford,” said Staci Berger, president and CEO of the Housing Community Development Network of New Jersey, which helped work on the report. “New Jersey’s economy will not thrive if people cannot afford to live here.”

More than 1 million households — one out of every three in New Jersey — are renters, according to the “Out of Reach” report. (Johnson/Star-Ledger) 






Lesniak bill would kick Samson, other Christie appointees out of Port Authority

TRENTON — A leading Democratic lawmaker introduced legislation today calling for the removal of three of Gov. Chris Christie’s top appointees at the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, where a scandal over lane closings at the George Washington Bridge has shaken the Christie administration.

David Samson, chairman of the Port Authority and a former New Jersey attorney general, is reportedly the subject of an investigation by the U.S. Attorney for New Jersey, Paul Fishman, in the wake of newspaper articles that said Samson’s West Orange law firm, Wolff & Samson, has profited from his position at the authority.

The bill, proposed by state Sen. Raymond Lesniak (D-Union), would replace the authority chairman, Samson, and Commissioners Pat Schuber and Richard Bagger with what he termed public-interest appointees to be chosen by advocacy groups, according to a statement.

“The abuse of this multi-billion dollar public agency can only be prevented in the future by having public interest members overseeing the Authority’s decision making who are not tied to either the governor or the state Senate,” Lesniak said in a statement. “While political considerations were part of the process under previous Democratic and Republican governors, Chris Christie made the Port Authority a wholly owned subsidiary of his re-election campaign.” (Hutchins/Star-Ledger) 





From the Back Room


Menendez on the Ukraine

U.S. Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ), Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, delivered the below statement, as prepared for delivery, on the Senate floor regarding the Support for the Sovereignty, Integrity, Democracy, and Economic Stability of Ukraine Act of 2014. 

“M. President, last week some of my colleagues in this Chamber were sanctioned by Vladimir Putin, for standing up for the Ukrainian people, for standing up for freedom, for standing up for democracy, and for standing up for the sovereignty of Ukraine.

“As I said in Brussels, at the German Marshall Fund this weekend — if I’ve been sanctioned for those reasons, then I say, by all means, Mr. Putin, sanction me. And I would urge all of my colleagues to be supportive of the legislation – they may be sanctioned, at the end of the day, but that’s really what standing up for the Ukraine is all about at this critical moment and what it means beyond. (PolitickerNJ)

Menendez on the Ukraine | Politicker NJ




Senate judiciary moves on Christie nominations

TRENTON – If at first you don’t succeed…

The Senate Judiciary Committee signed off on Gov. Chris Christie’s tax court judge nomination Monday following little discussion.

Kathi Fiamingo, who is soon to be the former mayor of Kenilworth, cleared the committee with ease as part of nearly a half dozen gubernatorial appointments voted on by the committee. Fiamingo was previously nominated to serve as a Superior Court judge but had her nomination held up along with other stalled judicial nominations.

Fiamingo is the sister of outspoken gun rights advocate Frank Fiamingo.

Frank Fiamingo, the president of the New Jersey Second Amendment Society, has been a critic of Democratic lawmakers spearheading gun reform legislation in the Garden State.

The committee also approved Joan Bedrin Murray to be an administrative law judge, Sarah Crowley to be an administrative law judge, Michael Luther to be a workers’ compensation judge and Dawn Shanahan to be a workers’ compensation judge. (Arco/PolitickerNJ)

Senate judiciary moves on Christie nominations | Politicker NJ





Spring Lee wants Newark to ‘Do the Right Thing’

Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed, filmmaker Spike Lee, and dancer Savion Glover are scheduled as special guests at a fundraiser this Wednesday for Newark mayoral candidate Ras Baraka.

The fundraiser will be held 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. and a V.I.P reception for 5:30 to 6:30 at the Robert Treat Hotel, 50 Park Place, Newark.

The Host Committee includes senator (and former Governor) Richard Codey (D-27), Senator Ron Rice (D-28), Assemblyman Tom Giblin (D-34), Assemblywoman Cleopatra Tucker (D-28), Mayor Ken Gibson, Mayor Sharpe James, Council President Mildred Crump, Councilman-at-Large John Sharpe James and Councilman Ron Rice, Jr. (PolitickerNJ)

Spike Lee wants Newark to ‘Do the Right Thing’ | Politicker NJ





NJ to Veterans: go find work somewhere else

New Jersey’s veterans had an unemployment rate of 10.8 percent in 2013, the highest of all 50 states, according to new data released last week by the U.S. Department of Labor. (

New Jersey’s 10.8 percent veterans’ unemployment rate is a significant increase from 2012’s rate of 10 percent and far higher than the national rate of 6.6 percent, and much higher than the rates in neighboring states like Pennsylvania (7.7 percent) and New York (8.2 percent). It is also a much higher rate than New Jersey’s 2013 unemployment rate for non-veterans (7.8 percent).

“New Jersey is in the unenviable position of adding another ‘first in the nation’ milestone: first in foreclosures, first in its percentage of jobless out of work for more than six months, and, now, first in the rate of unemployed veterans,” said Gordon MacInnes, president of New Jersey Policy Perspective. “This should be enough to halt the administration’s boastful claims that its singular focus on tax cuts and incentives for large corporations is working for the rest of us.” (PolitickerNJ)

NJ to veterans: go find work somewhere else | Politicker NJ







McGreevey: Addicts need treatment more than jail

We are now in the season of Lent, a time of penance, self-reflection and sacrifice. Days before the Paschal Triduum, Jewish neighbors will be commemorating Passover, narrating the commencing of the “exodus” from Pharaoh’s slavery to the Promised Land.

In sacred myths, we listen to the hero’s journey: leaving home, wandering in the wilderness, and the acquisition and sharing of wisdom. The hero, the sacred warrior, the mortal traveler, whether Odysseus or Luke Skywalker, understands that life is replete with suffering in our journey toward enlightenment.

Joseph Campbell suggests each of us travels the hero’s journey. And, he adds where we trip, so our treasure lies. That was true for King, Heschel and Mother Theresa; it’s true for the addicts, alcoholics and felons with whom I work the Hudson County jail.

St. Thomas Aquinas recognized that we all worship a god; we all have a general ordering direction, which shapes our lives. Be it money, power, drugs, sex or God, we all ascribe to a platform of values, which informs our behavior. The question is who is our god, God? Our values principally determine the range of actions, which we employ in any given situation. Triggering our actions are typically emotional responses, good or bad, to stimuli of our day.

The reality is that human beings all pretty much operate this way, whether Pope Francis or, in sharp contrast, me. It’s no different for the addict except for the added perversion of the chemicals to the decision-making equation. For the addict and the 70 percent of criminals who are addicts, running, gunning and doping have replaced any assemblage of normalcy, healthy decisions and righteous living.

As opposed to addressing addiction, unfortunately, our reaction as a government has been to prosecute, imprison and mark people with the stain of a felony conviction for the entirety of one’s life. We need to understand a cardinal rule: People largely come to drugs through one of two ways — replicating the behavior in their community or through “legal, prescription” drugs. Either path results in roughly the same two ends: prison or death.

My frustration is the enormity of this wasteful cycle. The fault lies with us, government and citizenry. Yet, assigning blame does little, if anything. Ask the mothers who provided testimony to the governor’s substance abuse task force as to the status quo. (McGreevey/Star-Ledger Guest Columnist)  

Morning Digest: March 25, 2014