Morning Digest: March 28, 2014

Internal report clears Christie, implicates Wildstein and Kelly as prime culprits  

closure controversy concludes Gov. Chris Christie “knew nothing about” the September incident ahead of its implementation.

The report paints a picture of Christie appointees and staffers who have already been identified at the center of the controversy having acted alone despite being unable to detail any possible motives for the lane closures.

The review suggests former top Christie staffer Bridget Kelly and former Port Authority executive David Wildstein were the prime culprits in the lane closure scandal that’s engulfed the Christie administration.

The Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher LLP report, which was requested by Christie’s office and reportedly cost taxpayers at least $1 million in legal fees, indicates both Wildstein and Kelly made others aware of the incident – primarily former two-time Christie campaign manager Bill Stepien (which the report notes he and Kelly “became personally involved” together for a short period) and Bill Baroni, Christie’s top appointee to the Port Authority.

The report lacks a motvie for the closing, but nonetheless indicates Wildstein and Kelly were the prime “participants in this act.” (Arco/PolitickerNJ)

Internal report clears Christie, implicates Wildstein and Kelly as prime culprits | Politicker NJ





Turkavage gets GOP support in Hunterdon

Seeking the Republican nomination for U.S. Senate, former FBI agent Robert Turkavage tonight won the line in Hunterdon County.

His win further chopped up the primary field among five competitors vying to go up against U.S. Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) in the general election.

Essex businessman Brian Goldberg has the lines in Ocean, Essex, Atlantic, Mercer, Cumberland, Passaic and Somerset.

Monmouth businessman Rich Pezzullo has the line in Union and Monmouth.

Bergen Finance Professor Murray Sabrin has the line in Middlesex. (Pizarro/PolitickerNJ)

Turkavage gets GOP support in Hunterdon | Politicker NJ





Crowd calls for Cami Anderson’s removal as Newark school super at Statehouse rally

TRENTON – More than 200 people converged on the Statehouse steps on a chilly Thursday afternoon, warmed by mutual disdain for an official who has become the central polarizing figure in the debate over the future of both Newark’s schools and the city’s politics: Newark School Superintendent Cami Anderson. 

Anderson was appointed to head the state-run Newark school district, New Jersey’s largest, by Gov. Chris Christie in 2011. The governor publicly stated in September 2013 that he plans to reappoint her, and that he did not care about community criticism.

The One Newark school reorganization plan, announced by Anderson in December, includes the expansion of charter schools, which already serve approximately 20 percent of the city’s students, as well as the closure or consolidation of certain public schools.

Anderson has also proposed to lay off approximately 1,000 Newark public school teachers over the next few years, which she wants tied to teacher effectiveness as well as seniority. 

The timing of the introduction of the One Newark plan, which came just at the start of the 2014 Newark mayoral campaign season, has poured gasoline on Newark’s already fiery politics, in a city where politics and education issues often go hand in boxing glove. (Bonamo/PolitickerNJ)

Crowd calls for Cami Anderson’s removal as Newark school super at Statehouse rally | Politicker NJ





Weinberg: GWB report by Christie administration lawyer leaves more questions

Democrats investigating the George Washington Bridge controversy are panning today’s report released by a lawyer hired by the Christie administration.

It fails to settle the major questions surrounding the September lane closures at the bridge, the lawmakers said, and it does not contain information from all the key people involved.

“The big question of motive has not been answered. As a matter of fact, more questions have been raised,” said state Sen. Loretta Weinberg, D-Teaneck, one of two co-chairs of the joint legislative committee investigating the lane closures.

Assemblyman John Wisniewski, D-Middlesex, the other co-chair, said the report is incomplete because several important figures were not interviewed; several are asserting their Fifth Amendment rights against self-incrimination, and others declined to speak to the lawyer hired by Christie. (Linhorst/The Record) 





Christie vetoes bill that would have loosened limits on police, firefighter raises

Governor Christie vetoed a bill that would have loosened limits on how much local police and firefighters can be given in annual raises Thursday, setting up a yet to be scheduled final vote in the Assembly.

In 2010, a 2 percent limit on tax levy increases was passed. Beginning in 2011, local police and fire unions were also limited to 2 percent raises when they entered into the state’s binding arbitration process – a mechanism that occurs when the union and towns can not agree on a contract. This limit was put in place so government services wouldn’t have to be cut for towns to comply with the 2 percent tax cap.

The current arbitration limit will expire on April 1 and the legislature has been scrambling to extend it in some form – Republicans want a permanent hard cap while Democrats proposed a bill with some exceptions.

Today, both the Assembly and Senate approved the Democrats’ plan before it was conditionally vetoed by Governor Christie. This plan would have increased raises to 3 percent if the union had provided the town with savings on items like health benefits. In addition, it would have allowed unions who were subject to the 2 percent cap since 2011 to be immune from the new law’s limitations – Republicans argue this would have defanged the central point of the legislation. (Phillis/The Record) 





Motion Failed in State’s Top Court Challenges Christie Over School Aid

Education Law Center, citing Abbott v. Burke mandates, says governor can’t ignore funding formula stipulated by statute.

Gov. Chris Christie has gotten plenty of heat for short-funding the state’s school-finance formula in previous budget years, but what he decided to do this year may land him in hot water — in court.

The Education Law Center yesterday filed a motion with the state Supreme Court, under the landmark Abbott v. Burke ruling, taking Christie to task for failing to use the School Funding Reform Act’s (SFRA) formula at all in determining school aid for fiscal 2015.

The court, in its last Abbott decision in 2011, ordered that the formula continue to be operated at its “optimal level,” but the ELC says Christie instead has all but abandoned it.

The motion doesn’t ask that additional funding be provided, as yet, although that option is still on the table. But it does ask the state’s top court to order the Christie administration to at minimum provide in public state-aid notices how much money each school district should be getting under the law. (Mooney/NJSpotlight) 





Senate Committee Votes Out Bill That Would Require Return to RGGI

Business interests claim rejoining regional initiative to lower greenhouse gases would drive up price of power in Garden State. 

Bolstered by a two-day-old appeals court ruling apparently reinforcing its case, a Senate panel yesterday approved a bill (S-151) that would require New Jersey rejoin a regional initiative to curb greenhouse gas emissions contributing to global climate change.

The bill, the latest legislative effort to have the state once again be a part of the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI), would clarify the intent of a 2007 law intended to allow New Jersey to participate in the regional program. The bill makes clear the seven-year-old law mandated, not suggested, participation.

Gov. Chris Christie, in a move that angered clean energy advocates, pulled out of RGGI in 2011, saying the program was ineffective and amounted to a new tax on utility customers.

Past legislative efforts to get New Jersey back into RGGI have not succeeded, most being blocked by the Republican governor. But his action also led two leading environmental organizations to challenge the decision in court. On Tuesday, a three-judge appeals court ruled that the state failed to follow the law when abandoning regulations designed to implement the program.

The court decision does not force the governor to rejoin RGGI, merely to follow proper procedures in either repealing or amending rules to control climate-change pollution from power plants. In quoting at length from various laws aimed at dealing with climate change, the court clearly said “there can be little doubt’’ they were intended to enable the state’s participation in the program. (Johnson/NJSpotlight) 






New Jersey Short Power Without Christie Law, State Says

New Jersey still faces potential rolling blackouts because of a shortage of generating capacity, making its plans to subsidize new power plants essential, a state lawyer said.

The state’s Board of Public Utilities yesterday urged the U.S. Court of Appeals in Philadelphia to resurrect the law that makes subsidies possible, saying the federal judge who struck it down as unconstitutional was mistaken. The plan, signed into law by Republican Governor Chris Christie in January 2011, could cost state households and businesses $2.1 billion over 15 years, according to the board.

The “law was enacted to solve a very important problem, to provide safe, reliable and more environmentally friendly power to the citizens of New Jersey,” Richard Engel, a lawyer for the utilities board, told the three-judge panel. “There still is a great concern if we don’t do something.”

New Jersey is among states grappling with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission over the limits of state and U.S. authorities’ powers in overseeing power generation plants and wholesale market prices. A similar case is pending before the U.S. Court of Appeals in Richmond, Virginia, over subsidized power generation in Maryland. (Pearson/Bloomberg) 





Report Details Claim by Ally: Christie Knew of Bridge Lane Closings

The Port Authority official who directed the shutdown of lanes to the George Washington Bridge said that he informed Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey about it at a Sept. 11 memorial ceremony while the lanes were closed, according to an internal review that lawyers for the governor released on Thursday.

The official, David Wildstein, who was a longtime political ally of the governor, told Mr. Christie’s press secretary, Michael Drewniak, of the conversation at a dinner in December, on the eve of his resignation from the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, according to the inquiry.

But the report said that Mr. Christie did not recall Mr. Wildstein’s raising the topic during their interaction and, in a sweeping claim of vindication, found no evidence that he — or any current members of his staff — was involved in or aware of the scheme before it snarled traffic for thousands of commuters in Fort Lee, N.J., from Sept. 9 to the morning of Sept. 12. (Barbaro/New York Times) 






From the Back Room


Devine resurfaces – this time as candidate for mayor

Rahway Mayor Samson Steinman has a recognizable opponent in the June 3rd Democratic Primary.

That would be James J. Devine, a Democratic strategist who helped get Mayor Wilda Diaz elected in Perth Amboy before infamously falling out with her.

Steinman became mayor following the resignation last year of Mayor Rick Proctor.

Hired as Hillside Township Administrator shortly after Angela Garretson became Mayor  the Union County town, Steinman served as Proctor’s campaign manager in 2010 and will run with county party support

Devine worked on former Mayor Jim Kennedy’s campaigns. (PolitickerNJ)

Devine resurfaces – this time as a candidate for mayor | Politicker NJ




CD1 Dem Primary: Not so fast, Mr. Norcross 

Logan Mayor Frank Minor is running for Congress in the 1st District, according to a CBS News report.

That’s the seat being vacated by U.S. Rep. Rob Andrews (D-1), where state Sen. Donald Norcross (D-5) has considerable party support to serve as the next rep.

CBS News has the story here. (PolitickerNJ)

CD1 Dem Primary: Not so fast, Mr. Norcross | Politicker NJ




POLITICO: Christie’s Bridgegate stumbles throw prez race wide open 

Gov. Chris Christie’s Bridgegate woes have set other GOP prez players into over drive, according to a story in POLITICO.

Read about The Invisible Primary here. (PolitickerNJ)

POLITICO: Christie’s Bridgegate stumbles throw prez race wide open | Politicker NJ




NJ GOP officials fundraising for Eck

New Jersey’s Republican congressional delegation is hosting a fundraiser for CD 12 GOP hopeful Alieta Eck.

The delegation is slated to host a Washington D.C. fundraiser Thursday morning. Eck was recently awarded the Somerset County GOP line and is the Republican establishment’s favorite to challenge Democrats for the seat set to be vacated by U.S. Rep. Rush Holt (D).

State Republican leaders, Sen. Tom Kean and Assemblyman Jon Bramnick, are also expected to host a fundraiser for Eck later this week. (PolitickerNJ)

NJ GOP officials fundraising for Eck | Politicker NJ






Governor Christie gets the verdict he wanted

The 344-page report doesn’t just absolve Governor Christie. It bathes him in a sympathetic light, a victim of treachery.


You won’t find that conclusion in the executive summary of the “internal review” of the administration’s involvement in the scandal that has dominated Christie’s second term, but it’s the theme that weaves through the report’s odd mixture of dry legalese and hyperbole.

The report portrays Christie as a leader betrayed by trusted aides, acting like some sort of sleeper cell carrying out a secret plan to close down two approach lanes to the George Washington Bridge, for some inexplicable “ulterior motive.”

Stunned by the revelations — his eyes well up with tears at one key moment in the drama — Christie takes decisive action, firing the conspirators, apologizing to the public and ordering a painful, no-holds-barred investigation of his administration. He faced the ugly truths and is ready to make tough choices. He is now on the road to redemption.

But as hard as it tries and as “exhaustive” as it seems, the report doesn’t redeem Christie as much as it provides him with a useful public-relations tool — and possibly a legal defense — as the scandal plods into the uncertain future. (Stile/The Record) 

  Morning Digest: March 28, 2014