Morning Digest: March 6, 2014

Jackson consolidates support in first post-Tony Mack Trenton Mayoral Race

TRENTON – If the words “Trenton makes, the world takes” on the city’s famous bridge bear any meaning in recent months, it might be that the political culture of New Jersey’s capital city has made the world take notice.  

The conviction and subsequent removal of former Trenton Mayor Tony Mack after he was found guilty of bribery and extortion charges in federal court earlier this month creates the chance for change.

Standing with supporters in front of Mercer County Community College’s Trenton campus on North Broad Street, mayoral candidate Eric Jackson, who missed taking Mack to a run-off by a single-digit vote total in 2010, vowed he would not come up short this time. 

“After we talk about how we can work together, people begin to see that there can be hope, and that bringing honesty, integrity and transparency back to City Hall, we can build this city into what we want it to be,” Jackson, 55, told moments after he was endorsed by Mercer County Freeholder Sam Frisby. “We will work with the ethics board that’s already in place, we’re looking at the potential of bringing in an inspector general. We want to make sure that there’s just zero tolerance for anything that remotely looks like or smells like corruption at City Hall. Honesty and integrity will be the trademark of our brand.” (Bonamo/PolitickerNJ)

Jackson consolidates support in first post-Tony Mack Trenton mayoral race | Politicker NJ




Washington Post Poll: 2016 GOP Prez contest wide open

As conservatives gather in the Washington area on Thursday for three days of speeches from prospective 2016 presidential candidates and discussions about the future of the GOP, a new Washington Post-ABC News poll found that three in 10 of all Republicans say they would not vote for New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie if he ran for the White House, according to a report by the Washington Post.

Christie will address the annual Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) on Thursday morning. He was not invited to speak at last year’s event. What he says and the reception he receives will be closely watched and analyzed, and the new survey underscores the obstacles Christie will face if he seeks his party’s nomination in 2016.

The poll also found that former Florida governor Jeb Bush has problems of a different kind. He is more popular in the Republican Party than Christie but faces potential head winds as a candidate. The Post-ABC poll found that almost half of all Americans, and 50 percent of registered voters, say they “definitely would not” vote for him for president — a possible hangover from the presidency of his brother George W. Bush.

The overall findings underscore the degree to which the contest for the GOP nomination in 2016 is as wide open as any in the modern era. (PolitickerNJ)

Washington Post Poll: 2016 GOP Prez contest wide open | Politicker NJ




Sandy victims must leave temporary housing at Fort Monmouth

Marina Pesheva had already moved her family from her Superstorm Sandy-flooded home in Keansburg to the decommissioned Fort Monmouth military base, where she temporarily resides with her husband, two children and two dogs.

Now, she’s being told she needs to vacate the Fort Monmouth one-bedroom apartment by April.

“I just recently started looking [for a rental] but I’m hoping I won’t have to move again because I’m so close to getting our home done,” Pesheva said. “My kids are set on the next time being able to move home.”

The 37 families who remain sheltered at the fort are facing an April 30 move-out date — that’s when the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s temporary housing assistance is set to expire. The deadline would also affect 25 families living in manufactured units in mobile home parks.

And 13 of the families living in the Megill section of the fort are being asked to get out even earlier; the fort’s developer has requested that that area be vacated by April 1 to start developing it, according to Alberto Pillot, the public information officer for FEMA’s New Jersey office. (Sudol/The Record) 



State legislator Sarlo urges Christie to help NJ towns with snow removal costs

Citing a harsh winter that has already dumped more than 60 inches of snow on parts of the region, state Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee Chair Paul Sarlo, D-Wood-Ridge, is urging Governor Christie to apply for federal disaster relief or carve out more state budget money to help New Jersey towns deal with the stress the storms have put on their budgets this year.

Five major snowstorms have hit North Jersey since the beginning of the year, and South Jersey just received several inches of snow in another storm earlier this week.

That has left towns all over the state scrambling to maintain their stockpiles of salt and to cover the cost of paying overtime to plow operators and contractors hired to clear roads.

Sarlo, the mayor of Wood-Ridge, said several storms have hit overnight or on weekends, further stressing municipal budgets.

“No municipality was able to properly budget for the winter that we’ve had this year,” Sarlo said. “I just want to provide them with a little bit of relief.” (Reitmeyer/The Record) 




Open-Space Financing Plan Could Mend Fences in Environmental Community

Proposal would siphon funds from corporate business taxes, rather than digging into sales-tax revenue or floating a bond issue. 

Aiming to end a long impasse over how to finance open-space preservation, one of the leading proponents of the cause has come up with a new proposal to fund a program that is virtually out of money.

The proposal (SCR-84) introduced last Thursday, which would have to be approved by voters in a statewide referendum, would constitutionally dedicate at least $150 million out of corporate business taxes to finance preservation of open space, farmland, and historic structures. (Johnson/NJSpotlight)   



Appeals Panel’s Top Judge Scolds COACH for Stalling on New Municipal Quotas

Court expresses frustration and anger over agency’s failure to comply with order to update regulations for affordable housing. 

An angry New Jersey appellate panel yesterday considered a number of actions — including threatening a state agency with a finding of contempt — to force the Christie administration to promulgate affordable-housing regulations in a case the lead lawyer said is unprecedented in testing the strength of the court.

It’s unclear what action the three-judge appeals panel will take, but what was very clear was the judges’ impatience and annoyance with the lack of action by the Council on Affordable Housing to set municipal housing quotas as ordered by the Appellate Division of state Superior Court and the state Supreme Court.

Appellate Division Presiding Judge Jose Fuentes repeatedly asked why COAH representatives haven’t met and what the council has been doing — and the judge was not satisfied with the answers he received. (O’Dea/NJSpotlight) 




Democratic leader praises Christie

CAMDEN — One of New Jersey’s most powerful Democrats is standing behind Gov. Chris Christie as the Republican’s administration deals with scandal.

At a ceremonial groundbreaking Wednesday for a new kind of school in Camden, powerbroker George Norcross praised Christie.

“In my lifetime, there has never been a governor of any party who has worked harder or more diligently to help South Jersey, the city of Camden,” said Norcross, whose family’s foundation is one of the partners in creating the school. “You are our friend. You will be our friend.”

The words seemed to take Christie aback a bit. (Associated Press) 




Baroni hired by New Jersey law firm

TRENTON — He resigned amid scandal and is a key figure under investigation in the George Washington Bridge lane closures, but Bill Baroni is still employable.

The 42-year-old former deputy executive director of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey has been hired by the law firm of Hill Wallack, which has firms in Princeton, Morristown and Yardley, Pa. Baroni, who earned a law degree from the Virginia School of Law, started work on Monday. He will practice in the areas of business, education and nonprofit law and “maybe some campaign finance,” said Robert W. Bacso, a managing partner of the firm.

“My partner and I have known Bill for a long time. We are very aware of Bill and his qualifications, and when it became obvious to us that he was in the marketplace, we pursued him,” Bacso said. (Racioppi/Asbury Park Press) 



Governor addresses CPAC as bridge scandal lingers and 2016 rivals watch

NATIONAL HARBOR, Md. — Gov. Chris Christie faces a tall order today.

In a speech to the influential Conservative Political Action Conference, the governor will try to assure the GOP base that he can emerge from the George Washington Bridge scandal unscathed — and reclaim his status as the Republican with the best chance to win a national election.

He’ll do this in a room filled with other potential GOP presidential candidates and to an audience of conservatives who didn’t invite him to their conference last year because he embraced of President Obama during Hurricane Sandy and had harsh words for fellow Republicans holding up hurricane aid to New Jersey.

“The strategic question for CPAC, how does he rebuild or repair that relationship? Nothing gets the conservative activist base fired up like a takedown of the president’s policies,” said Kevin Madden, a Republican strategist an adviser to Mitt Romney’s 2012 campaign. “He’ll remind these activists that if there’s one thing you want in your next nominee, it’s a fighter.”

Sources close to the governor say he’ll return to his brand as a no-nonsense executive with a record of bipartisan leadership in a blue state. Christie, who has kept a tight grip on his chairmanship of the Republican Governors Association despite months of negative headlines, will give examples of how other GOP governors have followed his lead in contrast to what governors like to call the dysfunction in Washington. (Portnoy/Star-Ledger) 




NJ Senate president proposes changes to Sandy aid distribution

TRENTON — State Senate President Steve Sweeney today proposed changes to the way the state distributes federal aid to Hurricane Sandy victims that he says would make the disbursement fairer and would localize recovery programs.

At the center of his plan is the creation of community recovery resource centers which would be county-based and would be a clearinghouse for Sandy aid programs to help applicants coordinate the services and resources available to them.

Sweeney (D-Gloucester) is expected to discuss the proposed amendments to the state’s distribution plan for its second round of federal housing funding at his Sandy ‘bill of rights’ tour on Thursday in Linden where residents are still trying to rebuild.

The centers, Sweeney said in a letter to the state Department of Community Affairs, would be selected through a public bidding process and would be run by agencies experienced in housing counseling or other related management services. There should be at least one center for each county affected by the storm, he said. (Spoto/Star-Ledger) 




NJ Kids Ineligible for Drug Court Program

Despite the heroin epidemic gripping the Garden State, juveniles are not currently eligible for New Jersey’s drug court program, which offers supervised rehabilitation instead of jail time. 

Non-violent adult drug offenders in New Jersey can be admitted into the state’s drug court program if they’re found guilty and subject to prison time or a minimum term of parole ineligibility. As of now, however, the program is only available to adults.

A bill I just introduced would give judges the ability for juvenile offenses to place adolescents in the drug court program,” said Assemblyman Anthony Bucco (R-Randolph). “Currently the drug court program in New Jersey is only available to adults so this would make it an option for adolescents.”

Drug court programs are not a walk in the park, but most offenders probably prefer them to time behind bars. The programs require random drug tests and frequent court appearances. Those who don’t comply with the program can be sent to prison under their original sentencing guidelines. (McArdle/NJ101.5)

NJ Kids Ineligible for Drug Court Program [AUDIO]  





From the Back Room


Reinforcements are due in Bayonne – but not to the Davis camp, sources say

It’s a finesse game.

Sources who said Steve Fulop a day after he defeated Jerry Healy told Mark Smith that he was “coming for him,” now have an image of the following: Fulop and Smith walking in the Belmar St. Patrick’s Day Parade, not together, but close enough to wag some tongues.

Better though – people saw the Jersey City mayor and Assemblyman Jason O’Donnell (D-31) dining in a local eatery in the time vicinity of the parade.

Mutually dissed by Essex County Executive Joe DiVincenzo, the pair see a mutually beneficial pairing. (PolitickerNJ)

Reinforcements are due in Bayonne – but not to the Davis camp, sources say | Politicker NJ






Christie seeks asylum in friendly outposts 

If Gov. Chris Christie not only survives but thrives following the conclusion of the investigation into the George Washington Bridge access lane closures, it will be in large part due to his adept management of New Jersey’s political lines of demarcation.

Christie once again traveled to normally friendly territory in Ocean County for a town hall Tuesday for the purpose of spreading his vision of how the federal government has messed up the state’s recovery from superstorm Sandy and how, if he had his way, there would be a lot more money to throw around for folks still in need.

As narratives go, it’s not a bad one to pitch to folks who remain homeless 16 months after Sandy devastated parts of the state, with coastal Ocean County bearing much of the brunt of the storm. But the story of an uncaring federal government is essentially empty calories. It may sound delicious, but it provides nothing substantive. Folks are still homeless, whether it’s the fault of President Barack Obama and the Republican leadership in Congress or the man on the moon.

In heavily Republican Ocean County, people are predisposed to give Christie the benefit of the doubt. The same would be true in Monmouth County and Morris County, the sites of the governor’s previous two town halls. Consider these facts: Those three counties alone provided Christie with nearly 350,000 votes in the 2013 general election, more than 27 percent of the 1,278,932 ballots cast for him. In contrast, his opponent, Democrat Barbara Buono, only pulled in 126,231 votes. When it comes to electoral politics in New Jersey, winning big in Monmouth, Ocean and Morris counties is a must.

No matter what else we say about Christie, he knows who his friends are, so it should come as no surprise that the first three town halls of 2014, a year of scandals and reconsideration, were held in places where the governor can feel he is among the faithful. In the Middletown town hall two weeks ago, it almost appeared that the strategy would backfire. Hard questions were asked about Sandy recovery and in one case the governor was challenged to provide specifics about a fired contractor paid with federal Sandy money. But the governor filibustered his way out of that one. (Schoonejongen/Asbury Park Press)

Morning Digest: March 6, 2014