Morning Digest: March 7, 2014

Bridget Anne Kelly’s attorney says lawmakers rushed to judgement

An attorney for former top Gov. Chris Christie administration official Bridget Anne Kelly filed paperwork arguing his client shouldn’t have to comply with a legislative subpoena.

The documents, filed by Kelly attorney Michael Critchley, argues lawmakers rushed to judgment in its investigation into the George Washington Bridge lane closure controversy.

“Considering the co-chairman’s rush to judgment, his conflicting statements regarding Ms. Kelly’s criminal exposure, and the parallel grand jury investigation that has been launched, Ms. Kelly’s concern over incriminating herself by producing the documents at issue is not ‘trifling or imaginary,’ but ‘substantial and real,'” the documents read.

Kelly is a former deputy chief of staff to the governor who was dismissed from the administration after documents revealed she sent the now infamous note to a former Port Authority official declaring “time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee.” (Arco/PolitickerNJ)

Bridget Anne Kelly’s attorney says lawmakers rushed to judgement | Politicker NJ




Newark mayoral candidates make case to city’s business community

NEWARK – A small but select crowd of Newark’s business community rode up to the 26th floor of the neo-classical National Newark Buildingon Thursday to hear Newark’s main mayoral candidates make their elevator pitch to run the city.

South Ward Councilman Ras Baraka and former state Assistant Attorney General Shavar Jeffries stood before 50 people at an event sponsored by the Newark Regional Business Partnership to outline what they think the relationship between business and government should be in New Jersey’s largest city.

“Newark is in a crisis. That crisis provides us with the opportunity to do incredible things” Baraka said to a group that included representatives from Verizon, PSE&G, McCarter & English and Barnabas Health. “It provides us with the opportunity to begin to develop our city, not just the downtown, but the neighborhoods where we live. I can talk to folks on the corner, and I can talk to people in the boardroom.”

“Your role in the city of Newark is fundamental and critical to our success,” Jeffries said, highlighting both his government experience and private sector experience as a member of Gibbons P.C.,  a Newark-based law firm. “The kind of administration we have is going to be one of shared values, recognizing that what’s good for our business partners is also good for the people of Newark.” (Bonamo/PolitickerNJ) 



Christie makes a pitch to GOP conservatives

NATIONAL HARBOR, Md. — Governor Christie tried on Thursday to remind the ultraconservative wing of the Republican Party — a group that has always viewed him skeptically — why he deserves to be a potential presidential nominee for 2016.

Ignoring the controversy over the lane closings on the George Washington Bridge that has restricted his public appearances for nearly two months, Christie drew two standing ovations with a 15-minute speech at the Conservative Political Action Conference, the same gathering that intentionally did not invite him last year after he embraced President Obama in the aftermath of Superstorm Sandy.

To appeal to Christian conservatives, Christie highlighted his status as the only antiabortion Republican to win heavily Democratic New Jersey since Roe v. Wade, and accused Democrats of being intolerant because they have not had a “pro-life” speaker at their party convention.

For fiscal conservatives, he touted his efforts to cut spending, and reform teacher tenure and retiree benefits. For the military hawks, he called for a strong defense, “not one that allows other countries to run us over all over the world.”

Christie also looked out for Christie. Without naming them, he defended Charles and David Koch, the energy billionaires who were accused last week by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of trying to buy democracy. (Jackson/The Record) 




New Jersey lobbying surged to over $60M in 2013

Spending on lobbying in New Jersey surged back over $60 million last year as lawmakers considered a minimum-wage hike, a series of gun control measures and a local tax on hospital revenue that was ultimately shelved.

New lobbying data released Thursday by the New Jersey Election Law Enforcement Commission also showed firms with close ties to Governor Christie continued to prosper in 2013, including Wolff & Samson, a firm founded by Port Authority Chairman David Samson.

The law firm Wolf & Samson PC and its affiliated Wolff & Samson Public Affairs reported more than $1 million in combined lobbying receipts in 2013, according to the commission’s latest lobbying report.

Among Wolff & Samson’s more lucrative clients were Honeywell Intellectual Properties, which won a $40 million state tax break last year, and GTECH, which is part of a consortium that won a lucrative New Jersey Lottery privatization deal in 2013.

Samson has been a significant figure in the George Washington Bridge lane closure scandal and has also been tied to participating in several Port Authority decisions that benefitted his law firm’s clients. (Reitmeyer and Linhorst/The Record) 





Rutgers Report Says State Shares Blame for Problems With Fired Sandy Contractor

Study finds state oversight of third-party contractors inadequate, leaving taxpayers vulnerable to poor service, financial waste. 

Three months after the Christie administration secretly fired a Louisiana-based firm that had been awarded the state’s largest post-Hurricane Sandy contract to distribute reconstruction funds to homeowners, authors of a new Rutgers University report on governmental oversight say the state — and not the contractor — may ultimately be to blame for substantial cost overruns and poor service.

“There’s a stunning lack of effective oversight in the state,” lead author Janice Fine told reporters on a conference call yesterday to announce the report’s findings. The state’s lack of contractor oversight caused it to fail in its “duty of protecting vulnerable citizens from poor service and taxpayers from wasted funds,” she said.

Fine and other speakers said that the Sandy contractor, Hammerman & Gainer International (HGI), serves as one of countless examples that indicate a broad pattern of neglect by the state to properly staff, fund, and set policy for contract management. Not only is this “a matter of life and death” for residents who rely on outsourced social services like mental health, child-abuse prevention, and monitored prisoner release, they said, it cost Sandy victims and taxpayers undue anguish and expense. (Nurin/NJSpotlight) 





State Teachers Union Shatters Records for Political Spending

Total of nearly $20 million in political expenditures by NJEA and its PACs far exceeds lobbying budget for any other special-interest group.

The New Jersey Education Association finished 2013 with its biggest tab yet for lobbying and political spending – in fact, the amount far exceeded spending by any other individual lobbying organization in the state.

The teachers union, representing nearly 200,000 teachers and school staff statewide, spent more than $3 million on lobbying efforts last year, according to the New Jersey Election Law Enforcement Commission.

Adding in record spending by its PAC and super PAC brings the union’s estimated total to more than $19.5 million spent in 2013, according to ELEC. (Mooney/NJSpotlight) 





Maritime industry: New Jersey responsible for own salt shortage

The maritime industry is suggesting New Jersey’s transportation commissioner concocted an elaborate snow job when he blamed a nearly century-old shipping law for bottling up a 40,000-ton supply of roadway salt.

The salt, which had been stuck in a Maine port and is needed for New Jersey’s roads this snowy winter, is now being shipped to Newark by a barge. But the barge will need three more trips to complete the delivery, the state Department of Transportation said.

“The barge was our Plan B,” department spokesman Steve Schapiro explained.

Last week, state Transportation Commissioner James Simpson complained the salt was stranded on the docks of Searsport, Maine, because the federal government had refused to grant New Jersey’s request for a waiver from the 1920 Merchant Marine Act. Also known as the Jones Act, the law bars foreign ships from making domestic deliveries to U.S. ports.

Simpson said he wanted the waiver so that a foreign-flagged ship, already in Searsport, could pick up New Jersey’s salt supplies and deliver them to the port of Newark. When the federal government denied the waiver request, finding it unwarranted, Simpson asserted that bureaucratic red tape was jeopardizing the lives of New Jersey motorists. 

“I’m just ticked,” Simpson told reporters while discussing the salt crisis after a New Jersey Turnpike Authority board meeting Feb. 25. “This is a serious public safety issue.” (Wittkowski/Press of Atlantic City) 




Law Firm Under Scrutiny Boosts Lobbying

A law firm entangled by recent controversies surrounding New Jersey Gov. Chis Christie’s administration has vastly increased its lobbying practice, a sign of the company’s growing reach in recent years.

Wolff & Samson PC has long been one of the state’s premier law firms, but its lobbying practice has grown since 2009, increasing from $43,000 to more than a $1 million in 2013, according to documents released on Thursday by the New Jersey Election Law Enforcement Commission. One of the firm’s founding partners, David Samson, is chairman of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, a former state attorney general and a confidante of Mr. Christie.

Mr. Samson and his firm have come under scrutiny in recent weeks as federal investigators carry out separate probes: one into the Port Authority and the Christie administration’s involvement in allegedly politically motivated lane closures at the George Washington Bridge, and another into a Hoboken development that the mayor said was pushed inappropriately by Wolff & Samson and state officials. (Haddon/Wall Street Journal) 




GOP up-and-comers seize CPAC spotlight

For Elise Hall, the invitation came in the form of a phone call. Will Weatherford got a letter. In T. W. Shannon’s case, it was an email.

If the modes of delivery differed, the message from the American Conservative Union meant the same thing to each candidate: a chance to hit the big time at CPAC. 

At the Washington-area conservative gathering each year, the greatest share of attention typically goes to the presidential candidates-in-waiting — the senators and governors who walk the halls with small teams of aides and bodyguards, testing out the sales pitches they’ll use during GOP primary season.

A well-received speech can bring a burst of positive attention from national activists, or earn a second look from skeptical conservatives eyeing the 2016 field.

To others at CPAC, a breakout performance can mean far, far more.

For state legislators or constitutional officers, underdog candidates and upstart primary challengers, CPAC is a rare opportunity to put otherwise little-known names on the national map.

The classic example is Marco Rubio, who was a long-shot contender in an open-seat U.S. Senate primary in November 2009 — when the ACU suddenly selected the former Florida House speaker to keynote its national conference early the following year. It was an enormous stamp of approval for a candidate who needed a break.

Each year since then, CPAC has offered a shortlist of ambitious conservatives across the country the opportunity to present themselves for consideration to thousands of the hardest of hard-core activists. (Burns/Politico) 





Bridget Kelly’s lawyer files court papers battling subpoena, criticizes committee co-chair

The lawyer for Bridget Anne Kelly, one of the key figures in the George Washington Bridge lane closures scandal, filed legal papers yesterday arguing that his client should not be forced to hand over documents to the legislative committee investigating the matter.

Attorney Michael Critchley, said Kelly, who was Gov. Chris Christie’s deputy chief of staff, is “a subject of the investigation” being run by federal prosecutors. At the same time, he lambasted the co-chairman of the legislative committee for “rushing to judgment” in its investigation of the controversy.

In a 43-page brief submitted in state Superior Court in Mercer County, Critchley cited Kelly’s Fifth Amendment and Fourth Amendment constitutional rights as protections that allow Kelly to continue to deny the legislative committee’s subpoena asking for records relating to the lane closures. He also said public statements made by Assemblyman John Wisniewski (D-Middlesex), the co-chair of the legislative panel, appear to put Kelly — who was fired by Christie after emails showed she’d helped orchestrate the lane closures — in greater legal jeopardy.

And thus, he argued, Kelly’s constitutional rights not to incriminate herself have only been strengthened. (Grant/Star-Ledger) 




Audit clears Christie on no-bid Sandy contract but raises other questions

TRENTON — A federal audit released Thursday concludes that Gov. Chris Christie’s administration did not violate any rules in awarding a no-bid contract to a politically connected company to haul away debris left by Hurricane Sandy.

But the audit by the Department of Homeland Security’s inspector general also said municipalities that contracted with the firm — AshBritt Inc. of Pompano Beach, Fla. — beyond a 60-day emergency period in the immediate aftermath of the storm might have violated federal guidelines.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency agreed to reimburse the state and towns for much of the money spent on debris removal.

“Therefore, FEMA should review each local municipality’s debris removal contracting process and make a determination on the eligibility of costs on a case-by-case basis,” the report says. (Hutchins/Star-Ledger) 



Paychecks shrink as Healthcare Costs Rise

If it seems like your paycheck is mysteriously shrinking every year, it’s probably true and it’s certainly not a mystery as health insurance costs continue to climb steadily. 

“Our latest report finds a continuing increase in healthcare premium costs for employees, with an emphasis on shifting costs for family members, spouses and dependents, going up at an even higher rate than for employees,” said Julie Stone, a senior consultant at Towers Watson Management.

“Nearly 50 percent of employers are increasing the cost for dependents at a higher rate or faster rate than employees, and  here is also a large number of organizations that have implemented the spouse surcharge when the spouse doesn’t have coverage elsewhere,” Stone said.

So how much more do workplace benefits cost, on average?

“Costs have gone up for the last couple of years for employers in the neighborhood of 4 to 4½ percent,” Stone said. “But employees are picking up a good share of that, with the average employee increase over the past five years being 5 percent a year. That may not sound like a lot but it’s twice the CPI, it’s a lot more than people’s salaries are going up, so it’s pretty significant from a paycheck perspective.” (Matthau/NJ101.5) 





From the Back Room


Wilson boomerangs off of Bridgegate onto Conan show

Mocked by Bridget Ann Kelly and David Wildstein last year in a text message exchange, Democratic Party/Latino activist Cid Wilson is now the butt of a joke on the Conan Show.

Take a look at this clip and watch Wilson at the 57 mark. (PolitickerNJ)

Wilson boomerangs off of Bridgegate onto Conan Show | Politicker NJ




Chivukula’s irritating staffing jab at Greenstein

The presence of Assemblyman Upendra Chivikula (D-17) was already annoying to the allies of state Sen. Linda Greenstein (D-14), who need Middlesex to be strong in their candidate’s Democratic Primary war with Assemblyman Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-15) of Mercer County.

Chivukula is scrambling to get support in Middlesex, where the bulk of his own legislative district is concentrated.

Now the assemblyman is staffing up with former Greenstein stalwarts, who, in the words of one insider, “know the lay of the land on Linda’s turf.”

Chivukula’s campaign manager, Henry de Koninck, was Greenstein’s field director in 2011. The Somerset county CD12 candidtae’s senior advisor is Steve Lenox, Greenstein’s former chief of staff. (PolitickerNJ)

Chivukula’s irritating staffing jab at Greenstein | Politicker NJ




Baraka’s school board slate set

Newark Mayoral Candidate Ras Baraka this afternoon released his slate of School Advisory Board candidates.

The candidates are: Antoinette Baskerville-Richardson, current President of the Newark school board; Reginald Bledsoe, community advocate and Montclair State senior majoring in Political Science; Philip Seelinger, East Ward District Leader, firefighter and lifelong resident of the East Ward. 

Initially seeking an entry point onto the ticket, Crystal Fonseca didn’t make the cut.

“The choice of members of our slate was a highly competitive process and we received several applications for the team,” the team said in a statement. “Most notably we would like to mention applicant Crystal Fonseca. Miss Fonseca is greatly respected in the community. She is a distinguished candidate with a bright future in Newark politics. We look forward to supporting her in the future.” (PolitickerNJ)

Baraka’s School Board Slate Set | Politicker NJ




The Surrogates in the Room 

The Union County Democratic Committee had its convention last night and awarded the line to federal candidates for office.

That is except in the more controversial CD12, where three Democrats are competing for the seat being vacated by U.S. Rep. Rush Holt (D-12). That Plainfield-Scotch Plains-Fanwood-only convention will occur later this month.

Last night, several recognizable operatives served as stand-ins for their bosses.

Essex County Freeholder Brendan Gill was the surrogate for U.S. Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ), Weehawken Mayor Richard Turner went to the head of the room for U.S. Rep. Albio Sires (D-8), and District Director Sarah Jones represented U.S. Rep. Donald Payne, Jr. (D-10). 

Running against incumbent U.S. Rep. Leonard Lance (R-7), Clinton Mayor Janice Kovach spoke for herself. (PolitickerNJ)

The Surrogates in the Room | Politicker NJ






Christie at CPAC

LAST YEAR, Governor Christie was not invited to speak at CPAC. That was a badge of honor for a Republican governor collecting endorsements for his reelection bid from Democrats like tolls at a bridge. That was last year.

One bridge scandal later, Christie took refuge in the insular bubble of the Conservative Political Action Conference meeting this week in Maryland. Conservatives have long mistrusted Christie, believing him a tepid abortion opponent and not forgiving him for embracing Barack Obama toward the end of the 2012 presidential campaign.

Christie portrays himself as a non-partisan leader, willing to work with Democrats to get things done. Voters believed him in 2013. One year later, many of those voters have doubts after revelations that key Christie aides and appointees were linked to the unexplained closing of two access lanes to the George Washington Bridge last September.

Equally damning to Christie has been the drip-drip-drip of information about his top pick at the Port Authority, David Samson, whose law firm represented clients who benefited from several high-profile Port Authority decisions.

There was no mention by Christie at CPAC of the GWB or the less-than-six degrees of separation between Samson and Port Authority projects that benefit Samson clients. Instead, a slimmer, vibrant Christie told attendees they must tell voters what they are for and not what they are against.

Christie touted the accomplishments of Republican governors, and he heaped praise on himself as well. All of this was couched in a no-nonsense dialect. He said firefighters once booed “the hell out” of him during a speech. And he said if Obama can’t lead, “what the hell are we paying [him] for?”

Given the political climate in New Jersey, hell must be present in the governor’s mind. Some of what Christie said is valid: Republicans need to be for things and need to be more inclusive. But Christie is not the rising star he was last November. The GWB scandal and the muck that is being pulled from the Port Authority have tarnished his image. (The Record Editorial)  

Morning Digest: March 7, 2014