Morning Digest: April 10, 2014

Newark mayor’s race: Political media group tied to South Jersey power broker Norcross paid for Jeffries independent expenditure TV buy

NEWARK –  A Philadelphia-based Democratic political media and consulting group, whose clients include close associates of South Jersey power broker George Norcross III, has paid for current cable television campaign advertisements sponsored by an independent expenditure group that supports Newark mayoral candidate Shavar Jeffries, according to documents.

Files provided to by Cablevision outline a TV advertising buy from Newark First starting on March 31 and lasting until April 13. Newark First, a pro-Jeffries expenditure group, has recently launched commercials praising Jeffries, a former state Assistant Attorney General, and attacking his rival, South Ward Councilman Ras Baraka.

The buy for the two-week period, which cost $42,500, was paid for using a check in that amount dated March 31 and sent from The Campaign Group, a Philadelphia-based Democratic political media and consulting group, according to the files provided to from the Newark First account by Cablevision. The check was received and cashed by National Cable Communications (NCC), an affiliate of Cablevision.

The Campaign Group has many clients nationwide, and on its website shows a 14-1 winning margin for its clients in the 2013 general election cycle. Included among these clients is Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed, who spoke at a Baraka fundraiser last month.

But the 2013 winners’ list is also heavy with South Jersey Democratic allies of Norcross. These allies include State Senate President Steve Sweeney (D-3) and state Senator Donald Norcross (D-5). The South Jersey state senator is the brother of George Norcross III, and he is currently running for Congress in New Jersey’s First Congressional District.  (Bonamo/PolitickerNJ)

Newark mayor’s race: Political media group tied to South Jersey power broker Norcross paid for Jeffries independent expenditure TV buy | Politicker NJ

Judge rules against Select Committee on Investigations in Stepien/Kelly case

A judge this afternoon denied an appeal by the Select Oversight Committee into the George Washington Bridge lane closures to compel Bill Stepien and Bridget Kelly to go before the investigative committee.

“For the reasons set forth in this opinion, plaintiff’s applications for judgments declaring that defendants have failed, without justification, to produce documents in accordance with the subpoenas are denied, as are plaintiff’s requests for injunctive relief ordering defendants to comply with the subpoenas,” Assignment Judge Mary C. Jacobson wrote. “Plaintiff’s complaints in both actions are dismissed.”

The matter rose out of complaints and orders to show casue filed by the committee as part of its investigation into Bridgegate and two principal players: Stepien, former campaign manager for Gov. Chris Christie; and Kelly, Christie’s deputy chief of staff, who wrote, “Time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee.”

The committee had issued subpoenas to Stepien and Kelly, who both maintained their refusal to comply, citing their privilege against self-incrimination and the 4th Amendment’s protections against unreasonable searches and seizures.

The judge ruled that the breadth of the subpoena was too broad. (Pizarro/PolitickerNJ)

Judge rules against Select Committee on Investigations in Stepien/Kelly case | Politicker NJ

DiVincenzo wants Democrats to ‘do the right thing’ on arbitration cap bill

FAIRFIELD – Essex County Executive Joe DiVincenzo says he hopes Democratic lawmakers “do the right thing” and move on an arbitration cap proposal Assembly Speaker Vincent Prieto (D-32) allowed to expire.

DiVincenzo, who attended Gov. Chris Christie’s town hall in Essex County, said he agreed with the governor that renewing the arbitration cap is the right thing to do. The state Senate recently voted to renew the cap, though the Assembly permitted the proposal to expire after refusing to bring it to the floor for a vote by the end of March.

“I haven’t spoken to Vinnie,” said DiVincenzo, adding, however, that he’s been “urging [his] colleagues” to support moving on the arbitration cap

“I hope they do the right thing,” he said. (Arco/PolitickerNJ)

DiVincenzo wants Democrats to ‘do the right thing’ on arbitration cap bill | Politicker NJ





New Jersey Supreme Court hears rap lyrics case arguments

Jurors heard page after page of rap lyrics, lines that detailed killing, praised violence and glorified rape.

“I hit him with the Smithen; hauled off 15 rounds, seven missed him,” one lyric said.

“Two to the mask and six to the ribs,” it continued. “The safe street squad found him, half his shell missin.”

The jury later convicted Vonte Skinner, agreeing with Burlington County prosecutors that he shot a fellow drug dealer in the head, abdomen and back at close range.

Now the state Supreme Court is considering if those lyrics should have been allowed to be read by prosecutors at Skinner’s 2008 trial. The question is whether prosecutors should have used those lyrics to demonstrate motive and intent without overly prejudicing a jury against Skinner’s general character.

“You are trying to tie these lyrics to this crime,” Associate Justice Barry Albin said Wednesday to one of the lawyers contending the jury should have heard the lyrics during oral arguments. “You want to take rap lyrics that were drafted four or five years earlier and say that, somehow, is relevant to some motive five years later?

“How do you get there?”

Skinner is serving a 30-year sentence. His lawyers want a new trial. (Phillis/The Record)    





N.J. criticizes Paterson, Wallington, Garfield, Elmwood Park for improper overtime, comp-time payments

Wallington’s administrator earned an average of more than $100 an hour in overtime driving a municipal snowplow in 2010 and 2011 — and what’s more, he wasn’t entitled to it, according to a scathing report by state officials.

That’s just one example given in the examination of what were termed “improper” and legally unsupported overtime payments and compensatory time benefits to “executive officials” in 23 municipalities and seven counties. The report, released Monday, by the Office of the State Comptroller singled out Wallington, Paterson and Toms River for ignoring laws and regulations — or not having what was required — while giving such overtime and comp time.

Certain supervisory employees are barred from collecting overtime. State law allows senior officials to do so only if the municipal government adopts an ordinance that accounts for when that official can be compensated for more than 40 hours of work weekly.

In North Jersey, Paterson, Wallington and Elmwood Park were cited for improper overtime payments, and Paterson, Wallington, Elmwood Park and Garfield for improper comp time awards.

Witold Baginski, the Wallington administrator who earned nearly $20,000 in overtime he calculated and approved, called the report and the investigation “one-sided.”

He said a 2005 Borough Council resolution gave him the right to overtime during water, sewer or snow emergencies. State officials, however, said resolutions, approved by a simple majority vote, are not enough. A local governing body must adopt an ordinance — a process requiring a public hearing and two votes — outlining when employees exempt from overtime rules are allowed to be paid or compensated above their salary.

“It’s a difference of opinion,” Baginski said of the report’s findings. “The resolution is not good enough in their opinion.”  


Christie Vetoes Minutes of Pinelands Commission, Slams 5 Percent Raise for Staff

In harsh veto message, governor accuses commissioners of “conscious disregard of the fiscal realities” of Pinelands and state of New Jersey

In a rare, if not unprecedented, move, Gov. Christie earlier this week quietly vetoed the minutes of last month’s meeting of the Pinelands Commission, harshly criticizing the commissioners for approving a five percent raise for its staff.

New Jersey governors have the right to veto the minutes of various authorities, thereby negating any action taken at the meeting, although it is seldom used. In this case, the governor’s veto effectively blocked the raises granted by the commission.

Environmentalists view his decision more as a payback for the commission’s decision in January not to approve a 22-mile natural gas pipeline through the heart of the Pinelands to fuel the B.L. England plant in Cape May.

“This is the governor trying to intimidate the Pinelands Commission and staff in retribution for the vote against the Pinelands pipeline,’’ said Jeff Tittel, director of the New Jersey Sierra Club.

Nonetheless, the project fits well with the Christie administration’s Energy Master Plan, which encourages the use of natural gas to provide electricity to customers in New Jersey and wants to expand the pipeline infrastructure to deliver the fuel to power plants and customers more easily. (Johnson/NJSpotlight)  


NJ FamilyCare Adds More than 100,000 Residents to Health Insurance Rolls

State’s decision to expand Medicaid under Obamacare appears to pay off as federal funds cover cost of new enrollees

New Jersey FamilyCare has added over 100,000 people to its rolls, contributing to savings that Gov. Chris Christie has already anticipated in his proposed budget.

In just the first three months of this year, 102,268 state residents were added to the rolls of FamilyCare, which includes recipients of two federally supported programs – Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP).

Christie cited both public health benefits and cost savings when he announced that the state would opt for Medicaid expansion via the 2010 Affordable Care Act.

State Treasurer Andrew Sidamon-Eristoff said last week that officials are projecting that the state will meet its goal of saving $185 million in the current fiscal year due to the Medicaid expansion and will save $181 million more next year..

The savings stem from the ACA’s provision under which the federal government covers 100 percent of costs for newly eligible Medicaid recipients through 2016, as well as all of the costs for residents who were previously covered by states that had already expanded Medicaid to cover some low-income parents.

Christie said last year that the expansion would save the state $227 million, but that figure didn’t include additional costs of increased enrollment – due to ACA outreach and publicity — by people who were already eligible for FamilyCare.

Of the state’s roughly 8.9 million residents, 1.39 million were enrolled in FamilyCare through March, according to the Department of Human Services. The number was up from 1.28 million enrollees in December. (Kitchenman/NJSpotlight)  







Port Authority exec’s 1st new hires tap governor’s office, GOP senator’s staff

NEW YORK — The first two hires under the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey’s new deputy executive director come straight from the offices of Gov. Chris Christie and a Republican state senator from Monmouth County.

Yet Deputy Executive Director Deborah Gramiccioni and the agency director who actually hired the pair said they were not referred by Christie’s office nor was Christie’s office consulted about them.

“We posted externally and internally in the government affairs office for New Jersey,” said Chistina Lado, the Port Authority’s director of government and community affairs, who joined the agency in 2007 under former Gov. Jon Corzine. “We did interviews and these are the two selections that I made.”

The new hires are Kathryn Winfree, a policy analyst in Christie’s office, and Nick Raspanti, who has served as the legislative director for state Sen. Jennifer Beck (R-Monmouth).

An internal announcement of their hiring was circulated within the agency this week, but the two will not officially begin work until later this month, and their salaries will not be public until then, said Steve Coleman, a Port Authority spokesman.

Gramiccioni, who had headed the authority’s unit in Christie’s office, was named by the governor to replace former Deputy Executive Director Bill Baroni in December amid multiple investigations into the Sept. 9-13 George Washington Bridge lane closures that snarled traffic in Fort Lee.

Even before the Bridgegate scandal cast a shadow over the Christie administration’s tight control of the bi-state agency’s New Jersey operations, Christie had been criticized for making some 50 patronage hires, known as executive referrals, during his first term. (Strunsky/Star-Ledger)  




Menendez campaign donor and Fla. eye doctor is nation’s highest paid Medicare physician

TRENTON — A West Palm Beach ophthalmologist and U.S. Sen. Robert Menendez’s close friend and major benefactor is Medicare’s $21 million man.

That’s how much Salomon Melgen, a retinal specialist, earned from treating elderly and disabled patients in 2012. He is Medicare’s highest reimbursed physician in the nation, according to never-before disclosed billing information released today by the Obama administration.

Ophthalmologists like Melgen were among the most highly compensated on the list of 770,000 physicians and health care organizations in the database. But Melgen earned more than 60 times than his average peer, taking in $20.8 million to treat 894 patients who underwent 94,000 procedures, according to the federal database.

Melgen’s relationship with Menendez came under scrutiny last year when New Jersey’s senior senator acknowledged he had accepted trips to the Dominican Republic in the doctor’s personal jet without reporting them on his campaign spending reports. Menendez went to bat for Melgen when Medicare audited the doctor and questioned $8.9 million in services billed from practice, according to a report in The Washington Post. Quoting Menendez aides, the Post said Menendez initially contacted federal officials in 2009 about the government’s audit of Melgen, complaining to the director overseeing Medicare payments that it was unfair to penalize the doctor because the billing rules were ambiguous, the aides said.

FBI agents raided Melgen’s office, Vitreo-Retinal Consultants Eye Center, last year. (Livio/Star-Ledger)  

From the Back Room

Quinnipiac: Voters say internal Bridgegate review was a ‘whitewash’

The investigation clearing New Jersey Gov. Christopher Christie of involvement in Bridgegate was a “whitewash,” Garden State voters say, as the governor’s job approval drops to 49 – 44 percent, according to a Quinnipiac University Poll released today.

New Jersey voters are divided 48 – 48 percent on whether Gov. Christie is more of a leader or more of a bully, his worst “bully” score ever. The governor’s job approval is down from a 55 – 38 percent score in a January 15 survey by the independent Quinnipiac University, in which 54 percent of voters said he was more of a leader while 40 percent said he was more of a bully.

Today, men approve 53 – 43 percent of the job Christie is doing, with women divided 46 – 45 percent.

Of the 96 percent of New Jersey voters who know something about Bridgegate, September’s traffic jam on the George Washington Bridge, 56 percent say the investigation commissioned by the governor and clearing Christie of involvement was a “whitewash,” while 36 percent say it was a “legitimate investigation.”

Quinnipiac: Voters say internal Bridgegate review was a ‘whitewash’ | Politicker NJ

Union IE releases second anti-Jeffries TV ad in Newark

The Working Families Organization (WFO) this morning launched its latest anti Shavar Jeffries commercial aimed at boosting the Newark mayoral candidacy of South Ward Councilman Ras Baraka.

The TV ad is the second in a series of spots the WFO says it will run through Election Day.

“Newark deserves a mayor who is on their side, and who will stand up for their public schools and against Wall Street special interests,” said Rob Duffey, Policy and Communications Coordinator at the New Jersey Working Families Alliance, the New Jersey affiliate of the Working Families Organization. “Newark residents have Shavar Jeffries’ number. They don’t want a puppet of the forces trying destroy schools and tear apart their community for personal gain.”

Union IE releases second anti-Jeffries TV ad in Newark | Politicker NJ

Morning Digest: April 10, 2014