Morning Digest: April 3, 2014

Law firm ends relationship with Bergen County one month after freeholder vote calling for Samson’s resignation

HACKENSACK – Wolff & Samson, the law firm of former Port Authority Chairman David Samson, informed Bergen County officials last month that it felt it should no longer be representing the county, according to both Bergen County officials and the firm. The Bergen officials confirmed that the professional relationship ended earlier this week, almost one month after a vote by the Bergen freeholders calling for Samson’s resignation.

“On Tuesday, March 4, 2014, the Board of Chosen Freeholders of the County of Bergen adopted a resolution calling for a member of this firm, David Samson, to resign as Chairman of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey or be fired by Governor Christie due to certain alleged conflicts of interest,” reads a letter from Wolff & Samson attorney Arthur Goldstein to two attorneys, including Bergen County Counsel James X. Sattely, Jr., dated March 14, 2014. “In doing so, the Board in its Resolution stated that ‘Port Authority Chairman David Samson’s activity clearly conflicted with his official duties and allowed for the creation of a public hazard.’

“Although we do not believe it is appropriate at this time for us to comment on the contents of the Resolution, this action and the allegations against a senior member of this firm negatively impact our lawyer/client relationship with the County as well as [the Bergen County Improvement Authority],” the letter continues. “As a result, we believe there exists a conflict of interest in continuing to represent the County and the BCIA.”

Goldstein, a partner in Wolff & Samson, had served as counsel to Bergen County Executive Kathleen Donovan’s transition team after her election in 2010.  (Bonamo/PolitickerNJ)

Law firm ends relationship with Bergen County one month after freeholder vote calling for Samson’s resignation | Politicker NJ

Trying to run as a local version of Obama, Jones runs into Gilmore at Paterson forum

PATERSON – On a prominently placed table in the mayor’s office stands a framed picture of President Barack Obama and Mayor Jeff Jones, snapped the day the president visited Paterson in the aftermath of Hurricane Irene.

While the picture shows the mayor in easy proximity to the nation’s chief executive, it also carries a painful reminder to some observers of what Jones detractors cite as his downfall, when he and others in his administration collected hefty overtime checks for work rendered during the 2011 storm.

But to Jones, the connection to Obama runs deeper, and the badge of honor, what others call failure, links him no less powerfully: namely the motivation by others to destroy him politically and his and Obama’s mutual unwillingness to surrender. To hear the mayor and his allies tell it, Obama had Mitch McConnell and the GOP assuring federal wreckage, and Jones had the Paterson City Council dooming the local administration.

As Obama’s approval rating skids into the low 30s and Jones tries to conjure a second four-year term with time ticking down until May 13th, another inevitable comparison arises when people consider his tenure: the academic temperament Obama and Jones share, which invariably leads to conclusions about lack of executive ability. (Pizarro/PolitickerNJ)

Trying to run as a local version of Obama, Jones runs into Gilmore at Paterson forum | Politicker NJ






Newark mayor’s race: Jeffries calls for Baraka bus burning fugitive to “turn himself in” and for “thorough investigation”


NEWARK – Newark mayoral candidate Shavar Jeffries responded to concerns raised following the issuing of an arrest warrant on Monday by the Essex County Prosecutor’s Office for a man who police believe set fire to the campaign bus of rival candidate Ras Baraka in February. The arson suspect, Michael Benkowski, 43, of Newark, is wanted in connection with the torching of the bus, according to the Prosecutor’s Office. Benkowski is currently at large.

“As a former State Assistant Attorney General, I believe there should be a thorough investigation of this latest episode, to include all parties in question, as well as threats and acts of intimidation against my supporters at taxpayer expense,” said Jeffries in a written statement. “I have nothing to hide, and neither should my opponent.

“I have complete confidence in our investigative authorities and will let the facts take us where they may.

“The fugitive in the arson matter should turn himself in immediately and face the authorities. Actions have consequences and I strongly condemn any form of vandalism, violence, or acts of intimidation, no matter what side of the fence you’re on in a political campaign.”

The Jeffries campaign has confirmed that Benkowski worked for their campaign. (Bonamo/PolitickerNJ)

Newark mayor’s race: Jeffries calls for Baraka bus burning fugitive to “turn himself in” and for “thorough investigation” | Politicker NJ







Bridge report details blurred lines in Christie office: State workers by day, campaign volunteers at night

Can a state employee assigned to work with local officials during the day seek endorsements from those same mayors and council members while volunteering as a campaign worker after hours?

A report that cleared Governor Christie of any firsthand involvement in the George Washington Bridge scandal raised that question because it also showed how members of his staff used their positions to target local officials for campaign endorsements.

Emails and text messages among the thousands of pages of documents in the appendixes to the report provided at least five examples of state employees who sought campaign endorsements from the same public officials they worked with in their taxpayer-funded jobs. Those employees served as liaisons to the local officials, helping them navigate state government in everything from addressing potholes on state highways to setting up meetings with various departments.

Ethics experts say that blurs the line between government work and politics. But attorneys for Christie’s office and his campaign say there is no conflict with pub­lic employees volunteering for political campaigns. (Hayes/The Record)  




Two Ocean County towns may have to return thousands in federal Superstorm Sandy relief

Two Ocean County towns that may have to return hundreds of thousands of dollars in Superstorm Sandy relief, following federal audits of their debris-removal programs, blamed conflicting advice from federal contractors and unresponsive construction firms for some of their disputed claims.

On Wednesday, the Department of Homeland Security’s Office of Inspector General released an audit of a $4.45 million debris-removal project in Little Egg Harbor, flagging more than $689,000 of the claims as unsupported or ineligible for federal reimbursement.

This is the second audit of a municipality’s Sandy spending made public: an audit of Beach Haven, released Tuesday, called on the borough to repay $344,000 in unsupported claims, on top of returning more than $650,000 in unused money and surrendering its claim to $3 million more.

The charges of unsupported and ineligible claims have particularly rankled local officials.

Little Egg Harbor officials say many citations in their audit came from rotating collection of Federal Emergency Management Agency contractors, while Beach Haven has struggled to get adequate personnel records from two debris-removal contractors.

“We did what the people at FEMA who were sent to us told us to do, and then the auditors came and told us something else,” said Mike Fromosky, assistant business administrator for Little Egg Harbor. “All of the submissions were completed under the guidance of many different project specialists, and not at the town’s own discretion.”

Little Egg Harbor was awarded $4.46 million for debris removal, including a $1.67 million advance received in December 2012. The town provided auditors with debris removal expenses totaling roughly $4.6 million, according to the report.

Unlike Beach Haven, which shared debris-removal services with Ocean County, Little Egg Harbor worked on its own, with FEMA advice, to remove some 33,429 tons of debris, a move the auditors praised. (O‘Brien/The Record)  






Christie’s borrowing binge makes transportation trust fund run dry


Treasurer confirms TTF will run out of money for projects next year because of administration’s failure to keep pay-as-you-go promise.

Despite his promise to increase pay-as-you-go financing for the Transportation Trust Fund, Gov. Chris Christie has relied so heavily on debt for four years that the program will run out of borrowing capacity a year early, leaving the Christie administration without the funding it needs to pay for highway, bridge, and mass transit construction fifteen months from now.

Christie, who complained during his budget speech about the rising cost of debt payments, not only increased transportation debt by $1 billion more than expected during his first four budgets, but also borrowed money at above-market interest rates in order to generate an extra $250 million in up-front bond premium payments to replace New Jersey Turnpike toll money he used to balance his budget.

“The bottom line is that New Jersey’s transportation system is broken, Gov. Christie has once again failed to make good on his promise to fund transportation with more cash and less debt, and there is not enough money in the system to pay for transportation projects next year,” said Janna Chernetz, New Jersey Advocate for the Tri-State Transportation Campaign.”

“While this is certainly not good news in terms of the state’s mounting debt, it also does not come as a shock,” she said. “We never believed he would put in the pay-as-you-go money he promised. Christie’s entire five-year, $8 billion plan was financed using debt and the spoils from the canceled ARC Tunnel, which will run out in 2016. He won’t raise the gas tax, but he can’t just keep borrowing. What’s next?”

Chernetz and transportation finance experts have been predicting for a month that the Christie administration had been borrowing at such a heavy rate that it would not have enough debt capacity left to complete the $8 billion program of transportation infrastructure improvements that is considered critical to the state’s economic growth. (Magyar/NJSpotlight)  

ACA reforms take small businesses, owner-only firms into unfamiliar territory


Changes require switch from small-group market to individual — and more costly – health insurance plans.  

Healthcare reform is bringing an unpleasant surprise for thousands of mom-and-pop shops, small law firms, technology startups and other owner-operated firms in New Jersey.

For years, owners of companies with no other employees could buy insurance in the small-group market and benefit from a wide selection of plans, less-expensive drug coverage, and other advantages compared to the individual health insurance market.

But in December, the state changed its small-group insurance regulations to match the Affordable Care Act, which defines businesses as having at least one employee who is not an owner or the spouse of an owner. That excludes both husband-and-wife teams and partnerships with multiple members but no other staff.

As those firms’ health-insurance policies expire this year, instead of being allowed to renew their plans or buy another small-group plan, they are being directed to research their options on the individual marketplace at

And they are barred from purchasing small-group insurance through their brokers or the new federal Small Business Health Options Program. “There are a lot of small employers who are in for a very rude awakening,” said Linda Schwimmer, vice president of the New Jersey Health Care Quality Institute. “As soon as their policies expire, they’re not going to be able to renew them on the marketplace or even the SHOP. They’ll experience rate shock, and many won’t qualify for a subsidy.”

“We view it as one of those unintended consequences that bubble up in a place like New Jersey that has so many self-employed and freelancers and small law firms and places like that — father-son plumbing firms, electrical engineers and so on. It’s going to have an impact,” she said. (Rinde/NJSpotlight)  

Tesla Fights New Jersey Ban on Direct Car Sales in Court

Tesla Motors Inc. (TSLA) appealed New Jersey’s ban on direct auto sales, arguing that the decision thwarts the carmaker’s mission of providing sustainable transportation and unfairly favors entrenched franchise dealers.

The action comes as Elon Musk, Tesla’s chief executive officer and co-founder, fights with car dealer groups across the U.S. to let the Palo Alto, California-based maker of electric Model S sedans sell directly to consumers from company stores.

Tesla challenged a direct-sales ban imposed by a New Jersey commission in state Superior Court, according to documents made available by the company. The filing couldn’t immediately be verified in court records.

Restrictions by U.S. states on how Tesla sells its battery-powered Model S, priced from $71,000, would slow Musk’s plan to shift his company from a niche maker of battery-powered luxury cars to an automotive powerhouse. Tesla’s fight with dealers has increased scrutiny of U.S. auto franchise rules that go back eight decades.

“Franchise dealers have an inherent conflict of interest in selling electric vehicles,” Tesla said in court papers. “In order to do so effectively, they would need to enthusiastically tout the reasons why electric vehicles are superior to gasoline vehicles. This is not something that they are going to do since gasoline vehicles represent virtually all of their revenue.”

Tesla rose 6.1 percent to $230.29 at the close in New York, the biggest one-day jump since Feb. 25. The shares have advanced 53 percent this year. (Pearson and Ohnsman/Bloomberg)  

How New Jersey Legislators Are Standing Up To A Chris Christie Schools Appointee

The New Jersey Legislature this year has seen the introduction of a series of bills and resolutions designed partly to curb one woman’s influence over public schools in the state’s largest city.

Since Republican Governor Chris Christie appointed Newark Schools Superintendent Cami Anderson in 2011, she and her oft-controversial policies have prompted protestsand rowdy school board meetings. In recent months, state legislators have stepped in, proposing several bills condemning Anderson’s decisions and giving voice to discontented community members.

Unlike in typical school districts, where a democratically elected school board has the power to vote on a superintendent’s contract, community members and parents inNewark School District have no power in determining who leads the city’s public school students. The district has been under state control since 1995, giving the governor power to appoint Newark’s superintendent and relegating the district school board to a largely advisory role.

Dissatisfaction with Anderson surged in December 2013, when she announced the One Newark plan, a school reorganization proposal with the goal of creating “100 excellent schools” by closing and consolidating several Newark schools while expanding charter school influence in the district. Detractors of the plan complain that it was made without community input, but Anderson’s administration says it held and continues to conduct extensive outreach. The district also noted that families have been quick to participate in the plan’s expanded school choice options.

The One Newark plan prompted several legislators to propose a bill in January thatseveral senators sponsored a bill that would force the state to relinquish control of local school districts after five years of intervention. The bill, which is still in the Senate, would impact the four New Jersey districts currently under state control. A more recent bill, which was introduced at the end of March and is still in the Senate,elaborates on other conditions that would force the state to surrender control of local districts.

In a more specific condemnation of Anderson, the Senate and General Assembly approved a resolution in late February that strongly criticizes her plan to change the district’s teacher layoff process, calling the plan an “attempt to usurp authority of the Legislature.” Anderson intends to lay off more than 1,000 teachers during the next few years and wants to dismiss teachers based on their effectiveness ratings. Current New Jersey law provides for layoffs to be based on teachers’ seniority. (Klein/Huffington Post)  

Christie no longer nation’s hottest politician as voters cool on him following Bridgegate

TRENTON — Voters across the country have cooled significantly on Gov. Chris Christie since January, dropping him from “hottest” politician in the nation to ninth place, according to Quinnipiac University’s National Thermometer rankings released today.

The survey ranks Christie at a chilly 45.2 degrees, down from 55.5 degrees on Jan. 9, which coincided with the start of the controversy over the closing of lanes to the George Washington Bridge last fall.

Claiming Christie’s title at the top of the thermometer is U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts (48.6 degrees), even though nearly half of American voters don’t know enough about her to form an opinion. Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton ranks second (47.8 degrees), which is down slightly from her January reading, but she jumps from seventh place to second place.

“One of the worst winters in memory leaves New Jersey Gov. Christopher Christie shivering as he drops from hot to chilly in the minds of America’s voters,” said Tim Malloy, assistant director of poll. “Secretary Hillary Clinton holds her own as some of the Republicans who topped the National Thermometer in January also cool in the frozen winds of winter.”

Meanwhile, U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin is third with 47. 4 degrees, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal is fourth with 47.1 degrees and Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker is fifth with 46.6 degrees. All three are considered potential presidential rivals to Christie in 2016.

Quinnipiac University surveyed 1,578 registered voters nationwide from March 26 to 31. The poll has a margin of error of 2.5 percentage points. (Portnoy/Star-Ledger)  

Christie’s proposed e-cigarette tax is for public health, state treasurer says

TRENTON — Gov. Chris Christie’s administration wants to increase taxes on electronic cigarettes for the sake of the public’s health, state Treasurer Andrew Sidamon-Eristoff said today.

“Our goal is to achieve rough parity with the tax burden on conventional cigarettes. Why? Our main concern is public health,” Sidamon-Eristoff said at an Assembly Budget Committee hearing today. “Contrary to the claims of some users, e-cigarettes have not been shown to be a ‘safe’ alternative to regular cigarettes. Nor are they a proven path to smoking cessation.”

Christie’s budget anticipates $35 million in revenue by applying the $2.70 per pack regular state tax on cigarettes to the electronic cigarettes, which deliver nicotine in the form of water vapor. Users of the products have flooded recent Senate and Assembly budget committee meetings to oppose the tax.

Because e-cigarettes are relatively new products, there are no reliable scientific studies on whether they carry any health risks. E-cigarette users and manufacturers have flooded recent Assembly and Senate meetings to speak out against the tax.

The Christie administration, meanwhile, has been sharply criticized by heatlh advocates for slashing the state’s anti-tobacco programs four years ago. (Friedman/Star-Ledger)  

From the Back Room

Coming soon to a contest near you: more Super PAC money  

Chief Justice John Roberts yesterday led a 5-4 Supreme Court ruling that caps on the total amount of money an individual can give to political campaigns, PACs and parties are unconstitutional.

POLITICO has an important story on McCutcheon v. FEC.

Coming soon to a contest near you: more super PAC money | Politicker NJ



Don’t let them put open records on ice in NJ

If you’ve lived through South Jersey’s development booms, you may know what can happen when neighbors band together to oppose a housing tract or shopping center.

They can get slapped by the builder with what’s known as a “SLAPP” lawsuit.

“SLAPP” stands for “Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation.” Such suits are designed to pre-emptively silence objectors to a 24-hour gas station that blinds residents with its lights or an apartment complex that triples traffic at a bad intersection.

The principle: Ordinary people without deep pockets so fear having to pay fat legal fees or court costs, they’ll be afraid to come out to fight the zoning approvals that the developer needs. SLAPP is a scare tactic against free speech.

A similar attempt to chill public participation is playing out between the Collingswood Board of Education and a small weekly newspaper. The outcome could greatly impede your access to public records in New Jersey.

The Retrospect (as well as Collingswood last fall requested under the state Open Public Records Act a report the district had commissioned over race-based accusations leveled at the BOE by a popular basketball coach whose contract was not renewed.

Instead of producing the document or denying the request as per OPRA, the board turned around and sued the paper and the website, claiming that the school district might be sued by the ex-coach if it made the report public. (Times of Trenton Editorial Board)   

Morning Digest: April 3, 2014