Morning Digest: April 4, 2014

Newark student protest calls for return of local control NEWARK – More than 500 Newark public school students converged on

Newark student protest calls for return of local control

NEWARK – More than 500 Newark public school students converged on the city’s downtown today, demanding that their school system be returned from state control to local control.

Holding signs saying “Save Our Schools” and “We Demand Full Funding,” the students assembled from high schools around Newark as part of a self-declared “walkout.” They declared that they were determined to protect their schools from what they perceive to be threats from Trenton, as state budget hearings on education funding continue, and from Newark, as the controversial One Newark plan is being debated.

“I’m sick and afraid about what’s going to happen to our school,” Nydiqua Johnson, 16, a junior at West Side High School in Newark. “They’re closing my school, and I really don’t appreciate it. And most of our teachers are getting fired.”

Newark School Superintendent Cami Anderson has become the central polarizing figure in the debate over the future of Newark’s schools. She 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.

Newark’s schools were placed under state control in 1994. (Bonamo/PolitickerNJ)

Newark student protest calls for return of local control | Politicker NJ

Wisniewski a no show at Christie’s Sayreville town hall

SAYREVILLE – Gov. Chris Christie brought his 117th town hall to the backyard of the state lawmaker who’s leading the charge investigating the Republican governor’s administration over the George Washington Bridge lane closures and even sent him an invitation.

But Assemblyman John Wisniewski (D-19) was a no show.

Wisniewski, co-chairman of the legislative committee investigating the Christie administration on the Bridgegate scandal, was absent from the governor’s latest town hall despite receiving an invitation (of sorts) to attend the event.

Wisniewski and other LD 19 lawmakers (all Democrats) were invited to attend the event – as are all state legislators when Christie hosts the events on their home turf, said Christie spokesman Kevin Roberts.

But Wisniewski, Sen. Joseph Vitale and Assemblyman Craig Coughlin were absent from the friendly crowd attending the Sayreville event. (Arco/PolitickerNJ)

Wisniewski a no show at Christie’s Sayreville town hall | Politicker NJ

Chris Christie says legalized marijuana in N.J. won’t happen under his watch

SAYREVILLE – Gov. Chris Christie says a proposal to legalize marijuana in the Garden State making its way through the Legislature is dead on arrival.

The governor, to no surprise, affirmed previous statements on the topic and left any doubts that state Sen. Nicholas Scutari’s (D-22) bill to legalize marijuana is not moving forward as long as Christie holds a veto pen.

“They want tax revenue from legalization,” Christie said during a Sayreville town hall.

“It’s the motivation for the bill and I am not going to turn our state into a place where people fly in to get high for tax revenue,” he said. “I’ve made it very clear since 2009 that I oppose this … [and] it’s not going to happen under this [governor] under any circumstances.”

Christie’s statement is far from new. However, it comes less than two weeks after Scutari introduced legislation he argued could equate to more than $100 million annually in revenue for the state. (Arco/PolitickerNJ)

Chris Christie says legalized marijuana in N.J. won’t happen under his watch | Politicker NJ

After years in politics, Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno remains a mystery

No dispute that emerged in the aftermath of the George Washington Bridge lane closings has been more incendiary than the one ignited when Hoboken Mayor Dawn Zimmer accused Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno of tying the release of Superstorm Sandy aid to the approval of a proposed $1.1 billion development project.

And no dispute has hinged so much on the public perception of its protagonists.

Zimmer has been the subject of intense scrutiny. She has been exalted by her supporters as a truth-telling citizen turned politician who was unafraid to take on the Christie administration. Her detractors, meanwhile, have painted her — in the words of a report commissioned by Governor Christie — as out of touch with reality, saying she mistook her “subjective perceptions” for “objective reality.”

Guadagno’s character has escaped that type of intense scrutiny. She is among the least-analyzed players in the sprawling aftermath of the lane closures, in which government functionaries like Bridget Anne Kelly and David Wildstein have assumed large public personas.

Despite her lengthy career, one that has involved stints as a prosecutor and sheriff, and her eventual election as the state’s first lieutenant governor, those looking for evidence on her character — either to defend or discredit her — will have to dig deep.

And, politically, that could be a benefit. (Akin/The Record)  






Newark-based Star-Ledger newspaper cutting 167 jobs

The Star-Ledger’s announcement of 167 job cuts — among 306 layoffs made by owner Advance Publications Inc. Thursday — reflect long-running troubles at the state’s largest newspaper, which has felt the impact of a nationwide drop in newspaper readership and advertising revenue.

Thursday’s cuts are the latest in a series of layoffs and buyouts since 2008 at the Newark paper, a New Jersey institution that has won three Pulitzer Prizes but lost millions of dollars in recent years. The cuts include 40 jobs in the newsroom, which is not unionized, bringing it to a staff of about 116, down from a high of 350 before the first buyout in 2008.

In addition to the Star-Ledger cuts, 124 full and part-time jobs were eliminated at other daily and weekly papers owned by Advance Publications Inc., in New Jersey and Pennsylvania, and 15 at the company’s web site,

The layoffs are part of a plan announced last week by Advance to create a new company, NJ Advance Media, based in Woodbridge, to provide advertising, marketing and news content to The Star-Ledger, the three other daily papers in New Jersey and Pennsylvania, and The company plans to focus on efforts to grow its digital operations.

Star-Ledger employees were called in Thursday for one-on-one meetings, where they were either told they were being let go or offered a job with the new company. The new jobs, in some cases, carried salaries more than 5 percent lower, along with reduced benefits, according to employees who asked not to be identified. According to the newspaper, the cuts included the entire full-time business staff and positions in sports, features, photos and news. (Lynn/The Record)  





Legislative spotlight burns hot and bright on aid cuts, school construction delays


New education commissioner and head of development authority face tough questions about Christie administration’s policies and tactics

ew Jersey’s fiscal 2015 education budget – which every year accounts for more than one-third of overall state spending — got a public airing yesterday with some familiar themes but also some somber warnings of looming financial shortfalls.

Much of the three-hour hearing before the state Senate’s budget committee centered on K-12 education funding, with Acting Commissioner David Hespe making his first appearance before the Legislature since Gov. Chris Christie appointed him to the post last month. (Mooney/NJSpotlight)  


Have political, power struggles, tarnished NJ’s judiciary?


Derided and second-guessed by openly hostile governor, punished for controversial decisions, the state’s court system struggles to maintain independence

New Jersey’s judiciary — nationally recognized for its independence and important legal precedents — has been thrown into a state of crisis due to politics, according to many of the state’s most prominent lawyers, judges, and scholars. They argue that only a combination of public education, a constitutional amendment, and legislative changes can reverse the slide and return New Jersey’s judicial branch to its former status.

A Task Force on Judicial Independence has been created by the New Jersey Bar Association to look into these issues and recommend ways to correct what is seen as the judiciary’s decline. The association plans to hold a series of four hearings (the first occurred earlier this week). A full report is expected to follow. (O’Dea/NJSpotlight)  

Acting Port Authority chair cautions against splitting up agency in ‘heat of the political moment’

The acting chairman of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey said a recommendation that the agency should be broken up is something that “should be considered,” but represents a challenge fraught with complexities that should not be taken likely.

“A wholesale splitting up seems challenging, but it’s something that should be considered, like everything should be considered,” said acting Port Authority Chairman Scott Rechler, who leads the agency’s board of commissioners following Friday’s resignation by David Samson. “But that’s a pretty meaningful, material change, and I would not take it likely.”

Rechler had been asked by The Star-Ledger to comment on remarks last Friday by Gov. Chris Christie, who said he was “intrigued” by a recommendation contained in a report on September’s George Washington Bridge lane closures that his office had commissioned from the law firm Gibson, Dunne & Crutcher. (Strunsky/Star-Ledger)  

NJ Transit sued for suspending employee in medical marijuana program

In what may be the first legal test of the state’s medical marijuana law in the workplace, a 57-year-old Newark man with end stage renal failure is suing NJ Transit, his employer, for suspending him and sending him into rehab because he is a registered patient with New Jersey’s medical marijuana program.

Charlie Davis, a former procurement clerk at the transit agency, says the nerves in his legs are severely damaged, causing him pain and making it difficult to sleep. Using marijuana, he says, relieves some of that discomfort, according to the lawsuit.

In December, Davis was “bumped” from his job by a more senior employee, according to the lawsuit filed last month in state Superior Court in Essex County. When he sought an available job as a “block operator” a field position, he was sent for a physical exam that required a drug test.

He told NJ Transit’s medical director he used medicinal marijuana, and offered to apply for “non-safety sensitive position” if his treatment was a problem, according to the lawsuit.

The suit says the medical director Patrice Verner, “told him that he had no choice but to take the drug test and if it came back positive, he would be sent to drug rehabilitation.”

Davis tested positive for pot on Dec. 28 and was sent to a drug treatment program. Since then, he has been out of work and not receiving a paycheck.

“Instead of working to accommodate its disabled employee, NJ Transit treated him like a drug addict,” according to his attorney, Sarah Fern Meil of Milford, who said that to her knowledge this was the first lawsuit challenging an employee’s right to work and be enrolled in the medical marijuana program.

“Charlie Davis is a courageous person,” Meil said. “Despite suffering from a debilitating illness, he’s trying his best to remain a productive member of society. The medicinal marijuana prescribed by his doctor helped ease his terrible pain and allowed him to lead a more normal life. But NJ Transit has forced Charlie to choose between his health and his job.”

“NJ Transit’s actions violate both common sense and the law against discrimination designed to protect workers and disabilities like Charlie,” she added.

An NJ Transit spokesman, John D’Urso, said the drug-testing requirements were intended to ensure the safety of customers.

“All employees applying to and occupying safety-sensitive positions at NJ Transit are required to submit to, and pass pre-employment and random drug tests in accordance with Federal Railroad Administration and Federal Transit Administration guidelines,” D’Urso said. (Livio/Star-Ledger)  

From the Back Room

Bad day at the Ledger

The state’s paper of record, The Star-Ledger, today announced 167 job cuts, including 40 newsroom cuts.

The Star-Ledger has the story.

Bad day at the Ledger | Politicker NJ

In the Name of the Father

From the name of the Bridgegate scandal itself to Gov. Chris Christie’s much written-about record of vindictiveness, the Bridgegate/Watergate references abound.

Another throwback to Watergate emerged this past week with Steve Kornacki’s report about a new wtiness who may come forward to back Hoboken Mayor Dawn Zimmer in her rundown with the Christie administration.

Kornacki revealed the possible witness as Joseph Maraziti, the lawyer who represents the city on development matters.

Maraziti is the son of the late former Rep. Joseph Maraziti, who gained national recognition as a staunch defender of President Richard M. Nixon during the Watergate investigation in Congress, according to his 1991 obituary in The New York Times.

A graduate of Fordham University Law School, Mr. Maraziti served in the New Jersey Assembly for 10 years and then in the State Senate for five years before being elected to the House of Representatives in 1972, the Times reported. He had also been an assistant Morris County prosecutor, a magistrate in Boonton and an adviser to the Morris County Board of Freeholders.

Want another cross current?

Remember, it was the late Archibald Cox who served as a special prosecutor during the Watergate trial.

Fast forward to last year, and a $25,000 contributor to the New Jersey Republican Party was one Archibald Cox.

In the Name of the Father | Politicker NJ

The Long and the short of it

When Chris Christie spoke before the Republican Jewish Coalition in Las Vegas last Saturday, he didn’t publicly acknowledge Sheldon Adelson (unlike all other speakers).

Then right after Christie lost the audience with his remark, U.S. Rep. Billy Long roared from the podium “There are no occupied territories!” and he got a standing ovation.

Long is a close personal friend to Republican Jewish Coalition Executive Director Matt Brooks, and people in the room read his statement as a proxy.

Read more on Christie’s relationship with Adelson in this New Republic piece.

The Long and the short of it | Politicker NJ Morning Digest: April 4, 2014