Morning Digest: April 7, 2014

Jones: ‘Let people know we ain’t playing’ PATERSON – Suit. Tie. Loafers freshly polished. Sign Up For Our Daily Newsletter

Jones: ‘Let people know we ain’t playing’

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A confident Mayor Jeff Jones said they dislodged former Mayor Marty Barnes, the late leader of Paterson who ended his reign in handcuffs.

The Republicans told Barack Obama he’s not presidential material.

“I’m in good company,” the mayor beamed, as he launched the opening of his campaign headquarters earlier today around the corner from Market Street, close to the train station.

When it comes to running the White House or running City Hall, the message, the mayor said, has been simple.

The smile disappeared. (Pizarro/PolitickerNJ)

Jones: ‘Let people know we ain’t playing’ | Politicker NJ

Newark mayor’s race: Jeffries rallies troops in West Ward after tough week

NEWARK – Kevin Waters, the West Ward candidate on the slate of Newark mayoral candidate Shavar Jeffries, set the tone quickly Saturday morning at Jeffries’ West Ward campaign headquarters in Newark’s Vailsburg neighborhood.

“Brothers and sisters, this is it. There is a time to win, and a time to lose. There is a time of war, and there is a time of peace,” Waters said to a crowd of about 50 people. “The Lord has spoken to my spirit, and Shavar’s spirit, and said that this is our time. This is our season for victory.”

Biblical references were perhaps appropriate with just 37 days to go before the Newark mayoral election in May. And after the past week, the Jeffries’ campaign could be forgiven for looking to the skies.

An arrest warrant was issued Tuesday for Michael Benkowski, 43, of Newark, in connection with a February incident in which the campaign bus of Ras Baraka, the South Ward councilman who is Jeffries’ rival in the mayoral race, was torched in front of Baraka’s Central Ward campaign headquarters on the 400 block of Central Avenue.

Using surveillance and other technology, investigators with the Essex County Prosecutor’s Office Arson Task Force discerned that a white Chevy Express van was involved in the incident.

Newark mayor’s race: Jeffries rallies troops in West Ward after tough week | Politicker NJ

ABC News: Grand Jury convening in Bridgegate case

The U.S. Attorney in New Jersey has convened a grand jury to investigate the involvement of Governor Chris Christie’s office in the George Washington Bridge scandal, ABC News is reporting.

“Twenty-three jurors convened in a federal courthouse in Newark today to hear testimony from a key staff member, Christie press secretary Mike Drewniak, whose lawyer, Anthony Iacullo, said Drewniak was not a target of the investigation.”

Read the story here.

ABC News: Grand Jury convening in Bridgegate case | Politicker NJ






Newark after Booker: City faces takeover threat

NEWARK, N.J. (AP) — New Jersey’s largest city is hitting some roadblocks just months after its rising-star mayor went off to Washington. A bold reform plan for the state-run school system has hit a snag, the police department is facing federal oversight over citizen complaints, and the state is threatening a takeover of the city’s finances after several key deadlines were missed.

An official who oversees city compliance with state obligations warned the City Council and the interim mayor last month about the state’s growing concern over Newark’s “extraordinary level of fiscal distress.”

“We don’t want Newark to stagger through 2014 like it staggered through 2010 and 2011, absent state oversight,” Thomas Neff wrote in a letter. “Every day that goes by is a day that the city is not fixing its budget problem, is also a day that the problem gets worse.”

The city has failed to produce an on-time budget or indicate whether it will apply for state aid, Neff said. And officials haven’t addressed how they plan to tackle a $34 million budget gap for 2014, a deficit that could grow.

The state has hired an auditor to review Newark’s finances, and a review is expected to be done soon. And Moody’s Investors Service is reviewing the city’s credit rating for a possible downgrade.

The current mayor, Luis Quintana, is in office until a new leader is elected in May. Quintana has issued a statement noting that Newark isn’t the only city facing challenges and arguing that a state takeover would not be in its best interest.

“The priority of my transitional administration has been and continues to be the achievement of long-term fiscal sustainability for our city,” Quintana said in the statement. (Henry/Associated Press)  







Opinions mixed on grand jury’s GWB probe

Some see effort intensifying

A day after news emerged that the governor’s spokesman had testified before a federal grand jury investigating the George Washington Bridge lane-closure scandal, legal experts differed in their opinions on the potential significance of the development.

One legal scholar said the fact that a federal grand jury was taking testimony from a witness in addition to subpoenaing documents reflected a normal course of events in a grand jury probe. But others with knowledge of the federal courts said it could signify an intensifying investigation into the matter that has rocked the Christie administration.

On Friday, Michael Drewniak, who serves as Governor Christie’s press secretary, testified for two hours before the federal grand jury examining the lane closures that snarled traffic for four days in Fort Lee in September, according to ABC News.

It’s unknown if Drewniak is the first witness to come before the grand jury sitting in Newark, but his attorney, Anthony Iacullo, told ABC News that his client is not a target of the panel’s investigation.

Iacullo did not respond to emails and messages Saturday.

Federal prosecutors have been looking into the lane closures since February with Christie acknowledging that month that his office had received a subpoena from the grand jury. At the time, he said the office would comply with the subpoena.

Taking testimony under oath is a big step for a grand jury, said Joseph diGenova, a former U.S. attorney for the District of Columbia.

“When you subpoena documents, you have to get permission of the grand jury to do that, but that doesn’t mean it’s a full-fledged investigation because after gathering documents, they may decide they don’t want to call witnesses,” he said. “But if you start taking testimony, you’re investigating.”

Jim Cohen a Fordham University law professor who manages a federal litigation clinic through the school that assists clients facing federal indictments, also said the new stage could mean the grand jury is getting closer to deciding whether to issue an indictment.

“They don’t typically indict on documents alone,” Cohen said. “You need a witness in there to explain the documents and the significance is you’re moving to a form in which you are more likely to obtain an indictment.” Sudol/The Record)  


“Energy strong” case has wider implications for regulators, customers

How far will BPU go to limit PSE&G infrastructure spending, costs to ratepayers?

With hearings on a Public Service Electric & Gas proposal to spend $2.6 billion on its infrastructure over the next five years ended, it appears the parties in the case are no closer to settlement — even as a last-ditch effort to resolve the issue was unexpectedly extended late last week.

The case, involving the Newark utility’s need to harden its electric and gas infrastructure, has been pending before state regulators for more than a year and has generated both widespread support and opposition. (Johnson/NJSpotlight)  

Policy experts call for easier access to healthcare data for research

Privacy laws and network of government agencies stifle flow of information that could help improve delivery of medical services in NJ

The growing amount of data being collected about New Jersey’s healthcare system could be a vital asset to help solve existing problems and address future needs. But healthcare researchers are frustrated that state government has been slow to provide information needed to conduct studies and analyze patient behavior.

Dr. Jeffrey Brenner, a leader in coordinating healthcare initiatives in Camden, said legislation is needed to make data more easily accessible to researchers, who can spend years trying to access the information they need. Layers of security protect data, under federal privacy laws, and the fact that data for individual patients is kept by several different state agencies complicates efforts to improve access.

Healthcare researchers are excited about the possible uses of data to help solve a number of intractable problems, such as how to best target healthcare for patients who have chronic conditions.

The benefits and challenges of working with healthcare data in New Jersey was the subject of a panel discussion on April 4 at Princeton University’s Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs. (Kitchenman/NJSpotlight)  

Obamacare eclipses low-cost NJ health plan for middle-class kids

While the federal government was trumpeting the benefits of Obamacare to boost enrollment earlier this year, about 1,800 families in New Jersey were receiving letters telling them their children would be losing their health coverage last week.

The Affordable Care Act — the federal law that mandates everyone have insurance — effectively killed FamilyCare Advantage, a low-cost option for kids in New Jersey created six years ago for parents who earned too much to qualify for Medicaid and other subsidized programs but too little to buy on a policy on their own. The state program was the first of its kind in the nation.

Horizon Blue Cross Blue Shield of New Jersey was the only insurance carrier that agreed to offer the FamilyCare Advantage plan, which covered most medical, dental and vision needs for the relative bargain of $144 a month per child.

But it didn’t offer mental health treatment and several other services Obamacare requires, and that was the fatal flaw, said Sen. Joseph Vitale (D-Middlesex), who sponsored the law creating the program.

Vitale said he tried for several months to broker a deal between Horizon and the U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, but neither side could agree on how to make it affordable and legal. The program ended last week. (Livio/Star-Ledger)  

Christie to host town hall on NJ budget in Essex County next week

TRENTON — Gov. Chris Christie will continue his recent spate of town hall meetings next Wednesday in Fairfield, an affluent township in Essex County.

The Republican governor plans to discuss his proposed $34.4 billion state budget at 10:30 a.m. at the Winston Churchill Elementary School.

It will be Christie’s 118th town hall — and the ninth he’s held in less than two months.

Residents can RSVP Doors open at 9 a.m., and seating is on a first-come, first-serve basis and open to the public. (Johnson/Star-Ledger)

From the Back Room



CD12 and Plainfield

Watch Plainfield in the 12th Congressional District contest on June 3rd.

Assemblywoman Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-15) will potentially benefit from a brutal local rivalry where Mayor Adrian Mapp is fighting Assemblyman Jerry Green (D-22) with three local council seats at stake.

A highly locally motivated Green and Mapp both want those local wins, and they both back Watson Coleman for Congress.

The one possible hang-up for Mapp may be the unintentional off-the-line ballot bracketing of Assemblyman Upendra Chivukula (D-17) with Mapp’s candidates.

In that case, Mapp will have the mechanical challenge of reminding voters to vote for Watson Coleman – who’s running on the Union County line – while maintaining their allegiance to local New Democrat candidates opposed to Green’s Union County democratic Party-backed candidates.

CD12 and Plainfield | Politicker NJ

Chivukula brackets with EBOE ticket in Union

Running for Congress in the 12th District and off the line in the Union County portion of the district, Assemblyman Upendra Chivukula (D-17) found another renegade outfit to team up with on the June 3rd Primary ballot…

The allies of the Elizabeth Board of Education.

The group led by former Board President Rafael Fajardo has formed a countywide slate to challenge the establishment ticket championed by Union County Democratic Chairman Jerry Green and aligned with Chivukula’s rival, Assemblywoman Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-15).

Chivukula is on that slate. (PolitickerNJ)

Chivukula brackets with EBOE ticket in Union | Politicker NJ

Letterman’s top 10: Christie delivers with a doughnut

Gov. Chris Christie’s doughnut moment on David Letterman’s “The Late Show” topped POLITICO’s top 10 Letterman political moments.

The website takes a look back at political moments on Letterman’s show over the past 22 years and Christie and his doughnut took the cake.

Letterman’s top 10: Christie delivers with a doughnut | Politicker NJ



For Menendez, Senate committee post a balancing act between global, New Jersey issues

After his resolution providing $1 billion in aid to Ukraine and sanctions for Russia passed on a unanimous voice vote, Sen. Bob Menendez stood at the lectern in the Senate television gallery.

“We are at a dangerous moment in history with global consequences, and the world is watching,” the Democrat from North Bergen said. “I think we responded very loudly today.”

Two hours later, Menendez was in another part of the Capitol, talking about how autism has become increasingly common in New Jersey and how Congress needs to renew and expand a law that coordinates financing for research, screenings, therapies and public education.

Before the day ended, he issued a statement condemning Venezuela’s ouster of democratically elected officials. And he headed back to New Jersey, to meet with Jersey Shore constituents the following day about a new flood insurance law that Menendez helped drive through the Senate last month.

This melding of global issues and local concerns, often during the same day, is something Menendez has committed himself and his staff to maintaining since he became chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee last year.

The position comes with power, but it is a double-edged sword.

Menendez can summon the diplomatic corps to hearings and scold them if he does not like what he hears, as he did on March 26 with a State Department official at a hearing on Syria.

He is consulted on arms sales overseas, and as a result he now gets lobbied by New Jersey firms that make components of weapons systems. And his name is usually on major international legislation, like the Ukrainian aid/Russian sanctions bill President Obama signed on Thursday and last year’s resolution authorizing military force against Syria for using chemical weapons.

All of that means he is often in demand as a guest for network interviewers, especially when global hot spots erupt. (Jackson/The Record)


Morning Digest: April 7, 2014