Morning Digest: April 8, 2014

Report: Wildstein met with federal prosecutors

with federal prosecutors investigating the George Washington Bridge lane closures last week.

Several people close to the case told Main Justice Wildstein “was camped at the U.S. Attorney’s office” in Newark last week. The website, dedicated to covering insider news about the U.S. Department of Justice, also reported that Gov. Chris Christie’s former chief counsel, Charlie McKenna, met secretly with investigators in mid-January.

Main Justice reports the meetings could indicate that prosecutors may have struck a deal with Wildstein, whose attorney publicly asked for immunity for his client.

Wildstein’s attorney, Alan Zegas, did not return respond to a message seeking comment. (Arco/Politicker)

Report: Wildstein met with federal prosecutors

Menendez, Kirk call on Obama to bring back suspended sanctions if Iran, Russia violate temporary freeze of Iran’s nuclear program

U.S. Sen. Bob Menendez (D-NJ) and U.S. Sen. Mark Kirk (R-IL) wrote President Barack Obama on Monday asking him to warn Iran that suspended sanctions could be reimposed if the country tries to violate the November 2013 plan that established a short-term freeze of parts of Iran’s nuclear program.

“As the authors of the U.S. sanctions imposed on the Central Bank of Iran, we urge you to publicly affirm the consequences of any attempt by Iran to violate the Menendez-Kirk amendment and the Joint Plan of Action (JPA) during negotiations,” reads the letter. Menendez, 60, is the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

“Under the JPA, your administration suspended further implementation of the Menendez-Kirk amendment’s requirement for countries to significantly reduce their imports of Iranian crude oil on the condition that Iran’s average daily crude oil exports remained constant over a six-month period,” the letter continues.

“Recent reports, however, suggest that Iranian oil sales have remained above one million barrels per day for five straight months. Even more alarming, Reuters reported last week that Iran and Russia are making progress toward a $20 billion barter arrangement that would breach the JPA and significantly undermine U.S. sanctions by increasing Iran’s daily exports of crude oil by as much as fifty-percent. We are further alarmed by reports that the barter agreement may provide for the transfer to Iran of items of significant value to Iran’s military and its nuclear program. (Bonamo/Politicker)

Menendez, Kirk call on Obama to bring back suspended sanctions if Iran, Russia violate temporary freeze of Iran’s nuclear program | Politicker NJ





N.J. Association of Pipe Trades backs Greenstein in CD 12

State Sen. Linda Greenstein (D-14) snagged the endorsement of the New Jersey State Association of Pipe Trades on Monday.

The group, which is comprised of more than a half dozen local unions, represents more than 10,000 members throughout the region.

“What we need in Washington is someone who will follow Rush Holt’s principled leadership that understands the value of work and represents the best of every single one of our hard-working families, and Linda Greenstein will provide that leadership,” said association president Jim Kehoe. “I know she’ll be that strong voice to stand up to the attacks of the Paul Ryan wing of the right, and to the attempts by the Koch Brothers and other billionaires to buy political power at the expense of everyday Americans.”

Greenstein is battling against Assemblywoman Bonnie Watson Coleman, Assemblyman Upendra Chivukula and Andrew Zwicker in the Democratic primary to succeed outgoing U.S. Rep. Rush Holt (D-12) in Congress.

N.J. Association of Pipe Trades backs Greenstein in CD 12 | Politicker NJ





N.J. officials defend Sandy aid distribution, say problems have been fixed

New Jersey officials on Monday defended their move to take a more hands on approach to the distribution of $1.4 billion in federal aid for victims of Superstorm Sandy, saying the problems that occurred during the first round of disaster funding — slow processing of applications, lost paperwork — have been fixed.

Still, homeowners, housing advocacy groups and lawmakers have little confidence that the process will go smoothly, saying the state is using a firm that came under fire for how it handled a Louisiana housing program in the wake of Hurricane Katrina.

Housing advocates have also accused the state of treating minorities unfairly, a cause that has been taken up by state lawmakers.

Richard Constable, commissioner of the state Department of Community Affairs, sought to ease lawmakers’ concerns about that firm, ICF International, and other Sandy recovery issues Monday during an Assembly Budget Committee hearing.

“The good news is that we’re at a place now where the concerns that were wildly publicized don’t exist anymore,” Constable said. “We’re no longer losing applications. We’re, as quickly as we can given the federal requirements, moving folks from intake to into grant signing.” (Sudol and Reitmeyer/The Record)  





N.J. Senate President Sweeney walks back comments on traffic panel

TRENTON  — The New Jersey Legislature’s top Democrat said an investigation by fellow lawmakers into politically motivated traffic jams should end if a judge quashes the panel’s subpoenas before quickly reversing course Monday and saying the committee has not run its course.

Senate President Stephen Sweeney issued a statement late Monday backtracking on comments made to The Star-Ledger of Newark’s editorial board earlier in the day.

Sweeney told the board the legislative committee should “walk away” if Judge Mary Jacobson doesn’t rule in its favor. The judge has been asked to decide whether two key figures in a lane closing plot orchestrated by Gov. Chris Christie’s aides can be forced to hand over emails and text messages to the committee.

Sweeney told the newspaper there wouldn’t be much left for the committee to do if subpoenas to former Christie loyalists Bridget Kelly and Bill Stepien are withdrawn.

“If we lose that lawsuit that we can’t make people speak, then I think at that point we really need to walk away and let the U.S. Attorney — not interfere with his investigation,” Sweeney said.

U.S. Attorney Paul Fishman is conducting a federal criminal investigation into the lane closings and allegations that members of Christie’s cabinet tied a city’s Superstorm Sandy recovery aid to approval of a redevelopment project. The traffic blocking operation near the George Washington Bridge caused hours-long backups in the town of Fort Lee, apparently to retaliate against the mayor, a Democrat who did not endorse Christie’s re-election bid.

The scandal has become a major distraction for Christie by overshadowing his second term and threatening to derail any plans to seek the Republican presidential nomination in 2016. (Delli Santi/Associated Press)  


Drivers in New Jersey to Lose Link as Pulaski Skyway Route Closes

NEWARK — Here is the view of New Jersey transportation from an eight-acre tow yard on the edge of the city:

More than 1,000 cars, most felled by potholes or the maneuvering of the state’s less-than-celebrated drivers, fill the grounds. Planes drone over the tangle of highways just outside the fence.

And overhead, the Pulaski Skyway towers.

“This,” said Vernon Bradshaw, 24, a tow driver for the lot, “is going to be terrible.”

On Saturday, northbound traffic on the skyway will be shut down for an estimated two years for a reconstruction project, severing a critical link for roughly 40,000 vehicles in and around Jersey City and Newark and complicating commutes to New York City for those who use the bridge to reach the Holland Tunnel.

The integrity of the structure, which opened in 1932, has grown increasingly worrisome in recent years, officials said; its roadbed and concrete railings are so frayed that the state installed netting to catch the falling debris.

“We can’t put any more Band-Aids on the bridge,” James S. Simpson, the New Jersey transportation commissioner, said on Monday as he examined the underside of the bridge from a construction lift in Jersey City. “The patient is 82 years old.” (Flegenheimer/New York Times)  

State agencies explore initial framework for energy resiliency bank  

Low-interest loans and grants should help critical facilities deploy technology to stay in service even if grid is knocked out

Public and nonprofit hospitals, wastewater treatment plants, state colleges and universities, and prisons: they all are among the facilities that may be targeted to receive either grants or loans to make them more resilient in the event of extreme storms.

In a briefing yesterday, officials from the New Jersey Economic Development Authority, state Board of Public Utilities, and Department of Environmental Protection laid out a preliminary framework for how an Energy Resiliency Bank might work.

The proposed bank, to be capitalized with $200 million in expected federal aid stemming from Hurricane Sandy, would provide the funding to help those facilities and others to keep running, even if a storm knocks out the power grid. It is a big priority of the Christie administration.

During the superstorm, many of those facilities were left without power — in some cases, with disastrous results. Hundreds of millions of gallons of raw sewage from wastewater treatment plants spilled into New Jersey’s waterways when a lack of electricity prevented them from treating the waste.

“The plan that we will put forward will make a difference,’’ Michelle Brown, chief executive officer of the EDA told participants at the meeting and those who listened in on a webinar. “I can’t emphasize how important it is.’’(Johnson/NJSpotlight)  

Providing a solid foundations for improving the health of the homeless

Helping patients find a permanent place to live called crucial part of effective medical care

Health providers are increasingly focusing on ways to reduce the number of costly hospital visits, both by improving outpatient services and by trying to head off health problems before they become crises.

But this is extremely difficult to put into practice for people without stable housing, which is why healthcare advocates are joining with other social-service organizations to support the Housing First program, which focuses on giving people a permanent place to call home before addressing their healthcare needs.

Housing First, which started in Los Angeles in the 1980s, has been used by the federal government to support homeless veterans.

In New Jersey, it’s been active in Bergen and Mercer counties, and officials in other counties in the state are interested in developing Housing First programs.

Serious challenges stand in the way of providing the new affordable housing needed in New Jersey. In Camden, for example, it costs nearly $100,000 to convert the average vacant house into a new affordable unit, according to Felix Torres-Colon, director of operations for St. Joseph’s Carpenter Society, which builds affordable units in that city.

But the cost of not taking action may be greater than the one-time cost of building new units.

The average cost of a two-day hospitalization in New Jersey is higher than an entire year of housing costs, according to Anthony Marchetta, executive director of the New Jersey Housing and Mortgage Finance Agency, which provides financing for affordable housing. The agency works with developers to build new housing and provides mortgages for first-time homebuyers. Its funds are provided by the federal government. (Kitchenman/NJSpotlight)  

Advocate for clergy sex abuse victims, assistant prosecutor to be honored by attorney general

An advocate for victims of clergy sex abuse and a prosecutor who handled one of Essex County’s most high-profile murder cases will be recognized Wednesday by the state attorney general for their service to crime victims.

Mark Crawford, the New Jersey director of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, and Romesh Sukhdeo, an assistant prosecutor in Essex County, will receive awards during a morning ceremony at the Hughes Justice Complex in Trenton.

“Through their relentless efforts, the men being honored at this week’s ceremony change the landscape every day within their own communities and throughout New Jersey,” acting Attorney General John Hoffman said in a statement today.

The awards, the first of their kind bestowed by the attorney general’s office, coincide with Crime Victims’ Rights Week and the 30th anniversary of the Victims of Crimes Act.

Crawford, who was abused as a child by his parish priest, will receive the Ronald W. Reagan Award. He was nominated by state Sen. Joseph Vitale (D-Middlesex), who said Crawford tirelessly listens to and educates abuse victims from across New Jersey and beyond. (Mueller/Star-Ledger)  





Sweeney walks back comments on halting bridge scandal investigation

NEWARK — Hours after state Senate President Stephen Sweeney floated the idea of halting a legislative investigation of the George Washington Bridge scandal, he issued a statement saying the panel still has lots of work to do.

“I do not believe the committee’s work has run its course. If there comes a time when the committee has exhausted all of its options, we would make a determination with the committee members to discontinue our review,” Sweeney said in a statement this afternoon.

Earlier in the day, Sweeney told The Star-Ledger editorial board that if the committee doesn’t win a court case to compel two key witnesses to turn over documents, there was little left for it to do.

That met with pushback from the committee’s co-chair, Assemblyman John Wisniewski (D-Middlesex), who said he had yet to hear back from some subpoenaed officials and that the panel still needs to delve into Gov. Chris Christie’s internal investigation.

Sweeney said his comments to the newspaper’s editorial board were made “in recognition of what appears to be an expanding investigation by the US Attorney’s office into the George Washington Bridge matter.”

He said the committee “has a mission separate from federal investigators to determine the facts of the case and to make legislative changes to ensure any abuse of power that occurred does not happen again.”

“The fact that a grand jury was convened demonstrates the seriousness of this issue and reinforces the need for the legislative panel to figure out what happened and to implement reforms,” Sweeney said. (Star-Ledger)  

From the Back Room

Former Missouri lawmaker turned prison inmate says Christie woes aren’t behind him

A former Missouri state senator turned professor of politics and advocacy after spending time in federal prison for campaign finance violations says New Jersey’s governor is “actually in worse shape than he was in when the scandal first broke.”

Jeff Smith, a former Democratic lawmaker, penned a piece for POLITICO magazine describing how Gov. Chris Christie’s legal woes stemming from the George Washington Bridge lane closure are far from over.

“I noted this divide in January, when I predicated that Christie’s real problem was legal, not political, and that he would ultimately be brought down not by Bridgegate itself but by an unrelated investigation stemming from it in the same way that Monica Lewinsky had nothing to do with an ill-fated Arkansas land deal called Whitewater and Al Capone went down for tax evasion,” Smith wrote. “Federal prosecutorial tentacles would make an octopus envious. And so despite two marathon press conferences, a 360-page report produced after an internal investigation by Christie’s lawyer Randy Mastro and beheadings for much of his inner circle, Christie is actually in worse shape than he was in when the scandal first broke.”

Former Missouri lawmaker turned prison inmate says Christie woes aren’t behind him | Politicker NJ

Jamestown wins six Pollie awards

The American Association of Political Consultants honored Jamestown Associates on Friday night with six Pollie Awards for outstanding achievement in campaign communications during the 2013 cycle.

Jamestown Associates received awards for our work on behalf of Governor Chris Christie and Congressman Mark Sanford, as well as for their work in New Jersey Legislative districts 1 and 16. Gold medal winners included a radio spot for Governor Christie and a TV spot for the Republican ticket in New Jersey’s 1st legislative district.

Click here to see their award-winning spot “Compassion” for Governor Chris Christie.

Jamestown wins six Pollie awards | Politicker NJ

Sweeney expresses “confidence” in Bridgegate grand jury

NEWARK – State Senate President Steve Sweeney (D-3) stated that he was convinced that the grand jury convened to investigate the involvement of Governor Chris Christie’s office in the George Washington Bridge scandal, a.k.a. Bridgegate, would be effective in seeking the truth.

“I have a great deal of confidence in [U.S. Attorney for the District of New Jersey] Paul Fishman. He’s not making headlines – he’s just doing his job,” Sweeney said.

ABC News reported on Friday that the U.S. Attorney in New Jersey has convened a grand jury to investigate the bridge scandal.

“The grand jury and the U.S. Attorney’s office is going to investigate everything. Those are government agencies that have the authority to bring people in and force testimony if required,” Sweeney added. “When people aren’t being honest with the grand jury, it’s called perjury. We will get to the bottom of it.”

When asked if the grand jury could supersede the authority of the state Legislative Select Committee on Investigation, which is investigating the bridge incident, Sweeney was circumspect.

“I don’t what [the grand jury] does to that committee right now,” said Sweeney in reference to the legislative group, which is co-chaired by state Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg (D-37) and state Assemblyman John Wisniewski (D-19). “That’s a discussion [for] leaders in both houses.”  (Bonamo/PolitickerNJ)

Sweeney expresses “confidence” in Bridgegate grand jury | Politicker NJ


Our Obligation to NJ’s Young Minds

No matter how you slice it, we need to make some changes to our higher education system in New Jersey.

College enrollment is up, but our graduation rates are still low. Prices for tuition, fees, books and meal plans are growing, but our students are less prepared than ever to enter such an overwhelming financial commitment.

Teaming up with Assemblywoman Celeste Riley, I am trying to change that with a new package of bills that attempts to cut costs for our middle-class students and families, while increasing the number of young adults who are ready for college and boosting graduation numbers.

We have authored bills that aim to decrease the amount of time students spend in remedial courses, which are noncredit courses that are often required at full-credit prices. By putting limits on the amount of credits required for a bachelor’s degree, increasing the ability to transfer between universities and standardizing college courses, we project a quicker path for degree-seeking students.

Our proposed tuition freeze, which would apply for up to nine semesters during a student’s tenure in any New Jersey four-year college or university, is a key initiative that would start colleges back on the road to affordability. Universities should carry the responsibility to budget for a student’s tenure, not the other way around. (Cryan/Star-Ledger) Morning Digest: April 8, 2014