Morning Digest: April 9, 2014

Paterson Mayor’s Race: Torres lays siege to City Council

PATERSON – The circus of politics descended on City Hall tonight with a month to go before the May 13th mayoral election, and at the center of silk city hoopla stood Council President Andre Sayegh and former Mayor Jose “Joey” Torres.

“Ah, Andre,” Torres used to caution the charismatic comer when Torres was mayor. “Just make sure that when they laugh they’re laughing with you, not at you.”

But now the rivalry between the onetime young school board president and aging political lion has turned very bitter.

There are no friendly cautionary words of advice – just hard-angled charges. (Pizarro/PolitickerNJ)

Paterson Mayor’s Race: Torres lays siege to City Council | Politicker NJ

Newark mayor’s race: pro-Jeffries independent expenditure group responds to first Baraka campaign TV spot,

NEWARK – A independent expenditure group that backs Newark mayoral candidate Shavar Jeffries lashed out at the career record of Jeffries’ rival, Ras Baraka, calling his work as a public school principal “failed.”

The response by the pro-Jeffries independent expenditure group, Newark First, came hours after the Baraka campaign launched its first television campaign ad of the season.

The ad features the principal of Central High School – on leave from the job while he runs for mayor – greeting school children as they get off the bus.

But according to Princess Williams, a noted Newark educator who spoke out against Baraka in a written statement issued by Newark First after the release of the Baraka campaign ad, Baraka’s record at Central High has been less than successful.

“Despite Baraka’s claims – from overall performance to college and career readiness to graduation rates – Central High School has failed our children and threatened our city’s future,” Williams said in the statement, issued by Newark First after the release of the Baraka ad. “Newark’s families deserve a champion who will work to improve our schools, not a clubhouse politician who advanced his own career while our children were left behind. Based on his record of failing our families, Ras Baraka is unfit to be our next mayor.”

Williams, a member of the Newark First steering committee, has received national attention for her work in education in Newark and was featured on CNN in 2011 in recognition of this work. (Bonamo/PolitickerNJ)

Newark mayor’s race: pro-Jeffries independent expenditure group responds to first Baraka campaign TV spot, calls Baraka’s career record “failed” | Politicker NJ






Bridgegate committee seeking documents related to Christie’s internal review

TRENTON – The law firm that conducted an internal review of the Gov. Chris Christie administration into the George Washington Bridge lane closure controversy has until the end of the week to provide lawmakers with requested documents.

Democratic lawmakers leading the charge into investigating the administration over the Bridgegate scandal said Tuesday Gibson Dunn has until the end of the week to provide the joint legislative committee testimony and other documents from its report or face the possibility of being subpoenaed by the committee.

“To be fair, they have indicated a desire to work with our counsel in turning over the documents,” said Assemblyman John Wisniewski (D-19). “But that indication has stopped short of saying, ‘Yes, here they are, they will be turned over tomorrow.’”

The co-chairman of the joint legislative committee said discussions have been ongoing with the firm to hand over the documents but a date has not yet been set. (Arco/PolitickerNJ)

Bridgegate committee seeking documents related to Christie’s internal review | Politicker NJ





Partisan sniping in GWB inquiry as panel awaits ruling on key witnesses

Lawmakers investigating the George Washington Bridge lane closures gave Governor Christie’s lawyers one week to produce details of their review, a request made while legislators wait for a key court ruling and consider their next moves as a federal criminal probe appears to intensify.

The New Jersey Legislative Select Committee on Investigation met Tuesday for the first time since the team of former federal prosecutors hired by Christie’s office issued the report that said the governor had no direct involvement in the politically motivated lane closures. (Hayes, Linhorst, Reitmeyer/The Record)  






Christie asks feds for more time for N.J. residents filing for flood insurance after Sandy

Governor Christie has asked the federal government for more time for New Jersey residents to file flood insurance claims for homes and businesses damaged by Superstorm Sandy.

If granted, this would be the state’s third extension with the National Flood Insurance Program, bringing the deadline for filing paperwork from April 28 to Oct. 28, 2014.

“Homeowners and businesses simply need more time to file their final flood insurance claims,” Christie said Tuesday, explaining his April 4 letter to Federal Emergency Management Agency Administrator Craig Fugate. “Many property owners have begun to rebuild only to find there was more damage than they originally thought.”

As of April 3, more than $3.5 billion in Sandy-related claims had been paid to New Jersey residents, and 74,052 claims had been filed, according to federal data.

A spokesman for FEMA could not be reached for comment Tuesday afternoon.

For some residents, Christie’s appeal had little resonance a year and a half after the hurricane devastated much of the state’s coastline.

“It’s a senseless effort,” said Ed Monti of Moonachie. “Time was not an issue. What does time matter when they deny you?”

Monti said he received roughly $15,000 in flood insurance claims and other federal relief, but spent tens of thousands more on repairs to his house. He still finds new leaks, new damage. (O’Brien/The Record)  


Mucho Ado About Nothing: No Tapes, Transcripts of Mastro Interview

Wisniewski: If Christie’s lawyers did not record interviews, report’s conclusions are just ‘hearsay’

Legislative investigators may be headed toward a legal showdown with Gov. Chris Christie and his team of lawyers to obtain the documentary evidence that was used to clear the governor and his top aides of wrongdoing in Bridgegate and other Port Authority-related scandals.

But the “evidence” may be of little value.

Assemblyman John Wisniewski (D-Middlesex), cochairman of the Joint Select Committee on Investigation, said yesterday it is his understanding that Randy Mastro and his Gibson Dunn & Crutcher firm not only failed to conduct the 70 interviews under oath, but also failed to videotape, audiotape, or have a stenographer make transcripts of any of the interviews.

“If this was supposed to be a transparent 360-degree examination of what happened, the lack of any hard evidence of what people said and how they responded to questions means that this report is based upon nothing more than the (Mastro team’s) mental impressions of what people said,” Wisniewski noted. “That’s the classic definition of hearsay,” he said, dismissing the conclusions of the $1 million taxpayer-funded study.

Nevertheless, Wisniewski and Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg (D-Bergen) said the committee wants whatever interview memos or other documentary evidence that does exist. They said the panel would give the governor’s office and Mastro’s firm only until Friday to provide the materials voluntarily before issuing a subpoena. (Magyar/NJSpotlight)  


Along NJ Coast, Offshore Wind Refuses to Quit Without a Fight  

Fishermen’s Energy files motion of reconsideration with state BPU, arguing against agency decision to shut down pilot wind project

Fishermen’s Energy is not giving up on its hopes to build a 25-megawatt offshore wind farm pilot project about three miles from Atlantic City.

The developer filed a motion of reconsideration with the New Jersey Board of Public Utilities on Tuesday, saying the agency’s decision last month to pull the plug on its project was “palpably incorrect or irrational . . . ’’ according to Chris Wisseman, Fishermen’s Energy chief executive officer.

The denial of the project, the first to come before the agency, is seen by its proponents and clean energy advocates as sending the wrong signal about the state’s commitment to developing offshore wind along the Jersey coast. The state’s Energy Master Plan calls for 1,100 megawatts of offshore wind capacity to be developed by 2020, a target unlikely to be met, given that not a single project has won approval from the BPU.

In rejecting the $188 million project, which had been under review for more than 1,000 days, the agency agreed with its staff that the project would be too costly to electricity customers, who would pay for the power the wind turbines generate. In addition, the board questioned the financial viability of the project.

Most of those assumptions were based on the company’s claim that costs to ratepayers would amount to $199 a megawatt hour, but hinged on the project receiving up to $100 million in subsidies from the federal government. The board’s staff calculated the cost at $263 a megawatt hour if those federal incentives were not forthcoming. (Johnson/NJSpotlight)  

The New Jersey Economic Development Authority releases $5.6 million in low-cost loans to small businesses hit by superstorm Sandy


Amid complaints that Sandy rebuilding aid to small businesses is moving too slowly, the state Economic Development Authority made another step in that direction Tuesday when $5.6 million in low-cost loans were approved to restaurants, nightclubs and a Seaside Heights boardwalk arcade.

A loan package worth $2 million was approved for the Shake Shoppe Arcade, which took heavy damage when the Oct. 29, 2012 storm surge smashed the Seaside Heights boardwalk. The EDA’s Stronger New Jersey Business Loan Program and a direct EDA loan will refinance an existing mortgage and provide working capital, according to the agency.

Also in Seaside Heights, the Saddy Family Trust is getting about $2.8 million in Stronger New Jersey Business loans as working capital for its three Boulevard properties, including the Bamboo Bar and Karma Night Club. On the north end of Long Beach Island, the Barnegat Light Liquor Store will get a working capital loan of nearly $118,000 while the restaurant By the Sea Too will borrow $198,000 as its owners struggle to recover from a 2013 season when they were without 50 percent of their seating capacity because of storm damage.

The loans release comes as the EDA and Gov. Chris Christie’s administration hear more complaints from small businesses about the slow pace of Sandy aid. Of more than 1,500 applicants for Stronger New Jersey Business grants of up to $50,000, 335 have been approved during the nearly yearlong program. (Moore/Asbury Park Press)  

Cost of Christie’s Bridgegate report could be unknown for months

TRENTON — The law firm hired by Gov. Chris Christie to run an internal investigation of the George Washington Bridge scandal has not yet submitted any bills for its work and has no cap on what it can spend, New Jersey’s acting attorney general told lawmakers today.

Acting Attorney General John Hoffman told lawmakers on the Senate budget committee that he could not yet say how much an internal review by Gibson Dunn & Crutcher cost state taxpayers. Hoffman said it could take more than six months to get the first invoice.

In a 360-page report, a team of Gibson Dunn attorneys found that Christie and his senior staff had no role in planning, executing or covering up a plot to close New Jersey access lanes to the George Washington Bridge last year. The report pinned the blame on Bridget Anne Kelly, a former top aide to Christie, and David Wildstein, a Christie-backed official at the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey who resigned in December.

Democrats have criticized the report as one-sided because Christie’s attorneys did not interview five key people at the center of the scandal, and Kelly’s attorney called it “venomous” and “sexist” for implying that she closed the lanes because of a recent breakup. Christie has pushed back on those critics and defended the report as “comprehensive and exhaustive.”

State Sen. Paul Sarlo (D-Bergen), the budget committee chairman, asked Hoffman a series of questions about Gibson Dunn’s legal bills and potential conflicts of interest. But Hoffman had limited information to share with the committee. (Rizzo/Star-Ledger)  

Democrat who wants to challenge Leonard Lance is back on ballot

TRENTON — Congressional hopeful Janice Kovach is back on the Democratic primary ballot.

Kovach, the Democratic mayor of Clinton who wants to seek her party’s nomination in Central Jersey’s 7th Congressional District, was booted last week by the state Division of Elections even though she had filed more than the 200 signatures needed to run. The division claimed some of the signatures were not valid because the person gathering them was from outside the district, according to her attorney, Rajiv Parikh.

But Parikh — of the firm Genova Burns Giantomasi Webster — said that an administrative law judge overruled that decision today.

Parikh said the administrative law judge, Susan Scarola, had overturned the division’s ruling because affidavits turned in with the petitions that were signed by Kovvach should have been accepted. (Friedman/Star-Ledger)  

From the Back Room





Report: Christie and Adelson meet again

Gov. Chris Christie and Republican donor Sheldon Adelson are expected to meet again next month at a Jewish philanthropy event in New York City, according to the Wall Street Journal.  Gov. Christie is scheduled to deliver a speech at the Champions of Jewish Values International Awards gala at Cipriani on May 18.

The Jewish Values Network is chaired by Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, a New Jersey resident who ran for Congress in 2012, winning the Republican primary but losing the general election to Bill Pascrell. In addition to the governor and the Adelsons, other guests scheduled to appear include Sen. Cory Booker, Gov. Rick Perry and the actor Sean Penn.

Read Heather Haddon’s story here.

Report: Christie and Adelson to meet again | Politicker NJ

‘The General’

“General,” state Sen. Sandy Cunningham (D-31) pronounced with zest in her address this afternoon of Acting Attorney General John Hoffman.

Member after member of the Senate Budget Committee used the title during the course of Hoffman’s presentation, freshly in the public consciousness as a consequence of Bridgegate.

Former Port Authority of New York and New Jersey Chairman David Samson was exhaustively “The General” in email and text message accounts owing to his status as a former attorney general.

Only state Sen. M. Teresa Ruiz (D-29) briefly grappled with the term prior to addressing Hoffman.

“What’s the proper term here?” she asked. “AG?”

Someone told her “General,” and she complied.

‘The General’ | Politicker NJ

Clergy members back Jeffries in Newark mayoral race

ixteen Newark-area clergy members have announced their endorsement of Shavar Jeffries in the Newark mayoral race.

In a written statement issued Monday,  Jeffries’ campaign put forth a list of clergy who support Jeffries, a former state Assistant Attorney General, in his head-to-head battle against South Ward Councilman Ras Baraka.

Local clergy members behind Jeffries include the Rev. Ronald Slaughter, pastor of St. James AME Church in Newark, the Rev. Ron Christian, pastor of Irvington’s Christian Love Baptist Church and Imam Mustafa El-Amin of Masjid Ibrahim in Newark.

“Spiritually, there is a reason for Shavar to run,” said Slaughter in a written statement. “He certainly has my support and that of many of my congregants.”

“The support of these faith leaders is truly humbling,” said Jeffries in a written statement. “I know that we cannot do this alone. It will take all segments of our community to get our team to City Hall. Fortunately, I have learned that there is absolutely nothing that we can’t do together led by faith.”

The Newark municipal election will be held on May 13.

Clergy members back Jeffries in Newark mayoral race | Politicker NJ


Stile: Motivation unclear for Stephen Sweeney’s remarks about GWB panel

Comments, reversal latest distraction for GWB panel

The legislative committee investigating the George Washington Bridge lane closings is a bipartisan effort.

And so is the attempt to undermine it.

The Republican strategy appeared clear from the start: Discredit the panel’s work as a costly, political witch hunt before it possibly destroys a popular 2016 presidential nominee.

The latest variation of that GOP approach — a demand to pass reforms now instead of waiting until the investigation is completed — was aired at a committee hearing Tuesday.

But what is motivating Senate President Stephen Sweeney, a Democrat who’s maintained a generally warm, collaborative relationship with Governor Christie despite some memorable squabbles, is less clear.

Sweeney caused a brief stir within the Democratic Party this week by arguing that the Legislature should pull the plug on the investigation if a Superior Court judge decides to quash subpoenas seeking documents from two figures at the heart of the lane closing scandal. He quickly reversed himself, but Sweeney’s remarks hovered over Tuesday’s hearing like an unwanted warning.

These two developments reflect the new reality facing the state Legislative Select Committee on Investigation.

Three months ago, it was the committee that methodically, stubbornly pursued suspicions that approach lanes to the George Washington Bridge were closed last September, possibly to punish Fort Lee Mayor Mark Sokolich for choosing not to endorse Christie’s reelection. But after the panel successfully debunked the official line — that the Port Authority closed the lanes as part of a “traffic study” — and confirmed that some sort of vendetta-inspired scheme was linked to a top Christie staffer, the bipartisan panel gained momentum and a high-profile criminal lawyer. Time and money was no object.

But the committee is facing new pressures to produce more than smoking gun emails.

Assemblyman John Wisniewski, the Middlesex County Democrat and the panel’s co-chairman, downplayed the pressures and attempted to dissuade reporters that, despite the partisan squabbling at the outset of Tuesday’s meeting, both parties remain generally cooperative and determined to “get at the truth” and recommend lasting reforms.

“We are going to get one opportunity to do this and do it right,” he said. “Speed is not high on our list. Doing it right is.” (Stile/The Record)

  Morning Digest: April 9, 2014