Morning Digest: May 2, 2014

CD 12 hopefuls share stage discussing civil liberties

PRINCETON – Civil liberties took center stage Thursday night as a good-government group which is synonymous with championing the cause hosted its first candidate debate.

The American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey invited the five candidates vying for an opportunity to serve in Washington D.C. discussing advocating the relaxation of marijuana laws, fixing the criminal justice system and changing U.S. immigration practices.

CD 12, the good-government group notes, is home to 2,155 card-carrying members. It’s also home to outgoing U.S. Rep. Rush Holt (D-12), who the ACLU-NJ’s executive director, Udi Ofer, proudly declared is “a champion of our Constitution” and a friend of the agency.

“This is actually the first time the American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey is hosting a candidate debate,” he said. “I cannot think of a better way to begin this new tradition than to host this debate here in Congressional District 12.”

The group has recognized Holt for his staunch support of civil liberties and constitutional safeguards in the wake of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, which the ACLU argues – many times in the courtroom – ushered an unprecedented overreach of the federal government.  (Arco/PoliticlkerNJ)

CD 12 hopefuls share stage discussing civil liberties | Politicker NJ

Newark mayor’s race: Ferry Street diary – at the bar, Baraka victory predicted while candidate meets businessmen in the basement

NEWARK – The crowd inside Mompou, a popular wine bar, lounge and tapas spot on Ferry Street in Newark’s Ironbound neighborhood, could blend in well in Manhattan’s Soho or downtown Jersey City.

Karen Suarez, a young professional who works in Manhattan in the financial industry, was born in Puerto Rico and raised in the Ironbound. Although she now lives in Brooklyn, she returns to the old neighborhood regularly to see friends.

On Thursday evening, Suarez, a former volunteer for then-Newark mayor and now U.S. Senator Cory Booker, tapped back into Newark’s political flow and felt that the tide was turning towards one mayoral candidate with just 12 days left before the May 13 municipal election.

“I really do think that Baraka is going to win. The South Ward is going to support him heavily, and they vote, unlike a lot of people here in the Ironbound, who don’t vote,” said Suarez, a graduate of Newark’s East Side High School and Rutgers-Newark. “You have people who own homes here, but now they’ve moved away, so they simply don’t care.”

Suarez also believes that another element will lead to Baraka’s victory.  (Bonamo/PolitickerNJ)

Newark mayor’s race: Ferry Street diary – at the bar, Baraka victory predicted while candidate meets businessmen in the basement | Politicker NJ

Hitting back after mail drop, Torres says Sayegh’s ‘an actor’ and a ‘phony’

Paterson – With less than two weeks to go, their biggest debate behind them, and the first mailer of the season on the streets clubbing former Mayor Jose “Joey” Torres, the mayoral candidate struck back today in an interview with PolitickerNJ.

Torres claimed victory in the debate last night – a seven-hour donnybrook broadcast on Channel 77.

“Absolutely. If any candidate gave straight forward answers without sugar coating, I did,” Torres said.

The former mayor (2002-2010) called the mail piece unleashed by the Sayegh Campaign a ludicrous, out-of-context attack that reveals more about his Council President rival than it does about Torres.

“The piece of course was very misleading. The issue was ironically targeting hotspots a few years ago and it completely falsifies the intent of what I said,” Torres said. “The other bit about trying to make it look like I’m soft on drug addition – what I said was we cannot incarcerate ourselves out of drug addiction. (Pizarro/PolitickerNJ)

Hitting back after mail drop, Torres says Sayegh’s ‘an actor’ and a ‘phony’ | Politicker NJ

In what may be new phase in GWB probe, feds want to hear from Port Authority officials

Federal prosecutors have summoned or expressed interest in talking to up to a half-dozen current Port Authority officials as a grand jury investigation into the George Washington Bridge lane closures accelerates, sources familiar with the matter said.

The contact suggests the investigation into the lane closures by the U.S. Attorney’s Office in New Jersey is entering a new phase.

“The pace of this appears to be picking up,” said another source familiar with the matter.

Among the Port Authority officials whom federal prosecutors want to hear from is Phil Kwon, the Port Authority deputy general counsel. Kwon, who has received a subpoena to appear before a grand jury, prepared former Deputy Executive Director Bill Baroni for testimony before the state Legislature when Baroni said in November – while not under oath – that the lane closures were part of a traffic study.

Since then, the legitimacy of the traffic study has been largely undercut, dismissed by critics as a cover story for politically motivated lane closures that created a traffic jam in Fort Lee.

The prospect of Kwon testifying or otherwise disclosing his advice to Baroni puts the Port Authority in an awkward legal position.

The Port Authority has said Kwon was acting as Baroni’s legal representative at the time, meaning the discussions Kwon had with Baroni might be protected by attorney-client privilege. That protection could be invoked by the Port Authority even if Kwon were subpoenaed to appear before a grand jury, a source said, unless prosecutors could prove that the advice has already been shared with third parties. (Boburg/The Record)  






EPA grounds helicopter used for pollution checks along NJ, NY coastlines

ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. (AP) — A distinctive sound of summer at the Jersey shore — the roar of a low-flying helicopter above the surf as it looked for pollution — won’t be heard anymore.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency says budget cuts are forcing it to ground a helicopter that for decades had checked for floating debris and algae blooms along the New Jersey and New York coastline.

The agency said less money and fewer employees left it with little choice but to end the program.

“The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has faced serious budget constraints over the past few years that have resulted in tough choices and the redirection of staff and resources to successfully fulfill our mission,” the agency said in a prepared statement. “As a result of budget limitations and the need to realign existing resources, the regional helicopter will no longer operate.”

The EPA said it remains committed to protecting coastal waters and the New Jersey and New York shorelines.

The low-level flights, which started in 1977, were a familiar sight and sound to generations of beachgoers looking up at the chopper as it swooped low along the coast.

“The daily summertime flights allow EPA to locate large slicks of debris and coordinate cleanup with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the U.S. Coast Guard, and the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection,” New Jersey’s two U.S. Senators, Robert Menendez and Cory Booker said in a joint statement Thursday. “These efforts have helped make the Jersey Shore the jewel it is today, attracting hundreds of thousands of visitors each year.”

They urged the agency to reconsider its decision, which they called “foolish and potentially dangerous. Floating debris threatens marine life, and poses a public health risk to swimmers, fishermen and others along the Jersey Shore. (Parry/Associated Press)  






Late Surge Spurs Higher-Than-Expected Obamacare-Signups in Garden State

New Jersey’s enrollment in the federal health insurance marketplace surged in March and April, outpacing the national increase and exceeding the expectations of healthcare analysts.

With 87,405 signups between March 1 and April 19, New Jersey more than doubled the number of state residents who enrolled from October 1 to March 1, bringing the total to 161,775.

The individual health insurance marketplace is one of the two primary ways that the 2010 Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare, increased access to insurance, along with an expansion in Medicaid eligibility.

The dysfunction of the marketplace website,, during October and November kept New Jersey’s enrollment to only 4,000 in those months, but the site’s improved performance and a last-minute public-awareness campaign appeared to pay off.

“This is a very popular program here,” said Raymond J. Castro, senior policy analyst with New Jersey Policy Perspective, a nonprofit research organization.

Castro noted that according to the latest federal update, New Jersey’s ACA enrollment increased by 117 percent in March and April, compared with a national increase of 89 percent. Nationally 8.02 million people enrolled during the open enrollment period, which lasted from October 1 to March 31, with an extension into April for late filers.

U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius attributed the success to an “unprecedented outreach” and public-education effort.  (Kitchenman/NJSpotlight)  


Voices from the First Round of the PARCC Tests in New Jersey Schools

The second phase in the field tests of the online PARCC exams will start next week, with the state Department of Education inviting still more districts to take part.

New Jersey is already one of the biggest participants in the shakeout, with more than 60,000 students taking part last month. More than 1,000 schools are expected to participate next week.

During the first cycle of field tests in April, NJ Spotlight asked its readers — teachers, administrators, parents, and students themselves — to comment on the new exams. As the second round starts next week, we’re again asking those involved in the testing to share their experiences with us.

Here’s a small sampling of what we’ve been told thus far:

“Teachers and nontesting students have no access to computers and media resources during the testing days. This is getting to be a real problem, since the amount of testing days can approach 30 and administration has not indicated that there is going to be an improvement in access next year.” — teacher with students involved in the field test

“Education in the school came to a screeching halt. No other uses of technology were permitted during testing time. Students reported that the test itself was a big waste of time. Students also reported many problems with the process itself. Administrators were invisible during the process, as they were preoccupied with the tests. — teacher with students involved in the field test

“She enjoyed the experience. She said the questions were hard . . . . Learning to manage your time as you take the test seems to be the biggest challenge. — parent of a child in the field test

“It will force technology to be used in instruction, and it will raise the bar for students to learn touch-typing. Classroom instruction time will be reduced due to testing time . . . It was very frustrating getting all students logged onto the [test site]. Some got on without a hitch. Others took over an hour of trying and retrying.– administrator in a district involved in the field testing.  (Mooney/NJSpotlight)  






NJ authorities charge 12 people in alleged insurance scam to recruit accident victims as patients

TRENTON — Two Monmouth County brothers have been accused of orchestrating a racketeering ring over the last five years in which they hired people to recruit traffic accident victims as patients and bilked millions of dollars from insurance companies, state authorities announced Thursday.

Anhuar Bandy, 50, and Karim Bandy, 53, both of Colts Neck, funneled victims to chiropractic centers they controlled across New Jersey despite not being licensed, and to a doctor and lawyer who paid them for referrals in “a pretty sophisticated plot,” said acting state Attorney General John Hoffman.

The brothers were among 12 suspects — including a Bergen County medical doctor, two chiropractors, a Morris County attorney, and a paralegal — charged with such offenses as racketeering, conspiracy, health care claims fraud, and the criminal use of people known as runners to recruit the victims.

“The scheme is egregious because the individuals who conspired with the ringleaders included a number of licensed professionals, all of whom took oaths to assist people and uphold our laws,” Hoffman said at a news conference at the Hughes Justice Complex in Trenton. “The charges reveal a massive criminal trifecta, as the tentacles of the fraud reached into the medical system, the legal system, and the insurance system.”

Hoffman added that such crimes can also cause “runaway insurance premiums that we all pay because people take advantage of the system.”  (Johnson/Star-Ledger)  





Transportation commissioner projects $620M project deficit for fiscal 2016

TRENTON — While the state should be able to pay for highway projects planned for the upcoming fiscal year, the state transportation commissioner said he was looking down the road at a $620 million shortfall in the department’s capital budget for fiscal 2016.

“We’re going to need about $620 million, either financed or cash, to get through the ’16 program,” Commissioner James Simpson told lawmakers today. “’We’ve got $620 million that we need to come up with.”

Simpson appeared before the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee during a hearing on transportation elements of Gov. Chris Christie’s $34.4 billion proposed budget for the fiscal 2015, which starts July 1.

But beyond the upcoming budget, Simpson’s comments came in the context of an ongoing debate over funding the state’s depleted Transportation Trust Fund.

The state’s $3.7 billion in transportation projects for Fiscal 2015, including $2.5 billion for roads and bridges and $1.2 billion for NJ Transit projects is covered, Simpson said. Those funds including $1.46 billion in federal dollars, $1.23 billion from the trust fund, and $375 million from the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which is paying for one of the biggest projects, including a two-year, $1 billion overhaul of the Pulaski Skyway.

“We’re okay for ’15,” Simpson assured the committee chairman, Sen. Paul Sarlo (D-Bergen).

Simpson revealed the looming Fiscal 2016 deficit voluntarily after he had been sharply questioned on the subject by members of the Assembly Budget Committee three days before.  (Strunksy/Star-Ledger)  





From the Back Room


Ferry Street Diary Series: Bonamo talks to Newarkers about the Mayor’s Race

PolitickerNJ reporter Mark Bonamo headed onto Ferry Street in the Ironbound this afternoon to talk to Newarkers about the May 13th Mayor’s Race.

Below, find links to his PNJ exclusive “Ferry Street Diary” series…

The Jeweler

The Fish Market

The Tapas Bar

Ferry Street Diary Series: Bonamo talks to Newarkers about the Mayor’s Race | Politicker NJ





Belleville Councilwoman’s alleged racist tirade has Essex on its ear

A racist rant caught on tape, allegedly the vocal meltdown of veteran Belleville Councilwoman Marie Strumulo Burke, has politicos and outraged citizens circling in Essex County.

See the story here.

Belleville Councilwoman’s alleged racist tirade has Essex on its ear | Politicker NJ





Christie relying on the state-owned helicopter fleet more than ever, report says

Gov. Chris Christie’s use of the state-owned helicopter fleet is going up.

According to Bloomberg, Christie relied on the fleet more last year than his previous three years in office. The governor took 106 trips on the state’s helicopter in 2013.

The flights last year compare with 23 in 2010, his first year in office; 66 in 2012; and 70 in 2011, records show, according to the report.

Christie relying on the state-owned helicopter fleet more than ever, report says | Politicker NJ





Report: Paterson Mayoral candidates battle for nearly seven hours

Check out Paterson beat reporter Joe Malinconico’s break down of a nearly seven-hour long cable television broadcast debate among the eight candidates running for mayor.

As expected, perceived frontrunners former Mayor Jose “Joey’ Torres and Council President Andre Sayegh ate the most blows from their mayoral rivals.

Here is the report.

Report: Paterson Mayoral candidates battle for nearly seven hours | Politicker NJ   Morning Digest: May 2, 2014