Author Archive: Bill Orr

About Bill Orr

University of Virginia Masters in English. Have lived in Argentina, Panama, Delaware, Virginia, California, NYC, and New Jersey for the last 25 years. Former editor and manager at McGraw-Hill, former President of Gay Activist Alliance of NJ, founder of NJ ActUp, and North Jersey Community Research Initiative (NJCRI) in Newark.

COFFEE TALK with Linda Richman

On this quiet morning, looking forward to tonight’s Saturday Night Live and tomorrow’s Boardwalk Empire, and in the midst of Midterm Madness, let’s gather for COFFEE TALK. You can think of me as Linda Richman, with a bad hair day and saddened by no news about Barbra Streisand in weeks.

“Give me a call, we’ll talk, no big whoop  …  Caller # 1 you say that Irishman “Nucky” Thompson is so smooth, he’s almost like buttah  …  Caller # 2  you say Christie has left you with shpilkis in your genechtagazoink  ….  Caller # 3 you say about midterm elections, Please every single day different polls. Oy vey.

“Well, I’m afraid that Christie’s whopper on ARC, the thrill of another evening with “Nucky,” and the direction of the upcoming midterm elections have left me a little faklempt  …  Talk amongst yourselves.

“I give you two topics:

    Midterm madness is neither midterm nor madness.


    Compare and contrast Chris Christie and “Nucky” Thompson.

Discuss among yourselves.”

                                             Then revisit a classic SNL skit.

OPRA ARC Documents Reveal Puff was Puffing

As suspected, ( see my earlier diary today) there is no surprise here. Yet even a cynical person might be amazed that the governor claimed on October 7 that there was a projected overrun of up to $5 billion on ARC when OPRA documents reveal his most recent report of October 5 indicated the project was on budget.

Assembly Transportation Chairman John Wisniewski (D-Middlesex) released the following statement Thursday afternoon on documents provided by the Christie administration through an OPRA request.

The documents provided by the governor’s own administration fail to provide any justification for the governor’s claim of billions in cost overruns on the tunnel project. That claim seems as though it was simply pulled out of thin air by the governor. The governor is risking New Jersey’s economic future with numbers that, at least according to these documents, have no basis in reality.

“Over-the-top sound bites by Gov. Christie aside, the fact is the OPRA documents include reports dated July 30, Aug. 24 and Oct. 5. All of the reports include the following statement: ‘The overall project remains within budget.’ The next sentence in each report indicates the total project budget is $8.7 billion. Note that the Oct. 5 report came two days before the governor announced the alleged cost overruns.

“This project is vital to New Jersey’s economic and transportation future. Now that we know for certain that the governor cannot support his cost overrun claims, it’s time for him to act like a leader and get this project moving forward.”

One could hypothesize that in some casual conversation or document still in preparation there was broached the likelihood of overruns. However, without clear, supporting data and with the October 5 report to the contrary, for Christie to claim overruns up to $5 billion as a basis to stop ARC is at best misleading and irresponsible.  

To read the documents go to this site. Strangely many documents appear upside down.

ARC Deadline Looms

The two-week ARC reprieve ends tomorrow. Last evening we learned in a press release that Assembly Transportation Chairman John Wisniewski (D-Middlesex) received a late response to his OPRA request demanding all documents related to the governor’s decision to halt building the new Hudson River commuter rail tunnel. We do not yet know the contents of the package and whether material was withheld based on privilege. Christie cancelled the ARC project in his press release of October 7 and then on October 8 announced his reprieve decision.

In my diary of of October 8 Christie’s Decision: Non-Transparent and Possibly Deceptive, I discussed his initial cancellation:

His press release says, “Today, Governor Chris Christie accepted the recommendation of the ARC Project Executive Committee to terminate the ARC Project.” All members of the Executive Committee are political appointees.  In their memo the members say, “The FTA regional staff put forth a projected range of $10.9 to 13.7 billion.”The memo provides no breakdown or substantiation of how this estimate was constructed. Nor does it point to a link that would help us understand the basis …. It appears the numbers that Governor Christie has been throwing around were only preliminary data and that the FTA is still in the process of completing its assessment.

So far it seems that the governor’s cost overrun justification for canceling ARC was madel without legitimate, documented, finalized data. As Wisniewski says, “The governor should have nothing to hide. If he has no detailed cost analysis information, he should admit it. If he has it, he should let the people decide whether they’re valid numbers.” Hopefully, we will learn the truth, but if so, it will not be through a transparent process, but only through the wrenching OPRA mechanism.

With labor, materials, and interest rates extremely low because of unemployment, now is the time to push ahead with ARC. We should receive some word on the matter from the governor very shortly. Hopefully something will convince him to move forward or at least extend the deadline.  At this point his original basis for cancellation appears suspect, and one can only wonder whether he might decide to cancel ARC permanently with an equally flimsy and nontransparent rationale.  

“Twas Christie’s Miracle Elixir, That’s wot did the trick, sir”

“Well, ladies and gentlemen,

From now on you can waken at ease.

You need never again have a worry or care,

I will show you a miracle, marvelous, rare.”

Ah… the excitement of waking up to an early Wednesday morning complete with a shot of this wondrous elixir. In addition, a press release promises that I can begin the day with our glorious governor who has no aspirations for higher office. He is to appear in a profile piece on NBC’s The Today Show, MSNBC’s Morning Joe, and MSNBC’s Daily Rundown. “I had been dying of shame till this gentleman came.” With thrills coursing through my spine I reviewed the press release titled “The Time Has Come To Act.” And of course I had acted by purchasing his potent brew. Indeed this man had given “me a liquid as precious as gold. I rubbed it in daily like wot I was told.”

Only $25,000 buys a bottle – guaranteed. So powerful this elixir I did not even need to listen to his wondrous TV pronouncements. Let me know if I missed anything.

                (Thanks to Sondheim: Sweeney Todd – Pirelli’s Miracle Elixir)

Bergen County: “Hard, Ain’t It Hard”

With two weeks to go, the Teaneck Democratic Municipal Committee held a candidates’ forum and GOTV event on Sunday. After subtracting aides and speakers there were about 37 attendees, equivalent to 0.1% of Teaneck’s population – perhaps a sign of Democratic apathy during this election moment. The focus of attention was on Representative Rothman and the five county candidates. Teaneck’s legendary Senator Weinberg introduced each speaker.

From the states’ Division of Elections, my source for data, Bergen County voter registration is 48% unaffiliated, 31% Democrats, and 21% Republicans, but county Republicans have been making gains in the last two years. In 2006 and 2007 Democrats won the seats. In 2008 Republican Kathleen Donovan won the County Clerk job by 10,500 votes, and three Democrats won the freeholder positions. In 2009 two Republicans won the freeholder jobs. Now following Christie’s election, with property tax concerns, in a distressed economy, and with an anti-incumbency mood, the Democrats are more challenged.

Representative Steve Rothman, in his seventh 2-year term in office, spoke volubly about his achievements following his habit of periodically raising his voice and heightening his enthusiasm over key points. He overwhelmingly won his last election with 105,853 votes against his opponent’s 40,879 votes, and has a slimmer but sufficient edge (NY Times says 99.8% chance) to win the race.

Leo McGuire, the energetic, charismatic two-term sheriff, who won his last election with a margin of 22,000 votes, is in a race with Emerson’s Police Chief Republican Michael Saudino. McGuire has a campaign chest 3 times the size of his opponent, but a September poll reported by Charles Stile showed that while he has a strong 45% job approval rating, he only holds a three point lead.  

County Executive Dennis McNerney, serving a second term, has a particularly steep challenge. In a low-key presentation he spoke about sharing and consolidating services, green space and parks, and expense cutting.  In 2006 he was re-elected with a 53,000 vote margin. However, in more recent years controversies among county Democrats and scandals within his party have not helped him. In a testy debate last week his opponent Kathleen Donovan said she would freeze the tax rate for a year and then hold increases at or below the level of inflation. She also trumpeted her reductions in the county clerk’s budget. In late September an internal Republican Party poll showed Donovan holding a 13-point lead over McNerney, whereas, in August a Democratic Party poll reported a tighter contest with a 4% lead for Donovan. GOTV and anticipated increased ad spending will be necessary to turn around McNerney’s fate, as well as that of the three freeholder candidates where issues include pay-to-play, taxes and infrastructure. After some good years, times have become harder for Bergen County Democratic office holders.

(D)eform Jersey Now

“Groups like Reform Jersey Now are simply fronts for their political parties. They should be subject to the state’s financial disclosure laws. And they should have to live by the same pay-to-play laws that political parties do.” – Sen. President Sweeney (July 7, 2010)

It was in June when we first heard about Reform Jersey Now (RJN). On the airwaves it called for Speaker Oliver to hold a vote on Christie’s then 2.5% cap on property tax increases. This 501 (C) (4) organization went on to solicit $25,000 donations from persons to attend events featuring Governor Christie. It also set up its own website to accept contributions. Yet little is known about this shadow operation.

Luminaries and big time Christie donors appear on the website as members of the Advisory Board. From information on the site and the AG’s Charitable Registration Section additional names can be unearthed. As with other 501 (C) (4) groups it was possible to dig into specific records. Some statements on RJN’s site seem at odds with reality. As a (501 (C) (4) it can do extensive lobbying, engage in political campaign activity, and accept donations from any source – corporate, individual, or foreign – in unlimited amounts, including from state contractors, without disclosing the names of its donors.

RJN on its website says it is “not affiliated with any political group or committee.” However, it supports only Republican causes and Governor Christie in particular. Its Advisory Board consists of Chuck Shotmeyer, President, (a recent Christie nominee to a state commission), former Governors Whitman and DiFrancesco, former Congressman Mike Ferguson (Christie advisor), William J. Palatucci, Esq. (Christie advisor and Sr. V.P. for Community Education Centers which does extensive business with the State), and other noted fundraisers, advisors and donors: Joseph Buckelew, Mitchell Modell, David Norcross, and Candace Straight. The contact address on the website using reverse White Pages turns out to be the home of John Visconi, who previously worked on Republican Bill Baroni’s election campaign, has specialties in election law and campaign finance, and has served as Law Clerk at Michael J. Lunga, Esq., LLC.

The RJN website unsurprisingly features photos and videos of Christie and promotes his policies. In the donation section the site says recent contributions were “dedicated to its public policy purpose.” It also indicates, “Information filed with the Attorney General concerning this solicitation and the percentage of contributions received may be obtained from the N. J. Attorney General.” However, RJN’s AG file (Charity Registration Number: CH3286200) indicates no reported income nor expenses. The file does provide an RJN address which turns out to be the home of Ronald Gravino, another nominee for a state commission, who served as Treasurer for Christie’s campaign. Further checking with N. J. Election Law Enforcement Committee’s campaign financing and lobbying disclosure site and Guidestar’s IRS data site provided no reporting of financials nor any records for RJN.

The above sheds more light on this shadow group, but indicates it still operates in almost darkness. As Sen. Barbara Buono said, “Groups like Reform Jersey Now need to live up to a higher ethical standard.” Democratic State Party Chairman Wisniewski has stated, “Any Republicans that claim interest in reform should immediately demand that Reform Jersey Now release its donors and expenditures.” In addition to federal action on 501 (C) (4)’s, it’s time for the NJ legislature to shine a spotlight on this organization, which by its secrecy is deforming rather than reforming Jersey.

Medical Cannabis Program Set Up To Fail

“The regulations are making it impossible to implement the medical marijuana statute that was signed into law.” – Senator Nicholas Scutari (D-22)

Senator Scutari, sponsor of the Medical Marijuana Act, said he will introduce a resolution Monday that would provide the Health Department 30 days to withdraw the rules or rewrite them. The department had placed on its website on October 6 draft proposed regulations, met with concerned advocates, patients and potential program applicants on Thursday, and was planning to publish proposed regulations in the register on November 1. At the stakeholder meeting on Thursday, Deputy Commissioner Walsh answered questions to a group of about 200 angry stakeholders.

Senator Scutari’s resolution is essential because the  program as it stands is inoperable. It will probably delay the availability of medicinal cannabis and the RFP application originally scheduled to be available next week. However, the proposed regulations need substantial changes. Organizations interested in cultivating and dispensing cannabis will decide against applying for a license because of high state fees, restrictions on the strains of cannabis and the levels of THC, uncertainty of pricing, being within 1,000 feet of a school, having to provide criminal checks and fingerprinting of board members, and rules against even low-key advertising. Those groups which do apply would be operating under uncertain and adverse circumstances with a high likelihood of failure.  Indeed, the program as presented, sets itself up for failure.

There is a rally planned at the steps of the State House on Monday from noon to 2:00 PM.   Concerned individuals should attend the rally and send their proposed changes to Deputy Commissioner Walsh and Sen. Scutari.

See below the fold for some of the many ill-conceived regulations which threaten medical care for ill patients.

“If Not Chris Then Who?”

Chris Christie has been actively pursuing a Reform Agenda that will set the Garden State on the path to fiscal and economic prosperity.  And while the job is not done, there is a bigger, more important job that awaits: cleaning up the mess that has become Washington.

– Don Sico, Executive Director, DraftChristie2012 website

Don Sico, former New Jersey Republican Assembly Executive Director, launched yesterday a website to draft Christie for President – a movement gaining nation-wide attention and one which next year would divert much of Christie’s attention to non-New Jersey matters. Saying “We have precious little time to convince him,” Sico solicits individuals to register their names as supporters, hoping to collect thousands of signatures throughout the U.S.

find out more below!

Polls: Headline vs. Bottom Line

“Gov. Christie’s job approval rating improves to 51 percent.

Christie [gets] high marks for holding the line on spending.”

          – Star Ledger
headline and lead sentence on

            Fairleigh Dickinson Poll – October 12, 2010

Polls: love ’em or hate ’em, but there is also more than one way to read ’em. A trend analysis which takes a longer view and accounts for changes in both approval and disapproval on the above two matters – Christie’s approval rating and holding the line on spending – provides a significantly different opinion than that which the newspaper heralds.

The governor’s approval rating has ranged from 52% to 43%. Since March 3, 2010, the reporting date of the first Fairleigh Dickinson poll after Christie took office, his approval rating worsened 1%, from 52% on March 3 to 51% now. His disapproval rating worsened 16%, from 21% to 37%. The net total damage to his approval is 17%. As time went on more respondents left the “unsure” or “I do not know” category and joined the disapproval category.

Since March 3 on the issue of “the state should hold the line on spending even if many programs are reduced,” Christie’s position worsened by 6%, from 66% on March 3 to 60% now. On the opposite issue of “the state should raise taxes if necessary and continue to support state programs,” the governor’s position worsened by 1% from 21% to 22% – net damage to his position 7%.

In spite of the fact that 51% approve his job performance and 60% support holding the line and reducing programs, the current trend is not favorable to Governor Christie. Be not of faint heart. The headline in this case may be positive for him but the bottom line trend is less so.  

Triumph And Tragedy of Two Endeavors

                          In 1492 Columbus sailed the ocean blue.

                          In 1666 Puritans sought new land to fix.

Columbus, charting a shortcut to the Indies came looking for gold and spices. His was largely a business trip, for which he was to receive 10% of everything found. Robert Treat, Jasper Crane and the other settlers who sailed into Newark Bay came for religious reasons. They had left Connecticut, where worldliness and “Godlessness” trampled their Puritan beliefs. Newark was to be a new and shining theocracy where church and government were to be one.

Columbus of course did not “discover” America nor that the world was not flat, and he found less wealth than he sought. Nor were the Puritans able to create a sustainable shining theocracy. Both the Italian captain and the strict theocrats were bold individuals who left their mark on history.

Newark has a plaque on the ground where the Puritans landed (next to NJPAC) and the original settlers and their intentions are memorialized on plaques at the entrance to the Robert Treat Hotel. Columbus has his very own holiday, much appreciated by those who do not have to work today.

However, let’s not forget that both left a sad legacy of injustice toward the inhabitants they met. Columbus kidnapped about 25 Hispaniola natives to Spain, most dying in route. He tricked the natives and supported their enslavement. Newark’s first inhabitants – The Lenape Indians – on the shore when the settlers arrived were also tricked and mistreated.  As John Cunningham recounts in his book NEWARK, “Gradually the Lenape Indians disappeared. They died from diseases of the newcomers – particularly smallpox – and were pushed out of their fishing and hunting grounds. The last of them accepted a reservation in Burlington County in 1758. The few who remained in 1802 joined others of their tribe then living at Lake Oneida, NY.”