Author Archive: Jersey Boy

How Common Sense America Swung My Vote

Last month, I published a diary expressing my support for Bill Baroni in the 14th District due to his clear and unequivocal support for immediate ethics reform in the face of a stubborn, slow-moving Democratic majority

But this was before “Common Sense America” happened to the 14th District. And tonight, Loretta Weinberg’s comments really got me thinking.

If Common Sense America were true to its word and its true to its agenda, it would be targeting me and my outspoken record of gay tolerance. But they won’t and the reason is because they get their marching orders from the Republican Party.

As much as I want to see some Republicans go to Trenton to keep the bad Democrats out and the good Democrats honest, I cannot vote that way this year. And it’s all because of Common Sense America.

I cannot in good conscience vote for Bill Baroni, Adam Bushman, Tom Goodwin or any of the 14th district Republicans knowing that Common Sense America will use their victory to claim credit for their “values.” It would be much better to have to shame the Democratic majority in Trenton than to have Republicans beholden to the naked emperor that is Common Sense America — no matter how much they profess not to be.

It’s a dilemma for sure. Tom Moran wrote recently that New Jersey is faced with the unfortunate choice of putting the state in worse financial disrepair or handing a victory to those who are anti-stem cell and anti-open space. It’s sort of the same choice we face in the 14th.

Seema Singh has been questioned on her ethics, been derided as an inept campaigner, and repeatedly criticized for her comparisons of Baroni to George W. Bush. The first two points are valid. The third, well …

The unions have come out swinging for Baroni at every opportunity. But I recently had a discussion with one typically nonpartisan, politically ambivalent union member whose local endorsed Baroni over Singh. She told me that when she received a call from her union reminding her to vote Baroni, she told them they should be ashamed of themselves. That sometimes you must look beyond your own pocketbook. That Baroni continues to support this President and an endless war in Iraq and that there are more important things than a going the right way on a few union votes.

Which touches on Singh’s current (albeit too late) campaign theme of ‘Baroni: Bush Lite,’ and the broader point of my protest vote against this group that tacitly supports Baroni. Sure, people like Bill Baroni and he votes favorably on certain issues. But some things are more important, like, say, Iraq to that particular union member.

And so it is with me and Common Sense America. Beating them is more important to me right now than beating a Democratic majority that is too slow on ethics reform. And so I will vote for Singh, Greenstein and DeAngelo this Tuesday.

When Machine Pols Allege Non-Machine Pols are ‘Machine Pols’

One thing that gets under my skin is when machine politicians bash other machine politicians for being — you guessed it — “machine politicians.” Either change your style of politics or accept what you are and stop being a hypocrite tossing that label at others.

But that, like many things in politics-as-usual, is just a fact of life we have to live with.

But I find it really abhorrent when machine politicians accuse non-machine politicians of being machine politicians. That is the case in today’s Political Insider column in the Jersey Journal discussing Hoboken’s Fourth Ward do-over run-off.

Battling it out are former Councilman Chris Campos and current Councilwoman Dawn Zimmer. The columnist writes about a press conference Campos and supporters held to discuss the race.

Much of the press conference had Campos and Councilman at Large Peter Cammarano arguing that Zimmer stole the election using illegal tactics orchestrated by the Hudson County Democratic Organization. Cammarano said there have been only three other cases in New Jersey political history where a candidate had to vacate a seat.

…..

Cammarano listed a number of HCDO people who worked for Zimmer, including North Bergen spinmeister and consultant Paul Swibinski. He even rejected criticism of Campos getting help in the runoff investigation from former Jersey City Mayor Gerald McCann as “a page out of the HCDO playbook.”

Of course who just happens to pass by the press conference but Gerald McCann — ‘on his way to register voters for Campos,’ he told the columnist. And the only people active in this Fourth Ward race who have ever paid the HCDO’s Swibinski are Cammarano and Campos (They hired him two years ago for their race with Hoboken Mayor David Roberts).

In fact, it’s rather funny to hear Zimmer labeled as an ‘HCDO tool’ because people who run in Hoboken and Hudson County political circles know what kind of politician Zimmer is: a wide-eyed, elitist, newcomer, reformer, do-gooder type. She doesn’t get down and dirty with the machine. They tried to enlist her, but failed. They endorsed her because Campos now runs with Brian Stack’s HCDO splinter-group, DFHC. And while she accepted their endorsement, she turned her nose up at their help — rather naively. Most people wrote her off for that reason, but she pulled an upset on a rainy and (what should have been) a low-turnout day.

‘Ha. Newcomers vote,’ the HCDO shrugged and walked away. They would laugh even harder when they heard that Zimmer agreed to re-do the election. ‘Naive, rookie mistake.’ You’re supposed to keep your head down and never admit mistake, no matter how small. “There have been only three other cases in New Jersey political history where a candidate had to vacate a seat” because people who know politics know you fight it in court all the way. Never deny your victory. That’s what a machine politician would do, that’s the advice the HCDO would have given Zimmer.

But Zimmer’s decisions show she is no machine politician.

Now for Round Three and the HCDO isn’t running to her side. They’re too focused on the next primary. Their only presence in this race comes out of the mouths of Cammarano and Campos, who, in the DFHC are more machine than 2,000 Dawn Zimmers.

This is not to say whether the Fourth Ward’s needs would be better served by either Campos or Zimmer, or who is running a cleaner campaign. I can’t attest to that. I don’t live there.

But I do know what kind of politicians these are, and this mischaracterization of Zimmer by Campos and Cammarano is just plain wrong.

Losing Faith in Jon Corzine Pt. 2

When Corzine, Codey, Roberts and Cryan called for the resignations of Hackett and Steele, I have to admit, it didn’t make me feel any better. Their silence on ethics issues made me fearful that this would only be a collective, ‘Whew! Glad we got rid of those bad apples! What? Of course there’s no endemic corruption in the way we do business! Don’t be ridiculous!’

Thankfully, Corzine made these remarks.

Among the top priorities, Corzine said, will be a “cleanup” of the law he signed last week that outlaws a long-accepted practice in New Jersey of holding two elected offices at the same time. Corzine signed a compromise version that allows incumbent lawmakers to keep their local posts.

Corzine also said he would demand bans on campaign finance practices, including “wheeling,” a way to skirt contribution limits to individuals, and “pay-to-play,” a practice where campaign donations are made with the expectation of gaining an edge in the awarding later of government contracts.

Music to my ears. I really admire Governor Corzine, and I want him to succeed, and this is the action required of what has largely been rhetoric to change things.

Though he did say action likely won’t be taken until the lame duck session in a few months, rather than a special session as legislature Republicans are requesting.

This might be bad. It gives the bosses time to ratchet up pressure and it lets the bribery sting fade from the headlines. Also, if Democrats lose the Senate, who knows what he and other leading Democrats will do? The time to act really is now, not in a few months and what could quite possibly be a whole other political landscape in which he might need the reassurance so many powerful, anti-reform Democrats can offer his prospects of re-election.

But before I get too deep in that, let me get back to what has caused me to doubt Jon Corzine: insignificance. Calling for the resignation of someone already caught in a sting is insignificant to me. It doesn’t affect reform once law enforcement has sinked its teeth into someone. It’s shooting the wounded.

More significant — but still not amounting to much — are some of the things carolh cited in the thread of my previous post: that Corzine backed Weinberg in 2005 and Corzine has said to Ferriero that he is against Pay-to-Play means he has taken the side of reform over that of the bosses. I accept that it means something, but his ability to trade off that has been diminished more and more during the first half of his term.

And forgive me if I came off this way in my last diary, but I don’t believe that Corzine takes marching orders from bosses anywhere in the state. In fact, many of the bosses disdain Corzine. Yet, they scratch his back and he scratches theirs. Bergen County is not the only place that has the problems of Bergen County. And, its arguable that Corzine has an easier time bucking Bergen’s boss because his ally Weinberg has been in either local or state politics for nearly three decades and has a substantial power base.

There are plenty of other places with bosses where the opposition is not so experienced. There are places with no opposition at all and the boss business is oh so very good. Corzine hasn’t done anything so far to bust up these other fiefdoms, so please understand why I see actions taken in Bergen as more significant but not amounting to much.

There’s a lot more that’s wrong with Jersey politics than what’s wrong with Bergen County. And much of the opposition in those places are people who don’t want to destroy the machine — they want to control the machine.

I’m sure Corzine is taking a lot of angry calls today from dual office holders, big time developers influential in state politics, bosses, and others. I hate to think he’ll also getting hell from reformers who are disgruntled over inaction during the next few months, in anticipation of ethics reform. But being Governor isn’t easy.

Having said all that, I’m more inclined to support his re-election than I was when I wrote my last diary. But only time can tell where we go from here.

Losing Faith in Jon Corzine

I am a staunch Democrat residing in the 14th District. I’ve volunteered in this district for Gov. Corzine and Senator Menendez, and remain engaged in Democratic politics. I wasn’t going to vote for Bill Baroni for Senator.

Until yesterday.

“There is no bigger crisis than what we are facing right now,” said the Republican. “We need a ban on dual office holding. We need an end to wheeling. We need to ban pay-to-play.”

In the wake of news that Assemblyman (and Orange Mayor) Mims Hackett and Assemblyman (and Passaic County Undersheriff) Alfred Steele were among those indicted in federal court Thursday, Baroni said he was drafting a letter to send to Gov. Jon Corzine on Friday, asking the governor to trigger his Constitutional powers and convene a special session of the Legislature to implement key reforms.

“(Mims Hackett) was on the state government committee; Alfred Steele was pushing ethics reform bills while he was being investigated,” said Baroni, who is hoping Corzine morphs into Harry Truman circa 1948, when the president pushed nationwide reforms in a political season.

“We can come back next week to do this,” Baroni said.

If Jon Corzine doesn’t do something soon, he doesn’t deserve another term. It’s that simple. If he’s got a primary challenger who will really stand up to the status quo, I would vote for, volunteer for, and donate money to him or her — whatever I have to do to prove my point. And once this person loses the primary — as he or she surely will in this state — I won’t vote for Corzine. I might even vote for a Republican.

We’re ruining the way we do business in our local and state government, and it is also ruining our Party. Corzine, Booker, and others like them rail against this system, yet turn right around to squeeze it for every last thing they can get out of it. And I’m sick of the hypocrisy.

Do what you’ve got to do to change the system or shutup about it — because I believe your authenticity less and less each time. And that a lot of people still buy into your rhetoric sickens me even more because those are the kind of people who really want to change things.

It’s becoming clearer to me that changing how this state operates may involve dismantling the current Democratic Party. Tearing it down to build it back up again. I’m becoming more and more OK with that.

Question: Will Democrats Advertise on NJ101.5?

Before this year’s general election season, will the Democratic State Committee issue a preemptive statement encouraging its candidates not to run ads on 101.5?

Without, it’s likely some could make a “mistake” that could take a days (possibly weeks) to rectify. What do you think?

Rep. Pallone Stands Up For Millions of Children & Families

Fourteen governors are very worried. Their states are exhausting their allotment of federal money for the State Children’s Health Insurance Program, which typically covers poor children whose parents earn too much to qualify for Medicaid — “the working poor.” With current eligibility rules and benefits, states need more money to cover the uninsured children who qualify. The program covers 535,000 children in New Jersey alone, along with 76,000 of their parents.

So what’s the White House doing to ease the governors’ fears? Rescinding coverage from children across the country.

In his budget this month, [President] Bush said he wanted to return the program to its “original objective” of covering children with family incomes less than twice the poverty level. Budget documents note that 16 states cover children above that level and that “one state, New Jersey, covers children up to 350 percent of the federal poverty level.”

…..

Bush administration officials emphasized that states received a fixed amount of federal money each year, and they said individual children did not have a legal entitlement to benefits. Michael O. Leavitt, secretary of health and human services, said he would work with Congress to find “a short-term solution” for states exhausting their allotments this year. He said states could avoid shortfalls by managing their programs better.

How can they manager their programs better? The Bush administration has a few ideas: change your rules and benefits and drop healthcare for millions of children in families above 200% of the poverty level. Mission accomplished. Heckuva job.

The governors don’t much like the sound of that, but they’re powerless over the federal funds they need to keep up the programs. They need an ally in Congress.

Enter New Jersey’s own, Rep. Frank Pallone: Chairman of the Health Subcommittee of the Energy and Commerce Committee, with authority over the children’s program. The subcommittee will draft S-CHIP’s five year extension this spring.

Pallone says he will fight to fully fund CHIP and ensure there are no shortfalls — even after extending it to another eligible 9 million uninsured children nationwide. The President’s plan means to continue S-CHIP along on its current path (read: continuing budget shortfalls and constant decreases in coverage). To that, Pallone said, “I have absolutely no intention of moving the president’s proposals through our subcommittee.”

Pallone will be talking about funding S-CHIP tomorrow morning on the Brian Lehrer Show, WNYC. Make us proud, Frank.

Codey’s New Rules on Trimming the Tree

“Christmas Tree items” — last-minute additions to the budget with little or no oversight — are highly controversial for their cost and amount of secrecy. Yet lawmakers of both parties feel there is a legitimate need for the process in setting the budget, so Dick Codey has issued some new rules for state senators to abide by. Mitchel Maddux of the Bergen Record has a good breakdown:

How it will work

New deadline:
Senators must submit details about their proposed budget additions in writing at least 21 days before the June 27 deadline for final action on the budget.

Public disclosure:
These proposed changes and their sponsors’ names will be published at least 14 days before the Senate votes on the budget.

Justify why it’s needed:
Senators must explain in writing how state money will be used to fund their proposal and why such spending is “worthwhile.”

Who gets the money:
Senators must identify the organization or program they want to receive funds.

Family ties?
Legislators must indicate whether their family members receive compensation from the organization that would benefit from the proposed state spending. Family members are defined as the legislator’s spouse, children, parents and siblings.

Budget impact
The rules require senators to describe how their proposal will affect or change the state’s tax rate and the Treasury’s estimates of tax revenue.

Assembly Speaker Joe Roberts hasn’t said yet what he plans to do in the Assembly.

Lautenberg: Go Along to Get Along?

In response to what this post turned into, this is a new thread to discuss whether Frank Lautenberg is a “1/2 progressive” and a go along to get along kind of senator.

I think, based off his voting record (here to get an understanding of more recent votes and here for more long term votes), the answer is clear: Lautenberg is one of the most progressive senators in the country and to say otherwise is to remain ignorant of his record.

Codey and DiFrancesco on Who Wants What

The Star Ledger explains that the federal subpoenas investigating “Christmas Tree” appropriations in the state legislature because there’s a very small paper trail. It’s so informal, that it’s rare to find in writing where the item originated from.

The Ledger doesn’t completely rail against the old practice (likely because the system has changed), and neither do some of NJ’s prominent lawmakers.

“I can’t say it’s been a bad process because I was a part of it. It has to be under control,” [former Gov. Donald DiFrancesco] said. “The purposes have to be legitimate in terms of where the money is going.”

Last month, [Senate President Dick] Codey moved to change the practice, announcing a plan that would force legislators to publicly disclose their budget insertions at least 10 days before committees vote on the request.

“It’s now a thing of the past,” Codey said last week of the secretive process. “We need to have it out in the open so it’s all debated. So everybody knows who wants what.”