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.

New Seasons: NJ Nets and NJ Dems

Ah … the glory days when the Nets went to the finals. However, last year the Nets had the worst record in the NBA. Now they say they’re ready for their new season which began yesterday with a game against the Detroit Pistons.  So much is new  – a new home at Newark’s Prudential Center, a new Russian billionaire owner, new GM, new coach and a 15-man roster that features 11 new players. In the midst of last year’s crushing season Nets management took stock of their predicament and lay the groundwork for needed changes.

Fortunately, NJ Dems don’t face quite the dire circumstances that the Nets did, but they are not without significant problems. They lost the governorship last year, are facing tight races now, and next year have to battle for control of the state legislature. And all of this is happening in a terrible economy, with a popular, mean governor, a sometimes submissive, indecisive legislature, a disruptive Tea Party, a motivated, restless Republican party, and an uneasy, worried electorate.

After Tuesday the NJ Dems begin their new season. With a governor who is a master at messaging, the Dems have to articulate better their own message. They must make clear that they are the party concerned with jobs, justify their efforts to help those who are the most disadvantaged, and express their vision that government can be  solution not a problem. In wending their way through pension fund, transportation fund, property tax, and other thorny issues, they must display more leadership, unity, and confidence. Changes in their roster imposed both externally and internally are not necessarily bad if they lead toward a renewed, energetic vision that benefits New Jerseyans. Ed Potosnak, in an uphill campaign in the 7th CD, is an example of a rookie Dem who represents that energy and vision. In the meantime, one thing we all must do is help get out the vote and cast our ballot on Tuesday.

The NJ Nets are in a great arena and their presence there should benefit Newark. They have promising new talent, and they won their first game.  It is now up to NJ Dems to formulate winning strategies that will benefit all of us in the upcoming season.  

“Riders of the Lost ARC”

The headline for the Sierra Club’s press release is “Riders of the Lost ARC, Stuck on the Jersey Side.” It goes on to say, “Today Governor Christie announced his decision to kill the ARC tunnel project, a decision that is wrong because the tunnel should be fixed, not cancelled. The decision by the Governor will set back New Jersey’s transportation needs. We believe that the Governor has killed this project to use the money towards the Transportation Trust Fund. This is wrong for New Jersey and the region because this will undermine our transportation needs and lead to sprawl and congestion.”

You can read below the fold selections of what the following have said about our lost ARC:

  • Governor Chris Christie

  • Regional Plan Association

  • New Jersey Future

  • Tri-State Transportation Campaign

  • Charles Wowkanech, President of the NJ State AFL-CIO

  • U.S. Senator Frank Lautenberg

  • U. S. Senator Robert Menendez

  • Senate President Stephen Sweeney (D- Gloucester/Cumberland/Salem)

  • Senate Majority Leader Barbara Buono (D-Middlesex)

  • Ed Potosnak, Dem. nominee for New Jersey’s 7th Congressional District

  • Assembly Republican Leader Alex DeCroce (R-Morris and Passaic)

    See their comments below the fold

  • ARC: No Light at the End… So What’s Next?

    The Star Ledger reported Tuesday evening that “Chris Christie is expected to again terminate the multi-billion dollar Hudson River train tunnel Wednesday, saying that federal officials offered to improve the financing terms but committed no new money.”

    Although I can understand cost overrun concerns, particularly with such a large project, Governor Christie’s decision is wrong for so many reasons.  ARC was to provide:

  • Impetus for long-term, ongoing NJ growth and development.

  • Substantial increase in nearby real estate values.

  • ARC construction and maintenance jobs for thousands of people.

  • Access to more and well-paid positions for thousands of New Jerseyans in NYC.

  • Opportunity to get a head start on a large project with current low costs of construction salaries, materials, and interest rates.

  • Reduced wear and tare on highways and auto emissions.

    Yet as much as progressives and other will protest, the reality is that many will agree with Christie: “We can’t afford it  … hard to calculate cost overruns … it’s a tunnel to Macy’s … better to spend money on local highway projects.” The fact is that although our progressive points of view on Christie’s actions might well prevail in the long run, he is currently winning the “hearts and minds” of many New Jerseyans and even those in other states. At this moment he seems charmed.

    It will be particularly important to stand up strongly for our own positions over the coming months lest his popularity lead to a significant addition of Republican legislators next fall. In national politics we have seen too many candidates ignore or back off, for example, from support of the health care legislation. We, myself included, too frequently rail against Christie, hoping we will discredit him, but it will take time for us to succeed in that effort. In the meantime we must spend more effort sticking up for our own beliefs and make credible cases for what we think NJ needs.  

  • The “Tool Kit” and the Legislature

    On Thursday a somewhat tepid Assembly Bill 3393 cleared the Budget Committee and was scheduled for a floor vote yesterday, but something happened on the way to the chamber. Past Blue Jersey diaries and numerous articles have pointed out excesses in police and fire contract arbitration procedures which have led to high salaries. Governor Christie has been insisting that a hard cap is the only real way to control salaries for municipalities. The Democratic Assembly Monday appeared in disarray.

    The Assembly bill provides measures to reduce such police and firemen arbitration excesses, but it does not include a cap. During a Statehouse news conference on Thursday, Assembly Budget Committee Chairman Louis Greenwald, Senate President Stephen Sweeney, and Assembly Speaker Sheila Oliver set out their version of a program that would fix the system and allow for more “creativity” and “flexibility.” However, Essex County Executive Joseph DiVincenzo said, “Assembly Bill 3393 is weak and offers nothing to reform this broken system,” Democratic Elizabeth Mayor Christian Bollwage said, “The Democrats’ attempt at reform does not go far enough,” and Cory Booker has long supported a hard cap. So between Governor Christie, mayors and county executives the bill is now in abeyance. The Democratic Assemblypersons need to regain their mojo. Also the fact that two of them are employees of DiVincenzo and others hold multiple government jobs further complicates the matter.

    Christie has been goading the legislators to move more rapidly on his “Tool kit,” while they have insisted on a more measured pace. So far they seem to lack a coherent vision on how best to approach arbitration and the larger issue of reducing costs for municipalities. And now they face the ire of county and city leaders. After the vote was cancelled, Speaker Oliver said “The Assembly’s goal in advancing this bill was to at the very least begin an intelligent debate.” That’s OK, but hopefully Democratic legislators will soon get beyond debate and develop a clearer strategy.  

    Although the issues involved are numerous, it is the police salaries which captured a lot of attention. To find out the median salary of police officers in your town, the number of officers there, and the per cent who make $100,000 or more scroll down on this page link. In Teaneck, for example,  the result is $97,486 – 93 – 33%. My County Executive McNerney has been a long-time supporter of sharing and consolidating services, but even this approach is not a complete solution and needs its own better tool kit.    

    New Jersey’s Anti-Bullying Bill of Rights

                 “You’ve got to be taught before it’s too late,

                   Before you are six or seven or eight,

                   To hate all the people your relatives hate,

                   You’ve got to be carefully taught.”

    As Rodgers and Hammerstein expressed in their 1949 musical South Pacific, bullying and discrimination are linked together, start at an early age, and can be a “learned” activity influenced by family members. Altering our NJ school environment is an essential step.

    Assemblywoman Valerie Vainieri Huttle (D-37) and Senator Barbara Buono (D-18) will introduce on Monday the eagerly anticipated harrassment, intimidation and bullying (HIB) awareness and prevention legislation. It is expected that it will have bipartisan support, including Assemblywoman Pat Angelini (R-11), and Senators Diane Allen (R-7) and Thomas Goodwin (R-14).

    Their bill is squarely aimed at the school environment where discrimination and bullying often begin. It will provide that training on HIB be a part of the training required for public school teaching staff members in suicide prevention. It will create a fund for state grants to school districts. It will include sections on enforcement and response to HIB and on accountability of schools, districts and the state. It will also require the addition of an anti-bullying policy and enforcement mechanism to the student code of conduct of every public college and university. A link to the full bill will be posted in this diary as soon as it is introduced in the legislature.  

    On Friday President Obama released his video It Gets Better. In it he says “When I was a young adult, I faced the jokes and taunting that too many of our youth face today, and I considered suicide as a way out. One of my co-workers recognized that I was hurting. She cared enough to push me to seek help.” This NJ bill will be a critical step in preventing and providing support for so many people who, like President Obama, know the pain and trauma bullying can cause. Kudos to Valerie Vainieri Huttle, Barbara Buono and all who helped shape the bill. We wish it a successful and speedy trip on the way to enactment.


    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.