Tag Archive: Mayor Booker

And the Next New Jersey Senator Will Be …

Whom will our Governor select to be our next U. S. Senator? Most likely a Republican, and he could be a conservative to appease that wing of the national party or a moderate who will not turn off Democrats and Independents from voting for the Governor in the upcoming gubernatorial election. Since 1979 New Jersey has sent only Democrats to the Senate, and in the last election the Democrat Robert Menendez won with a 19.5% spread. So whomever he appoints is likely to be a place holder or a sacrificial lamb. Former Governor Tom Kean would be a popular and respected choice, probably as a place holder, should he be interested.

Any Republican selected who also has a serious interest in running in the October election faces daunting odds. Democratic candidates have been gearing up for a Senatorial election, and Republicans lag far behind. What State legislator wants to give up his Trenton job to be a four month Senator and then have to compete with Mayor Cory Booker’s charisma and name recognition, Rep. Frank Pallone’s $2 million war chest or Rep. Rush Holt’s intellect? There is not enough time to raise the needed money or name recognition. Likewise what Republican Congressman wants to give up his Washington job when the odds of putting together a successful campaign in four months are minimal? Only Rep. Scott Garrett has over $2 million, and there is no way he would win in Blue Jersey.

There could be a State or Federal legislator who is contemplating leaving his/her position and might want to take the fling in which case on-the-job experience would be of some help. However, he or she would be better advised not give up the current paycheck, because one can still run in an August primary and October election without surrendering  job security.

So whom are we left with?  Someone like Kean Sr. or possibly another senior Republican statesman or respected business leader who would view it as an honor and a short-term task. For an appointee interested in the long run, there might be a Republican with extremely deep pockets who could quickly inject millions into the campaign. Or possibly someone like the popular former Senator Bill Baroni, particularly if he could get a leave of absence from the NY-NJ Port Authority.

Assumimg he gets away with it, the Governor has done a masterful job of enhancing his own gubernatorial election and messing with Sen. Buono’s prospects. With no popular Democratic senatorial candidate on the top of the November ticket the Governor helps himself and hurts Sen. Buono. Likewise he helps Republican legislators who then run under a popular governor and do not have to face the larger Democratic turn out were a Booker or Pallone on the same ballot.

For the Governor it’s a smart choice. He is sacrificing a New Jersey Republican Senatorial seat which is not very winnable anyway for the greater good (himself.) He will still find a Republican to join Sen. Mitch McConnell’s Washington team, and he will be able to boast nationally that (for at least a few months) he sent a Republican to the U. S. Senate.  

What’s Happening in Your Town?

Our changing world of media places particular challenges on reporting local news. One turning point was reached with the NYTimes’ announcement that on March 28 it is implementing an online subscription pay plan for visitors who read more than 20 articles a month. Also in February AOL announced it had entered an agreement to purchase the Huffington Post bringing together local reporting through AOL’s Patch and Huffington Post’s national reporting on politics, business and culture. While a prestigious newspaper like the NYTimes is more likely to succeed digitally than other newspapers, it still will face competition from online enterprises like AOL/Huffington Post/Patch, and while the NYTimes will continue local coverage, other newspapers and other regions will not be so fortunate.

Howard Fineman, newly appointed Editorial Director, Huffington Post Media Group, says, “As of today there are some 800 Patches in 18 states and DC, with plans to open two or three times that many more within two years, each staffed with a full-time journalist.” Patch launched its first three sites in 2009 in NJ and currently lists about 80 sites in our state. Article subjects include art, business, government, police, school and sports. They are often short, but generally provide the reporter’s name and e-mail address. Patch lets you leave a comment and enter your own email address if you want a follow-up to the article. As an example, today’s Teaneck Patch presents an attractive, uncluttered Home Page that headlines Saturday night’s killing of a former Teaneck High School quarterback, commuter problems, a weekend forum on redistricting and events including an art exhibit at FDU and Irish dancing at the library.

Beyond just growing pains, some of the challenges for the hyperlocals include acquiring/training/retaining good reporters/contributors, not overemphasizing the costs savings potential, steering clear of local political influence, and gaining readership and ads. The quality of writing and insight from one Patch site to another certainly varies, and some articles are short and lack depth. As with national radio chains that achieve cost savings by providing the same news reports to a number of stations, at Patch there are editors assigned to more than one site and the same article sometimes appears in different town reports. In Patch’s recent announcement that it will create two Newark sites, it stated, “We are very excited to work closely with Mayor Booker,” to which AdWeek responded, “The idea of a news organization partnering with politicians it’s supposed to cover is bizarre.” Patch later indicated that Mayor Booker will not have editorial input. Finally monetizing their effort will not be easy.

The challenges of Patch and similar ventures are formidable, but what happens in our towns is important. Taxes, council meetings, elections, board of education minutes, zoning, crime, arts, and sports matter to us. In order to stay informed we hope that hyperlocals will matter to us also.  

Educator and Prevaricator Chris Cerf Meets His Comeuppance

         Acting Commissioner Cerf prevaricates. He may be here now, but he can’t stay forever, and he will not be permanent at this point. The governor will have to find someone else.” – Sen. Ron Rice (D- 28)

Sen. Rice, whose district includes Newark, has for some time questioned the truth about Chris Cerf’s statements regarding his involvement in the controversial, secretive plan for school education in Newark. Initially Rice used the senatorial prerogative of blocking Cerf’s appearance before a Judiciary Committee meeting that would vote on whether or not to recommend the appointment to the full senate. Rice now says he is invoking his senatorial privilege no matter what Cerf does because Cerf misled him. Rice’s action makes sense for Newark and for New Jersey as a whole.  Governor Christie should seek a new nominee for Commissioner of Education.

In a late February Acting Education Commissioner Chris Cerf gave a revised account of his ties with Global Education Advisors (GEA), which prepared the secretive school education report for Newark. Cerf acknowledged he had been more involved than he first indicated. In fact GEA’s lead employee, Rajeev Bajaj, is also President of Sangari Global Education, for which Chris Cerf previously served as Chief Operating Officer. Cerf had used his home address to incorporate GEA, and he had contributed to the Booker campaign.

Furthermore GEA’s Newark consultancy gig was funded by the Broad Foundation with a grant of $500,000 to Newark. Cerf had not mentioned publicly his close ties with this foundation. While Cerf was Deputy Chancellor of NY City Schools the Broad Foundation awarded $2.5 million in grants to  expand charter schools in the city. Cerf’s then boss Chancellor Joel Klein serves as Chair of the Board of Directors of the Broad Center, an educational arm of the foundation.  In effect, secretively and behind the scene, Chris Cerf played a role in obtaining a grant for Newark to fund GEA, and he placed a colleague of his as the head of GEA. Not surprisingly such actions resulted in the type of report he might then approve later as Commissioner of Education – actions which raise questions of forthrightness, judgment and conflict of interest.

Such actions are not what one should accept from a person nominated to be a commissioner. Cerf’s approach did not benefit Newark and would not benefit the State of New Jersey. Congratulations to Ron Rice for his principled stand. More sadly our governor’s mismanagement of New Jersey education continues unabated.  

Chris Cerf Should Withdraw his Nomination as Education Commissioner

In a Thursday article the Star-Ledger staff stated that Acting Education Commissioner Chris Cerf gave a revised account of his ties with Global Education Advisors (GEA), acknowledging he had been more involved than he first indicated earlier this week. It is GEA’s controversial, secretive report which recommends that some of Newark’s public schools be replaced with charter schools. Throughout the week there have been twists and turns to this story. In addition to what the media have reported, we can now also document Cerf’s unacknowledged ties to the foundation which funded GEA.

On Tuesday Cerf said he had a hand in the creation of GEA but had done little more than lend his address for GEA’s incorporation papers, and he asked the Star-Ledger not to publish its story. On Wednesday in his revised account, he admitted he had been involved more directly with GEA, and he did not dispute the Ledger’s finding that he contributed $1,000 to the campaign of Newark Mayor Booker who hired GEA. In fact as PolitickerNJ pointed out, “GEA’s lead employee, Rajeev Bajaj, is also President of Sangari Global Education, for which Chris Cerf previously served as Chief Operating Officer. It appears now all the clearer that Cerf was considerably involved with GEA, appointed a colleague to head it, and that shortly afterward Mayor Booker hired GEA to quietly generate the report.

Because Cerf was involved in instigating this report, and if approved by the Senate as Education Commissioner could then implement the report’s recommendations, questions of judgment and conflict-of-interest arise. Cerf engaged in the dubious practice of trying to prevent publication of information about his involvement, but such has not stopped further details from being unearthed.

More on why Cerf should not become commissioner below the fold

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.    

Zuckerberg Grant OPRA Request Denied

Open Public Records Act (OPRA) request to NJ Department of Education: “A complete copy of the award notice and full terms and conditions of the grant from Mark Zuckerberg’s Start-Up Education Foundation $100 million grant for Newark school education.”

Given the size and importance of Mark Zuckerberg’s grant and the lack of information about it, I filed the request on September 27, 2010. The contents of this grant is public information.  It should form a part of the needed school reform dialogue within Newark and the NJ Education Department. It should also help us understand what Mark Zuckerberg’s foundation expects and requires.

On October 6 I received the below response:

Mr. Orr, Please see the attached Government Records Receipt indicating that your request is denied. The Department of Education does not have the requested records. – Mary L. Gentry, New Jersey Department Education

As  Acting Commissioner of Education, Rochelle Hendricks testified before a joint legislative committee on Tuesday, “The state’s school takeover statute – the Quality Single Accountability Continuum (QSAC) – does not authorize gubernatorial or mayoral participation in efforts to reform a district under state control. That responsibility rests squarely on the commissioner of education’s shoulders.”  As Newark school’s are under her control, her responsibilities include being informed about this grant, assuring the grant’s goals and tasks do not run counter to the QSAC law, and assuring monies spent are in accordance with state requirements.

The mystery deepens. It appears the Education Department may be negligent in its responsibilities. It is routine for a department to require receipt of outside grants for activities that fall under its purview. Ultimately such activities need state approval. Is it possible only Mayor Booker has the grant and has refused to share it? But if so, why would the governor have spoken so frequently about this award without he or members of the Executive staff having a copy of it? Is it possible that the governor’s office has a copy, but has not shared it with the Education Department? It seems unprofessional and unlikely that there would be such hullabaloo about a $100 million grant with nothing in writing – not even a short award notice.

In discussing the needed dialogue on reform, Mayor Booker said, “Let’s trust Newarkers.” To help achieve that trust, he or the governor should release the contents of the award to the public and to the Education Department – willingly, rather than having to do so under another OPRA request.

Dear Mayor Booker and Miss OPRA

             “I have very determined educational views,” Booker said. “Let’s trust Newarkers to be able to make the common commitment to… what that education should be.”

Mayor Booker has done a superb job of obtaining one of America’s largest grants for a school district. Mark Zuckerberg has been exceedingly generous. Governor Christie and the State Education Department, while maintaining veto authority, have indicated they will provide Booker with substantial authority. The reality is, however, that the individual who is successful in obtaining any large grant can not implement it alone but must rely on a variety of stake holders to carry out the effort, and it is these stake holders who ultimately generate the successful or unsuccessful outcomes.

Mayor Booker in the above quote reveals his conflicted nature.  As the charismatic visionary who motivated Mr. Zuckerberg to contribute, Booker says he has “determined educational views,” an important attribute to obtain the award. But he goes on to say, “Let’s trust Newarkers,” an even more important attribute needed to assure success.

Let’s hope he follows through by displaying leadership, by listening, and by seeking consensus.  His first step should be to be make public the terms and conditions of Zuckerberg’s grant, which provides the initial basis for future actions. So far he has not done so, but such action would show he “trusts Newarkers.” To encourage openness of discussion an OPRA request to the State Department of Education, which has legal authority over the Newark schools, has been issued. A second step for Booker is to make public with some specificity the intended use of the matching funds he is soliciting. Booker’s future and more important that of Newark school kids hang in the balance.  

What Is This Bridge and To Where Does It Lead?

Mark Zuckerberg’s $100 million grant is a wonderful opportunity for Newark schools, but so far its contents have been wrapped in secrecy. In a grant there are terms and conditions upon which the donor and recipient agree. This grant is public information and its full contents must be made available.  So far there has been a TV show announcement, telephone conference call, numerous press releases, newspaper articles, and a press conference scheduled for 2:30 this afternoon at the Robert Treat Hotel. We have heard a lot of enthusiasm and platitudes, but little about what the grant specifies. I have twice emailed the city of Newark requesting a link to the grant, but have received no response.  Rather than hearing spin we need to see the award itself.

It appears that it will be paid out over a period of five years, that it may be in the form of Facebook stock, and that it requires matching. Does it include an advance payment available before matching funds are received and if so how much and when is it payable?  What is the payment schedule and required terms for ongoing payment? What are the matching requirements?

Does the grant specify goals and objectives and require certain tasks such as closing unsuccessful schools, creating vouchers, or investing in charter schools? Does it support enhanced nutrition, counseling and other indirect, but important, needs for Newark students? Does it have time frames to complete objectives? Does it require certain outcomes for ongoing funding? Does it require outside monitoring of activities and auditing of expenditures? Does it address the relationship between the city, state and Newark Board of Education?  

These are just a few questions the public has a right to know. There should also be information on the use of monies to be received by the foundation set up to solicit matching funds. Soon there should be a clear, written school reform plan from Newark officials, but in the meantime to bolster trust and support the full grant should be available for all to read.