Tag Archive: maria comella

$5.43 Million: The Cost To Taxpayers To Create The Christie Brand

We may not have money to build and repair our roads, but we found money to build up Chris Christie’s image. Bob Ingle has a piece up today that is worth a full read, but in essence says that Governor Downgrade started believing his own press releases and in essence now is tripping over the headlines his staff has created.  The thing that caught my eye is how much it cost taxpayers for those press releases:

Those releases were manufactured by a communications operation that grew even as Christie boasted he had downsized government. Mark Lagerkvist of New Jersey Watchdog looked into it and reported the governor’s communications officers have increased by 50 percent in five years, costing taxpayers $5.43 million “to pay the team that helped turn him into a rising star on television, radio, YouTube, Facebook and other outlets.”

“The governor’s media team has expanded to include 16 full-time staffers and a payroll of roughly $1.36 million last year. Five of the employees collect six-figure incomes, led by communications director Maria Comella at $140,000 a year.” Previously, Comella was deputy communications director for Rudolph Giuliani’s presidential campaign.

A 50% increase? 16 people full time to brand the Governor? Come to think of it, maybe New Jersey residents should root for a Christie presidency just so they can at least realize some return on their taxpayer investment.  

What’s Happening Today Fri. 01/17/2014

Chris Christie makes his first out-of-state political trip of the year to Florida to hold fundraisers in Naples this evening and Orlando, Fort Lauderdale, and West Palm Beach on Saturday to benefit the RGA and Gov. Rick Scott. He will spend Sunday in Palm Beach with wealthy donors at Home Depot co-founder Ken Langone’s home. Capitol Soup (“Florida news straight from the Source”) reported yesterday: “The Christie and Scott teams aren’t exactly forthcoming these days. What we do know is there are a series of closed-press fundraisers and no public events, which means either Chris Christie doesn’t want to answer questions about his scandal or Rick Scott just doesn’t want to be seen in public with Christie. We don’t blame either of them.” Not an auspicious start for our governor who is also Chairman this year of the Republican Governors Association.

The Democratic National Committee says, “Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz (a U. S. Representative for FL 23) and Florida Democratic Party Officials will hold press events in Orlando on Saturday morning and in Fort Lauderdale on Saturday afternoon to respond to Governor Christie’s Florida trip and to discuss Rick Scott’s failed record.”

Subpoenas raining down on current and former Executive Office officials: Among those individuals now (or soon to be) learning they must supply documents to Assembly or Senate Committees are the Chief of Staff (Kevin O’Dowd), Chief Counsel (Charles McKenna), Director of Authorities Unit (Regina Egea), Deputy chief of Staff (Maria Comella), a recently fired Deputy Chief of Staff (Bridget Anne Kelly), and a prior Deputy Chief of Staff (Bill Stepien who left to become Christie’s Campaign Manager and is now jobless). Further down the chain is the Governor’s spokesperson Michael Drewniak, and off the chain are the Port Authority Chairman (David Samson) and a P. A. board member (Pat Schuber).

There are even more subpoenas to be issued that we don’t know about yet. Subpoenas are not synonymous with guilt but they sure are ominous. Here is Christie’s current list of Senior Staff members which seems to undergo continuous revision. Not in my memory has there been a scandal reaching so many members of a Governor’s inner circle, with four key Christie associates already jobless. Two of them are requesting the P. A. to bear their legal expenses.

The newest member of Team Christie is lawyer Randy Mastro, likened to a “legal alligator.” The Asbury Park Press adds more detail to his profile: “Mastro as Deputy Mayor of New York wielded a baseball bat during meetings to emphasize his points. Referring to his “we-hit-them-they-hit-us” approach, the Daily News called Mastro “the only trigger man in town who can make Giuliani look like Mr. Nice Guy.” Mastro will play a key role in deciding which inquiries are “appropopriate” and try to ignore or redact what is “inappropriate.” He and his law firm Gibson Dunn & Crutch will use crisis management techniques of damage control and containment. Not an easy job.

Port Authority answers Rockefeller committee questions but breaks no new ground. The P. A. met its deadline to respond to U. S. Sen. Rockefeller’s questions regarding Bridgegate but it relied largely on information from public testimony. It re-explained what its normal procedures are and stated the procedures were not followed. It refused to speculate “on the motivations taken behind actions at GWB” and said the issue is still under investigation. Sen Rockefeller concluded, “The Port Authority’s response provides zero evidence that the purpose of these closures was to conduct a legitimate traffic study.”  

What’s Happening Today Mon. 01/13/2014

Today Gov. Christie is probably putting the finishing touches (after a massive rewrite?) of tomorrow’s State of the State Address. In the opening comments of last year’s address he said, “Just three months ago, we were proceeding normally with our lives …  Then Sandy hit.” His entire speech was about Sandy, the indomitable spirit of New Jerseyans, what his administration was doing about it, and how he was leading the way.

Tomorrow I doubt he will say, “Just four months ago we were proceeding normally with our lives … Then Bridgegate hit.” It is unlikely his entire speech will be about lane closures and the subsequent cover up. Christie has to be extremely careful about what he says as another 1,000 pages of e-mails will soon be released and Transportation Committee Chair John Wisniewski has said he is about to release document and appearance subpoenas to former Campaign Manager Bill Stepien and former Deputy Chief of Staff Bridget Anne Kelly. New Jerseyans may have an indomitable spirit but they are being sorely tested by the revelations of nasty politics at play.

Hopefully Christie will tell us what his administration is doing about this callous abuse of power and how he is leading the way. In his press conference on Thursday he said, “I’m not completed with those interviews yet, but when I am, if there is additional information that needs to be disclosed, I will do so.” Beyond the four close associates who have already lost their jobs, there are six other inner circle Christie colleagues who received Bridgegate e-mails at different points and could be complicit in a cover up (or of providing Christie with knowledge, before or during the lane closings, which he has denied). They are David Samson, Michael Drewniak, Charles McKenna, Maria Comella, Regina Egea, and Christina Renna. Chief of Staff Kevin O’Dowd, who has not been mentioned in the emails, served as Bridget Anne Kelly’s boss and hence seems either complicit or incompetent.  

Regardless of what Christie says tomorrow he also stated during the Thursday press conference, “My promise to the people of the state is that if there’s any other evidence that comes forward that requires action to be taken, I will take it.” Let’s remember that statement and hold him to it.

In the State of the State speech he will undoubtedly pat himself on the back regarding Sandy and jobs, neither of which is as rosy as he might portray it. He continues to seek tax reduction. He staunchly wants to “ensure each and every child receives the quality education they deserve,” which means more vouchers and charter schools. He might rail against the New Jersey Supreme Court and blather about reducing the size of government.

Christie can be full of surprises so tomorrow he might try to divert attention away from Bridgegate toward some new media-worthy proposal. He has built up a brand (himself) and he he will try to burnish it. He also knows his speech will garner national attention. While he addresses concerns about New Jersey he will continue to promote himself as the ideal Republican candidate for the presidency. Not an easy task now.

Today: Both the Senate and Assembly hold voting sessions with some 60 bills on each agenda. The Senate Judiciary Committee will consider seven Superior Court judge nominations including that of Robert Hanna, head of the BPU and previous nominee for the Supreme Court. Senate Budget & Appropriations Committee will consider a revised bill making changes to Jersey City’s pension fund. For more information go HERE. Tomorrow both the Senate and Assembly hold their reorganization meetings, and the 215th Legislature Second Annual Session becomes history.  

Jersey Girls Caucus Power List

Loretta Weinberg Binder
Sen. Weinberg looks over the Binder Full of Women

PolitickerNJ’s Power List came out for 2012 a few days ago. It’s a fun list, and we sure did like it when Blue Jersey founder Juan Melli was listed by predecessor PoliticsNJ as Politician of the Year just months after Blue Jersey launched. I don’t always think the same things are important as Politicker does, which is not to disparage them, merely to say when it comes to what’s worth talking about, we have different viewpoints. Nevertheless, fun list. I particularly enjoyed seeing rising Dem leader Vin Gopal show up there.

But Sen. Loretta Weinberg took a closer look. And as you can read in the comment skirmish between her and Politicker’s Darryl Isherwood, the two of them don’t see power quite the same way, and the appearance of so few women on the list – which Darryl defends – is a concern.

Of Politicker’s 100, only 15 are women; there are only 4 in the Top 50. Mary Pat Christie’s highest ranked (6), followed by Christie Communications Director Maria Comella (13), Christie mortgagor Michelle Brown (33) and his Deputy COS for Policy, Deborah Gramiccioni. Weinberg:

PolitickerNJ released their list of “100 most powerful political players in New Jersey.” By the boldface type in the article, readers were warned, “Please keep in mind that, as usual, the list doesnot include elected officials, judges, or former governors.” They forgot to mention, that this year’s list also does not include most of the states most powerful political players who happen to be women. Only 15 women were included in this year’s list of 100. For those lucky 15, many of them are fortunate to have close connections to male “players” listed well above them.

The Jersey Girls List is alphabetical – egalitarian that way. I’m on it. And yes, that makes me stammer a little, blush and kick at the imaginary pebble at my feet. But it’s by no means a Dems-only list. For that would be wrong.

Jersey Girls Caucus Power List, below the fold.

The Chris Christie Connection in HBO’s ‘Game Change’ about Sarah Palin’s VP adventures

Maria Comella
Maria Comella

There’s a New Jersey connection in the hotly-anticipated HBO movie Game Change. In the 2 hour account of Sarah Palin’s spectacular deterioration from instant celebrity to bewildering laughing stock, it’s but a brief moment – you might miss it –  but it’s important. And what happened may be the reason Sarah Palin – arguably the most famous Republican in the country when Chris Christie began his run for governor – was never asked to come help out in Jersey (despite our best efforts) though gosh darn it, she did come for the Tea Party.

More below the fold …

Feeling “Fabulous” Is Good News, But …

Governor Christie like many Americans suffers from asthma. On Thursday he says he experienced breathing problems and his inhaler did not provide the usual relief. Wisely he headed for near-by Somerset hospital. His same-day release from the hospital was good news. Maria Comella, the governor’s communications director told reporters, “Christie received a chest X-ray and EKG and everything appeared normal.” Such is also good news. Yesterday the governor said he felt “Fabulous.” More good news.

The health of our state’s Chief Executive is a legitimate concern for New Jerseyans and of interest to a broader swath of Americans who would like him to run for the presidency. Governor Christie during his campaign, later in Executive orders, and during his tenure has touted transparency.  Such transparency is not apparent regarding the recent incident. Physicians who treated him have made no statements regarding his condition. When Governor Corzine had a life-threatening auto accident we were overwhelmed with information from his doctors. Corzine’s accident probably was a much more serious incident, but without independent information from Somerset Hospital we have no way of knowing. Corzine asked his doctors to provide extensive information. It appears that Christie did not make a similar request to the doctors who attended him.

It is one thing for his communications staff to report on his current health, but it is another thing for the hospital staff to explain the results of their examination and tests and to answer questions from the press. Pulmonary function tests, for example, are standard procedures following such an incident, but we have been told nothing about these test results. Governor Christie should authorize hospital staff to address the press. Independent disclosure from physicians creates transparency, not a statement from the governor that he feels “fabulous.”  

A Man To Watch: Mike DuHaime – A Key Christie Operative

        He’s a remarkable talent. This guy has a lot of raw talent. He’s just got great judgment. – Karl Rove talking about Mike DuHaime in 2008

Governor Christie who appears to be his own man, speaking from his seemingly singular gut with ideas that he says are his own, has in fact benefited tremendously from the skills and advice of key advisors. One such advisor is Mike DuHaime, who after serving in key positions in three national presidential campaigns, went on to become the lead strategist for Christie’s victory in 2009. DuHaime’s influence has been recognized in the press by both PolitickerNJ and TIME. He was ranked number 7 on PolitickerNJ’s 2010 Power List following Bill Palatucci, Mary Pat Christie, Jeff Chiesa, Steve Adubato, Rich Bagger, and David Samson. In 2010 TIME listed DuHaime in its “40 under 40” where his comments were indistinguishable from those of his boss: “The most overlooked issue these days is the unsustainable escalating costs of pensions, benefits and salaries associated with a public workforce.”

This week we heard comments from DuHaime complimenting Christie following his speech to the American Enterprise Institute in Washington,“He didn’t go seek the attention. He did big things and then went and talked about it. He’s completely turned Trenton upside down.” Duhaime appears confident but self-deprecating, humble, likable and measured – the opposite of Christie. However, he does not act entirely behind the scenes and has spoken in public occasionally helping us to understand his influence better. Among other matters he has weighed in on strategy in the governor’s campaign, Reform Jersey Now, and has been teaching a popular course on “Political Campaigning” at Rutgers with Maggie Moran, his Democratic counterpart during the Christie-Corzine campaign.

More beneath the fold

Schundler won’t be there, but Richard Bagger should feel especially ashamed today

UPDATE 11:15am: Hearing has now started. Listen Live now.

UPDATE 1:26p: I’ll keep this diary up top because it has the audio feed link in it (below), and I know Jay’s at the hearing, but here’s a link to the_promised_land’s post, listening in.

Placeholder for Bret Schundler at RTTT hearing
Jay snapped this pix – the placeholder of Schundler’s empty seat

We have word this morning that Bret Schundler, who appears to have a story to tell, declines to testify this morning’s in the first legislative inquiry into the massive Race to the Top failures, which starts any minute.

But it’s Richard Bagger, Gov. Christie’s Chief of Staff, who should feel especially embarrassed today to be joining the Executive Branch’s stonewalling of the Legislative Branch. For four years Assemblyman Bagger was the Chair of the Appropriations Committee, the very committee whose legitimate questions he now refuses to answer.

Schundler, cut loose and blamed by Chris Christie personally, is ditching the hearing on his own decision, presumably. The Christie administration has also declined the Assembly Appropriations Committee’s request to question:

Maria Comella, spokesperson and top aide

Michael Drewniak, Communications Director

Greg Edwards, aide

The Vindication of Tom Moran

promoted by Rosi

It’s easy to imagine the high-fives and doofy text messages between Christie and his gang when the Tom Moran viral video first started catching on. [Watch the video here – Rosi]

Holy crap, right? He totally took a legitimate question about his confrontational style from a reputable journalist and turned it into a bloodbath! No matter that the governor’s response itself completely answered the question; all attention was now trained on Moran’s twitching remains. Confrontational style? Honest. Refreshing. Move along, and let me humiliate you like the true bully I am, so you never mess with me again. Oh, and everyone in the room better take note. Chris Christie – here to kick your ass if I don’t like the question.

The Moran clip helped cement Chris Christie as a viral video genius.

(find out why below the fold)

Race To The Facts

So what happened?  It’s not always easy to get the full, accurate story.

Fortunately, two top Education Department leaders Rochelle Hendricks, Acting Commissioner, and Andy Smarick, Acting Deputy Commissioner, will testify on Tuesday.  They have overseen the proposal through its many changes. Former Commissioner Schundler said that while reviewing the proposal, without the Fed’s specific request/question in front of him, he noted that the response addressed data for 2008-09. He assumed the Feds wanted more current data, so in a handwritten note he sought to change the response. What happened to his handwritten notes and what do they say? So far the State has not turned over these notes to the legislature. Who took the notes and typed them into the proposal, and did they type only from his  notes or add material, and if so, why? Did yet another person enhance the response in a way more favorable to Governor Christie? Were changes in the proposal made within the Executive Office and unknown to the Education Department?

In addressing  these matters legislators have to be persistent. If a question is avoided or not fully answered, legislators must re-ask the question. Also in a legislative hearing what you ask is as important as getting questions answered. The Education Department officials may not necessarily volunteer unsolicited information. They are both employed at the will of the governor and both would like to be appointed commissioner by the governor.

It appears Wired Generation, contracted to provide grant services, will not be present. That’s unfortunate, because blame is sometimes shifted to those who are not there. Were they or someone else responsible for final fact checking and matching the proposal responses with the corresponding application questions? Did they or someone else catch the error but were ordered to back off? They have hired a lawyer, so their side of the story may remain unclear for some time.

Read more below the fold about Schundler’s claim that the governor lied.