Archive for the ‘Sheila Oliver’ Category

Speaker Oliver is in a tight spot.  She owes her job to the Essex connection…and now those same forces are aligning against her. It may be “only a matter of time” until they really move against her. For good.

Like I said to all who would listen ten months ago when I was asked what I thought about the Speaker in waiting…she is not to be underestimated. And one of these days she is gonna tell the powers that be her answer is “no.” Her personality is not suited to taking marching orders, even when given by those who employ her.

Let’s back up a little. All last week, a long and tedious negotiation was underway to reform arbitration awards. On Thursday, Lou Greenwald, Sheila Oliver and Stephen Sweeney held press conference to announce that they had reached a deal on an arbitration bill. The Gov didn’t like it because it had no hard cap like Republican Declan O’Scanlon’s bill does. O”Scanlon and Greenwald had been meeting with Chief Counsel Jeff Chiesa to hammer out a deal everyone could live with. When those negotiations fell through, the Dems cut their own deal and went public.

On friday, I’m told that a Republican lawmaker called Essex County Executive Joe DiVincenzo who works hand-in-hand with Big Chief Steve Adubato from Newark’s North Ward. When this Republican gave him a bit of a hard time, Joe D hit the phones.

Fast forward to Monday’s Democratic Assembly Caucus. When Oliver tests the room to see if there are enough votes to move Greenwald’s arbitration bill the entire Essex delegation tells her “no.” Bill is shelved. The Democrats once again appear in disarray.

The unions say, “hey we were against this from the beginning…this latest crumble has got nothing to do with us.” Dems thought they had the votes, but the Gov’s reach runs deep in the county of Essex, which lived up to it’s mantra of “Essex First.”

I think it was the 80’s hit “The Breakfast Club” where Mr. Vernon warned a young Judd Nelson not to “mess with the bull” or he’ll “get the horns.” The horns are awfully sharp in Essex these days.

And while we are talking about the “Breakfast Club” let me just take a moment to vent about Emilio Estevez who was great in that movie, and was also a fantastic Kirby Kager in St. Elmo’s. But “The Mighty Ducks” franchise was truly an affront to the civilized world. He oughta be brought up on charges and tried at the Hague for crimes against humanity for those films.

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In the mid-90’s there was an “independent film” ( I put that in quotation marks because this was around the time America was obsessed with movies that were well – you know, ‘independent’ ) called “Kicking and Screaming” about a bunch of college friends who graduate school, but can’t really let it go. So, instead of  moving back home and trying their luck in the real world, they return to school to attend freshman parties and live in a big house together off-campus. Anyway, you can imagine where this goes from here…a buncha over-educated and under-skilled dudes who make pithy comments and wry observations about college life when in fact, they are the losers who have failed to move on.

I feel like there is a bit of a stubborn reluctance amongst the Democrats to take up the tool kit. The Assembly has passed no bills, and while the Senate has passed one, they haven’t tackled any of the tough stuff even in committees. In fairness, the Senate Budget Committee has been holding hearings through the Summer. And Monday they passed new limits for public workers on unused sick time. But even the Senate Budge hasn’t taken on the sacred cows such as arbitration and civil service reform.

Chairman Paul Sarlo told reporters today that the “civil service opt-out provision is off the table.” Sarlo said Sweeney was the one who said that already, but I don’t recall him being so definitive. Anyway, the larger issue here appears to be in the Assembly.

Republican Assemblymen Vince Polistina and Domenick DiCicco issued statements criticizing the Democrats for convening committees Monday but failing yet again to take on the tool kit items. That prompted a sharply worded response from Dem Communications Director Tom Hester Jr.

The point here is that some of the tool kit will pass, and some will not. Democrats wouldn’t be Democrats if they passed all the bills as they currently are…But one might humbly suggest that they at least get to work figuring out what in those bills will work, and sifting out those ideas that won’t.

Speaker Oliver told us in an interview last month for NJN’s On The Record that she agrees the tool kit is just as important as the 2% cap. That is how the local communities will be able to comply with cap come January. So, let’s get to work.

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In the early 90’s classic “What About Bob?” Richard Dreyfuss ( this was before Kippendorf’s Tribe  ruined his career ) plays the straight man to Bill Murray’s fury-inducing bafoon. The movie is a series of situations in which Dreyfuss, playing the shrink, tries not to explode at Murray who keeps pushing the envelope. This includes Murray ( his patient ) arriving at Dreyfuss’ country home uninvited and unnannounced. We keep waiting for the explosion of anger, and every now and then it comes…although not always when we expect it.

What can I say about the handful of Democrats who are on the precipice of open revolt within the Democratic caucus. Governor Christie is running the table, and those who don’t want to go along with his game plan don’t have enough votes to override the South Jersey and the north Jersey Democratic coalitions. Chris Christie, George Norcross and Steve Audubato who works through Joe D are calling the shots. And according to a disgruntled few, they had better get all these reforms done soon because this united front cannot last forever.

After Steve Sweeney stood with Christie to announce a compromise on the property tax cap the Assembly Democrats held their own caucus Wednesday morning. A handful of people who feel Sheila Oliver should not go along with the compromise caused “quite a bit of unrest.” And it’s not one single issue – which only adds to the chaos. On the one hand, you have some women legislators who feel Oliver has not done enough to challenge Christie on the women’s health issue. I am told that when Valerie Vainieri Huttle complained about that and other issues in caucus Wednesday, Oliver said something along the lines of “while you were out shopping over July 4, I was here working.” Needless to say that did not go over well.

What’s more, Assemblyman Lou Greenwald ( who is south j, but seems to wanna buck the new world order a bit ) said he doesn’t think Democrats should keep reacting to what Christie says all the time. They should instead make the Governor respond to them. I’m told Greenwald, Pam Lampitt, John Wisniewski and others feel the Democrats need to bring their own agenda instead of trying to glom onto things like the cap by declaring it was their idea all along…then insisting they “got some major concessions” from the Governor.

Oliver said Wednesday that the Assembly would fix the mistakes of the 2.0 cap bill after it passes through subsequent legislation. John Burzichelli and John McKeon met with Kevin O’Dowd in the Governor’s office to find out what exactly they could change…but some felt it was a little bit like asking permission.

Moreover, there are some who feel the party needs to do more for their traditional allies – specifically the working class union guys. Those guys voted for Christie in the last election. And since then, Democrats have done nothing to try and woo them back. In fact, just the opposite has taken place. They have undermined labor’s agenda at every turn; when traditionally it was Dems who protected workers, it’s now that same party trying to undermine them with non-negotiated givebacks that do an end run around collective bargaining.

Hey look, times have changed. One could fairly make the argument that unions gotta get real and stop threatening strikes over unused sick time and Lincoln’s birthday ( full disclosure: I’m CWA local 1032 ). But on the flip side, perks – however petty they may sound – are bargaining chips in the larger chess game of negotiating multi-year deals. The unions at least want the Democrats to pretend to show them some love instead of jumping on the “my property taxes are high and it’s the unions’ fault!” bandwagon.

The Democratic party needs to think about – you know, the party. They gotta stand for someone. Unions vote. And as one Democrat observed “It’s easy to craft a mission when you are unified, it’s nearly impossible when you are not.” If the anger from these loose coalition groups that comprise the Democratic party starts to bubble over the surface, the party could lose it’s cool like Richard Dreyfuss and never outsmart the guy who is actually outsmarting them.

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It’s that time of the year again. The New Jersey Press Association presents the Legislative Correspondent’s Club annual show.

Basically, the state’s  ( now dwindling ) press corps performs a series of skits and songs that mock the political and media elite of the Garden State. It is often quite funny replete with costumes, wigs and other flamboyant accessories that would make even Elton John blush.

As for my role…well, I am El Presidente this year. That means I don’t actually have to sing ( which is not my strong suit ). I have to deliver the introductory speech which is supposed to be funny and slightly mean spirited. Well, I don’t know how funny it shall be, although I’m working on it. It will most certainly be biting, and of course familiar.

Then of course, after the show is over, people get to stand around and hang out in a cocktail party-type atmosphere which is even more fun. And the whole evening is off the record. So, if you are remotely interested, I urge you to purchase tickets. Proceeds go to charity.

Contact Peg Stephan 609-406-0600 ext. 14. or pastephan@njpa.org

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It wasn’t exactly smooth sailing, but in the end the pension reforms passed…but without a key element.

The provision allowing public employees to pay into a 401-k style plan ( also known as the “opt-out” ) went down in an amendment. It was this sticking point that led to a standstill on the floor of the Assembly Monday when Democrats emerged from caucus confident that the entire bill (S-2) would be held.

What followed was a series of closed door meetings amongst the leadership and the Governor. It’s funny because my life covering politics is actually a series of meetings behind closed doors that i am not allowed to attend. It’s kinda like the velvet rope clubs of my youth. But in this case, I am never on the list. So, we try and piece together what transpires after the fact.

here is what I can discern. The Governor and Sweeney appear to have reached an agreement early on for these reforms. Christie agreed to let Sweeney take most of the credit. And he should. Sweeney championed these reforms four years ago, but didn’t have a partner in the Governor’s office who would sign off on them. Now he does. So when the state’s top Democrat started hearing that there were some defections among the Assembly Dems, he started trying to roundup the votes. I’m told that Joe D of Essex County for example, had promised to deliver votes for the reforms that weren’t panning out.

Well, On Monday afternoon those closed door meetings began. And it finally took Speaker Oliver and Majority Leader Cryan meeting with Sweeney to get the Senate prez to agree to remove the opt-out. Sweeney seemed to view this thing as his baby, and didn’t want it changed. But the Assembly ain’t his house. And what is emerging here is a bit of a class divide. Dems see the Assembly as the last bastion of the people’s will. The opt-out is the only provision that is truly ideological. It endorses the view that maybe the idea of guaranteed government provided pensions is old and stale and needs to be phased out. And that troubled D’s who told me they were not prepared to allow it. Democrats believe in pensions and protecting working people. In fact, even some Republicans were troubled by the actuaries on the opt-out. In effect, they feared it would chip away at the health of an already troubled system and numbers suggesting otherwise were not all that clear.

So, a lot of political capital has now been spent. It was a more bruising battle than some had anticipated. You might even see Assembly Dems push back by forcing their Authorities reform on the Senate as they believe pensions were rammed down their throats a bit. Authorities targets more upper income people which brings us back to the class issue.

Assemblyman Declan O’Scanlon has introduced a bill that eliminates the 9% pension enhancement going forward ( something the Gov also wants ), but I’m told the Dems will need the bad taste in their mouths to dissolve a bit before they will even consider that.

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I think the story of the next legislature will be south jersey.

In a series of rapidly moving developments, it appears as though a deal has been cut between the Essex delegation and the south jersey dems  ( also known as Adubato and Norcross, respectively ) to support Sheila Oliver for Speaker and Steve Sweeney for Senate Prez.

This satisfies the various factions within the Democratic party for several reasons. For one, Essex County plans to deliver up to 70,000 for Jon Corzine in November. That is by far the highest total of any county in the state. For weeks I had been hearing that a deal was being made for Cryan as Speaker and Sweeney as Senate Prez but sources in Essex had told me “no way.” They said that if Codey did not have the votes to remain Senate President then Essex would need the Speaker’s position. Apparently that held true in this deal.

Members of the Black Caucus are satisfied ( although officially, they don’t endorse ) because you would have the first African American female as Speaker. And that of course, brings me to south jersey.

the south jersey coalition is now 12 members including current elected officials and those expected to be elected in November. As a united front they are a force to be reckoned with. Not only was Joe Roberts one of their own…but now, like the Essex delegation, they too can demand one of the top spots ( in this case the Senate Presidency for Sweeney ) when leadership changes. That’s a pretty big deal. One could even say their power is at its zenith right now. And it will certainly be interesting to see how united they remain going forward. After all, more than one of them may seek the governorship or some other key position next time around. And let’s face it, they may call it south jersey but it ain’t all the same. It’s a pretty big geographic area. The terrain varies, as do the income levels and needs…so it may be tough to keep speaking with one voice.

But If the current leadership deal holds, here are some other expectations:

Cryan would come away with support as Majority Leader in the Assembly, with Barbara Buono stepping into Majority Leader on the Senate side. Sarlo ( who was passed over for the position once before ) would become Budget Committee Chairman.

Less certain is who would move in to Cryan’s current position of DSC Chair.

Of course Codey has vowed to fight, at least for now. He issued an ominous statement warning that leadership fights are “fluid.” But you gotta wonder how he feels about Teresa Ruiz from Essex included on the list of names supporting Sweeney. The word is that Nick Scutari got on board the Sweeney train against his will.

And of course we know that Ray Lesniak is always with the winner.

As a final note – The Sweeney press release listed a total of 14 names that are with him in the Senate ( 12 are needed to win ). 14, if you remember, was the number you heard here first three weeks ago.

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