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Archive for the ‘South Jersey’ Category

Not a great election for Democrats overall,  but the 3rd Congressional District results should make the South Jersey Dems shudder.

Cherry Hill is the only portion of the District in Camden County. That’s John Adler’s home town. Republican Jim Saxton who served the district for more than two decades used to lose Cherry Hill by 16,000 votes.

Jon Runyan only lost it by 4400. That’s astounding. Adler won Cherry Hill two years ago by 10,500. If he had just pulled even with that result he would have won the race because he lost by a total of 6000 votes district wide.

So, basically the Dems did not come out for their guy. Why is that?

Sure it was a Republican year. But maybe that’s an easy excuse. As one Democratic operative said to me ‘Adler was the first guy to endorse Obama for President, and the first guy to abandon him on his signature policy achievement which is health care.’ Both those moves were for political expediency, but then where does it leave your base of supporters? Confused and frustrated and ultimately absent on election day.

Adler also made some curious comments during the campaign. At one point he was asked in a debate about “illegal immigrants,” and in his answer he referred to them as “cheats.” That is the kind of  inflammatory rhetoric that doesn’t exactly ingratiate liberals with core constituency groups.

You can’t out-Republican the Republican. And on election day the Dem base let Adler and the South Jersey D’s know that.

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“A tireless campaigner.”

“An army of true Believers.”

“Supporters who would walk into a wall for her.”

These are just some of the phrases I have heard to describe the upstart Tea Party campaign of 6th Congressional District candidate Anna Little.

In as much as the Tea ( Taxed Enough Already ) Party has momentum in New Jersey…it might very well be this race. The incumbent Frank Pallone was a key backer of the Obamacare legislation, so a win for Little would be a huge symbolic victory for the movement. It would also create the odd dynamic of putting New Jersey on the forefront of an upstart grassroots conservative movement for change.

I am told that the numbers don’t lie. Democrats outnumber Republicans in the 6th and that, as they say, should be all she wrote….Right? Not necessarily. This is no ordinary election. Dems may very well stay home. And those who are motivated to vote might very well be the kinds of people who are – well, motivated to vote for someone like Anna Little. Not to mention that Christie ( a more traditional Republican…but a Repub nonetheless ) won the district by 8%.

And we know that The Governor himself who has been campaigning for out of state races all over the country has suddenly taken an interest in Little. Perhaps his team knows something. Scratch that, they definitely know something. The Governor’s own pollster has Little within 1 point and he allowed that poll to be leaked. These are all signs that there could be a seismic shift here on election night. And Christie doesn’t want to be seen as shunning The Tea Party candidate even though he backed The Gooch ( who was apparently too busy beating up Arnold Drummond and his two sidekicks Dudley and Robbie ) to win this race.

So, while Pallone has traditionally had a safe and comfortable ride here, we don’t yet know who the Tea Party is, so we shouldn’t count them out.

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I should give you fair warning that I am about to go on one of my weird rants about Global politics. But I do promise to somehow swing this back to a relevant New Jersey angle.

Francis Fukuyama argues in “The End of History” that after The Cold War, there will no longer be an out-sized clash of ideologies. As a matter of necessity, economic liberalism will come to define relations amongst all nations. However, Charles Kupchan of Georgetown University argues that it’s not that simple. Nations competing for dwindling resources could eventually lead to new potential conflicts. In fact, at some point the United States will no longer be the world’s sole superpower, and we will return to a multi-polar world. We are currently witnessing the rise of China ( which is the obvious example ). But what is less obvious is Europe. Should the European Union get it’s act together ( and there are doubts it ever will ) their interests may not always align with those of the United States.

If the EU becomes a competing superpower, all it would take is a severe economic dispute with the US, and we could have a very serious problem on our hands. Germany after all, tried to take over the world twice ( and failed ). But it’s like they have finally figured out how to control Europe…this time through economic hegemony, rather than with tanks along the Champs Elysees. Make no mistake that Germany is sitting quite securely in the driver’s seat  as the EU transforms and evolves. But don’t worry, I’m sure members of the Obama Administration are up at night preoccupied with mapping out potential doosmday scenarios just like me. ( not really ).

Ah, the cold war was a simpler time, wasn’t it? The US controlled it’s sphere of influence, and the Soviets controlled theirs. The nations skirmished through intermediaries in Africa and Latin America but never went to war head on. Too much was at stake.

And that brings me to the Norcross/Adubato/Christie alliance. We have seen some flair-ups but for the most part the big three have avoided all out war. If that unravels, the agenda Christie is pushing flatlines. Nothing gets done and nobody wins. But as long as these guys keep their eye on the ball…even the minor skirmishes can be contained before they spiral out of control.

Whether it has been the tool kit, the Governor’s SCONJ nominee, the Schundler Subpoenas, the millionaire’s tax or any number of other minor dust-ups…the powers that be have determined that it’s not worth destroying the core alliance. I wonder how sustainable that is over the long term because as we have seen throughout history alliances rise and fall but often degenerate into full scale global conflict.

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I was recently reminded of what is easily my favorite political story of the last five years. It involves Democrat Martha Coakley, the Massachusetts candidate for Senate who was running in a special election earlier this year.

Toward the end of what was universally panned as one of the most neglected and worst run campaigns in MA Democratic political history, Coakley made some comment ( and I’m paraphrasing here ) along the lines of, “what do you expect me to do??!! stand outside Fenway Park to shake hands??!! In the cold?!! I don’t think so.”

Really. Well, we all know what happened next. Scott Brown the Playgirl centerfold went on to defeat her with his simple retort about the seat they were both seeking not belonging to Kennedy ( Teddy, who held it for about 176 years ) but to the people of the Commonwealth.

I’m reminded of this for a couple of reasons. First off, Repubs have begun a  whisper campaign that both Holt and Pallone are in trouble in their normally safe districts. That may be true. But the real danger for the Democrats is in the 3rd which we recently learned was not underestimated at all by the South J Dems. According to the implication in Jane Roh’s excellent stories…the Dems took Runyan so seriously, the created a fake Tea Party candidate to siphon off 5% of the vote…which might be just enough for Adler to win.

The 3rd is one of the three races State House people have been watching closely. the others are the 14th Legislative District and The Bergen Exec race.

Governor Christie has not been very visible in any of these. That’s not to say he is not doing what he can behind the scenes…but it is slightly odd. The 3rd is a high profile Congressional race in a year pundits are predicting a “Republican Tsunami.” The Bergen race is key to a large county that I am sure the Governor would like to win in 2013. And the 14th is the first true test of the Governor’s positions and policies in a swing district.

Here is what I have been told. Up in Bergen, Christie is still annoyed he didn’t win the county and has not been thrilled with some of the positions Kathe Donovan has taken. Meantime, At least one Dem says they are happy over in camp McNerney that Jeff Tittel of the Sierra Club has decided to be so vocal for Donovan because that might actually help The Democratic ticket in a county fed up with environmental regs.

As for the 14th…it’s a bit more of a mystery. Insiders tell me that Goodwin is up more than 10, according to internals. That might explain why Greenstein went so negative about women’s health ( the ad actually features a pink ribbon on a gravestone ). Christie may not want to rehash that debate on the campaign trail even if it’s for a fellow Repub and not himself.

Or perhaps the Governor will jump into all three with both feet in the next coupla weeks. After all, he has been jetting all around the country for fellow Republican Gov candidates in other states.

So, I guess the message is this…don’t take anything for granted. These three races are significant for the Republican party and Christie doesn’t want to be seen as the guy who goes on MSNBC but refuses to shake hands outside the local stadium.

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There is a scene in the movie “Ghostbusters” where Bill Murray tells Harold Ramis that he is still  “a little fuzzy on the whole good-bad thing.” Ramis proceeds to lay out the ultimate doomsday scenario they face which involves imagining all life as they know it stopping instantaneously and every molecule of their bodies “exploding at the speed of light.” Suddenly, it’s quite clear. I mean, how couldn’t it be with that explanation?

Unfortunately, I’m still a bit fuzzy on the pot of economic development money at the DRPA. And the interview we did yesterday ( see below ) with CEO John Matheussen didn’t make it much clearer.

In a taping of NJN’s On The Record, Matheussen told NJN Senior Political Correspondent Michael Aron that in 2008 the DRPA approved a resolution ending the practice of spending toll money on those controversial economic development projects. But as we pointed out in the last post, The DRPA actually continues to spend that money including committing $1.5 million to the Army-Navy game over the next six years. That was voted on in 2009, long after the resolution supposedly stopping the practice was passed.

But wait, there is more. According to internal documents, the board approved 62 resolutions authorizing economic development spending since the resolution ( which supposedly outlawed it ) was passed on 8/15/08. That’s right, 62.

Matheussen explains that they are merely spending what was left over…not new dollars. Fine, but couldn’t that money have been be redirected back to the DRPA’s core mission? After all, wasn’t the intent of the ’08 resolution to end that controversial practice once and for all??? Or was it merely window dressing? Something doesn’t add up here. And it’s particularly noteworthy since there was a long, spirited debate during the DRPA special board meeting on August 25 about whether to continue toll discounts for seniors and others. we heard dire warnings that if the senior discount continues the loss of revenue could affect the agency’s bond rating. Apparently no one was worried about that bond rating when the agency spent money on clean energy wind turrbines on top of the aquarium that apparently do not spin.

Wednesday’s story. Be sure to watch the interview after the taped piece.

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My friend Dinny used to have this brilliant theory about how Disney World is like the American Vatican. Much the way Vatican City operates autonomously within the city of Rome, Disney World does the same within the confines of Orlando. That includes Their own municipal services such as garbage collection, and even their own security/police force.

However, the Vatican is home to a monotheistic religion that appeals to millions of people world wide…Disney encourages the worship of life-sized stuffed animals making it more like Neo-Paganism.

Well, autonomy has it’s benefits and it has it’s drawbacks. In the NewYork – New Jersey region and the Philly-New Jersey region there are numerous authority’s that operate independently. It’s a Robert Moses concept – create a Tri-boro Bridge And Tunnel Authority ( for example ) that can float it’s own bonds, has it’s own cops and even has the power of eminent domain. That way, these authority’s can do unpopular things, but aren’t really answerable to taxpayers.

The DRPA was created by an act of Congress and while both New Jersey and Pennsylvania have some say, there does not appear to have been a lot of scrutiny by either state.

At the August 18 DRPA board meeting, Pennsylvania Auditor-General Jack Wagner asked why the DRPA spends $250,000 each year for the Army-Navy game. It’s worse than we thought. According to documents obtained by yours truly, on 12/12/09 the board approved a six-year commitment on the part of the DRPA to the football game at a cost of $1.5 million. This is money that will be paid out of that now infamous economic development fund  ( the spigot of which was supposedly shut off in 2008 ).

In addition two other contracts from economic development money caught my eye. Two payments to Bellevue Communications. One is for a PR buy in March of 2009 worth $25,000, the other is to the same firm for $99,000 in July of the same year. Trying to get some clarification on what this money was used for, but it should be noted that the President of Bellevue Communications is Kevin Feeley, the former Deputy Mayor for Communications under Ed Rendell.

It’s like Disney World…the fun never ends.

Friday’s story without comment.

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“The Jersey guys stick together like glue.”

That is a quote from a Pennsylvanian with connections to the DRPA. More on where that came from in a minute, but first I’d like to share a couple of observations about Wednesday’s board meeting.

It appears as though the push for reform on the board is coming mostly from the Pennsylvania side. PA Treasurer Rob McCord pretty much distinguished himself as the most sensible guy in the room. He was echoed by Pennsylvania Auditor-General Jack Wagner, and Commissioner John Dougherty. The PA triumvirate argued, introduced additional reforms and complained about a DRPA structure that has apparently kept them in the dark for years when they sought basic information.

The Jersey Commissioners were far less vocal. Almost like they had an interest in protecting the current structure. For example, Richard Sweeney ( who wears a large pinky ring, which btw – makes him awesome in my book but may not actually go a long way toward debunking the negative stereotypes PA folks have about the Jersey guys ) didn’t say a word during the five hour meeting. In fairness, Jeff Nash made an eloquent opening statement, and John Matheussen chimed in early on…but for the most part the PA Commishes debated the resolutions amongst themselves.

Perhaps there is a problem with the structure of the board. I mean, why does Pennsylvania have it’s Treasurer and Auditor General as ex-officio members and Jersey has nothing like that?? Why doesn’t Matt Boxer have a seat on the board??? So, give Assemblyman Dominick DiCicco some credit for requesting a change to the DRPA governing Compact. He also lamented that no Jersey colleagues have joined him in this effort. He’s got a point.

Senate President Stephen Sweeney ( brother of the aforementioned Commissioner Richard ) blames the PA folks for blocking reforms. He says they opposed eliminating two positions Wednesday which would save the DRPA money. The latter is certainly true. They opposed eliminating the Assistant to the Chairman job because it is currently filled. And they opposed eliminating the Corporate Secretary job which is currently in litigation and should probably be handled delicately.

But I wanna circle back to that True-Up regarding insurance commissions. According to an insider there are $800,000 – $900,000 in commissions paid out by the DRPA each year to insurance brokers. Under a verbal agreement these were to be split between the Graham Company (PA ) and the Willis Group ( NJ ). But Bill Graham was reportedly unhappy because he was doing all the work, then splitting the commissions in a 50-50 arrangement.

Well, here is a little more on that. Apparently, three people did angrily split off from Graham, but they did not go to work for Willis. They went to work for Conner Strong. That is the firm of George Norcross. A source says Michael Joyce ( the former Assistant to the DRPA Vice Chairman Jeff Nash who most recently served as the former Public Safety Director until he got fired last month ) told Graham he had to fork over $60,000 in commissions to the West Agency – a minority broker. Graham supposedly agreed ( albeit reluctantly ) but then Joyce demanded another $60,000 for another firm. When Graham protested, Joyce allegedly threatened to take away the DRPA business from Graham altogether. As it stands right now “the Jersey guys” are supposedly trying to pull the DRPA out of  four year contract with Graham. In fact, I am told that since Graham wasn’t willing to play ball, the company already lost work it was getting from the Camden school district.

A source tells me the Willis group is being forced to pay $200,000 of it’s share of commissions to “a very powerful” politician. Not necessarily as a lump sum payment. It may very well get split into smaller sums and then distributed to various candidate campaigns or even non-profit groups that support Democratic candidates.

So, it sounds like those “Jersey guys” really do stick together.

DRPA CEO John Matheussen is said to have told investigators he knew nothing about this arrangement, but sources say an email chain suggests otherwise. And those investigators are apparently none too pleased.

here is last night’s story without comment. If the sync is slightly off just remember…it’s not you, it’s me.

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As a Reporter who worked in NJN’s Newark Bureau for ten years, I have done my fair share of NJ Transit fare increase stories. NJ is after all “a corridor state” ( see, I told you I know the lingo ) and mass transit is an essential part of life in North J.

The same goes for toll hike stories. I have covered those as well. These types of stories require what we call in the biz “MOS” which stands for “Man On the Street” interviews. So, every time there is a fare increase or a toll hike we throw a bunch of people on the air who I would argue quite predictably do not like the proposed change.

So, it was a bit of a mystery to me when I heard that the DRPA had been polling to determine if people wanted toll hikes. Apparently in November 2007, the DRPA paid $26,450 to Zogby International to poll toll payers on their feelings about hikes. Lemme guess…they didn’t want them. But the DRPA went forward with them anyway. So why poll?

The money came out of that now infamous economic development pot which is supposedly not going to be tapped any longer. Although the clarification on that is the DRPA will not refill it once it is empty, but will continue to spend what remains. Glad we are clear now.

I am told by the DRPA that 1200 individuals were polled ( 600 in NJ and 600 in PA because remember – it’s gotta be even ). They also asked what people thought about the current toll structure. Whatever that means.

Programming note: Title of post stems from that embarrassing Tom hanks movie from the 1980’s. Although in the movie, the “pit” was swallowing his money. At the DRPA…it’s yours.

Here is last night’s story without comment.

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In the 1980’s, America had a brief love affair with continent of Australia. “Crocodile Dundee” was all the rage. Foster’s Lager capitalized on our new found romance and began aggressively marketing it’s oil can sized beer here with clever ads about the rustic people of Australia ( clearly Australia was the man in this relationship and America was the woman ). And Outback Steakhouses began popping up in strip malls all over the United States.

But like many torrid affairs, this too quickly came to an end. While we remember it fondly, in the end we just weren’t a good match. I see now Australia is flirting with the European Union which makes us a tad jealous, although we’d never admit it.

Well, it sounds like New Jersey and Pennsylvania had a bit of a dalliance through it’s joint venture the DRPA. It’s been stormy at times ( including a 17-month period where the board didn’t meet due to an inter-state squabble ), but for the most part the spoils were split 50-50 between the two states. An equitable distribution, so Everybody won.

Let me give you a great example of what I am talking about. Sources tell me that in the early 2000’s, Governor McGreevey ( ever notice all roads seem to lead back to him??? ) made a a deal with John Matheussen’s predecessor Manuel Stamatakis. In order to purchase insurance, the DRPA would hire a Pennsylvania broker to go find the best rate, and a Jersey broker. The two brokers would get commissions worth hundreds of thousands of dollars to find the policy. And at the end of the year, according to the true up, all commissions were split evenly between the two states. This was btw – a verbal agreement ( of course it was ) and there are supposedly no records.

Anyway on the Pennsylvania side, the broker was the Graham Company which actually has contracts all over the country. Three guys then split off from Bill Graham and formed a Jersey company called “The Willis Group.” Kinda like Halliburton created KBR to do all that other contractual work the US government needed for the war in Iraq.

Well, last year was the first year these two companies didn’t automatically get the contracts. An RFQ was sent out and there were all sorts of problems and fights.

And since Graham was doing most of the work…his company was also paid a retainer on top of the commissions. Matheussen has told me he knows nothing about the true up. But from what I understand, Graham was annoyed because his firm did all the hard work and actually had the skills to do it, then they had to hand over half the money to Willis. Could NJ and PA break up over something like this???? Unlikely, since there is too much money to be made.

But in regards to this insurance collusion, one official told me they “don’t understand how this is legal.”

This reminds me of what other sources told me on day one about how legal work is handled at the DRPA. Take a proforma IBEW contract for electrical work. The contract needs to go to outside counsel in both New Jersey and Pennsylvania. Who gets the legal work in PA? Why, Ballard Spahr of course. Ed Rendell’s old firm.

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To understand what has happened at the DRPA, we need to go back a few years. So, I am going to get a little James Michener ( yet another sophisticated literary reference…Aw yeah ) and go through some of the history ( yes, I know Bob Ingle did this already ).

The year was 2003, and Democrats wanted control of the state Senate. Republican John Matheussen was offered the job as DRPA CEO by Governor Jim McGreevey, and he agreed to take it. Fred Madden the Democrat was elected to the old seat forcing the Senate out of  a 20-20 tie ( Btw – You gotta wonder where the Republican party was to allow this to happen???!!! ). I was actually at Madden headquarters that election night covering for NJN News. Anyway, as part of the agreement, Matheussen and a handful of others were permitted to stay in the NJ pension system, which required a change in the law.

Here it is.

Law Change

Law Change2

And here is the list of New Jersey pension keepers at the DRPA with their salaries. Mike Joyce is one of them. He resigned two weeks ago as Public Safety Director after he gave an E-Z pass which did not belong to him to his daughter. ( Just click on it to enlarge )

Well, as CEO Matheussen was given his $219,000 salary plus his more than $16,000 annual car allowance. And apparently, on at least one occasion that we know about, he didn’t want to use his car ( despite that allowance ) to attend a meeting. Here is an email exchange with DRPA Corporate Secretary John Lawless from 2008. Lawless apparently had the nerve to question whether Matheussen and others needed a pool car to travel. Point of clarification: Matheussen was cc-ed on this email chain but the exchange was not directly from him. It was  Bill Shanahan on Matheussen’s behalf.

From: John Lawless
Sent: Friday, October 17, 2008 2:41 PM
To: John Matheussen; Robert Gross
Cc: William Brooks; William Shanahan
Subject: Company Car

John and Bob,

I am not sure the Company policy regarding Employees who receive a car allowance obtaining an Authority car for Authority Business.

Bill Shanahan has requested a car for all of you to travel for a meeting.

I assume since you are both going you have approved of this trip with an Authority vehicle.  If I am wrong in this assumption please let me know.

Thanks

John

From: William Shanahan
Sent: Friday, October 17, 2008 2:56 PM
To: John Lawless; John Matheussen; Robert Gross
Cc: William Brooks; Dawn Whiton
Subject: RE: Company Car

All: John brought up a good point so I investigated it and there is no policy that prohibits anyone with a car allowance to use a fleet pool car for company business. I checked the following sources: 1) Policy and Procedures Manual – Series 200, Policy #209 DRPA Vehicle Policy; 2) HR Rules 3) Finance Rules. Bill


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