Sunday, July 30, 2006

Development - AP - Developers nix condo projects nationwide

Published in Newsday AP Feed, Sunday, July 30, 2006, 9:57 PM

Developers Nix or Delay Condo Projects

AP Business Writer

PHILADELPHIA -- In a city cluttered with condominium construction, Old City 205 aspired to shine as an ultramodern residence for the well-heeled with its zinc and glass facade, loft-style homes and windows that span floor to ceiling.

Too bad no one will get to move in now: The $40 million project in Philadelphia's Old City neighborhood won't break ground after the housing market softened and increasingly picky buyers balked at its price tags from $400,000 for a studio to over $2 million for a three-bedroom penthouse.

Brown Hill Development, the company behind the project, noticed slower traffic and decided it didn't want to be left with unsold units, said partner Greg Hill.

From coast to coast, developers are nixing or delaying condominium projects as home sales decelerate, construction costs soar and lenders start to balk at financing units that might not sell. What's making it worse is the glut of high-priced condos and too few people who can afford them.

"We've gone through the biggest real estate boom in the last eight or nine years and some of these projects haven't started yet. Do you think they're going to start building now?" said real estate executive Allan Domb, dubbed Philadelphia's "condo king."

In Las Vegas, projects nixed include high-profile developments such as Aqua Blue, a $600 million, 825-unit luxury condominium-hotel resort that counted Michael Jordan as an investor; the $3 billion, 4,400-unit Las Ramblas resort, backed by George Clooney; and Ivana Las Vegas, a $700 million, 945-unit tower named after Donald Trump's ex-wife.

Related Las Vegas, one of the two developers for Las Ramblas, had cited rising construction costs and slowing sales for the cancellation.

In South Florida, canceled condo developments include 1390 Brickell Bay and ICE in Miami, Fort Lauderdale's The Waves Las Olas, and Promenade in Palm Beach County. WCI Communities Inc., a luxury home builder based in Bonita Springs, Fla., said in June that new orders for its high-rise condominiums fell by 84 percent in the second quarter. The company will now go forward with only three to five condo projects in 2006, down from as many as 15 to 17, mostly in Florida.

With housing looking increasingly anemic, it's not surprising that developers are bailing out.

Domb said he's gotten about half a dozen phone calls over the past four weeks from developers asking if he would like to buy their properties.

In May, the volume of apartment-to-condo conversions plunged to $334 million from $1.65 billion a year ago, said Gleb Nechayev, senior economist at Torto Wheaton Research, a real estate research firm in Boston owned by CB Richard Ellis. The all-time high was $4 billion, hit last September.

Builder confidence, as measured by the National Association of Home Builders/Wells Fargo Housing Market Index, fell in June to its lowest level since April 1995. Confidence took a hit due to rising mortgage rates, high home prices and investors and speculators fleeing the market.

The index surveyed builders of single-family homes, where the sales decline hasn't been as severe as for condos.

Jack McCabe, chief executive of McCabe Research and Consulting in Deerfield Beach, Fla., said desperate developers with finished condos are offering plenty of incentives in South Florida.

Freebies range from one year's free mortgage to the use of a yacht or upgraded kitchen packages. McCabe thinks some developers might even sell units at cost if condo sales continue to weaken.

McCabe considers the condo market, especially the luxury end, at risk of a crash. Over the next few years, he sees prices falling by double-digit percentages.

The luxury condo surplus is to blame. McCabe said about 25,000 condos are under construction in Miami-Dade County, with two-thirds costing $700,000 or higher; another 25,000 units have gotten building permits and 50,000 have been announced for future construction.

McCabe said the median household income in the county qualifies local buyers for a $225,000 home, so the luxury units are targeted mainly toward affluent, out-of-state buyers.

Meanwhile, speculators have driven up prices by flipping units, he said. But they're now leaving the market -- driving down demand -- and putting up for sale properties they own, adding to the glut.

Aside from Miami, he said areas at risk include Boston, San Diego, Las Vegas, Seattle, Chicago, Orlando, Fla., Washington, D.C., and Manhattan.

A big part of the problem is that many condo projects are priced high, in part because developers have to recoup the high prices they paid for land. But most buyers can't afford it.

"The sweet spot of the market is probably $250,000 to $700,000," Domb said. "That's what the majority of the population can afford. Many condos are priced higher. That's part of the problem."

Tell that to The Donald. Real estate mogul Donald Trump told The Associated Press he's going ahead with his 45-story waterfront luxury high rise called Trump Tower Philadelphia.

"It's doing fine," Trump said. "It's been intense. So many people want to move there."

He added interest has been high for the project, which he said doesn't surprise him because his name sells.

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Media - AP - Pew report: Online news readers tapers off

Published in Newsday AP Feed, Sunday, July 30, 2006

Growth of Online News Readers Levels Off

Associated Press Writer

July 30, 2006, 4:26 PM EDT

WASHINGTON -- Some solace for traditional news outlets worried about how to compete with the Internet: A survey finds slowing growth in the number of people who regularly go online for the news.

Almost three in 10 adults, or 31 percent, regularly log in for news, a rate roughly the same as two years ago, according to the survey released Sunday by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press. People in their 40s were more likely to go online for news than the younger adults.

"The online news audience is maturing and at this point is wider than it is deep," said Andrew Kohut, director of the Pew Research Center.

"We have as many as 31 percent who say they read news online regularly," he said. "But they don't spend as much time doing it as they spend with more traditional media like newspapers, TV and radio."

The steady decline in newspaper readership over the past decade has leveled off because of readership of newspapers online, the survey found.

"The online editions of newspapers are providing a bit of a life raft for newspapers," Kohut said. "But it's a pretty small life raft."

Just over four in 10 adults said they had read a newspaper, in print or online, the previous day, compared with 58 percent in 1994. The number of people who read a newspaper online only was relatively small, though it has kept the total from slipping further.

The overall level of newspaper readership has kept fairly steady over the past four years, the survey found.

The availability of newspapers online has helped keep young adults interested in papers, and the rate of their newspaper readership in print or online, while low, has not declined over the past decade.

But young adults also are more likely to not follow the news at all -- an ominous reminder of the challenge still facing the industry.

The survey also found that:

* Newspaper reading among people 30 and over has dropped over the past decade.

* Local and community news are the big attraction for newspapers.

* TV remains the most popular source of news, but viewership has dropped.

The number of people who regularly watch nightly network news is down to 28 percent, half the total from 1993. But the big drop-off of the 1990s has leveled off in the past six years with less dramatic declines for broadcast news -- both network and local.

"The net amount of time people are spending on news is about the same," said Kohut, who noted people can go to a variety of sources for such information.

For example, 7 percent of those polled get news from new technologies such as cell phones, personal digital assistants and podcasts. Among those age 18-29, the number is 13 percent, according to the poll of 3,204 adults conducted from April 27 to May 22. The margin of sampling error is plus or minus 2 percentage points.

With all these new options, people spend about the same time keeping up on the news -- just over an hour in a given day -- as they did a decade ago.

People who go online for news cite the convenience and speed -- a factor in their preference for Web sites like Yahoo, CNN and MSNBC to get news. Google, AOL and Fox News were also among the more popular sites.

One advantage still held by the newspaper over fast-paced outlets such as radio, TV and the Internet is that a majority of people find it relaxing to read the newspaper.


On the Net:

Pew Research Center:

Link to online story.

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Farber - Gannett NJ - Ingle: Farber should step down

Published in the Asbury Park Press, Sunday, July 30, 2006

Farber should step down


TRENTON — Zulima "Protect The Guilty" Farber remains your attorney general, a job she clearly isn't fit for. But she can go out and hire a personal lawyer and public relations guy, who apparently told her to get photographed at things like press conferences to make it look like she's working. Nobody's fooled. Her record screams for itself.

She issued a faux apology about racing to her live-in boyfriend when he got traffic tickets: "If that gave a misimpression to those police officers," she was sorry. "If?"

It didn't stop there. Hamlet Goore, her main squeeze, drove — not to the closest Motor Vehicle Commission office a few blocks away — but to Elizabeth 20 miles further where Farber's long-time pal, Angel Estrada, is MVC manager and double dips as a county freeholder.

Farber says she won't resign. Maybe she should think about more than herself, like the Attorney General's Office and its sagging reputation. Or Gov. Corzine's future. At the very least, Farber should go on leave 'til the investigation of her is done.

Fox & Friends: Give Corzine credit for making that blistering audit of the Board of Public Utilities public after it was sealed for 19 months for no good reason. It started under former Gov. McGreevey and Dick Codey didn't touch it.

The audit said top executives of the BPU, which regulates utility rates, created an $80 million bank account outside the state's accounting system. "Management oversight is nonexistent," the audit said. The money was from $10 to $20 annually added to your power bills to fund a Clean Energy Program. The only clean thing about this was the name. And even so, the board voted to renew the $300 million program without seeing the audit.

The BPU is run by Jeanne Fox, Democratic Party insider, who is married to Steve DiMicco, a Democratic operative who ran campaigns for McGreevey, who appointed Fox, and for Corzine and currently for U.S. Sen. Bob Menendez. When Corzine became governor, Fox wasn't called before the Senate Judiciary Committee, because, the administration said, she was a holdover.

Other holdovers, however, were called in for hearings.

Beyond that bank account was the matter of consultants. "In each case, the person getting the contract was a former BPU employee," the audit said. The BPU issued a hilarious press release saying former colleagues were hired because they were best qualified. Who writes their stuff, Zulima Farber? It sounds like her cuckoo reasoning.

The audit, by the way, was turned over to Farber for possible criminal action. You can't make this stuff up. Farber herself is under investigation. She has no credibility, nor has she demonstrated any interest for probes other than of those who buy firecrackers in Pennsylvania.

Career political trough-swiller Farber also has her nose in the BPU case, having been on the board of a group that got a grant paid out of the secret bank account. Also on that board was Scott Weiner, Corzine's appointment to the New Jersey Schools Construction Corp.

Fox insists the bank account was legit, saying an assistant attorney general helped negotiate part of the contract with Wachovia Bank. (BPU board member Fred Butler owns between $250,000 and $500,000 in Wachovia stock, according to his financial disclosure. He's the dude who spends his time roaming the globe looking for ways to lower our electricity bills.)

When 101.5 FM radio's Kevin McArdle asked Fox why she never explained the bank account when the controversy erupted with the Senate and Assembly budget committees, she said no one asked. Why not mention it to reporters? She told one, she answered, but it didn't make the story.

The audit singles out Cassandra Kling, who used a laptop for her Clean Energy files. Kling left state government and returned as a consultant but was allowed to keep the laptop. When she left again, state computer techs checked the laptop and found no files.

If Corzine were still running a Wall Street firm and something like that happened, the head of the involved department would be told to leave, someone else would clean out the desk. Why is Corzine keeping Fox on? He needs to do more than talk about ethics.

And when is Sen. John Adler going to do his duty as chairman of the Judiciary Committee? Why haven't Farber and Fox been called in to explain themselves? Weiner too. Adler sat idle while former Attorney General Peter "See No Evil" Harvey wrecked havoc and made New Jersey a laughingstock. Is Adler going to stand by for this too?

Bob Ingle is Trenton bureau chief for Gannett New Jersey newspapers. He can be reached viae-mail at and heard on New Jersey 101.5 FM radio at 5 p.m. Fridays. Join his blog at

Link to online story.

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National Night Out - 2006 Flyer

(Click to enlarge. Will center on letter-size paper.)

Saturday, July 29, 2006

Tax Reform - Ledger - Text: Corzine speech to special session

Published in the Star-Ledger [blog], Saturday, July 29, 2006

Corzine's address to Special Session, July 28, 2006

Gov. Jon Corzine spoke to a special legislative session in Trenton this morning. Here is the text of his speech.

Good Morning.

Is it me or does it seem like we were just here yesterday? Although I must say, it’s nice to get started at 11 instead of nine.

Twenty-two days ago, we met in this chamber under somewhat different circumstances.
There was a sense of urgency for all of us brought on by the human and economic costs of the shutdown and the need to create a secure financial foundation for our state.
Today, there is just as much urgency to act.
Our people face a crisis – a real crisis with regard to property taxes and its burden.
So let us join together and agree that before the end of this calendar year, we must have in place comprehensive property tax relief and reform to truly address this crisis.
It will take years to fully correct the situation, but it is imperative – absolutely imperative – we begin today.
I have no desire to bring new words or new slogans to this well-worn discussion.
It is all too clear to everyone, the property tax burden is simply overwhelming our citizens and their economic well-being.
We know the metrics, the rate of growth and the painful impact all too well.
Our business model for delivering and paying for government and school services is broken.
If we were a business, we’d be bankrupt.
In our case, middle-class families and seniors bear the brunt of the failure to meaningfully address the root causes of this problem.
Our citizens pay through the roof for a tax that is imposed without any regard to income or ability to pay.
The New Jersey system of property taxes is haunted by its own “four horsemen of the apocalypse.”
First, we have an over-reliance on this regressive tax to disproportionately fund government and school costs.
Second, we have failed to control spending at all levels of government or to give the public a meaningful voice in budget decisions.
Third, we have far too many layers of government delivering too many similar services.
And fourth, the fragile foundation of state finances has prevented the state from increasing aid to local school districts and governments.
This particular failure has been compounded by inequitable aid formulas, particularly with respect to education.
There are multiple strands to each of these issues; but taken together they slowly strangle our state.
The total property tax levy today is $20 billion. Without action, it will double to nearly $40 billion within a decade.
With the weight of these circumstances in mind, I want to commend the legislative leadership – President Codey and Speaker Roberts – for calling this special session.
Working with them and Minority Leaders Lance and DeCroce, I know we will use this opportunity to bring real change.
As the public knows, ideas to reform and reduce property taxes have been debated ad infinitum.The public has a right to ask – what is the difference with this effort?
What do we hope to accomplish?
Let me tell you – action, action, action – now, before the end of the year.
This cannot be a special session to study consolidation or review existing programs. There’s been enough of that. Talking isn’t going to reduce anyone’s property tax bills – comprehensive and transformative action will.
The system is broken beyond the point of minor adjustments. Tinkering around the edges isn’t going to cut it.Second, we must address both relief and reform in a sustainable manner.
These two words – relief and reform – are often used interchangeably in property tax discussions.
Now, I’m not Noah Webster, but in the Corzine lexicon, relief is direct assistance brought quickly to reduce what someone actually pays.
And reform means changes that over the long term will reduce cost factors that drive up spending and keep increasing the tax burden.
The blueprint I lay down today is a set of recommendations that will provide sustainable relief and reform.
This special session is an extraordinary opportunity to bring lasting change to the system.
We cannot let this moment pass. We must make history.
Our opportunity has been enhanced by the difficult, but ultimately responsible outcome of the recent budget settlement.
We have established a much improved fiscal foundation for state finances and provided $600 million per year in pre-funding for our property tax efforts.
We all know too well the painful reality that the health of state finances is inextricably linked to our ability to meaningfully address property taxes.
We can’t have one without the other.
We can’t increase school aid, municipal aid, charity care or anything else while we grapple with structural deficits.
As long as we can’t increase state aid, we force communities to rely more and more heavily on the regressive property tax to fund services.
We have to move away from this tax, not increase our reliance on it.
The property tax provides 46 percent of all tax revenues in New Jersey. The national average is roughly 30 percent.
Frankly, I’ve never in my life wanted so much to be average.
The property tax must become less and less a portion of the total funding pie.
Keeping the foundation of the state budget on the right track is a prerequisite for sustainable property tax relief.
And within the state budget, we must acknowledge that many of our aid formulas, especially school aid, are outdated, ineffective and outright unfair.
Anytime you change a formula, there are inevitably winners and losers.
There is, however, a greater good that we must achieve by doing what is right for the state, and that means we must revise these formulas.
Commissioner Davy is already working on ways to reform school aid. A new formula must: One – recognize the needs of every child regardless of zip code. Two – live within the realities of our state finances. And three – meet the obligations of our Constitution.
Beyond the formulas and foundation of the state budget, there are several steps we need to take to provide sustainable relief and reform. First – to the relief.
We all have to acknowledge that the reforms we implement will take time before the public feels the results. That said, we must provide relief – now.
Currently, we send rebate checks to the public as a means to lighten the burden and dampen the regressivity of property taxes on seniors and middle-income families.
We call this property tax relief, but I think many of you would agree that few people outside of Trenton actually make the connection.
If we want to lower people’s property tax bills, then we ought to do just that. Replace the checks with direct credits that will lower the bill someone pays. My administration will have the technology in place to do this by July 1, 2007.
I propose that we take $350 million of the dedicated sales tax revenue and combine it with the existing funding for rebates. This will create a credit program of more than $1.6 billion to lower tax bills for senior citizens and middle-class families and to potentially double the credit for tenants.
That’s the relief part of the blueprint.
Reform is admittedly a much more difficult challenge. It will take ore time to realize the benefits, and it will take special efforts to measure the results.
Few of the reform efforts will win any popularity contests, but results are what matters.
We must address the root causes of the problem that drive up property taxes every year. And we must achieve economies of scale and other efficiencies to reduce costs.
Everything must be on the table – sacred cows, third rails, 800-pound gorillas – all the issues that government for too long has been unwilling to address.
Property taxes have been going up by an average of 6.5 percent a year for the past 20 years and at 6.9 percent since 2001, a period of time when, not surprisingly, aid to municipalities and schools was essentially held flat. Enough is enough.
I see five broad areas of reform that will drive down expenses and stop property taxes from increasing every year at truly ridiculous levels.
Our first challenging step in addressing reform will be pension and benefit arrangements for our public employees at every level of government.
As we can all appreciate, the $1.3 billion cash payment we made to the pension funds this year was long overdue. That payment by itself, even in combination with changing how we manage investments, will fall short of solving the long-term pension funding problem.
Today, we face an $18 billion unfunded pension liability that is one of the factors that limits our ability to provide meaningful local aid.
The outlook on the health care front is even more daunting and more limiting.
Over the next four years, we can expect costs for the State Health Benefits Program to grow by more than 70 percent to over $3.6 billion.
And we face an unfunded health care liability of at least $20 billion.
Senate President Codey deserves credit and our thanks for starting a serious dialogue about these issues last year.Now, it is time for us to act in our respective capacities.
The Murphy report contains sensible reforms for us to consider. That said, I don’t believe we have the legal or moral authority to break a deal or take away non-forfeitable rights.
We also have a collective bargaining process that I respect, and it is through that process that these challenging reforms should be addressed. To this end, I am prepared to start the next round of contract negotiations with State employees as early as the middle of September.
Reality dictates we must consider two-tiered systems in all benefits for new and recently hired employees.In these negotiations and your deliberations we must address broad changes to the retirement system, including the potential introduction of means-tested defined contribution plans.
We must also look at increasing the retirement age for new hires. The negotiations must also bring important changes to health care by negotiating alternate plans such as PPOs, eliminating outdated coverages and most importantly employee cost sharing.
Most of these initiatives are areas the Administration must deal with through collective bargaining, but some of them must be initiated or confirmed by the Legislature through statute.
Outside of the collective bargaining process, the Legislature can act immediately to eliminate the practices and loopholes that allow professional service providers, political appointees and people who barely work to enjoy the benefits of a system intended for career public employees.
Eliminating these items – a.k.a. padding, boosting, and tacking – is a no-brainer. Changes addressing these abuses were proposed in my budget, and they should be enacted in this special session.
The second area of reform is shared services.
Let’s admit what we all know: Our citizens enjoy home rule. I grew up in a small town, I know the pride and sense of community it creates, and no one has any desire to undermine it. But home rule cannot be used to justify the costly and ineffective delivery of county, municipal and school services.
Communities can achieve greater savings and potentially better services – in everything from tax assessment, to trash collection, to school administration – through cooperative efforts.
We know in every walk of life that economies of scale increase productivity and reduce costs. Why would we not seek to replicate that in a significant way in our local governments and schools?
In the past, we’ve created programs to encourage consolidation and shared services. But the fact is, insufficient will power and the structural budget deficit have always prevented real money from supporting these ideas.
In this year’s $31 billion budget, there is only $15 million for shared services. That just doesn’t cut it.
Consolidating or sharing services understandably presents emotional, political and governmental challenges.Change always does.
To make shared services work, we have to provide a substantial budget carrot or nothing of scale will happen.I propose that we use $250 million per year of the dedicated sales tax to create an unprecedented Reengineering Fund.The goal is to provide financial incentives so powerful that towns, counties and school districts will have little economic choice but to share services and reduce costs.
I support ideas like those put forward by Speaker Roberts in the CORE plan to use counties, schools and townships to provide more regional services. We need more creative thinking along these lines.
To implement this effectively, we will need objective standards, independent analysis and a means to verify results. We need to create a financial control board to measure and assure progress. We have to make certain that what we say is what we do.
As a part of this effort, we should review our archaic, overly complex civil service laws that are often roadblocks to shared service agreements and effective management at all levels of government. To be blunt, if we don’t find a way to drive down costs through shared services, we will never get real reductions in spending. It’s that simple.
The third area of reform is debt reduction and reducing principal and interest payments. Years of postponing tough choices through more borrowing have left us with the third highest debt burden in the nation – over $3,200 per person. This year our state budget carries $2.3 billion in debt service and will expand by more than 25 percent in just four years. Every dollar we spend on interest is one less dollar for school or municipal aid.
Within three months, my administration will present an asset and liability study with recommendations on the sale, lease or monetization of assets, the use of naming, development and air rights as well as other public-private partnerships to raise capital and reduce debt payments.
With this plan, we will reduce the debt load in New Jersey and release billions in free cash flow over the next four years.
The fourth area of reform is modernization of the tax structure. Now I can already hear the spin machines starting to warm up. But we are kidding ourselves if we pretend we can fundamentally alter the property tax equation entirely on the spending side.
We’ve already acknowledged that we need to shift resources by dedicating one half of the sales tax increase to this effort. In this context, we have to examine how the economy has changed and see whether our tax code should be changed accordingly.
The goal of modernization is to capture revenues that can be used to provide local aid and reduce property tax pressures without causing undue harm to our economy. We also have to take a serious look at whether we should give local communities a limited right to raise new revenues, including the right to impose impact fees.
If local citizens choose other revenue sources to lessen their property tax burden, then who are we in Trenton to tell them they don’t have the right to an alternative course.
The fifth element of reform is possibly the most important and, undoubtedly, the most difficult. That is achieving sustainability for our actions. We have to make these reforms stick. We have to create mechanisms to contain spending that will stand the test of time.
I know firsthand from my efforts with the Sarbanes-Oxley reforms that transparency and oversight through regular auditing are the most effective ways to provide basic financial accountability. Audit oversight exists in almost every facet of our economy.
And as I have repeatedly argued, we need an independent and properly staffed State Comptroller to systematically and regularly review financial activities of all governmental units and authorities.
I am prepared to work with the Legislature to create an appointed comptroller with a term of six years to ensure the office’s independence. Disastrous breakdowns with the internal controls at UMDNJ and the Schools Construction Corporation make this need obvious and mandatory.
In addition to regular audits of all governmental financial activities, we need to make it easier for the public to participate in budget decisions. Public participation can be a check on spending, as we saw with this spring’s school budget elections.
Budget elections should be more democratic and potentially held at the same time as general elections. We should also look at what actions other states have taken to broaden voter participation. Oregon has done some particularly interesting things in this regard.
Finally, let me bring all these elements of relief and reform together with a final suggestion that goes to the heart of sustainability. We need to cap the annual increase in the property tax, not a new cap on spending, but a cap on the increase in the property tax bill itself.
We can fashion provisions to cope with inflation, population growth and changing needs. But no homeowner, no property owner, should have an increase in their annual property tax bill greater than 4 percent. This cap would cut the recent spiraling rate of increases by more than a third.
We should also include a four-year sunset provision so that we can evaluate the cap’s impact.
By sharing services and reforming pension and health care costs, we are taking big steps to help towns, counties and schools reduce costs. By creating a sound fiscal foundation and reducing debt payments, we are putting the state in a better position to provide more local aid.
By allowing communities to decide to utilize other revenues, we are giving them additional options aside from the property tax. With these tools in place, we need a cap to protect the savings.
After all these efforts, there is no way we can let New Jersey’s property taxes keep rising at 6.5 percent to 7 percent a year. Absolutely no way.
So let me review the major elements of the blueprint: First – sound state finances; Second – lower tax bills with a credit program; Third – reform pension and health care benefits; Fourth – incentivize shared services and consolidation;Fifth – reduce debt to free state resources; Sixth – modernize the tax structure and authorize limited local revenues;Seventh – establish a State Comptroller; and Eighth – sustain relief and reform by capping property tax increases at 4 percent.
Now, let me close by observing what most of you know: I would have preferred a Citizens’ Constitutional Convention. That said, if we do our work, we should never need one.
My administration will work day and night to provide the support, the data, and whatever else you need to facilitate your deliberations. Treasurer Abelow and Commissioner Levin will be the point persons for your legislative working groups and committees. Additional staff will be made available to each working group. The full support and resources of my administration are behind this effort.
If we fail to take the necessary steps to achieve sustainable relief and reform by January 1st, then I will call and press for a Citizens’ Convention to be on the ballot in 2007.
But I know that working together, we will act to bring real change. What I have laid out is a blueprint of principles and the elements of a plan. It is not the final design. We should build that together. Let’s make these deliberations on property taxes different than the ones before. They are already different.
For one, the fiscal foundation established in the recent budget has pre-funded $600 million per year to finance the best relief and reform ideas. No generation has ever started a discussion on property tax relief and reform with money in the bank.
Ultimately, however, we will be judged by what we do and what actions we take. Solutions to the property tax problem aren’t easy. That much, we all know. The tough decisions are at our doorstep. What we have been doing doesn’t work.
We’re going to have to break the mold to get different results. To paraphrase Albert Einstein – something I’ve always wanted to do, but never had the nerve: “We can’t solve problems by using the same thinking we used to create the problems.”
I know what lies ahead of us will be extremely hard on many levels. I suspect we’ll hear more than one complaint about what I have proposed or what we do. But it is the needs of the property taxpayers that must drive our decisions.If we keep in mind who we serve, we’ll end up in the right place.
Let’s make history.
Thank you.

Link to online story.
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(In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes. Plainfield Today, Plainfield Stuff and Clippings have no affiliation whatsoever with the originator of these articles nor are Plainfield Today, Plainfield Stuff or Clippings endorsed or sponsored by the originator.)

Friday, July 28, 2006

Robbery - Ledger - Man slashed, robbed near Hugo's

Published in the Star-Ledger, Thursday, July 27, 2006

Group attacks man, robs him outside bar

PLAINFIELD: A 25-year-old man was attacked with a knife and robbed by a group of men outside a city bar eary Sunday, police said yesterday [Wednesday, 7/26].

The group confronted the victim about 2:45 a.m. near Hugo's Bar on East Front Street, police said. The unidentified victim was slashed in the face and arms, and robbed of his cell phone and $50, police said.

The attack was the second at that location in two months. On June 18, a man was stabbed just steps away from Hugo's, then stumbled into the bar, where he collapsed and died. Police arrested a man a short time later and charged him with the crime.

Anyone with information is asked to call Plainfield Detective Leslie Hudson at (908) 226-2541.

No link to online story; item was a brief in print edition only. Transcribed by DD, 7/28/2006.

(Note: Online stories may be taken down by their publisher after a period of time or made available for a fee. Links posted here is from the original online publication of this piece.)

(In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes. Plainfield Today, Plainfield Stuff and Clippings have no affiliation whatsoever with the originator of these articles nor are Plainfield Today, Plainfield Stuff or Clippings endorsed or sponsored by the originator.)

Immigrants - Record - AP-Ipsos Poll shows softening of stance on immigrants

Published in the Bergen Record, Wednesday, June 7, 2006

Polls show softening of stance on immigrants

Wednesday, June 7, 2006


Americans are becoming more accepting of immigrants, a new poll shows, even as congressional debates over border control and rallies both against and in support of undocumented immigrants suggest a nation bitterly uneasy over its foreign-born residents.

Polls conducted by The Associated Press-Ipsos found that slightly more than half of Americans consider immigrants an asset. That is a change from just two years ago, when a number of people indicated ambivalence over whether immigrants are a good influence on society.

In New Jersey, the conclusions of the poll rang familiar with residents of diverse backgrounds.

"Where I live, in Teaneck, we all live together," said Margaret White, chairwoman of the Anti-Racism Committee of the Unitarian Society of Ridgewood. "We ask, 'How's your kid doing?' not 'Where's your green card?' "

White recalled the cheer that filled a concert she recently attended that offered songs reflecting different ethnic cultures.

"There were Puerto Rican songs, Irish songs, Japanese songs," White said. "People in the audience had tears in their eyes when they heard songs from their country."

More than half the people in the United States -- 52 percent -- said immigrants are having a good influence in their newly adopted country, up 10 percentage points from May 2004.

The separate polls were conducted of about 1,000 adults in each of eight countries. They were conducted between May 1 and 22 and have a margin of sampling error of plus or minus three percentage points. The eight countries were the United States, Britain, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Canada and Australia.

Many of those polled in all eight countries said immigrants work as hard or harder than people born in those countries. In most of the countries, people who made higher incomes and had more education were more likely to say immigrants are a good influence.

"The population of immigrants is increasing dramatically," said Fred Bemak, a George Mason University professor who studies the impact of immigration. "When it's the person next door, it changes the tone."

Albert Chin, a Paramus resident, said he feels welcome in the suburbs of North Jersey.

"People are more intelligent now," said Chin, who was born in New York and is of Chinese descent. "In my younger days, people were ignorant. Now, people are more sophisticated, they are more aware of news about other countries, they are exposed to a lot more in general. People know there is no turning back, that we have to live together."

Others agreed that people are probably coming to terms with the reality of a changing society. In New Jersey, immigrants have a presence in nearly every municipality now. In some areas, immigrants and their children account for more than half the population.

Cross-cultural relationships -- at work, in neighborhoods, in schools -- increasingly are part of everyday life. Studying a foreign-language is now a required part of elementary school education in New Jersey. And lessons about other cultures and immigrant contributions throughout U.S. history are part of the curriculum in New Jersey schools.

"The poll confirms that most people understand that immigrants now, as they have throughout history, push forward the economy through their labor and other contributions," said Guillo Beytagh-Maldonado, a Latino community activist from New Brunswick and moderator of the online mailing list server "The poll also confirms that most people understand that immigrants do not displace workers in the job market. Immigrants create at least as many jobs as they occupy."

Though the results painted a sunny picture of the public's views of immigrants, the fact remains, some residents pointed out, that immigration still is a source of contention. In fact, even U.S.-born children of immigrants report that they've experienced discrimination because of the way they look.

"Recently, in fact, some teenagers were walking towards me on the same block, and they wouldn't move so I had to move," Chin said. "They gave me derogatory looks and made derogatory remarks about me."

Chin declined to elaborate on the remark, adding only that it was discriminatory and "mumbled."

"They probably took a look at me and thought I didn't know what they were saying," said Chin, who is on the board of the Chinese Community Center of New Jersey. "I was born in this country, on the Lower East Side, and I'm as American -- perhaps even more American -- than those teenagers. But they seemed to assume I was from another country, and I didn't understand English. I asked them why they didn't move, and they just looked at me and quickly shut up."

Some activists say that the increasingly heated national debate about how to handle illegal immigration is eclipsing the positive attitudes of most people toward legal immigration.

"It's been easy for the acceptance of immigrants to get lost, and escape notice, when the spotlight has been on protests and showdowns over illegal immigration," said Gustavo Ramirez, executive director of the Passaic-based Immigration and American Citizenship Organization, or IACO.

"The rancorous back-and-forth over whether to legalize illegal immigrants and to what extent to crack down on them, is bringing out the xenophobic, ultra-conservative, ultra-right-wing groups that speak harshly of immigrants. But they don't reflect the views of most Americans, certainly not their views toward immigration in general."

White said such hostility is "not necessarily anti-immigrant, it comes from our country's legacy of racism."

"We don't say we have to keep out Canadians, even though that's where people with terrorist ties are being found," she said. "We're not building a wall along the U.S.-Canada border."

Among Britons surveyed, 43 percent viewed immigrants in a positive light -- up 11 points from two years ago. Almost half of Spaniards had an upbeat view of the newcomers' influence -- up nine points from 2004. The French, Germans and Italians also have grown more likely to view immigrants favorably.

This article contains material from The Associated Press. E-mail:

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Menendez - Bergen Record - Fears Farber flap may hurt him

Published in the Bergen Record, Friday, July 14, 2006

Menendez fears AG flap may hurt him


A state Democratic insider said Thursday that U.S. Sen. Robert Menendez is concerned that state Attorney General Zulima Farber's role in a Fairview traffic stop involving her boyfriend could become a thorn in the side of his reelection campaign.

"I know he's extremely concerned about the potential political fallout," said one Democratic insider following a recent conversation with the senator. "What transpired with Zulima's boyfriend .... is an unfortunate situation, and he doesn't want it to blow back in his face. And that's a legitimate concern."

The May 26 incident centers on whether Farber improperly influenced police intending to impound the car of Hamlet E. Goore, Jr. The matter is now the focus of an unprecedented investigation by a special prosecutor appointed by Governor Corzine.

Republicans have said the incident reflects poorly on Menendez, who has worked to promote Farber as an emerging star of New Jersey's Hispanic community.

Menendez has so far remained silent since the incident was first detailed in The Record two weeks ago.

On Thursday, the senator's campaign issued a statement: "The governor has appointed an independent investigator and both the public and the Attorney General deserve for that investigation to proceed. It would be inappropriate to comment while that investigation is ongoing."

However, insiders said Menendez and some of his aides are nervous about the issue.

Others, meanwhile, agreed the incident could become a flashpoint during Menendez's reelection campaign.

"It's about him and his character, because he went to bat for her and advocated so hard for her – not only for the Supreme Court but also for this [attorney general] appointment," the Democratic operative said.

Menendez was the chief proponent of a 2003 effort to have Farber named as a justice on the court during the tenure of Gov. James E. McGreevey. Menendez's advocacy was so vigorous, one Democrat recalled, he effectively "made it a war with McGreevey."

The effort failed after details of Farber's driving history became public. McGreevey then moved to answer calls from the African-American community by appointing a black justice.

When Corzine was elected last November, Menendez lobbied to have Farber named attorney general.

Those Democrats who spoke on the record said they doubt the Farber issue will seriously hurt Menendez. Federal issues dominate voters' concerns in a U.S. Senate race, they said.

"I think the Kean people would be making yet another vast mistake if they try make this a campaign issue at a time when people care about the direction of this country, the war in Iraq and the economy," said Julie Roginsky, a Democratic campaign strategist.

However, earlier this week, Menendez's Republican opponent, state Sen. Tom Kean, Jr., called on Farber to resign.

"Ms. Farber acted inappropriately, clearly lacks good judgment, and should step down," his campaign's statement said. "With the case of Zulima Farber, Menendez has an opportunity to stand up and do the right thing, and he should ... ask her to resign immediately."


July 13: 'Click it' violators wish they knew AG

July 11: Tow for van canceled after Farber arrived

July 8: Lawyer says cop thought he got order from Farber

July 8: New light shed on Farber incident

July 5: Special prosecutor on AG's case

July 5: Farber to face state ethics probe

June 30: Tickets voided for AG's beau?

Link to story

(In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes. Plainfield Today, Plainfield Stuff and Clippings have no affiliation whatsoever with the originator of these articles nor are Plainfield Today, Plainfield Stuff or Clippings endorsed or sponsored by the originator.)

Council - Courier - Repeals ordinance to limit overcrowding

Courier News Online - Friday, May 5, 2006

"Plainfield repeals ordinance to limit overcrowding"

Staff Writer

PLAINFIELD -- An ordinance passed to try to limit overcrowding in apartment units was summarily repealed by the City Council after officials said there are other existing rules that accomplish the same purpose.

The vote was a unanimous 5-0 -- but several council members issued warnings before they agreed to take the unusual step of rescinding the 11¼2-year-old measure at Wednesday night's regular meeting.

The administration of Mayor Sharon Robinson-Briggs and city code-enforcement officials must make sure existing housing codes are applied fairly and equitably, Councilwoman Linda Carter said.

"It (the administration) will definitely be held to task to make sure we are doing the right thing," she said.

The council's vote formally repealed the so-called "safe homes" initiative, which was adopted in November 2004.

The ordinance caused a small controversy because, when it was discussed initially, it called for apartment owners to provide the city with the names, ages and genders of all tenants. It also was once known as the "anti-overcrowding" ordinance, which some residents saw as discriminatory.

A few people accused the city of targeting the Hispanic population.

By the time the ordinance was adopted, the requirement for a listing of tenants' names had been dropped, and it applied exclusively to one- or two-unit residences -- essentially subdivided homes -- that are not occupied by the owner.

Under its terms, owners of such buildings were obligated to register the apartments annually with a $75 fee.

The registrations also required the name and address of the owner, managing agent and superintendent; the number of sleeping rooms in each unit, along with a floor plan; and the number of people living in each unit, including children more than 2 years old.

Dan Williamson, the city's attorney, assured council members Wednesday that other city laws are sufficient to deal with overcrowding concerns.

"The ordinances that are on the books as we speak can do all of of what this ordinance was designed to do," he said.

The measure was repealed unanimously, with council members Cory Storch and Rayland Van Blake absent.

Chad Weihrauch can be reached at (908) 707-3137 or

(In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes. Plainfield Today, Plainfield Stuff and Clippings have no affiliation whatsoever with the originator of these articles nor are Plainfield Today, Plainfield Stuff or Clippings endorsed or sponsored by the originator.)

Coulter - AP - 12 egregious quotes bashing 9/11 widows

Coulter Draws Fire for Bashing 9/11 Widows

Jun 10, 2006

Associated Press Writer


Ann Coulter, the conservative pundit with a penchant for creating controversy, caused a ruckus when she called 9/11 widows "witches" and accused them of using their husbands' deaths for their own political gain.

It is just the latest of the high-emotion, sharp-rhetoric attacks that she has leveled in four previous books and frequent appearances on cable television programs. Her firebrand style even inspired NBC's "The West Wing" to create a "a blond, Republican sex kitten" in her mold.

In her latest book, Coulter criticizes the four New Jersey widows who pushed for an independent commission to investigate the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks that killed their husbands at the World Trade Center. The women also backed Democrat John Kerry's presidential candidacy in 2004.

"These broads are millionaires, lionized on TV and in articles about them, reveling in their status as celebrities and stalked by grief-arazzis. I've never seen people enjoying their husbands' deaths so much," Coulter wrote.

Among Coulter's previous statements, she advocated the invasion of non-Christian nations after Sept. 11 and the deportation from the U.S. of "all aliens from Arabic countries." She said American Taliban John Walker should be executed to show liberals what happens to traitors. And she said the only real question about President Clinton was "whether to impeach or assassinate."

Among the most quotable Coulter:
  1. "To expiate the pain of losing her first-born son in the Iraq war, Cindy Sheehan decided to cheer herself up by engaging in Stalinist agitprop outside President Bush's Crawford ranch. ... After your third profile on 'Entertainment Tonight,' you're no longer a grieving mom; you're a C-list celebrity trolling for a book deal or a reality show," Coulter wrote in her column on Aug. 18, 2005.

  2. "Even if corners were cut, (Iran-Contra) was a brilliant scheme. There is no possibility that anyone in any Democratic administration would have gone to such lengths to fund anti-communist forces. When Democrats scheme from the White House, it's to cover up the president's affair with an intern. When Republicans scheme, it's to support embattled anti-communist freedom fighters sold out by the Democrats," she wrote in 2003's "Treason: Liberal Treachery from the Cold War to the War on Terrorism."

  3. "My only regret with Timothy McVeigh is he did not go to the New York Times Building," The New York Observer quoted her as saying on Aug. 20, 2002. She clarified those remarks with "Of course I regret it. I should have added, 'after everyone had left the building except the editors and reporters.'"

  4. "After all other suitable office space in Manhattan had dried up and also after spending the weekend golfing at an all-white club in Florida Clinton announced he would take an office in Harlem. ... As one of my friends remarked, that should be nice: Having escaped a mugging on the way to work, Clinton's female employees will then have to face an accused rapist in the office," Coulter wrote on Feb. 19, 2001.

  5. "The Americanization of Iraq proceeds at an astonishing pace, the Iraqis are taking to freedom like fish to water, and the possibilities for this nation are endless. It's hard to say who's more upset about these developments: the last vestiges of pro-Hussein Baathist resistance in Iraq or John Kerry's campaign manager," Coulter wrote in a June 30, 2004, column posted on her Web site.

  6. "(Liberals) are always accusing us of repressing their speech. I say let's do it. Let's repress them. ... Frankly, I'm not a big fan of the First Amendment," Coulter said during an Oct. 21, 2005, speech at the University of Florida.

  7. "Abortion is the sacrament and Roe v. Wade is Holy Writ," she wrote in "Godless: The Church of Liberalism," published Tuesday.

  8. "We should invade their countries, kill their leaders and convert them to Christianity. We weren't punctilious about locating and punishing only Hitler and his top officers. We carpet-bombed German cities; we killed civilians. That's war. And this is war," Coulter wrote in a column published by the National Review Online on Sept. 13, 2001.

  9. "The portrayal of Senator Joe McCarthy as a wild-eyed demagogue destroying innocent lives is sheer liberal hobgoblinism. Liberals weren't cowering in fear during the McCarthy era. They were systematically undermining the nation's ability to defend itself while waging a bellicose campaign of lies to blacken McCarthy's name. Everything you think you know about McCarthy is a hegemonic lie. Liberals denounced McCarthy because they were afraid of getting caught, so they fought back like animals to hide their own collaboration with a regime as evil as the Nazis," she wrote in "Treason."

  10. "Mostly the Witches of East Brunswick wanted George Bush to apologize for not being Bill Clinton," she wrote in "Godless." She was referring to the New Jersey town where two of the Sept. 11 widows live.

  11. "We need somebody to put rat poison in Justice Stevens' creme brulee," Coulter said in a Jan. 27 appearance at Philander Smith College in Little Rock, Ark., regarding Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens. She later explained she was joking about the justice, whose votes have upheld Roe v. Wade, the landmark decision legalizing abortion.

  12. "You want to be careful not to become just a blowhard," she said in The Washington Post on October 16, 1998.

(In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes. Plainfield Today, Plainfield Stuff and Clippings have no affiliation whatsoever with the originator of these articles nor are Plainfield Today, Plainfield Stuff or Clippings endorsed or sponsored by the originator.)

SCC - Ledger - Blueprint for a $6B boondoggle

Published in the Star-Ledger, Sunday, November 13, 2005 [seems to be incomplete]

Blueprint for a $6 billion boondoggle
Waste, poor management and politics crippled the state plan for urban school construction.

Sunday, November 13, 2005

Star-Ledger Staff

It was a raucous ovation bestowed upon the guest of honor in the summer of 2003 at a Passaic County banquet packed with 1,000 union electrical workers.

On the dais, Gov. James E. McGreevey basked in the cheers, reminding the crowd of his promise to get the unions a cut of a $6 billion urban school construction program, the biggest capital construction undertaking in state history.

The happy union workers were not the only ones with cause to rejoice. Campaign contributors, party loyalists and key political constituencies all stood to benefit from the building bonanza.

But the state's promise of more than 500 new or rebuilt schools turned out to be a hollow one. Kids in trailers and cramped, decrepit school buildings have found themselves shortchanged as the money set aside to rebuild their schools disappeared in an unregulated flood of waste, mismanagement and political favors.

Now nearly broke, with less than a quarter of the needed schools built, the state's Schools Construction Corp. has been such a dismal failure that its very future is in doubt.

To understand how the state could spend so much money with so little to show for it, The Star-Ledger reviewed hundreds of documents and interviewed more than 50 people involved with the program. Among the findings:

  • Key cost-saving safeguards were ignored while generous arrangements were made in favor of politically connected firms -- including more than $400 million in consulting contracts that went to campaign donors.
  • Speed trumped all else. In its zeal to get things moving, the SCC sacrificed financial oversight and paid contractors and designers premium rates to get things done.
  • Union labor was used almost exclusively, adding millions of dollars to the cost while rewarding some of McGreevey's most generous campaign contributors.
  • Top McGreevey administration officials, concerned about political fallout, ignored the fact the school program was running out of money. Instead they let the program spend hundreds of millions of dollars designing and promising schools they knew the state could not deliver.
  • McGreevey, who resigned in August 2004 after admitting to a extramarital gay affair with a member of his Cabinet, has made few public statements since leaving office and refused to discuss his role with the SCC. Many others who served in his administration were reluctant to be quoted about what has become an embarrassing episode for Democrats.

    But Mark Lohbauer, a Republican who helped write the legislation that created the program in 2000 and was among its first employees, called the initiative's unraveling a bitter disappointment.

    "We all felt this was a significant piece of legislation," said Lohbauer, now a private consultant. "'And now it's something shameful."


    In the summer of 2000, Caren Franzini, the longtime head of New Jersey's Economic Development Authority, was handed the reins of a court-ordered initiative -- approved by a Republican-controlled Legislature -- to replace or refurbish hundreds of aging schools in the state's poorest 30 districts.

    Edward Neafsey, an assistant state attorney general who had been designated watchdog for the school building program, gave her a report to read: "Corruption in the New York City School System."

    The black-bound compendium described how New York's school building program had been infiltrated by organized crime and dishonest contractors.

    "I read it and I was scared out of my mind," Franzini recalled in a recent interview.

    "(Neafsey) said, 'This is what we're going to avoid in the state of New Jersey,'" Franzini said. "'We need to put the processes in place before you start any of your work.'"

    That caution led to thousands of background checks on contractors, a stringent oversight that weeded out undesirable companies but nearly paralyzed the project in the process.

    During the first full year, the agency rejected 93 percent of the architecture and construction bids it received, losing the entire 2001 summer construction season. In the second year, the EDA solicited bids for $340 million worth of repair work, but rejected all bidders more than half the time.

    The slow start offered McGreevey, making his second try for governor, an opportunity. On the campaign trail in 2001, he hammered Republicans for delays and vowed repeatedly to unions and urban audiences that change was coming.

    Once elected, McGreevey moved quickly to keep his promise.

    The new governor created the Schools Construction Corp. within months of taking office in January 2002 and hired a hard-knuckled veteran of the construction industry to run it.

    Alfred McNeill, the 68-year-old retired chief executive officer of Turner Construction Co., was a no-nonsense builder with disdain for the red tape of public contracting.

    Under McNeill, the SCC instituted overlapping scheduling that allowed architects to create final designs for schools before the state's departments of Education and Community Affairs had finished their reviews. It also let the state begin negotiating land purchases for schools that had not yet been approved.

    Over the next 12 months, the new agency poured $1 billion into school building contracts -- eight times the amount spent in the preceding two years. The SCC also doubled the number of contracts with architects and increased 12-fold the amount spent acquiring land.

    While lean budgets were forcing other state departments to trim personnel, the schools corporation went on a hiring binge. From 2002 to 2003, the agency's staff swelled from 70 to more than 200.

    And projects were finally getting under way. After launching just 12 in 2002, the SCC started 67 new schools or additions in 2003.

    "McGreevey wanted to get schools built as quickly as possible for the kids and so he would have something he could crow about in a re-election campaign," McNeill said in an interview.

    The increased output drew rave reviews from urban school officials who had grown weary from years of inaction.

    And it pleased McGreevey, who made attendance at ribbon-cuttings and groundbreakings a staple of his public appearance circuit in 2003.

    But as the money rolled out the door, problems were already beginning to emerge.


    McNeill said that when he took the SCC job, he shook hands with McGreevey and extracted a promise:

    "I said, 'I'll try to get the thing set up. You keep the politics out of it. Then you can get rid of me and do what you want to do,'" he recalled.

    While McNeill insists McGreevey never foisted contractors on him, he concedes he was ordered to fire Lohbauer, the SCC's director of communications and the highest-ranking Republican in the program.

    The order, Lohbauer said, originated with George Norcross, a prominent South Jersey backer of McGreevey's, who had a long-standing feud with Lohbauer stemming from local Camden County politics.

    "It sounds small-minded, but I guess the South Jersey machine can't abide someone who is a Republican being in a job like that," McNeill said in an interview. "It didn't make sense to me, but I guess that's how things work in a state like New Jersey."

    McNeill, who said he only intended to keep the job for a year, resigned in September 2003. Less than a month later, two Democratic Party political operatives were awarded a $1.5 million contract to help the SCC improve its community outreach.

    Rick Thigpen, former executive director of the Democratic State Committee, and Idida Rodriguez, a former staffer for Assemblywoman Nellie Pou (D-Passaic), won out over seven other bidders -- five of whom offered lower prices.

    The pair were given the contract despite the fact the SCC already had 40 employees on staff charged with the exact same duties -- attracting minority contractors and smoothing relationships with urban mayors.

    Thigpen, in an interview, defended the contract, saying he and his partner landed it fairly. But he conceded the SCC -- and its billions of dollars -- became an increasingly attractive vehicle for rewarding friends and advancing McGreevey's political agenda.

    "There's no question that some people in the McGreevey administration saw that the greatest value of the Schools Construction Corporation was political, and not actually building schools," Thigpen said.

    Before McGreevey took office, the schools program had issued only 11 professional consulting contracts, worth a total of $37 million. But after McGreevey took office, the program issued 90 such contracts worth a total of $438 million.

    A typical series of deals took place in early 2003, when the SCC decided to hire 24 engineering firms to perform "site investigations" of properties being considered for schools.

    Forty companies submitted bids for the work, which was advertised on March 20, 2003, the same day the Senate voted 34-1 to limit campaign contributions from state vendors.

    By the time bids were opened three months later, companies seeking the work had contributed $246,350 to the Democratic State Committee, campaign finance reports show.

    And when the winners were announced in September, the 24 companies awarded the $192 million in contracts had given $214,500 of that $246,350. The 16 firms left on the sidelines, by contrast, had contributed just $31,850.

    Though McNeill and other SCC officials insist politics played no role in the awarding of contracts, one state assemblyman says it is no coincidence the most generous contributors won most of the work.

    "When it was taken away from Caren Franzini, the whole thing was designed to be a political situation," said Assemblyman Joseph Malone (R-Burlington), a sponsor of the original school-building bill. "It was not designed to put schools and kids first. It was designed to put McGreevey and his re-election front and center."

    The politically connected also benefited from no-bid contracts awarded in connection with the financing of the schools program, state records show.

    Since 2000, the state has issued $4.7 billion in long-term bonds to pay for the schools projects, generating about $95 million in fees for attorneys, underwriters, banks and investment advisers.

    Until this year, the state's bond counsel for the school work was almost exclusively the law firm of Wolff & Samson, whose partner David Samson was McGreevey's first attorney general. Through January, Wolff & Samson had earned $315,886 handling six school bond issues for the state.

    The bond counsel for its last two school borrowings, in April and October this year, was DeCotiis, Fitzpatrick, Cole & Wisler. Until McGreevey resigned last year, Michael DeCotiis, a partner with the firm, was McGreevey's chief counsel, and dealt directly with the SCC.

    Labor unions, which heavily backed McGreevey's campaign, also benefited.

    In creating the SCC, McGreevey required the use of union laborers on any school job of more than $5 million, in exchange for the pledge not to strike. McGreevey officials insisted such arrangements -- known as Project Labor Agreements -- saved the SCC money by ensuring labor peace, but critics say they increased costs by shutting out nonunion companies.

    A draft of a state Labor Department study estimates the agreements have added at least 7 1/2 percent to the cost of construction work in New Jersey -- enough money in the SCC's case to build 20 elementary schools.

    "With the construction industry in a downturn around the country, the SCC was a nice buffer," Wyatt Earp, a union representative who attended the electricians meeting in Passaic County, said in a recent interview. "It brought needed projects, but it also kept our people gainfully employed."


    For all its early promise, the agency McGreevey hoped would play a major role in his re-election plans was in many ways a runaway train. Reformers later brought in by acting Gov. Richard J. Codey said they were shocked to discover the SCC lacked the most basic fiscal controls.

    "What we are dealing with at school construction is an organization that had virtually no financial organization, no chief financial officer, no budgeting plan," said Alfred Koeppe, the former Public Service Electric & Gas president who has chaired the SCC's board of trustees since May.

    "They were essentially an organization that was task-oriented in terms of building schools without a real sense of what the budget was that would be required to build those schools," Koeppe said in an interview.

    One ostensible safeguard was to hire one construction company to oversee the work of another. In theory, the system would enable the state to manage its construction work in a cost-effective manner. But in execution, the model proved flawed.

    The Project Management Firms (PMFs), as they were called, were not barred from taking on construction work themselves, so a company charged with overseeing contractors on one job would find the roles reversed elsewhere.

    For example, McNeill's old firm, Turner Construction, is scheduled to collect more than $35 million overseeing projects in Hudson County, where one of its subcontractors is URS Corp. URS returns the favor in South Jersey, where Turner subcontracts for URS.

    As state Inspector General Mary Jane Cooper pointed out in a scathing report issued earlier this year, "PMFs are inherently conflicted."

    Since the fees the PMFs earn are based on the value of work they oversee, the companies have little incentive to keep costs down. In her report, Cooper said the arrangement helped contribute to more than $540 million in cost overruns and change orders.

    Other safeguards also were lacking.

    Districts picked the school sites and wrote their own design criteria, based on what they deemed to be their own particular educational needs. But unlike wealthier districts, where voters are asked to approve projects, there was no mechanism for keeping costs in check.

    A story in The Star-Ledger on Sunday Feb. 12 found that SCC projects were costing 45 percent more than ones built in the suburbs during the same time period.

    Architects on SCC jobs collected fees almost double the industry standard, The Star-Ledger found, while PMFs hired by the state were compensated at triple the rate local officials paid construction managers.

    In one instance highlighted by the inspector general, the SCC hired temporary professional staffers at pay rates triple that of state employees. The 2003 contract, canceled after just nine months, paid 17 part-time workers more than $100,000 each, including one part-timer who got $175,000, or $10,000 more than the SCC pays its chief executive officer.

    Even the Legislature's most basic cost-control formula -- a maximum price per square foot -- was ignored by SCC and the Department of Education, which approves all projects. Adjusted several times for inflation, the allowable cost now stands at $149 per square foot, which also includes land and design costs.

    Based on the state's formula, the new 183,257-square-foot First Avenue School in Newark should cost $27.3 million, for example. But when the SCC approved the project this summer, it earmarked $43.6 million for the job -- or $232 a square foot.

    The result is far fewer new schools -- only 11 to date, according to the SCC -- than was hoped. By the time the $6 billion is gone, the agency says it will have erected 63 new buildings, made major renovations or additions to another 55 and spent more than an $800 million on emergency repairs -- still far short of what was promised.

    "You can't give an insatiable monster all this money," Malone said. "It will just gobble it up and have nothing to show for it."


    From the beginning, one of the S

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    Iraq - Editor & Publisher - Media fail to tell polls show Americans want US out

    Published in Editor & Publisher, June 23, 2006

    Polls, Pundits and Pols
    You'd never know it from some of the reporting and bloviating on the debate over an Iraq withdrawal, but all major polls show that the public favors withdrawals, with strong support for a timeline or total pullout within a year.

    By Greg Mitchell

    (June 22, 2006) -- The new efforts by Republicans in Congress, and in the media, to use Iraq to their advantage by branding Democrats as favoring a "cut-and-run'" policy, has received wide coverage in the past week. Often pundits, and even reporters, have suggested that this is working, because Americans are not in favor of a "hasty" withdrawal. Democrats are in shambles, they report, as they fear that proposals for setting a timetable for withdrawal put forward by Sen. John Kerry and Rep. John Murtha will prove disastrous for the party in the November elections, due to the alleged unpopularity of this stance.

    This conclusion, however, flies in the face of surveys by all major polling firms, as E&P has chronicled over the past two years.

    It's one thing when polls are dismissed, ignored or twisted by political or media spinmeisters. But when journalists in their news stories do it, it is downright misleading.

    Take Jim Rutenberg and Adam Nagourney in The New York Times today.

    They produced a front-pager on the Republicans' unexpected confidence on this issue, and declared: "Some polls show a majority of Americans continue to think that entering Iraq was a mistake, and pollsters say independent voters are particularly open to the idea of setting some sort of timetable for withdrawal, the very policy Democrats have embraced and Republicans are now fighting."

    The fact is, not "some" polls, but virtually every major poll shows that American have long declared that going to war against Iraq was a mistake.

    And far more than "independent voters" are drawn to withdrawal. Every major poll reveals that a majority of Americans advocate withdrawals from Iraq, with large numbers wanting this to be quite speedy, and most wanting a full pullout in a year or so (Kerry's idea) or by the end of next year.

    This is hardly a "some" position. A CNN poll, for example, conducted June 14-15 found that 53% favored a timetable for withdrawal, while 41% opposed it. Yet newspaper editorials, as usual, remain mute on this and the Senate today soundly trounced the Democrats' withdrawal pleas, even a wishy-washy one put forward by Sen. Carl Levin.

    In highlighting the Republicans' new spin on Iraq, Rutenberg and Nagourney stated, "The approach might yet be upended by more problems in Iraq." This laughably suggests that voters are okay with the current situation -- so long as it doesn't get worse.

    On Wednesday, Charles Babington in The Washington Post noted "polls showing that many Americans oppose the war but do not want to leave Iraq amid such chaos that it is a breeding ground for terrorism." Again: All major surveys show that a clear majority do want us to "leave Iraq," partly because of that very "chaos."

    And how is this for a bottom line poll result? The CBS News poll taken less than two weeks ago asked if what has transpired in Iraq was "worth the loss of American life and other costs." The result: 62% said "no."

    Yet Sen. John McCain actually suggested today that any timetable would be "a significant step on the road to disaster" -- as if we haven't been on that road for three years, and already found disaster.

    I happen to have a full printout of a detailed NBC News/Wall Street Journal survey completed 10 days ago. It shows, among other things, that 57% of respondents support reducing troop levels now, with only 35% favoring current levels. The vast majority of those backing withdrawal favor setting a timellne. The same poll finds just 35% supporting the job President Bush is doing on Iraq.

    But here's the key finding. The pollsters stated a series of positions, ranging from opposing gay marriage to repealing the estate tax, and asked if a candidate running for congress who embraced such a position was more or less likely to gain their vote. One position was: "Favors pulling all American troops out of Iraq within the next 12 months."

    That couldn't be more simple and clear. The result? Some 54% said they would be "more likely" to vote for such a candidate and only 32% said "less likely."

    They were then asked to rank the most important issues for this fall's election. Iraq topped the list at 53% with illegal immigration far behind at 32%. This survey, and recent ones from Gallup, strongly show that the public very much prefers Democrats in this year's races and, in fact, would like to see a Democratic congress to balance the Republican White House.

    Of course, time will tell if they actually go ahead and vote their beliefs. But reading the latest poll results, one might conclude the opposite of what many reporters and pundits now seem to be suggesting: that, actually, the GOP faces an uphill fight on re-selling the Iraq war, now in its fourth year.

    Greg Mitchell ( is editor of E&P.

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    Plainfield resident since 1983. Retired as the city's Public Information Officer in 2006; prior to that Community Programs Coordinator for the Plainfield Public Library. Founding member and past president of: Faith, Bricks & Mortar; Residents Supporting Victorian Plainfield; and PCO (the outreach nonprofit of Grace Episcopal Church). Supporter of the Library, Symphony and Historic Society as well as other community groups, and active in Democratic politics.