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The Inside Edge returns to the New Jersey Globe

By David Wildstein, April 30 2018 8:37 am



Here’s a message to the New Jersey political class about the digital media: we are the ones who will write your obituary.

Sorry to be so morbid, but it’s the truth.  The Asbury Park Press did not write a story about the death of Bill Dowd, a former Assemblyman and Nixon White House aide who spent sixteen years as the Monmouth County Republican Chairman. While the Star-Ledger wrote a beautiful story about the death of Jerry Green, they have not covered the passing of one of their own, Gordon Bishop, who spent 27 years as a Star-Ledger reporter and columnist and nearly won them a Pulitzer Prize.

Sure, both newspapers accepted the paid obituaries from their families – but that’s just not the same. Digital news sites like the New Jersey Globe, InsiderNJ, Save Jersey, Blue Jersey and More Monmouth Musings regularly pay their respects to those who have made their mark on New Jersey politics, but not the old media – at least nothing more than they can monetize.

The (Bergen) Record and Herald News has a new editorial page editor last week: it’s Bruce Lowry, who has been with the New Jersey Media Group since 2005.  His official title is Opinion and Engagement Editor. The news organization, known for its dogged pursuit of transparency, has still not explained to their readers the circumstances that led to the departure of Lowry’s predecessor.   That creates an interesting question: did NorthJersey.com make a mistake in not coming clean with their readers?

Republicans haven’t elected an Essex County Freeholder-At-Large since 1971, when Geraldo Del Tufo took one of three seats, but that isn’t stopping Democrat Brendan Gill from raising money for a campaign that is more than two years away.  He has a fundraiser scheduled for Tuesday night.  Gill is under fire these days for telling a reporter that he planned to use funds raised for Phil Murphy’s 501(c)(4) non-profit to push legislators into supporting the governor’s agenda.  His apology of sorts – he claimed his quote was “mischaracterized” – apparently didn’t work on the Senate President; Steve Sweeney went on a nationally televised news show on Friday to rail against Murphy’s threat of TV ads to pressure members of his caucus.

The death of one of Gloucester County’s most popular elected officials on Saturday will trigger a November special election for Surrogate to replace Helene Reed.  Gov. Phil Murphy can appoint an acting Surrogate who would serve until the election, but that doesn’t matter much since the appointment would be subject to Senate confirmation.  Reed’s deputy, Sue McKenna, is expected to fill the slot temporarily.  State Sen. Fred Madden is the Democratic County Chairman, and insiders say that he and Senate President Steve Sweeney will make the call sometime before the September deadline.  One possible candidate is Freeholder Heather Simmons, which makes sense since the other two constitutional officers are men.

Formally entering the race for Morris County Republican Chairman last week was Robert Zwigard, who will face Ron DeFilippis, the GOP finance chairman.  There has been a lot of controversy lately over DeFilippis’ fundraising abilities – and numerous versions of the fundraising numbers.  DeFilippis has been criticized for high-budget events, like a dinner last February where the county Republican organization spent nearly $25,000 for food at the Trump National Golf Club, and $30,000 as an appearance fee for Fox News personality Greg Gutfeld. DeFilippis has played the “fake news” card, and has brought in one of his supporters, Craig Heard, to conduct an “independent” audit.  Shockingly, Heard determined that DeFilippis is quite the successful fundraiser.  But since numbers are what they are, here’s the bottom line: according to reports filed with the Election Law Enforcement Commission, Morris County Republicans had $9,011 cash-on-hand on December 31 and $13,956 in their warchest in March 31.

In order to obviate any appearance of a conflict, Morris County Clerk Ann Grossi has recused herself from matters regarding the 2018 election since she is a candidate for re-election.  Instead, she has designated Deputy County Clerk John Wojtaszek to run the elections.  Grossi has also designated Wojtaszek to run her fundraiser; checks to Grossi’s campaign for her annual Cinco de Mayo party are being sent to Wojtaszek’s home.   Grossi is already in hot water after a Superior Court Judge ruled this month that she didn’t understand how to run elections and said that a memorandum sent to municipal clerks “is illegal.”

Nobody should get all that excited by an ELEC filing that shows the Salem County Republicans with cash-on-hand of over $230,000.  The balance is not real cash, but rather reflects a $189,000 bequest from the late James Farish in 2004.  The party is working with ELEC to determine how to show the money as part of their public disclosure.

Sometimes important people have to make tough choices, and it appears that happened on Saturday night.  Rep. Leonard Lance apparently had two invitations for the same time slot: one for the annual Hunterdon Art Museum gala and the other for the NJ07 Town Hall for Our Lives, a forum on gun violence organized by a group of high school students. The other five candidates for Lance’s seat – three Democrats and two Republicans – went to the town hall meeting; Lance picked the museum event.

The Star-Ledger is calling on Steve Lonegan to drop out of his race for the Republican nomination for Congress in New Jersey’s 5th district, as if Lonegan cares about what the Star-Ledger editorial board has to say.  The amazing thing is that the state’ largest newspaper decided to write on Sunday about an issue that has been floating around the bowels of Bergen County politics for about a month.  “The fact is, the Star-Ledger has a history of publishing hysteria-laced editorials that are over-the-top in the accusations they make against conservatives and Republicans,” said Mike Proto, Lonegan’s campaign manager.  “They based their most recent attack on Steve Lonegan on the allegations of a serial crank accuser.”

Expected to leave her post as Parsippany administrator this year to launch another campaign for mayor of Denville is Ellen Sandman.  She ran in 2007 and lost the Republican primary by just 11 votes – 1,245 to 1,235 – to Ted Hussa, after Gene Feyl decided not to seek re-election. Sandman had been the Denville administrator for 21 years before running for mayor.  She later took the Mendham Township administrator job, and then moved over to Parsippany in 2014.

The vote last week to confirm President Donald Trump’s nomination of Mike Pompeo marked the first time both of New Jersey’s United States Senators opposed the nomination of a Secretary of State.  In 2005, Frank Lautenberg voted against George W. Bush’s nomination of Condoleezza Rice, but Jon Corzine voted for her confirmation.

The Republican primary for United States Senate in West Virginia has a New Jersey angle: Rep. Evan Jenkins has accused his primary opponent of having “New Jersey Values.”  The rival is Patrick Morrisey, who sough the Republican nomination for Congress in New Jersey’s 7th district in 2000 before moving to West Virginia and getting elected twice as the state Attorney General.  Jenkins and Morrisey want a shot against the Democratic incumbent, Joe Manchin.  Morrisey ousted five-term Attorney General Darrell McGraw in 2012 with 51% of the vote and was re-elected with 52% in 2016.

Morrisey grew up in Edison, went to Rutgers, and served as press secretary when Christine Todd Whitman ran for U.S. Senate in 1990 and Cary Edwards for governor in the 1993 GOP primary against Whitman.  He went to work for the House Energy and Commerce Committee and came home when Bob Franks gave up his seat to run statewide. Mike Ferguson won that primary by a 41%-28% margin against Tom Kean, Jr., with Joel Weingarten finishing third with 23% and Morrisey in fourth with 9%.

For his U.S. Senate bid, Morrisey has raised $57,600 from New Jersey donors, including some familiar names: Republican National Committeeman Bill Palatucci (who hired Morrisey in 1990 and 1993); Burlington County GOP Chairman Bill Layton; and a few friends of ex-Gov. Chris Christie: Richard Bagger, Mike DuHaime, Jon Hanson and Kurt Conti.  Jenkins has just one New Jersey donor: BlackRock Capital’s Rick Rieder.  Rieder did not respond to requests for a chance to defend his home state.

Jenkins has made an issue of Morrisey’s ties to the pharmaceutical industry.  Between the time that he left his post as chief counsel to the Energy and Commerce and his election as Attorney General, Morrisey worked as a lobbyist for several pharmaceutical companies, including Celgene.

Coming Soon: The story of Morris County Republican insider Laura Ali and her not-to-intimidating threat of legal action.

Editor’s Note: The Inside Edge, which I wrote for ten years under the pseudonym Wally Edge, returns to day after an eight-year absence.  Correction: Brent Johnson wrote a beautiful story about the death of Jerry Green.

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