Good Thursday morning!
They can take William Wallace’s Cannabis Regulatory Commission seat, but they’ll never take his salary!
Responding to the threat of a lawsuit from the NAACP, the Murphy administration announced Wednesday it’s replacing Wallace, whom Murphy said he would appoint last month, with Charles Barker, an aide to Sen. Cory Booker. This way, they address complaints about not having a Black man on the commission and get someone who has an affiliation with a social justice organization — in this case, Al Sharpton’s National Action Network.
There’s no time to waste. The commission still hasn’t formally been seated and New Yorkers apparently reached a deal on legalizing marijuana yesterday. If New Jersey wants to get that money from the other side of the Hudson, the state better act soon or hope New York’s process of legalizing weed is as bumpy as New Jersey’s has been.
But if New Jersey does manage to get it together before New York, the PATH is going to be more fragrant than ever.
WHERE’S MURPHY — I don’t know, but he’s meeting with ratings agencies on his budget proposal. The press advisory doesn’t say where.
CORONAVIRUS TRACKER: 3,227 newly-positive PCR tests for a total of 774,100. 28 more deaths for a total of 21,757 (and 2,535 probable deaths).
QUOTE OF THE DAY: “The politicization of this pandemic across the board is just ridiculously unhelpful … Our concerns are first and foremost to keep our residents and staff safe — not getting into a political bash session.” — Christopher Laxton, executive director of the Society for Post-Acute and Long-Term Care Medicine, on using nursing home deaths to tie Murphy to Cuomo
HAPPY BIRTHDAY — Poughkeepsie Hebrew Day School alum Daniel Kaufman-Berson, State Sen. Bob Smith, Assemblymember Raj Mukherji’s COS, Claire Wolfe, WCRE’s David Spector
MURPHY, EVERY FUTURE GOVERNOR REJOICE — Jeff Tittel to retire from Sierra Club after 23 years, by POLITICO’s Samantha Maldonado: Jeff Tittel, director of the New Jersey Sierra Club, is retiring after leading the organization for 23 years. Tittel planned to retire next year when he turned 65, but took advantage of the Sierra Club’s voluntary leave program and will retire May 1. Tittel developed a reputation as a political firebrand in New Jersey for his environmental lobbying and pun-laden quotes and press releases. He has been a regular presence in Trenton, testifying in both the Statehouse and on Zoom, flanked by the bald heads of his twin grandchildren in his digital background. Among his proudest accomplishments are helping to save Sterling Forest from becoming the site of a planned casino, developing the Highlands Act, urging the passage of the state’s plastic bag ban and pushing New Jersey to rejoin the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative.
WILL HE STILL WANT TO BE GOVENOR WHEN HE REALIZES THE OFFICE ISN’T AS NICE? — “Montclair Mayor Sean Spiller is 2021-23 NJEA president,” by Montclair Local’s Louis C. Hochman: “Montclair Mayor Sean M. Spiller has been named president of the New Jersey Education Association for the coming 2021-23 term — after being the only candidate to run for the role. NJEA elections for the coming term haven’t taken place yet — with balloting set for April 1 through April 15. Petal Robertson, the current president of the Montclair Education Association, is one of three candidates vying for the office of NJEA Secretary-Treasurer, against Brenda Brathwaite and Denise King. But Spiller, who became vice president of the NJEA in 2017, and was previously the union’s secretary starting in 2013, was uncontested for the president’s seat, the NJEA said in an announcement dated Monday.”
SCHOOL YARD — New Jersey will allow schools to reopen with 3 feet of social distancing, by POLITICO’s Carly Sitrin: New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy said Wednesday the state will mirror federal guidance in allowing schools to reopen with 3 feet of social distancing. As long as masking, frequent hand washing and other sanitization efforts continue, Murphy said, full-time in-person instruction can — and should — resume. “Now is the time for all of our schools to meaningfully move forward with a return to in-person instruction whether it be full-time or through a hybrid schedule,” Murphy said at his regular briefing in Trenton.
NEW HAMSTERDAM — “After marijuana is legalized in New Jersey, advocates push to decriminalize all drugs. Here’s why,” by The Record’s Dustin Racioppi: “New Jersey’s political leaders hadn’t even finished their tortuous journey to legalize marijuana when the calls started for them to consider a policy magnitudes more ambitious: decriminalizing drugs. All of them. Seeking to capitalize on a year of heightened racial awareness and full Democratic control in the state Capitol, a grassroots coalition called Abolish the Drug War is attempting to prod New Jersey to the forefront of enacting drug policies that shift money and resources combating abuse from incarceration to treatment. Members of the coalition say that the ‘War on Drugs’ has not just been a policy failure, but one rooted in racism that has created decades of inequities and harm on communities of color. New Jersey’s policy makers, led by Gov. Phil Murphy, often tout the state’s progressivism. But advocates say they now have an opportunity to stand at the vanguard of a more compassionate, treatment-first approach to drug use.”
STILL WAITING FOR BOXER TO BRIEF US — “N.J. taxpayers have spent $630K and counting on investigations into women’s prison, records show,” by NJ Advance Media’s Blake Nelson and S.P. Sullivan: “The outside law firm tasked with investigating the alleged beatings at New Jersey’s only women’s prison in January has been paid hundreds of thousands of dollars to represent the state amid a three-year federal inquiry into sexual abuse at the same facility, according to state records. Matthew Boxer, a former state comptroller and federal prosecutor, and his firm started advising New Jersey officials in 2018 as the U.S. Department of Justice investigated allegations of sexual assault behind bars, according to a retention agreement obtained by NJ Advance Media through a public records request.”
INSERT SCOTT BAKULA JOKE HERE — “NJ getting record amount of COVID vaccines next week, but not yet a ‘quantum leap,’” by The Record’s Scott Fallon: “New Jersey will receive almost a half-million COVID-19 vaccine doses next week — the most the state has received in a week as it begins to ramp up distribution to more than 600 sites, officials said Wednesday. While the amount is not the ‘quantum leap’ that Gov. Phil Murphy has said the state would soon receive, it is a 20% increase from the current week and comes at a time when COVID-19 is again spreading rapidly throughout New Jersey.”
2.4 MASTROS DEEMED NOT ENOUGH — With New Jersey about to enact early voting, county officials plead for more money, by POLITICO’s Matt Friedman: New Jersey is on the cusp of mandating in-person early voting come November, but elections officials and others say the state will need to pony up more money or risk a legal challenge. “We’ll probably just wind up on the ‘state mandate, state pay council again,” said Hunterdon County Clerk Mary Melfi, referring to the New Jersey Council on Local Mandates, an obscure body that has the ability to nullify laws if it determines the state government imposed costly requirements on local governments without paying for them. The New Jersey Association of Counties in 2019 successfully appealed for the council to halt a law that vastly expanded mail-in balloting, forcing the Legislature to scramble to allocate more money for it.
LOOKING FORWRD TO CHIARAVALLOTI, HUTTLE JOINING ANTI-LINE LAWSUIT — Chiaravalloti asks supporters to sign online petition for potential Sampson showdown, by Hudson County View’s John Heinis: “Assemblyman Nick Chiaravalloti (D-31) sent out an email blast this evening asking supporters to sign an online petition for nomination as a potential showdown with the Mayor Jimmy Davis-backed William Sampson IV begins to look likely. ‘It is an honor to represent Bayonne and Jersey City in Trenton. Moving New Jersey and Hudson County forward as your 31st Legislative District Assemblyman is a privilege. I ran for public office not because I needed a job, but because a job needed to be done,’ the New Jersey Assembly Majority Whip said in the email … The Peninsula City mayor has not publicly disclosed what his falling out with Chiaravalloti was about, but about two weeks ago he named Sampson, a longshoreman and crane operator, as his preferred assembly candidate.”
PAC ACTION — “Andy Kim launches new PAC to help Asian Americans, other candidates of color, win public office,” by New Jersey Globe’s David Wildstein: “Spurred by recent acts of violence against Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, Rep. Andy Kim (D-Moorestown) has started a new political action committee to help AAPI and other candidates of color to run for public office. ‘When I first ran for Congress, insiders told me I can’t win because my majority white district wouldn’t vote for an Asian American or a candidate of any color,’ said Kim, who became New Jersey’s first Asian American congressman in 2018. ‘With the help of many people, we proved them wrong, and I want to now work with you to lift up AAPI and other candidates of color all over the country.’ Kim’s In Our Hands PAC will help recruit, train and support candidates from local to national office.”
MERCER COUNTY STILL WAITING ON PROMISED $200M PAYMENT FROM NIGERIAN PRINCE — “2 Nigerians bilked Mercer County of $660K in 2019, Hughes administration kept it quiet,” by The Trentonian’s Isaac Avilucea and Sulaiman Abdur-Rahman: “In September 2019, the feds announced the arrests of numerous fraudsters who used ‘business email compromise’ or BEC schemes to intercept and hijack wire transfers of vulnerable agencies. The four-month probe, dubbed Operation reWired, involved the U.S. departments of State, Justice, Homeland Security, Treasury and the U.S. Postal Inspection Service … Not a peep was made about the international roundup in the Trenton press, because the news release obscured a little-known fact, kept close to the vest by members of the Mercer County Executive Brian Hughes administration: Two of the arrestees, Nigerian ‘money mules’ Emmanuel Igomu and Jude Constantine Balogun, were tied to the theft of $660,000 in taxpayer funds from the Mercer County government in February 2019.”
EDUCATION — “‘I’ve lost a lot of faith’: suburban parents push schools to reopen faster,” by The NEw York Times’ Tracey Tully: “Most districts in New Jersey have partially reopened, but one in four children still live in a district where public schools are closed. No state in the Northeast had more districts relying on all-virtual teaching in early March than New Jersey, according to Return To Learn, a database created by a conservative think tank, American Enterprise Institute, and Davidson College. Nationwide, only seven states had a greater proportion of all-remote instruction. As the distribution of Covid-19 vaccines has accelerated and President Biden has signaled a push for broader reopenings, frustration among parents has grown, particularly in New Jersey’s affluent suburbs, where schools with stellar reputations are a key reason families are willing to pay some of the nation’s highest taxes. These parents have filed federal lawsuits, held protests, created online petitions and stormed virtual board of education meetings to demand expanded in-person instruction.”
FEWER MONMOUTH MUSINGS — “MoreMonmouthMusings sold,” by Art Gallagher: “After more than 15 years of providing Monmouth County focused fair and biased news and commentary, I have been called to devote my talents in a different direction. MoreMonmouthMusings has been sold. The new owners will take over early next month. I’ll leave it to the new owners to introduce themselves. News of my new vocation will be announced, or not, elsewhere.”
LITTLE FREE LIBRARY TO BE CONVERTED INTO PILLORY FOR PERSON WHO REPORTED IT — “Tale of the ‘little free library’ in Oradell may have a happy ending,” by The Record’s Stephanie Noda: “It’s unclear when the ‘little free library’ on Lotus Avenue will return, but plans are in the works to make it easier for anybody around town to put up their own mini library. Tina Musich had placed the library, a red structure resembling an oversized mailbox, at the front of her property in October to allow community members to pick up and share new books and old favorites. After a complaint, however, she was forced to remove it, since it violated the borough’s zoning laws. On Tuesday, the Borough Council presented Musich with two options: reduce the height of the library to under 4 feet to comply with code, or go before the Board of Adjustment to get a variance. Neither were attractive options for Musich, and she vowed to get to work on getting the borough code changed to allow for mini libraries. Her dream might come true sooner than she thought. Musich said Mayor Dianne Didio and Council President Tracy Schoenberg reached out to her Wednesday afternoon to tell her officials might take another look at how the code could be rewritten.”
IT’S ONLY CANCEL CULTURE WHEN THE LEFT DOES IT — “Speakers ask Newton Council to censure, fire town resident over Facebook posts,” by The New Jersey Herald’s Bruce A. Scruton: “County politics reached down to the town level Monday as several speakers asked the Town Council to ‘fire’ a town resident for what he has written on Facebook. And, the job they want him fired from? An election poll worker, which is a county job and pays $200 a day for up to two days of work a year. Seven of the eight people who spoke during the first public comment session called on the council to fire or ‘censure’ town resident Michael Schnackenberg, who runs a Facebook page called ‘The Sussex County Informer,’ which takes an aggressive view of county politics from a Democrat viewpoint.’ One of the speakers, Alex Majewski, is a Republican county committeeman and called for the council to also bar Schnackenberg from attending town-sponsored events and wanted the council to recommend to him ‘places where he can receive mental health care.’ ‘He is causing panic in the community,’ Majewski charged.”
DUMBBELLMAWR — “Bellmawr gym owner offering free memberships to those who don’t get vaccinated,” by The Press of Atlantic City’s Ahmad Austin: “Atilis Gym owner Ian Smith, who infamously defied the state’s COVID-19 restrictions last year, may begin incentivizing vaccination refusal at his business. Smith tweeted Tuesday that the gym in Bellmawr, Camden County, will give out free memberships to anyone who doesn’t receive a COVID-19 vaccine. The offer, according to the tweet, is a counter to Krispy Kreme’s recent offering of free donuts to those who do receive one.”
RUINING THE TOWN’S QUAINT CHARACTER — “Seaside Heights to ban dogs — even for ’emotional support’ — on beaches, boardwalk,” by NJ 101.5 Dan Alexander: “Most dogs are now banned from the beaches and boardwalks in Seaside Heights after officials said owners refused to pick up after their animals. The anticipated new law will also crack down on the use of ’emotional support animals’ to evade the law. Only legitimate service animals would be allowed on the beach and boardwalk. Seaside Heights had been allowed dogs in the off season because there were less people around. But in recent months, Mayor Tony Vaz said it’s gotten out of hand.”
CIPOCALYPSE NOW — “The cicadas are coming. What the rise of Brood X means for N.J.,” by NJ Advance Media’s Michael Sol Warren: “After years of relative quiet, the Garden State’s summer is set to buzz again. Swarms of rarely seen, noisy black bugs with bright red eyes will make sure of it. Plug your ears, New Jersey — the cicadas are coming. In the next few weeks, hundreds of thousands of the bugs will crawl out of the ground across the state — and billions more in other states from Illinois to Georgia, according to NBC News — for a pitched mating ritual that happens once every 17 years.”
SEND ME PEPCOIN AND I’LL MAIL YOU A FRITO — “N.J. Instagram celebrity charged in Bitcoin scam,” by NJ Advance Media’s Joe Atmonavage: “An Edgewater man who grew his Instagram following to nearly a million users by showcasing a luxury lifestyle and handing out cash to strangers is now accused of being a scam artist. Jegara Igbara, also known as “Jay Mazini,” was charged by federal authorities in New York Wednesday with wire fraud for allegedly duping individuals into sending him Bitcoin, an increasingly valuable cryptocurrency, in return for a wire transfer of cash worth slightly more than the virtual currency. In reality, according to federal prosecutors, the 25-year-old allegedly never sent the money and received at least $2.5 million worth of Bitcoin from multiple victims through the scheme.”
— “Will NJ businesses mandate COVID-19 vaccinations for returning workers?”