Michael Drewniak

Front office responds to school funding ruling

Press Secretary Michael Drewniak, speaking for Gov. Chris Christie, responded this afternoon to special master Superior Court Judge Peter Doyle’s ruling regarding the state school funding formula.

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Lesniak locks horns with Drewniak

State Sen. Ray Lesniak (D-Elizabeth) tangled with Gov. Chris Chrisie's press secretary today after the veteran senator issued a release callling on fellow attorneys to reject any offers to sit on a depleted Judicial Advisory Panel, which yesterday cleared out as a protest of the governor's decision to not reappoint Supreme Court Justice John Wallace.

Lesniak culled words out of a quote by Christie spokesman Michael Drewniak, who reacted to the resignation of the seven-member panel by thanking them for their service then noting that they would be replaced "in short order."

"I hope not", said Lesniak. “The arrogance of the Governor's spokesman shows his total disregard for decent treatment of fellow human beings and Governor Christie's total disregard for the importance of an independent judiciary. 

“Any lawyer accepting this position will be saying to the entire bar, lawyers and judges, they are the enforcers of political correctness and judges better watch their step, look over their shoulders, and follow the Christie party line or watch out, because you'll be next."

Then Lesniak cited the Martin Niemoller quotation, about how first the Nazis came for the Socialists, then the trade unionists, Catholics, Jews, etc. 

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Drewniak: Students should get 'impartial' view of reasons for education cuts

After published reports put the number of New Jersey high school students who staged walkouts today to protest school budget cuts, a spokesman for Gov. Christopher Christie said he hopes students “were motivated by youthful rebellion or spring fever – and not by encouragement from any one-sided view of the current budget crisis in New Jersey.”

“Students belong in the classroom, and we hope all efforts were made to curtail student walkouts,” said Michael Drewniak, the governor’s press secretary.  “Students would be better served if they were given a full, impartial understanding of the problems that got us here in the first place and why dramatic action was needed.”

Commissioner of Education Bret Schundler said that “schools should enforce their attendance policies.”

“They should not be permitting students to walk out of class,” Schundler said.

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Drewniak blasts Greenwald, who doubles down

Drewniak blasts Greenwald, who doubles down
Michael Drewniak

TRENTON - Assemblyman Lou Greenwald's questioning this morning of Gov. Chris Christie's state school aid freeze, prompted a cutting reply from the Christie administration. 

“Where was Assemblyman Greenwald last year when he and the then-Governor decided to blow through an entire billion dollars in federal stimulus education funding in one shot?" asked Christie Press Secretary Michael Drewniak. 

"Did he think of the consequences of that one-year funding blitz? What was his plan for replacing it this year? Obviously, he had none, and now he wants to blame everyone but himself for that abject failure in prudent fiscal planning. The unfortunate result was that Assemblyman Greenwald helped raise false expectations in the education community that another billion dollars would just magically reappear to fill the budget hole he helped dig.” 

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Spokesman: Christie still wants bipartisanship

Spokesman: Christie still wants bipartisanship

Yes, things got heated on the Assembly chamber floor yesterday, after Gov. Christopher Christie gave a tough speech outlining his plans to slash a $2 billion budget deficit. But that does not mean the Republican Governor has given up on trying to work with the Democratic legislative leadership, according to a spokesman. 

“The governor has every intention of continuing to work in a bipartisan way.  What happened yesterday and their comments are taking it further, I think.  We were just under the gun to get some serious movement and get it done quickly,” said Michael Drewniak, Christie’s press secretary.

Democrats yesterday decried Christie’s use of an executive order to freeze $475 million in school aid as governing by fiat  -- a departure from the relatively tame relations between their party and the new governor over the last three weeks.  They complained that they had been kept out of the loop, given only the vaguest details of planned cuts until just before Christie’s speech.

Assembly Speaker Sheila Oliver (D-East Orange) said that, despite being promised details of specific budget cuts at 8am, she still did not have them by 10:30am -- the  scheduled start time of Christie's speech.  Senate Majority Leader Barbara Buono (D-Metuchen) said she had to walk into the Governor’s outer-office to request the details directly from Chrisie’s deputy chief of staff, Bill Stepien, at about 9:15am. 

But Drewniak said that, though he snow storm impacted their communications structure, the four legislative leaders and budget committee ranking members were all emailed a detailed solutions list at 9:05am yesterday. 

“We did the best we could under circumstances that were difficult at best,” said Drewniak.  “…But to say that they didn’t receive that information, it’s just not true.” 

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Christie promises scrutiny of PVSC

Christie promises scrutiny of PVSC

A large but relatively obscure agency in North Jersey is set to become Gov. Christopher Christie’s poster child for all that is wrong with New Jersey’s independent authorities. 

The Christie administration plans to delve into the payroll and outside consultant contracts of the Passaic Valley Sewerage Commission (PVSC) – a 108-year-old agency with a $164 million budget.

Christie already got the ball rolling on his criticism of the agency, singling out Executive Director Bryan Christiansen’s $313,000 salary as over-the-top.  And his transition team’s report called for a “thorough review” of its overhead expenditures and hiring of outside consultants – including attorneys and engineers.

The authority, which employees about 600 people -- 86 of whom earn six figure salaries – has a payroll of roughly $48 million.  It treats water for 1.3 million North Jersey residents.

“It’s something that I don’t think any New Jersey taxpayer can get their arms around,   somebody making a $313,000 salary.  It’s not just that – it’s the way they handle their professional services contracts.  In-house versus outside contracts,” said Christie spokesman Michael Drewniak.  “It’s outrageous in every way, and it’s remarkable what some of these authorities have grown into over the decades.  So this is just the sort of thing that we have to get a handle on.  Yes, there will be scrutiny.”

Deborah Gramiccioni, the former criminal justice director in the Attorney General’s Office, will head up the Governor’s Authorities Unit – which will review the PVSC and other quasi-independent authorities. 

The PVSC, which long ago developed a reputation as a patronage pit for both Democrats and Republicans, has drawn scrutiny before.

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After OLS testimony, Corzine and Christie stick to their guns on deficit

Both Gov. Christopher Christie and former Gov. Jon Corzine said that today’s testimony by an Office of Legislative Services (OLS) budget officer “confirmed” their side of the spat over just how large a deficit the state faces come June 30.

The officer, David J. Rosen, said it was “not unreasonable” to predict that the state would be more than $1 billion in the red by June

“The non-partisan Office of Legislative Services today confirmed what we’ve been saying all along - New Jersey is confronting a budget deficit of approximately $1.3 billion for the balance of the fiscal year.  There are no phantom surpluses or face-saving magic numbers to fix the mess we have inherited.  Now is the time to move forward and focus on tackling this very real problem head on,” said Christie spokesman Michael Drewniak. 

But Corzine spokesman Josh Zeitz said the testimony actually vindicated the outgoing governor, who last week responded angrily to Christie’s claim that he hid a $1.3 billion deficit from the new administration.  Zeitz told the Star-Ledger last week that Corzine had, in fact, left Christie a $496 million surplus. 

“Today, OLS confirmed what we already knew: no one will really be able to predict revenue for the remainder of the year until April's income tax returns come in. That is why OLS has not issued its own projections,” he said.  “To suggest that Dr. Rosen independently confirmed Gov. Christie's revenue projections is a clear misreading of his testimony. Dr. Rosen drew a clear distinction between the operating budget, which is in surplus, and long-term projections, which remain a matter of pure conjecture.  We all want to give the administration time to get on its feet. But it's important that they stop misrepresenting the current balance sheet, which is very much in the black because of Jon Corzine's record of fiscal responsibility.

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New job, same boss for Drewniak

New job, same boss for Drewniak
Michael Drewniak, who started as Gov. Christie's press secretary last week

TRENTON –  Governor Christie’s press secretary, Michael Drewniak, worked the press filing room at the War Memorial this morning. 

Though new to the job, he already knew many of the reporters.

Drewniak had been the U.S. Attorney’s Office’s public information officer since 1998.  The majority of those years were under Christie’s leadership.  Before that, he spent 12 years as a reporter for the Star-Ledger.

He almost put in enough time to get a pension, but had to give it up to come to Trenton.

“I had a nice pension in the federal government, yes,” said Drewniak, a 49-year-old Clinton resident, who left his federal post at the end of December and took a “cold” vacation in Florida before starting at the Statehouse -- one of several former staffers from the U.S. Attorney's Office to do so.  “I made a decision to come to work for Chris.  He is easily the most capable and best boss I’ve ever had, and we are at such a point in New Jersey that I could not really say no and not be a part of this.”

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Whelan could be Fishman's new spokesman

Whelan could be Fishman's new spokesman

On the short list for the job of spokesman to the U.S. Attorney is Jeff Whelan, a former Star-Ledger Pulitzer Prize winning reporter who spent the last year heading Gov. Jon Corzine’s opposition research operation.   The new federal prosecutor, Paul Fishman, is currently looking at candidates to replace Michael Drewniak, who will become the press secretary to Fishman’s predecessor, Gov.-elect Christopher Christie. 

Whelan covered Christie as the Star-Ledger reporter assigned to the federal prosecutor’s office.  He left the newspaper shortly before Christie resigned to launch his campaign for governor and landed a job on Corzine’s campaign researching, among other things, Christie’s record as U.S. Attorney. His appointment as Communications Director might help Fishman please U.S. Sen. Frank Lautenberg, who helped him get his job; Whelan was an aide to Lautenberg before he went to journalism school.  But it might put Fishman into an uncomfortable position with some of his staff, who watched the Corzine campaign file a huge number of Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests last year. During the gubernatorial campaign, Democrats raised allegations that the July 23 takedown of several dozen public officials as part of Operation Bid Rig was timed to boost Christie’s bid to oust Corzine.

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Weinberg tells Christie to disclose his involvement in prosecuting tax cheat

State Sen. Loretta Weinberg, the Democratic candidate for Lt. Governor, say GOP gubernatorial candidate Chris Christie should disclose the details of his involvement with the federal prosecution of former Assemblyman Morton Salkind (D-Marlboro). 

"While Christie has been quick to take credit for all the accomplishments of the U.S. Attorney's office during his tenure, he has run away from the office's failures even faster," Weinberg asked. "The people of New Jersey deserve answers to critical questions about Christie's role as U.S. Attorney.  What was the policy and criteria for cases being brought to his attention as U.S. Attorney?

The Star-Ledger reported on Wednesday that Samuel Yarosh has filed a lawsuit claiming that federal prosecutors allowed Salkind, his onetime business partner, to plead guilty to a single count of tax evasion, ignoring evidence of additional fraud.  Salkind was represented by a law firm headed by Herbert Stern and John Inglesino, both political allies of Christie, the Republican candidate for governor.

"There are only two possible explanations for Mr. Christie's  assertions that he was unaware of this case- either he mismanaged the U.S. Attorney's office so that a case of this size and import could be settled without his approval or knowledge, or he is not telling the truth about what he knew and when he knew it."

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The Back Room

Bonnie and the Lonny Factor

Rolled out this week as the finance chair of Assemblywoman Bonnie Watson Coleman's (D-15) 12th District Congressional Campaign, Trenton attorney Lionel "Lonnie" Kaplan arrives with an unusual asterisk alongside his public endorsement record for someone burnished as a Democratic Primary weapon.

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Wake-Up Call

Morning Digest: April 18, 2014

Fulop endorses Smith in Bayonne mayoral raceBAYONNE - Jersey City Mayor Steve Fulop parachuted into the Bayonne mayoral race on Thursday night by endorsing incumbent Mayor Mark Smith."It is a pleasure to be with you here, Mark," said Fulop to a crowd of more than 125 supporters at a...

Op-Ed

Paterson can flourish with a second chance

By ASLON GOOW, SR. I have spent the past three decades raising a family, building a business, and working to improve our Paterson communities.  I am proud of those accomplishments.  In 2002, I spoke at an expungement... Read More >

Contributors

(4-16-14) New Jersey Vote By Mail Law - The voter turnout for New Jersey’s November gubernatorial election was the lowest since the days of prohibition, coming... more »
When it comes to profiling Christie, facts are for wussies (4/10/14) - As the national media stories on our Guv pile up, expect more blunders about the Garden State.... more »
This week I begin a series called Dispatches from Somewhere Else. Based on my on-going experiences as an everyman in New Jersey politics, these Dispatches review the hollowness of... more »
Watching Governor Chris Christie's shocking BridgeGate implosion, it's easy to forget the time when he truly seemed unstoppable.  Blessed with incredible political gifts and a Jersey bluster to match,... more »

Quote of the Day

Quote of the day

"This is my first Mark Smith event. There have been a lot of changes in Hudson County over the last year and a half, and the most important change that has happened is that there really is unity. For the first time, we really are working together. Despite political differences. Mark and I have worked very hard to repair that. I'm really happy to be here in support of him, because I recognize that when you work together, politics becomes secondary and you really have time to focus on government, which is the most important thing." - Jersey City Mayor Steven Fulop

- PolitickerNJ.com

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