The moment the fall legislative session opened in Trenton in September, the whiff of November campaign politics was in the air.
As Gov. Chris Christie packed his bags for a mammoth three-week trip out-of-state to campaign for Republican gubernatorial candidates like Meg Whitman in California and Susana Martinez in New Mexico, other legislators also found that campaign talking points were invading their workday discussions.
One local legislator, Assemblyman John Amodeo, R-Atlantic, reacted furiously Monday during the Assembly Agriculture committee, when he realized Democrats were discussing problems with a state farmland-assessment program — and airing criticism of 3rd District Congressional candidate Jon Runyan in the process.
Assembly Democrat John Burzichelli was the first to raise the connection between Runyan and the program. Runyan’s critics have pointed out that Runyan receives a tax break because part of his property in Mount Laurel is assessed as farmland and because he has a donkey grazing there. Runyan is running against incumbent Democratic Rep. John Adler in the hotly contested 3rd district, which covers Ocean and Burlington counties.
“The chairwoman has called this meeting as fact-finding, because of the interest that has reached us because of some celebrated perceived abuses,” he said.
Assessors must report abuses, the panel heard. But when a farmer testified that even marginal production qualified land as farmland, Burzichelli replied: “If you have a donkey grazing, what’s there to sell?”
“What’s a donkey worth?” Burzichelli asked, adding: “I’m not acquainted with both ends of the animal.”
Amodeo responded later: “You didn’t need a background in agriculture to understand what the real purpose was. The Assembly Democrats used this as a forum to debate a congressional campaign rather than a discussion on the assessment program.”
“We shouldn’t be talking about these issues when we’re meant to be doing serious business,” he added.
Boutique casinos, revisited
Elsewhere this week, Sen. Jim Whelan, D-Atlantic, unveiled a completely revised version of his bill that would allow 200-room casinos to be licensed in Atlantic City.
The bill will likely come up for a full Senate vote this week, making it the first Atlantic City-related piece of legislation to reach the floor since Christie announced big plans for the resort.
But this piece had a head start: An earlier version passed out of committee in the spring but stalled without support from Republicans. Christie referred to Whelan’s concept in a radio interview this spring as an idea worth considering, but would not give stronger support.
A lot has changed since then: Christie has proposed a state-run tourism district around casino, marina and Boardwalk assets in Atlantic City, making them safer, cleaner and promoting new investment. And Whelan has retooled his bill in the hopes that what he has proposed is “a complement” to what the governor is planning for the resort.
The vote next week would move Whelan’s plan to the front of the list of new developments for Atlantic City.
You can call him ‘Al’
Christie pushed this week for a series of appointments, among them for Maurice “Mo” Hill to the board of the South Jersey Transportation Authority. Hill, a Republican from Toms River, saw his scheduled hearing delayed Thursday.
But one appointment that got a hearing by the Senate Judiciary committee was for Allen DelVento — better known as “Al,” Christie’s driver who shuttled candidate Christie during his campaign for governor last year. DelVento, a retired State Police major, was confirmed to a seat on the state Parole Board.”
With his new job combining with his state police pension, DelVento would expect to take in over $200,000 a year, senators learned Thursday. That’s $25,000 more than the salary of the guy he used to drive around.