Murphy’s Inner Circle Admit Knowing for Months About Sex Assault Complaint Against Top Aide

By Nick Corasaniti

THE NEW YORK TIMES

Dec. 18, 2018

Katie Brennan, a top official in Gov. Philip D. Murphy’s administration, said officials failed to take swift action after she accused another member of the administration of sexual assault.

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TRENTON — Members of Gov. Philip D. Murphy’s inner circle testified on Tuesday that they knew for months about accusations of sexual assault against a top administration official, but did not take steps to force the man’s removal.

It was the first time that high-ranking members of the administration, including Pete Cammarano, the governor’s chief of staff, were called to testify under oath in front of a panel as part of an investigation into the incident, which has cast a pall over Mr. Murphy’s first year in office and threatens to impede his progressive agenda.

The hearing comes two weeks after Katie Brennan, in her first public comments since her allegations were made public in October, described in wrenching testimony in a separate hearing her allegations against Albert J. Alvarez, who she accused of sexually assaulting her following a campaign event last year. Ms. Brennan told the panel that administration officials ignored her requests for action and continued to employ Mr. Alvarez for nearly nine months after her allegations were first reported to several of Mr. Murphy’s senior aides.

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Latino leader: The Force Report shows we can no longer ignore the evidence of police brutality. We need reform and transparency.

Posted Dec 17, 2018

By Nestor Montilla

(Illustration by Jen Cieslak and Susana Sanchez-Young, Advance Local, Shutterstock)

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Much has been said from New Jersey’s attorney general and police leaders in the wake of NJ Advance Media’s release of public data on police officer use of force. After the release of The Force Report on NJ.com — the online home of The Star-Ledger — there is no mystery that some of the officers applying force most frequently were also the targets of years of internal affairs complaints and lawsuits naming them as defendants. Countless times police officials failed to intervene.

The Latino Leadership Alliance has been at the forefront of this issue since 2008, when we embarked on a statewide initiative to review police conduct, starting a dialogue centered on use of force and how police departments investigate citizen complaints.

Our efforts were later supported with a fellowship by the Open Society Foundation, which led to more than 5,000 force reports to be compiled and analyzed. We were shocked and dismayed to learn police departments were not required to examine these publicly available reports.

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ACCESS TO CONTRACEPTION, ABORTION NOT EASY FOR SOME WOMEN IN NJ

LILO H. STAINTON | DECEMBER 17, 2018

NJ Spotlight

Demonstrators outside Planned Parenthood in Morristown, February 11, 2017

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New Jersey has a strong track record of supporting progressive reproductive healthcare policies, but access to contraception, abortion and other services remains a challenge for too many women, especially those who are poor, nonwhite, gay or transgender.

Those are among the findings in a reportpublished last week by the New Jersey Policy Perspective, a liberal-leaning research group. It notes that while services may exist on paper, factors ranging from reimbursement rates to transportation challenges to threats of anti-abortion violence can conspire to keep them out of reach for some women.

In “Defending Reproductive Rights in New Jersey By Improving Access to Health Care for All,” author Jazmyne McNeese, a graduate student at Rutgers University in Camden, offers a progressive blueprint for changes, based on input from more than a dozen women’s healthcare providers, family planning organizations and a diverse mix of advocates. Including women and others who have previously been excluded from these conversations is essential to this process, she said.

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DEMOCRATIC LEADERS CANCEL VEXED REDISTRICTING VOTE AFTER OUTCRY — NOW WHAT?

COLLEEN O'DEA | DECEMBER 17, 2018

NJ Spotlight

Senate President Steve Sweeney, left, and Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin withdrew their redistricting measure.

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The decision by New Jersey’s Democratic legislative leaders to cancel a vote today on their controversial proposal to change the redrawing of districts gives lawmakers the opportunity to craft a new reform plan that embodies many of the provisions sought by grassroots activists and good-government advocates.

But those who have been fighting the Democratic leaders’ proposal may not want to hold their breath for a new constitutional amendment that encompasses the most progressive aspects of what other states have done — for instance, a citizens’ commission or a requirement that any map receive bipartisan support. In states like California and Colorado that have adopted redistricting rules held up as models, the proposals were put on the ballot by citizens, not by lawmakers.

“It would be a significant improvement to have the redistricting commission's members be picked without the involvement of politicians,” said Sam Wang, a professor at the Princeton Neuroscience Institute and member of the Princeton Gerrymandering Project. “I don't think the legislature would ever approve such an independent commission, though.”

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Democrats in New Jersey Have a Firm Grip on Power. They Want Even More.

By Nick Corasaniti

THE NEW YORK TIMES

Dec. 13, 2018

Senator Stephen M. Sweeney, a Democrat and the president of the New Jersey Senate, is helping lead an effort to redraw legislative districts that could leave the Republicans as a permanent minority party.

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TRENTON — Legislative power brokers across the country have long designed district lines in back-room deals that entrenched their control for years, if not decades. But now, Democratic lawmakers in New Jersey are carrying out a power grab in an unusually public fashion: They are seeking to make Republicans a permanent minority by essentially writing gerrymandering into the State Constitution.

The New Jersey plan comes amid a national reckoning over the consequences of gerrymandering and has been met by fierce opposition across the political landscape — and not just from Republicans and nonpartisan watchdog groups.

Even some national Democratic leaders have criticized the plan, fearing that it undercuts Democratic efforts to attack what they term Republican strong-arm tactics in state capitals across the country. Republicans in Wisconsin and Michigan are facing an intense backlash after state legislatures there voted to strip power from newly elected Democratic governors.

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For 80,000 Commuters, One Nemesis: A 108-Year-Old Bridge

By Patrick McGeehan

THE NEW YORK TIMES

Dec. 11, 2018

The Portal Bridge, which crosses the Hackensack River in New Jersey, carries Amtrak and New Jersey Transit trains and has a tendency to get stuck after it opens to let boats pass.

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It could be the plot of a Stephen King novel: A train full of commuters hurtling toward New York City in the pre-dawn dark comes to a screeching halt at Little Snake Hill in New Jersey.

The passengers steel themselves against the collective fear that the bridge their train is poised to cross will swing open to allow an approaching boat to pass.

But it’s too late. The 108-year-old Portal Bridge slowly pivots over the Hackensack River as thousands of commuters say a memorial prayer for whatever plans they had for the day.

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MURPHY, TOP DEMS TO TALK TOMORROW ON NEW $15 MINIMUM WAGE PROPOSAL

JOHN REITMEYER | DECEMBER 12, 2018

NJ Spotlight

Gov. Phil Murphy addresses a press conference yesterday on raising New Jersey’s minimum wage to $15.

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Gov. Phil Murphy said he’ll meet tomorrow with top legislative leaders from his own party and a new bill that would hike the state’s minimum hourly rate to $15 for most workers by 2024 will likely be a key topic of discussion.

The governor stopped short of endorsing the legislation, sponsored by Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin (D-Middlesex) while speaking to reporters yesterday after he toured a manufacturing facility in Parsippany.

A key sticking point highlighted by Murphy is language in Coughlin’s bill that would keep a sizable cohort of workers — including seasonal workers, farmworkers, teenagers and employees of many small businesses — from getting to the $15 threshold until 2029. The same language has been faulted by liberal groups who make up a significant part of Murphy’s political base.

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CEO TO STEP DOWN FROM EMBATTLED PUBLIC HOSPITAL IN NEWARK

LILO H. STAINTON | DECEMBER 7, 2018

NJ Spotlight

University Hospital president and CEO John Kastanis

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The head of University Hospital in Newark will step down at the end of next week amid ongoing concerns about the quality of patient care, including a recent bacterial outbreak that may have contributed to the death of three premature infants.

Hospital representatives announced yesterday that president and CEO John Kastanis would leave his position at University Hospital on December 14 to return to his work as a healthcare and hospital consultant.

Kastanis, who was hired in 2016 and is paid $900,000 annually, signed a new three-year contract earlier this year, according to media reports. Hospital and state officials declined to say if he was offered a buyout or other financial package in return for his departure, or where funding for such a deal would originate.

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‘TERRIFIED’ STAFFER: MURPHY’S TEAM DID NOT TAKE ALLEGATION OF RAPE SERIOUSLY ENOUGH

JOHN REITMEYER | DECEMBER 5, 2018

NJ Spotlight

Katie Brennan, center, at yesterday's Select Oversight Committee hearing

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Two branches of state government are bending over backwards to convince the public that they expect New Jersey to be more responsive to women who are victims of sexual assault. Yet testimony from an alleged victim who works in the government held the Legislature spellbound yesterday, as she described her assault and the subsequent indifference to her complaints.

A special legislative committee held a lengthy meeting yesterday to hear testimony about events that happened after an alleged rape involving two former staffers who served on Gov. Phil Murphy’s campaign last year. The governor himself issued a statement of support for the alleged victim that reiterated his commitment to improving state government’s approach to such incidents.

The testimony from alleged victim Katie Brennan came as she appeared for the first time before the joint legislative committee that is reviewing her case. Brennan told the lawmakers she was constantly afraid of running into her alleged attacker in Trenton after they both went on to get jobs in the Murphy administration this year — even after she sounded numerous alarms about his conduct. In a particularly poignant moment, she said she persisted through an extremely difficult situation because she didn’t believe her alleged rapist’s career goals should trump hers

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A Water Crisis in Newark Brings New Worries

By Liz Leyden

THE NEW YORK TIMES

Dec. 3, 2018

Danielle Fienberg and her 4-year-old son, Theo, who has been diagnosed with autism and a form of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. Theo’s blood lead level surged after he started drinking tap water.

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NEWARK — As evidence mounted that Newark’s drinking water was contaminated by lead, top officials began an urgent giveaway of tens of thousands of filters and told residents that the problem was limited to one of the city’s two treatment plants.

But city documents and other records show that an engineering study that led to the distribution of filters, which was made public in October, only focused on one plant. Now the state is directing Newark to assess whether treatment methods at the second plant are protecting water from being contaminated by lead. Since 2017, samples of tap water taken at residences served by that plant have shown elevated lead levels.

The extent of Newark’s water problem is still unfolding. For nearly a year and a half after high lead levels were first discovered in the water system, Mayor Ras Baraka and other officials blamed aging lead pipes, insisting on the city’s website that the water was “absolutely safe to drink.”

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