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A Brutally Frank Assessment on Memorial Day

(Note: A version of this piece was published in The Record on May 21, 2015)

How can we honor, on this Memorial Day, those servicemen and service women who fought and died by the thousands, or who were grievously wounded by the tens of thousands, in a war that most Americans now believe was a mistake? We can begin by not lying to them and their families. They did not die, and they were not maimed, physically and mentally, to protect our freedom or to safeguard our liberty. Our freedom and liberty were not threatened by Saddam Hussein; in fact, one could argue that his removal put the United States at greater risk, because it also meant the removal of a counterweight to Iran's hegemony in the region and its larger global ambitions. No, American lives were not spent for some noble purpose. They were put in harm's way by politicians who were too quick to choose war as the option of first rather than last resort; who failed to consider the unintended consequences of their actions; and who, to put it bluntly, screwed up royally. Read More 
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One School Board Member's Valedictory

As I complete my second and final term as a member of the Ramsey (Bergen) Board of Education and end 38 years of public service—naval officer, career prosecutor, mayor and school trustee—it is time for reflection. Here, then, is my perspective on what it means to be a school trustee. Spoiler alert: My views do not always coincide with those of the New Jersey School Boards Association or the dictates of the New Jersey School Ethics Commission.

At just about every event I've attended as a school board member, the constant refrain is this: "It's all about the kids." Well, it is not solely about the kids, in my opinion; it is also about property taxpayers, the folks who foot 95 percent of the public education bill in most suburban school districts. Taxpayers don't just get short shrift from the public education community, they get no shrift. They are the Rodney Dangerfields in the equation.  Read More 
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Gov. Jim Florio--Rethinking a governor's legacy, 25 years after his inauguration

Gov. Jim Florio does not receive the credit he deserves. In my opinion, he may be the most underrated and under appreciated governor of recent times. I wrote an Op-Ed piece for The Record of Bergen County, in recognition of the 25th anniversary of Gov. Florio's inauguration. Click here to read that piece: FlorioRead More 
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Disenfranchising the folks who pay the bills

Within two years of enabling legislation being signed into law, 514 New Jersey school districts moved their board candidate elections to November, to coincide with other national, state, and local elections. At last count, just 28 districts have stuck with the traditional April voting, both for board candidates and for school budgets.

The two reasons most often cited for this lemming-like rush to November voting are (1) greater voter participation in the established November election cycle than in April, when turnout is notoriously low, and (2) cost-savings achieved by eliminating the April election. Rarely do school boards mention publicly their true reason, in my opinion, for switching to November: eliminating any risk of a school budget defeat by eliminating the school budget vote.  Read More 
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Christie and Cuomo, Perfect Together

As the Bridgegate investigation runs its course, we learn more each day. Nothing ties Governor Chris Christie directly to the planning or execution of the GWB lane closings—something he avowed in his January 9th press conference and has affirmed in the few public comments he has made since.

I think we can believe him on that specific and narrow aspect of the case—he didn't take part in the planning or execution of the scheme. Still, it seems clear that an atmosphere existed within the governor's office that allowed subordinates to believe they were carrying out his agenda. An experienced political operative like Bridget Kelly did not go rogue on this; she had to believe she was acting with the approval of higher-ups.

Here is where I think the governor is treading on thin ice, and it is something he has never directly commented on.  Read More 
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No Motive to Lie

Clearly, Hoboken Mayor Dawn Zimmer is telling the truth, and Lt. Governor Kim Guadagno and Community Affairs Commissioner Richard Constable are not. How can I be so sure, when the matter seems like a classic "she said-she said" standoff? The mayor has no motive to lie, while Guadagno and Constable have every motive to lie: otherwise, they'd be admitting to a crime.

Using federal funds, or the withholding of those funds, to pressure a public official—in this case, making Sandy relief money for Hoboken contingent on the mayor supporting a redevelopment plan promoted by Gov. Christie's closest political ally, David Samson—is extortion. Read More 
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Bridging the Credibility Gap: Chris Christie and the George Washington Bridge Scandal

Gov. Chris Christie, in a December 2, 2013 news conference, ridiculed the notion that anyone in his administration had anything to do with the GWB lane closures, which snarled traffic for four days, September 9-12, 2013, at the bridge and throughout most of Fort Lee.

"I moved the cones, actually, unbeknownst to everybody," Christie said, with his trademarkable brand of sarcasm. It was a traffic study, the governor asserted, referring to testimony of his appointee to the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, Deputy Executive Director Bill Baroni, before the NJ Assembly's Transportation Committee, on November 25th.

In an attempt to transform outrage over Fort Lee's traffic problems into a discussion of preferential treatment, Christie expressed indignation at the idea that Fort Lee, or any town, would have three dedicated bridge lanes. He promised that PANYNJ Chairman David Samson, another of his appointees, would look into that policy.

There was no traffic study, despite Baroni's dog-and-pony show before the Transportation Committee.  Read More 
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A Sesquicentennial of Note and Remembering JFK

A Sesquicentennial of Note

Seven score and ten years ago, today, Abraham Lincoln brought forth at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, a 272-word speech that many consider the best ever delivered by any political leader. As statesman Edward Everett, the principal speaker that day, would later tell the president, Lincoln had done more to capture the essence of the moment—the dedication of a national cemetery honoring those who had died in the bloodiest battle of the Civil War—in two minutes than Everett had done in two hours, the length of his own speech.

If "brevity is the soul of wit," Lincoln's speech stands as the 19th-century model for the twitter generation.  Read More 
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Gov. Chris Christie's electoral triumph

If you've read my op-ed articles in The Record or my blog posts, you know that I have often been critical of the governor. I blasted him when he cut $800 million in state aid to education soon after taking office ("NJ schoolchildren caught in the crossfire"), giving school boards little time to plan for the impact. I blasted him for expense-account overreach when he was the U.S. Attorney for New Jersey ("A Tale of Two Christies") and for screwing up our "Race to the Top" application for federal aid to education ("Christie plays the blame game, the digs a bigger credibility hole").

But then, in a featured Sunday op-ed piece last December ("Rethinking Christie"), I succumbed. The man has political courage, perhaps the trait I admire most. And he was responsible for getting a pension and health benefits overhaul through the Democrat-controlled state legislature, despite the opposition of public employee unions. It will save property taxpayers in New Jersey a billion dollars per year once fully implemented.  Read More 
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The Bill Clinton Phenomenon

I've never been a fan of Bill Clinton, nor, for that matter, of Hillary. Yet, in my personal dislike for the man, I am in a distinct minority.

Despite being just the second president in our history to have been impeached by the House of Representatives (like Andrew Johnson, he was acquitted by the Senate), Bill Clinton now enjoys almost superstar approval ratings among the American public. Right before the Democratic National Convention in 2012, Clinton, who was to be the event's principal speaker and President Obama's much needed "Secretary of Explaining Stuff," was polling a 69-percent favorability rating. That number would have been north of 80 percent, undoubtedly, if only Democrats were asked. Even now, as Obama's poll numbers settle in the low 40-percent range, Bill Clinton is still over the 60-percent mark. He is clearly the Democratic equivalent of the Teflon Man, himself—Ronald Reagan.  Read More 
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