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President Obama backs Islamic community center, mosque near Ground Zero

WASHINGTON — After skirting the controversy for weeks, President Barack Obama is weighing in forcefully on the mosque near ground zero, saying a nation built on religious freedom must allow it.

"As a citizen, and as president, I believe that Muslims have the same right to practice their religion as everyone else in this country," Obama told an intently listening crowd gathered at the White House Friday evening to observe the Islamic holy month of Ramadan.

"That includes the right to build a place of worship and a community center on private property in lower Manhattan, in accordance with local laws and ordinances," he said. "This is America, and our commitment to religious freedom must be unshakable."

Will Lawyer for Pension

Gov. Jon S. Corzine in June 2007 signed into law a bill that barred attorneys and others working for government under professional-services contracts from state pension rolls but apparently not everyone got the memo.  I checked 20 municipalities in Union County to see if they were complying and I found:

Public records ruling prompts N.J. towns to reduce copying costs

In response to an appellate court ruling, a number of towns in New Jersey have lowered fees for copying open public records. Others are waiting for Gov. Chris Christie to weigh in on the matter.

The Appellate Division of Superior Court ruled in February that beginning July 1 public entities could only charge the actual costs of making copies, including paper and toner.

“For most, if not all public agencies, the actual cost for copies will be less than the prior rates under OPRA,” said Lisa Ryan, spokeswoman for the state Government Records Council said. “So, access to records will be cheaper.”

A bill approved by the Legislature, which reached Christie’s desk on June 28, sets a uniform rate of 5 cents per page for letter-size documents and 7 cents a page for legal size. Previously, the rate was 75 cents for the first 10 pages, 50 cents for the next 10 and 25 cents for every page after that. Under that rate, a 100-page report would cost more than $20, a far cry from the proposed rate’s $5.

Mayor's majority at stake in Hoboken 4th Ward race between Lenz, Occhipinti

The Hoboken 4th Ward isn’t easily won. Manhattan by day, Hoboken by night condo owners want dog runs. Project families want someone to acknowledge them even when there isn’t an election.

But this is Hoboken; there’s always an election. Just ask Mayor Dawn Zimmer, who withstood three 4th Ward knock-down drag-outs before running the gauntlet of another three elections to become mayor. She actually lost one of those elections, but took over after Mayor Peter Cammarano’s cup of coffee and arrest.

But after six elections in three years, the mayor now has five votes on the City Council, enough to control most wranglings.

The 4th Ward special election on November 2 will determine who has the vote for a few months until ward elections next May. Zimmer needs the vote to continue to push her agenda through the winter.

Lawmaker raises questions about Ground Zero mosque

The ranking Republican on the House Homeland Security Committee said he favors an investigation into the funding of a proposed mosque near Ground Zero in New York City. A hearing on the mosque was set for Tuesday.

In an interview with the Associated Press, Rep. Peter King raised concerns about the sources of funding for the proposed $100 million mosque, just blocks away from the site of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, where nearly 3,000 Americans died at the hands of Islamic terrorists.

The Twin Political Quagmires of Bob Menendez

This has not been a good political year for U.S. Senator Bob Menendez (D-New Jersey).  A June 17, 2010 Quinnipiac Poll reported that New Jersey voters disapproved of Menendez by a 43-38 percentage, his highest disapproval rating ever.

For Bob Menendez, however, the worst news may be yet to come.  He faces two political quagmires, to wit; 1) the California U.S. Senate race, in which Menendez is involved in his capacity as chair of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee (DSCC); and 2) the failure of President Barack Obama and the Democratic- controlled Congress to date to extend the tax cuts enacted under the leadership of President George W. Bush in 2001 and 2003.  These tax cuts expire on December 31, 2010.

Barnegat couple left with $81,000 in student loans when son dies

Vincent Grande was 25 years old, living in Florida and studying to becoming a stock broker when he was killed one night last November after driving into the back of a truck.

Devastated by the loss of their only child, Ralph and Joan Grande of Barnegat were stunned to find a notice in the mail explaining that they were on the hook for more than $81,000 in student loans from NJ Class, the state's college loan program.

"They said, "We sympathize with you, but you co-signed for it. Our bondholders want their money,' " Ralph Grande said.

The Grandes' plight shows the perils of student loans, a complicated maze of government and private programs that can put students on the path to financial success, but also leave them — or their parents — deep in debt.

Hoboken Councilwoman Beth Mason's former campaign manager criticizes her in a letter

Last year, Hoboken Councilwoman Beth Mason took on then-Councilwoman Dawn Zimmer in a mayoral election. After Mason lost, Mason remained one of the only publicly critical residents speaking out against Zimmer. Most recently, she has sent out e-mails expressing her concerns about the possibility that the administration may move the city's public works garage to a residential neighborhood.

In one recent letter sent to various news outlets, Mason said that two Zimmer administration representatives had said publicly that strong consideration was being given to moving the garage to 8th and Hudson streets -- even though this was not the case (the area was on a list of several possible destinations). The garage issue has aroused the ire of residents. and Mason and Councilman Michael Russo have taken up the residents' concerns. Some say they raised the issue only to gain political favor, and others say they are protecting the wards they represent.

Lawmakers got fed funds for fancy Hoboken frontage, $8 million in Hill earmarks, and two asked to retire because of mishap

With a rooftop pool and 24-hour concierge service, the new luxury condominiums off Frank Sinatra Drive here seem an unlikely spot in need of a multimillion-dollar federal giveaway.

Yet U.S. taxpayers doled out at least $8 million on a public walkway and park space in front of the Maxwell Place development here overlooking the New York City skyline - an amenity the development touts alongside its entertainment lounge, rooftop hot tub and theater screening room.

But the decision to use tax dollars to fund the walkway project was made after private developers had already agreed in 2003 to pay for it - indeed, it was a key condition for getting the project off the ground, according to public records and interviews.

Club of $200,000-plus earners growing

The number of public school administrators paid $200,000 or more increased nearly eight-fold in the last five years, according to new payroll numbers released by the state Department of Education.

As of October, 91 administrators were in the $200,000 club — all higher than the governor's salary of $175,000. The number is up from 12 five years ago.

Most were school superintendents, assistant superintendents and business administrators, according to an Asbury Park Press review of the five years worth of school salary data from the 2005-06 to 2009-10 school years.

While the number of public school administrators and supervisors has held relatively steady over five years, their salaries have increased 13 percent to $1.1 billion, according to a review of the latest state employment data.