Category: Clips

Handlin plans more legislation to reform Port Authority

Source: Bergen Record -

Two days after Governor Christie and New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo vetoed legislation to reform the Port Authority, a clear lack of consensus reigned among New Jersey lawmakers trying to plot their next move.

Amy Handlin

 

“We reconvene in 15 days, and at that time I have every intention of showing up with a pile of new bills,” said Handlin, who is also on the joint committee investigating the George Washington Bridge lane closures of 2013.

 

One Democratic senator said Monday that an attempt to override the veto was “not completely off the table,” while another said there just wasn’t enough time to act. A Republican assemblywoman said she’s already started writing new reform legislation, but the leaders of both houses have not committed to a strategy going forward.

The only agreement so far seems to be that the Port Authority is high on everyone’s State House agenda in 2015.

Earlier Monday, Assembly Speaker Vincent Prieto and Senate President Stephen Sweeney issued a joint statement saying both houses “will consider all options as we weigh our next steps and plan to reach out to the legislative leaders in New York to discuss their plans and continued cooperation.”

While lawmakers in New York did not return calls Monday, several said in recent published interviews that an override would not happen in their chambers. Such a vote would be unlikely, since the legislative session expires at the end of the year. However, they believe legislation is still needed to hold the Port Authority accountable for its actions.

Legislatures in both states unanimously passed a package of ethics, administrative and financial reforms at the Port Authority and sent them to the desks of each governor this month. While lawmakers crafted and voted on those bills, a panel formed by the two governors was drafting its own set of reforms, which is much more ambitious and, they say, more comprehensive.

An override vote in the New Jersey Legislature, which is heading into the second year of its two-year session, would be required to begin in the Senate. Sen. Robert Gordon, D-Fair Lawn, the majority conference leader, said he had to “make a decision on that.”

Prieto said he would support such a vote but only if it happened in both states; otherwise “it becomes kind of a futile effort.”

Most important, lawmakers agree, is keeping momentum on reforming the Port Authority.

Assemblywoman Amy Handlin, R-Monmouth, spent the weekend going through the 103-page report released by the panel formed by the two governors to study reform at the Port Authority. Handlin has sponsored legislation in the past to make changes to the bi-state agency, and she resurrected portions of it on Monday.

“We reconvene in 15 days, and at that time I have every intention of showing up with a pile of new bills,” said Handlin, who is also on the joint committee investigating the George Washington Bridge lane closures of 2013.

“It is a new year. This time we’re very close, we’ve come a long way and all the voices have been heard,” she added. “Now it’s time to look for points of agreement and begin negotiating on points of contention.”

New Jersey Senate Minority Leader Tom Kean Jr. said that while the legislation sent to the governors “was a good first step,” the panel report “is a better, more holistic approach.”

“This is a time-sensitive issue,” Kean, R-Union, added. “I think we can get this done in a timely fashion.”

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Fiocchi to police officers: ‘You are not alone. You have support. You are appreciated.’

Source: Press of Atlantic City -

Sam Fiocchi

Sam Fiocchi

Assemblyman Sam Fiocchi, R-Cape May, Cumberland, Atlantic, led a rally in support of local law enforcement Monday in response to several targeted attacks against police across the country.

Fiocchi was joined outside the historic Cape May County courthouse by about 50 officers, including union representatives from Middle Township.

“So the message I deliver today is clear: You are not alone. You have support. You are appreciated. And you are loved and valued by the people you serve,” Fiocchi said.

The rally was one of several recent pro-police gatherings in South Jersey following the apparent targeted killing of two New York police officers on Dec. 20. Police officers also have been targeted by gunmen this month in shootings in Florida and Los Angeles. Nobody was injured in those shootings.

A public rally in support of law enforcement took place last week on the Atlantic City Boardwalk. On Sunday, members of the Macedonia Baptist Church hosted a breakfast for police in Cape May to show their appreciation.

Police officers are ambushed and shot on duty every year, according to federal statistics.

The FBI said five officers were ambushed and shot in 2013. They were among the 27 officers who were killed by criminals during the commission of a felony.

Another 49,851 officers were assaulted on duty in 2013.

In 2012, 49 officers nationwide were killed while responding to a crime.

“The events of the past few weeks remind us how law enforcement can be a thankless job and an incredibly dangerous one,” Fiocchi said.

Dozens of uniformed officers joined Fiocchi at the dais while others and their families watched from courtyard on Main Street.

Among them was retired Stone Harbor police officer Dave Daniels, who teaches criminal justice as an adjunct professor at Atlantic Cape Community College. His son is in training at the State Police Academy.

“It’s disheartening when you see the protests against police. You know there is a silent majority of people who support the police,” he said.

The perception is that police are reluctant to publicly criticize fellow officers. But Daniels said police empathize with officers in stressful situations.

“It’s easy to be a Monday morning quarterback. You have a split-second to make a decision. And you don’t have the ability to consult with a law book,” he said.

Daniels said he often invites civilians to take part in the academy’s simulated-shooter training to see how they would respond to a potential life-and-death scenario. The video projection showing different shoot-or-don’t-shoot scenarios always gives participants a better appreciation for the difficulty of the job, he said.

Officers who attended the rally Monday said they appreciated the public show of support from Cape May County freeholders and state lawmakers.

“The support from politicians in our area is great — knowing they stand behind us to get through these trying times,” said Middle Township

Patrolman Ron Miller, a union representative for Local 59.

Miller said he knows township residents have faith in their local police department.

“Without their support I don’t know how we’d make it through the day,” he said.

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Casagrande presented with ‘Elected Women of Excellence’ award

Source: Red Bank Hub -

Caroline Casagrande

The National Foundation for Women Legislators (NFWL) announced Assemblywoman Caroline Casagrande (R-11) as one of its 2014 Elected Women of Excellence Award winners.

Casagrande was one of 19 honorees to receive the award at the Toast to the Women of Excellence ceremony in Philadelphia during NFWL’s recent 2014 annual conference.

The award was established in 2013 as part of the NFWL’s 75th-anniversary celebration to honor the hard work and dedication of women leaders from across the country. NFWL has recognized 60 elected women from 37 states.

Winners were nominated by their colleagues and constituents from their home states and then chosen by NFWL board members. Casagrande was nominated by NFWL Chair and state Sen. Diane Allen (R-7).

“We are thrilled to acknowledge these women,” Allen said in a press release. “They showcase the strong leadership qualities, focused work ethic and determination that we try to instill in young women across the nation, and deserve to be recognized for their tremendous efforts.”

Casagrande is currently serving her fourth term in the New Jersey Assembly. She is the assistant Republican leader and a member of the Appropriations, Financial Institutions and Insurance, and Women and Children committees.

For more information about NFWL, visit www.womenlegislators.org.

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Fiocchi press conference a show of support of police officers

Source: NBC 40 [video] -

We in the state of New Jersey have the best and finest trained law enforcement personnel in the nation,” said Cape May County Freeholder Director, Gerald Thornton.

And with that in mind, several local officials took the opportunity to support state and local police officers during a press conference Monday afternoon.

“This nation should recognize every uniformed man and woman who serves us day in and day out,” said Thornton.

Sam Fiocchi

Sam Fiocchi

Assemblyman and uncle of two state troopers, Sam Fiocchi organized the conference in response to recent protests and acts of violence against police around the country.

“You are not alone, you have support, you are appreciated and you are loved and valued by the people you serve,” said Fiocchi.

For county and local officers in attendance, the outpouring of support was appreciated.

“It’s nice you have the support, not only of the community, but of the county level also,” said Captain Kevin Tolan of the North Wildwood Police Department.

Officials say officers will also be undergoing a new advanced type of training that will help them respond to incidents in an unbiased and impartial manner.

“Developing strategies to make sure there’s no bias in our decisions. I think it’s good training, police officers make a lot of decisions with limited information and we should have some training on how the human mind works,” said Chief Christopher Leusner of the Middle Township Police Department.

The training was made possible through a grant from the Department of Justice. All a part of serving a community that supports its officers.

“I hope it will send a message to your brothers and sisters across the state, a loud and clear message, we have your back,” said Fiocchi.

NBC40.net

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Fiocchi offers support to police, law enforcement in District 1

Source: Middle Township Gazette -

Police, sheriff’s officers and state troopers lined the steps of the Old Courthouse on Main Street as state Assemblyman Sam Fiocchi announced his support of law enforcement throughout the county.

Sam Fiocchi

Sam Fiocchi

 

“We have your back. You are not alone. You are appreciated. You are loved and respected by those you protect and serve.” – Assemblyman Sam Fiocchi

 

 

Kevin Tomafsky, a spokesman for the lawmaker, said that in the coming weeks, Fiocchi planned visits to departments throughout the county, to speak with police in person to show his support.

“Anyone can send out a press release saying they support police officers,” Tomafsky said. “Sam wanted to come here to Cape May Court House to thank police officers in person.”

Fiocchi was joined by Cape May County Freeholder Gerald R. Thornton and other elected officials at a press conference Monday, Dec. 29. The municipal and state lawmakers were surrounded by dozens of appreciative law enforcement officers. State Assemblyman Sam Fiocchi addresses a crowd of about 100 during a speech supporting police and law enforcement in Cape May, Cumberland and Atlantic counties.

Fiocchi’s press conference comes on the heels of the murders of two New York police officers – Wenjian Liu and Rafael Ramos – by Ismaaiyl Brinsley, who killed the men while they were in their car.

Brinsley had indicated on social media websites that he planned to kill police officers in revenge for the deaths of Eric Garner and Michael Brown in New York and St. Louis, respectively.

“I want to thank Sam for bringing us together to recognize police and law enforcement,” Thornton said to a crowd of about 100 people gathered to honor officers throughout Cape May and Atlantic counties.

“We and the citizens support you,” Thornton said, as the crowd erupted in applause. “We in New Jersey have the best and the finest trained officers in the nation.”

Thornton said the murder of the New York police officers should bring a public outcry.

“It saddens me that I didn’t see people demonstrating when police officers were killed,” he said.

Fiocchi, who spent his time prior to the conference meeting and speaking with officers from throughout the first district, said he was in Cape May Court House to send a message.

“We have your back,” he told police. “You are not alone. You are appreciated. You are loved and respected by those you protect and serve.”

Middle Township Police Chief Christopher Leusner said he appreciated the outpouring of support at the state and local level.

Leusner said that while other areas of the country have seen tense relations between police and members of the public, relations in Cape May County are better.

“I think we do a good job in Middle Township and across the county,” he said. “But that doesn’t mean there isn’t room for improvement.”

During the press conference, several men, both retired from law enforcement, held signs reminding people of the recent murders.

David Daniels, retired from the Stone Harbor Police Department, and Ed Musick, who worked with Cape May County Sherriff’s Office, Lower Township Police Department, and Cape May County Prosecutor’s Office stood quietly, but raised signs that read: Cops are not targets.

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Brown bill to stop children from suing parents gains bipartisan support

Source: Burlington County Times -

Chris J. Brown

Assemblyman Chris J. Brown made good on his promise to introduce legislation to prevent children from suing their parents for college tuition and his bill has landed over two dozen co-sponsors already.

Brown, R-8th of Evesham, introduced the bill earlier this month in response to a Superior Court judge’s ruling in Camden County that divorced parents Michael Ricci and Maura McGarvey must contribute $16,000 a year toward their estranged daughter’s out-of-state college tuition.

Ricci’s and McGarvey’s daughter, Caitlyn Ricci, 21, sued them for tuition to Temple University in Philadelphia after moving in with her paternal grandparents.

Both parents have refused to pay, arguing they want their daughter to attend an in-state school, but a judge ruled against the parents, citing a 1982 case which dictated that divorced parents are responsible for providing for their child’s education.

The landmark case is typically cited in cases in which one divorced parent sues an ex-spouse to help pay for a child’s tuition. Ricci’s lawsuit was a rare instance of a suit brought by a student against both parents.

The case is currently under appeal. Last week, a judge refused to hold Ricci and McGarvey in contempt for failing to pay the tuition.

Brown’s bill would limit court’s authority to order parents to pay for tuition and other college expenses if both parents agree not to pay. The bill also requires courts to consider several factors before ordering a divorced parent to pay college tuition if the parents aren’t in agreement, including the cost of the education, available financial aid, the financial resources of the child and the child’s relationship with the paying parent.

Brown said the legislation is intended to keep parents in the decision making process if they are funding the education of their child.

“When a court supersedes parents’ decisions of where to send their child for college, it makes the child the unilateral authority where they attend school and then sticks their parents with the bill,” he said in a statement. “The legislation prevents the courts from taking parents out of a process they are ultimately responsible for financially without a compelling reason.”

Brown is hardly alone with his viewpoint. So far 26 legislators have signed on as co-sponsors of his bill, including nine Democrats.

Among the Democratic co-sponsors are Assemblymen Paul Moriarty, D-4th of Washington Township, and Gary Schaer, D-36th of Passaic, The latter lawmaker is chairman of the powerful Assembly Budget Committee.

Michael Ricci and Maura McGarvey support the bill too.

“I never imagined that the law would allow the judicial system to intervene in … what should be solely a parental decision,” McGarvey said last week. “We are hopeful that this legislation will prevent other families from going through the same thing we have.”

 

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O’Scanlon a lone voice of realism on the budget mess

Source: Star Ledger Editorial -

Declan O'Scanlon

Assemblyman Declan O’Scanlon, fresh from his glorious campaign to shut off the red-light cameras, is now bringing the same bipartisan common-sense to New Jersey’s budget crisis.

O’Scanlon got rid of the red light cameras by focusing on facts, namely that these things did not make us safer. They only allowed local governments to soak us for petty offenses.

Now he is turning his to the more important challenge of fixing the state’s broken budget. And on that front, the facts are beyond grim.

And it’s worse when you realize the state’s pensions funds are underfunded by more than $80 billion, and the fund for transit project is dead broke.

O’Scanlon’s message: Neither party is facing reality. Solving this is going to cause serious pain.

Democrats pretend that increasing taxes on the rich will do the job, but that won’t even come close. Their proposed tax on incomes over $1 million would raise just over one-tenth of what’s needed to close the annual gap.

Republicans are equally deluded to suggest that there is enough useless flab in the budget to solve the crisis with painless spending cuts. There isn’t. And calling for across-the-board spending cuts is a cop out intended to dodge the tough choices.

The reality is that the state will have to cut spending on programs that people like, including education and health care. And tax hikes will have to be part of the solution as well.

O’Scanlon does not go quite that far, yet. He’s the senior Republican on the budget committee, and conceding the need for tax increases is risky business for anyone in Gov. Chris Christie’s party.

But he is at least stepping up to the edge of that cliff, as if preparing to jump, and that puts him well ahead of the pack. In an essay that appeared in Sunday’s Star-Ledger, he calls for “a dynamic, balanced mix of solutions.”

That might sound familiar to anyone who followed the work of the Bowles-Simpson commission, a bipartisan panel President Obama appointed to hammer out a compromise on the federal budget. That effort failed, thanks to Republicans who opposed any tax increase, and Democrats who opposed the tough spending cuts in sacred-cow programs like Social Security.

New Jersey is stuck in the same place. What O’Scanlon is suggesting is that both sides need to be adult and compromise. And it has to start by looking at the facts, grim as they may be.

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Handlin speaks about PA bill

Amy Handlin

Source: Bergen Record -

Governor Christie and New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo blocked the efforts of lawmakers in both states to reform the Port Authority and instead endorsed their own sweeping proposal on Saturday, nearly a year after the George Washington Bridge lane closure scandal brought the agency under unprecedented scrutiny and criticism.

The governors agreed to no longer appoint the agency’s two top executives. They encouraged it to shed its real-estate holdings, including the World Trade Center. And they endorsed redirecting money previously set aside for the governors’ pet projects toward a new Manhattan bus terminal and other initiatives that will benefit commuters moving between New Jersey and New York, they said in a joint statement that accompanied a 103-page report of reform recommendations.

Those recommendations came from a panel appointed by both governors, whose joint blessing of its work paves the way for the Port Authority to move forward with the changes — some of which will come within weeks while others could take years. The report was released as the governors announced they would veto a widely supported Port Authority reform bill passed unanimously by legislators in both states.

At least one Republican was also taken by surprise.

Assemblywoman Amy Handlin, R-Monmouth, said she had hoped that both governors would “enthusiastically approve” the bills. Learning of their rejection Saturday night, Handlin, who has been a vocal critic of the authority, said: “I didn’t see this coming at all, so I am still somewhat numb.”

John Degnan, chairman of the Port Authority and a member of the panel that issued the report, called the replacement of political appointees with a chief executive the most important development at the agency in 40 years. He said the national search would start as soon as possible and is likely to take many months. He also said that he would offer to resign in the coming weeks and that other New Jersey commissioners have agreed to do the same.

But the proposed changes did not satisfy lawmakers in New Jersey, who have said that any reforms should be cemented into both states’ laws so they cannot be undone by future administrations or agency leaders.

The proposed changes in how the agency is managed are likely to be more immediate.

On Saturday, Christie and Cuomo agreed to relinquish their most overt influence over the agency’s day-to-day operations: their respective appointments of the executive director and deputy executive director. The report said that structure, “intended to safeguard the interests of both states has instead produced internal division and a lack of managerial accountability.”

The report also proposed changes to the 12-member board of commissioners, which guides the agency’s policy and approves major expenditures. New Jersey’s governor previously appointed the chairman of the board, while New York got the vice chairman. Now, the governors said, they will either appoint co-chairpersons or the position of chairman will rotate annually. It was unclear when that would be decided.

Many of the proposed reforms need no outside approval other than that of the commissioners. The Port Authority has already started to implement some of the changes, including a new public records policy. And much of the report is dedicated to touting changes already made at the agency.

Saturday was Cuomo’s deadline to either sign two legislative bills related to the Port Authority or veto them. Christie and Cuomo said they supported a second bill that makes the Port Authority subject to either state’s public records laws, but Christie conditionally vetoed the legislation and suggested changes that he said made it simpler and just as effective.

Martin Robins, director emeritus of Voorhees Transportation Policy Institute at Rutgers University, said the recommendations “hit the nail on the head.” Robins had in the past been particularly critical of the Port Authority’s management structure. And he praised initiatives that appear to make the agency less of a political piggy bank for the governors.

The report proposes eliminating the regional development program that has given Trenton and Albany access to hundreds of millions of dollars in toll money for pet projects.

Replace the positions of executive director (now appointed by the governor of New York) and deputy executive director (appointed by the governor of New Jersey) with a chief executive officer hired by the Board of Commissioners based on professional experience rather than political considerations.

Replace the board’s chairperson (now appointed by New Jersey’s governor) with two co-chairs, or by rotating chairs. Each governor gets to make one recommendation.

A special panel created by Governor Christie and New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo called for a renewed focus by the Port Authority on transportation, among other issues. Some of the highlights:

Establish an “Office of the Chair,” composed of the new CEO and the two chairs, to serve as a senior operating committee.

Request the resignations of all 12 commissioners, whose status will then be reviewed by the governor who appointed them.

Create a code of conduct for employees and commissioners that would be reviewed by the board in February.

Establish a chief ethics and compliance officer who would conduct training on ethical issues and “ensure misconduct is investigated.”

Build a new Port Authority Bus Terminal, perhaps in a public-private partnership to help maximize funding.

Modernize the three major regional airports, which the reports says are ill-equipped to meet future needs. It notes that Cuomo “has expressed a desire to have a more prominent role and more responsibility in the development and modernization” of John F. Kennedy and La Guardia airports, and recommends that the board make sure its capital projects in New York are “managed in a manner consistent with the governor’s views” as well as Christie’s in New Jersey.

Update port facilities to encourage their use by the largest container ships.

Lead a regional planning effort to look at tunnel and bus capacity in light of growing congestion at the trans-Hudson crossings. “The future development of the region … hinges on the development of new trans-Hudson transportation capacity,” the report says.

Improve the “operating model” for PATH to address its growing deficit. That could mean forging a partnership with a “third-party operator,” either public or private, to reduce costs. It also could mean some cuts in service, including eliminating overnight service on weekends.

Divest much of the agency’s real estate portfolio — currently more than 12,000 acres and 45 million square feel of office and retail space. That would include selling the World Trade Center in a “deliberate” process that could take some years.

Focus on meeting transportation needs above all else. A new mission statement says, in part, that the agency should provide “the highest quality and most efficient transportation and port commerce facilities and services to move people and goods within the region, provide access to the nation and the world and promote the region’s economic development.”

Modernize the authority’s borrowing rules to provide more flexibility, including making it easier for it to refinance debt when interest rates drop.

Consider public-private partnerships to generate capital for infrastructure improvements.

Retain a global investment advisory firm to help get maximum returns on the agency’s money.

Implement a new Freedom of Information policy that would mandate the disclosure of records as set out by state laws.

Adopt a single open meeting policy, including agendas that spell out why meetings are closed.

Establish a “regular cycle” of reports on major capital projects, discuss major projects “in detail” at board meetings and post information on the capital plan on the agency’s website, including costs and schedules.

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Schepisi talks about Port Authority legislation

Holly Schepisi

Source: Bloomberg -

Governors Chris Christie and Andrew Cuomo vetoed legislation passed unanimously in both of their state legislatures that would change the management structure at the Port Authority of New York & New Jersey.

Instead, Christie, New Jersey’s Republican governor, and Cuomo, a New York Democrat, said they accepted revisions recommended by a special panel to reorganize the agency, and urged their respective legislatures and the Port Authority to implement them, according to a joint statement released today.

The report’s recommendations include consolidating the agency under a single chief executive officer; the appointment of a chief ethics and compliance officer; making public-records rules consistent with state laws; divesting real-estate holdings that aren’t vital to the agency’s mission, including commercial properties at the World Trade Center; and building a new bus terminal in Manhattan, according to the governors’ statement.

New Jersey Assemblywoman Holly Schepisi, a Republican from Westwood who served on the panel investigating the closings and sponsored the bill, said she was surprised by the governors’ moves.

“Am I disappointed that the bill was vetoed? Yes,” she said in a telephone interview after the announcement. “A lot of us worked very hard on it from both sides of the aisle. That being said, I’m going to reserve judgment on the overall rationale and the reason until I have a chance to review” the report.

The bills would have directed the Port Authority to file annual audits, protect whistle-blowers and require officials to appear before legislative committees. They also would have ordered the authority to hold at least six public hearings before raising tolls, required commissioners to file financial-disclosure statements and maintain records of all lobbying contacts, and made the authority subject to state open-records laws.

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Schepisi continues effort to keep Mercedes-Benz in NJ

Holly Schepisi

Source: Philadelphia Inquirer -

German luxury automobile maker Mercedes-Benz hasn’t even publicly said it’s considering moving its U.S. headquarters out of New Jersey, but some state officials are so concerned about the possibility they’re campaigning publicly to try to keep the company and its 1,000 jobs where they are.

The possibility of Mercedes-Benz USA, the U.S. marketing and distribution arm of Germany-based Daimler AG, moving from Montvale comes as the state is ramping up its tax incentives to bring companies in and keep those it already has.

A 2013 state law includes a tax break to keep car company headquarters in their current communities. That benefit could be worth about $15 million to Mercedes on top of millions of dollars in other incentives. It also could be used by several other car companies with U.S. headquarters in the state, including BMW, whose main North American office is about 2 miles from Mercedes’.

This year, the state has promised more than $2 billion in tax breaks to companies. Subaru of America agreed to stay, and the Philadelphia 76ers plan to move their offices and practice facility to Camden while continuing to play in Philadelphia, a short drive away.

At the same time, the state has lost some major businesses: Car rental giant The Hertz Corp. is moving to Estero, Florida, with the help of $85 million in tax breaks, and Bubble Wrap maker Sealed Air Corp. is moving to Charlotte, North Carolina, with the aid of $35 million in breaks.

The three state lawmakers who represent the district where Mercedes is located wrote a letter to the company asking it to stay.

One of them, Assemblywoman Holly Schepisi, a Republican from River Vale, said she has been speaking with Mercedes executives about incentives to stay and expects the company to make an announcement about its plans in the coming weeks.

“It’s something where it goes well beyond just the loss of those jobs,” Schepisi said this week. “You’re talking about the impact it would have on the small businesses in the area – restaurants, dry cleaners, cleaning crews.”

A billboard company, at Schepisi’s behest, donated digital ad space on four signs proclaiming Bergen County loves Mercedes-Benz, among the largest employers in the state’s most populous county.

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