National Roundup 05-11: Kushner Companies Scraps Planned Orthodox Jewish Community in Jersey City; Mayor Emanuel Weighs Options to Fill Widening Gap in School Budget
The following is a round-up of national news from several major states across the country that will be featured on our site on a daily basis:
Kushner Companies Scraps Planned Orthodox Jewish Community in Jersey City: Kushner Companies was the leading bidder on an industrial site called Bayfront in Jersey City that would become home to a planned Jewish community geared toward members of Orthodox sects who are being priced out of Williamsburg, Brooklyn.
But when Bloomberg reporters asked company spokesperson James Yolles about the bid on Tuesday, Yolles said that the company already dropped any intentions it had to buy the site from Honeywell and Jersey City for $150 million. An unnamed Kushner employee also told the news site that these plans were dropped late last year, but the office of Jersey City Mayor Steven Fulop said it was unaware of this and has yet to receive any word of Kushner’s withdrawal from consideration.
It’s unclear if the Kushners decided to abandon the project for ethics reasons, but Honeywell, a Fortune 100 list conglomerate, has billions in government contracts that could prove tricky in any dealmaking tied to the Kushners. The development would likely also require federal subsidies to improve the infrastructure within and surrounding the site. “It’s a good sign that they are pulling out,” Larry Noble, general counsel of the Campaign Legal Center, told Bloomberg. “Though the question is whether or not it’s just because of the publicity or because they actually see there is a potential conflict of interest in these situations.”
In a statement to The Real Deal, Yolles said “a decision was made late last year not to pursue the project because the company was not persuaded by the economics of the deal.” [TRD]
Public School Budget Crisis Leads to Massive Layoffs in Lakewood: Amid a mounting deficit in Lakewood’s school district, the contracts of over 100 public school teachers have failed to be renewed for the coming year. The decision was protested loudly by hundreds who packed the town’s high school auditorium beyond capacity and by the Board of Education (BOE) members themselves at a public meeting Monday night. However, owing to a lack of available funds, a financial plan that would create classes of up to 50 students and make massive cuts in programming was enforced by state-appointed monitors.
In the past, holes in the budget were closed by loans from the state Department of Education (DOE), which kept Lakewood’s schools floating while making for a larger debt each year. This year, with a $15 million deficit in the district and an increasingly tight financial situation in the state, the DOE has yet to guarantee the expected financial bailout, leaving officials with little choice but to let contracts expire.
“I am pretty confident that the state will come through for the teachers, but that might not happen till the last minute,” said Isaac Zlatkine, a member of the BOE. He expressed relative confidence that the state would come through with an estimated $10 million loan to save the teachers’ jobs within the coming week. “The state has looked at our finances and they see that the district is not properly funded, so based on that recognition I think they will come through,” he said. [Hamodia]
Mayor Emanuel Weighs Options to Fill Widening Gap in School Budget: A gap in Chicago’s public school system budget is likely to grow more than 4-1/2 times beyond a previous estimate and Mayor Rahm Emanuel is considering a property tax increase or additional borrowing among options to close it, a city spokeswoman said.
Molly Poppe, an Emanuel administration spokeswoman, said late on Tuesday that the projected shortfall grew to $596 million because the district has yet to receive $467 million in state grant payments for this fiscal year, which ends June 30. The grants, which have been delayed due to Illinois’ own budget problems, cover items such as transportation and special education.
Poppe said a plan to shore up the $5.41 billion school budget will be unveiled in the coming weeks. She also confirmed a Tuesday report by the Chicago Sun-Times that options under consideration include a property tax hike, a loan of city tax increment financing money, borrowing, staff cuts, vendor payment delays, and postponement of part of a $721 million payment due to the Chicago Teachers’ Pension Fund by June 30. [Reuters]
FBI Chief in Chicago on Short List for Interim Director of Agency: The head of the FBI’s office in Chicago is among four veteran law enforcement and intelligence officials being interviewed to serve as interim head of the agency until a permanent director is named.
Justice Department officials identified the contenders as Michael Anderson, agent-in-charge in Chicago; Adam Lee, who runs the FBI’s field office in Richmond, Va.; Paul Abbate, who oversees the FBI’s criminal and cyber branch; and William Evanina, the government’s chief counterintelligence officer.
The interim position is currently held by Andrew McCabe, top deputy to ex-FBI Director James Comey, who President Donald Trump fired Tuesday evening. McCabe met with Justice officials on Tuesday. It was not immediately clear how seriously he is being considered. The interim chief would serve until Congress confirms a permanent director, which could take some time given the bipartisan fallout over Comey’s firing. [Chicago Tribune]
Years in the Making, Putnam Makes 2018 Gubernatorial Bid Official: “I can’t imagine a better place to announce that I am running for the governor of the state of Florida,” Adam Putnam said to a loud ovation from more than 1,000 supporters gathered in Bartow. Bartow, which Putnam jokes is the “center of the universe,” is the home to Putnam Groves, Inc., a family company that has 800 acres of citrus in Polk County.
The cadence of Putnam’s official rollout followed a popular formula: open with a crowd-pleasing anecdote followed by a vague policy agenda. “The American Dream is alive and well, and it’s right here this morning,” Putnam said to begin his speech.
The two-term Agriculture Commissioner and former member of the Florida House used the remainder of his remarks to delve into a 10,000-foot review of some of the “conservative policies” that state government has created over the past two decades of Republican control in Tallahassee.
In 2009, Putnam announced he would not seek re-election to agriculture commissioner after an election cycle that saw Democrats increase their majority in the House by 21 seats. It was widely believed at the time that Putnam was coming back to Florida to eventually run for governor. With Scott facing term-limits, though, it has been clear for months that Putnam was eyeing a gubernatorial bid in 2018. [Politico]
Man Accused of Setting Fires at Local Jewish Center Faces Judge: The man accused of setting two fires at Chabad of Southern Nevada Monday night faced the judge for the first time Thursday morning. Police believe Afshin Bahrampour set a car on fire in the Jewish Center’s parking lot after first attempting to set a fire in the men’s bathroom of the center.
In court on Thursday, the judge listed the five charges against Bahrampour – including arson – and set a preliminary hearing date.
One of the biggest victims of the fire is Pinchas Winograd, the owner of the car that is now totaled. Winograd says he’s not angry but told News 3 that he’s wondering what the motivation was. He called the incident despicable and believes at the very least it was an act of mischief caused by a troubled individual.
“I think he’s very sad. I’m told he has prior arrest records and so forth, so it’s unfortunate that someone takes God-given life and squanders it basically on crime and hurting other people and so forth when there’s so much more you could do,” said Winograd. [News3LV]