NJ Casino Regulator Reappointed - Wednesday 8th of February 2006

NEW JERSEY – As reported by the Press of Atlantic City: "New Jersey's top casino regulator has been reappointed to a state development agency four months after she was removed by former Gov. Richard J. Codey in a high-profile power struggle.

Casino Control Commission Chair Linda M. Kassekert was placed back on the board of the Casino Reinvestment Development Authority by Codey on Jan. 17, the day he left the governor's office. No announcement about Kassekert was made at that time.

"I think it was his last day in office. I think it was his last moment," Kassekert said in an interview Friday confirming her reappointment.

Putting aside their differences, Codey called Kassekert in December to say he would give her back her CRDA seat. At that time, Kassekert made the decision to drop her state Superior Court lawsuit challenging the governor's authority to remove her from the board, although she said no deals were cut.

"Beyond everything else, I told him that I'm really proud to be part of your administration ... so there was no reason to continue the lawsuit," Kassekert said.

Codey, an Essex County Democrat who also serves as Senate president, said through a spokeswoman Friday there was no underlying reason for reappointing Kassekert.

"He just felt it was best to put the controversy behind them so they could focus on business," Codey spokeswoman Jen Scirotino said.

Kassekert was ousted from the CRDA on Sept. 19 after she objected to Codey's appointment of state Labor Commissioner Thomas D. Carver as the authority's new executive director. Carver replaced Curtis Bashaw, who resigned to rejoin his private real estate development company.

The CRDA is a government agency that oversees the spending of hundreds of millions of dollars in Atlantic City casino revenue for redevelopment projects. The governor controls the authority through his appointments to its board and his veto power over its minutes.

Kassekert insisted she had no personal objections to Carver but argued that a search committee should have been formed to select the CRDA's new chief executive.

"I made it clear in both my discussions with the press and in my letters to the governor and Tom Carver. This isn't about you. It's about a process," she said of her feelings about Carver and the search committee.

Kassekert will join Carver at the CRDA's next board meeting on Feb. 21. She said she has already spoken to Carver and he has graciously welcomed her back.

In a 10-4 vote, the CRDA's board confirmed Carver's appointment in September. Kassekert cast one of the dissenting votes, leading to her ouster and igniting a headline-grabbing legal battle that would test the governor's appointment power.

William Tambussi, Kassekert's attorney, charged that Codey retaliated against Kassekert in the belief that she tried to block Carver. Kassekert filed suit challenging her ouster, arguing that Codey had no right to remove her without a legitimate reason or first holding a public hearing.

After months of bitter accusations, the case made it to the Superior Court Appellate Division. Kassekert, however, withdrew the suit in January, saving Codey from the suspense of a potentially unfavorable ruling that could have undercut the governor's powers.

Kassekert explained Friday that she saw no point in continuing the litigation after her cordial telephone conversation with Codey in December.

"I was very surprised that he called," she said. "My assistant almost passed out."

Overshadowing the CRDA dispute was a long-running political feud between Codey and George E. Norcross III, southern New Jersey's chief Democratic powerbroker. Questions arose whether Kassekert, a friend and political associate of Norcross, was acting on Norcross' orders to oppose Carver's CRDA appointment.

Kassekert laughed at those suggestions. "George Norcross has never called me about an issue at the CRDA," she said.

The controversy over Kassekert's unpaid CRDA position had no impact on her $125,000-per-year job as chair of the Casino Control Commission. In that capacity, she serves as New Jersey's chief regulator overseeing the Atlantic City casinos.

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