Shootings, impeachment drama among New Jersey’s top stories
TRENTON, N.J. (AP) — The crack of gunfire at opposite ends of the state triggered images and emotions that dominated headlines in 2019 in New Jersey. The attacks left people grief-stricken and puzzled by the motives.
A Democratic congressman from New Jersey drew ire from his own political party and praise from Republican President Donald Trump as the House of Representatives voted on articles of impeachment.
Advocates of recreational marijuana were bummed when the Legislature failed to legalize its use but were hopeful it will become a reality after lawmakers agreed to place the issue on statewide ballots in 2020.
Childhood sexual abuse victims were given hope when, spurred in part by the Roman Catholic priest sexual abuse scandal, lawmakers expanded the statue of limitations for lawsuits seeking damages.
New Jersey’s sports betting industry firmly took root, with gamblers setting records.
Rutgers University sports fans went all-in after another dismal football season saw the firing of coach Chris Ash and the rehiring of former coach Greg Schiano.
A look at some of the top stories of the year in New Jersey:
Two attackers killed a police officer, drove to a kosher market in Jersey City where they shot and killed three civilians inside, and engaged in an hourslong shootout with police in December.
The gun battle left the attackers dead and threw into turmoil a part of the city that has seen the Orthodox Jewish population boom in the mostly African American neighborhood.
David Anderson, 47, and Francine Graham, 50, were driven by hatred of Jews and law enforcement, authorities said. Officials labeled the attack an act of domestic terrorism.
Several questions remained unanswered, including whether the grocery store was a specific target and what led to the officer’s death.
Meanwhile, there were chilling images as players and spectators dove for cover at a high school football playoff game in Pleasantville, near Atlantic City, in November. There, a gunman opened fire from the stands, killing 10-year-old Micah Tennant and wounding two others.
The accused gunman was awaiting trial.
The game was completed the following week at the Philadelphia Eagles stadium.
Conscience and political party loyalty were put to the test for Rep. Jeff Van Drew, of southern New Jersey’s 2nd District, as the House of Representatives voted on articles of impeachment for President Donald Trump’s actions.
Van Drew remained a Democrat long enough to vote “no” and then announced he would join the Republican Party. He pledged his “undying support” to Trump as they shook hands and sat in front of a fireplace at the White House. Trump urged his supporters to donate to Van Drew’s reelection.
Democrats began mobilizing candidates while Republicans considered a primary challenge to their newest member in a district that supported Trump in the 2016 election.
Despite his switch, New Jersey’s congressional delegation remained solidly blue with the Democratic majority changing from 11-1 to 10-2.
PASS THE JOINT
State lawmakers failed in March to pass legislation legalizing recreational marijuana for those 21 and older, even though the measure had support from Democratic leaders and Democratic Gov. Phil Murphy.
Legislators instead overwhelmingly passed a proposed constitutional amendment that would clear the way for legal weed if voters agree to it in 2020.
If the referendum passes, lawmakers are expected to pass further legislation to regulate it.
CHILDHOOD SEX ABUSE LAWSUITS
A new law makes it easier for childhood victims of sexual abuse in New Jersey to sue for damages long after they were abused.
The measure allows victims to sue until they turn 55, or within seven years of their first realization that the abuse caused them harm.
The previous limit had been two years.
Adult victims also have seven years from the discovery of the abuse, and victims who were previously barred by the statute of limitations have a two-year window to file claims.
The law has led to dozens of new suits filed on behalf of victims in New Jersey.
PLACE YOUR BETS
Since winning a U.S. Supreme Court case in 2018 that paved the way for every state to offer legal sports betting, New Jersey has become a national leader in the fledgling industry, challenging Nevada’s long-held title as the sports betting capital of America.
Since it started taking bets, New Jersey has seen gamblers plunk down more than $5.2 billion.
The amount bet on sports has set new monthly records in New Jersey in each of the last three months. In November, the total amount bet for the month exceeded a half-billion dollars for the first time, at $562 million. That’s without the Super Bowl or March Madness driving bettors.
Another year brought more commuter anger at New Jersey Transit over continued problems with train delays and cancellations, after the state-run transit system barely beat a Dec. 31 deadline to get a two-year extension on installing a federally mandated braking system.
Murphy, who has called reforming NJ Transit one of his central priorities, dedicated more money to address problems including an engineer shortage and aging infrastructure, but difficulties persisted. Data released in the fall showed delays and cancellations had eased from 2018 but still numbered in the hundreds each month.
On a brighter note, a project to build a new bridge over the Hackensack River, a regular chokepoint for trains throughout the Northeast, appeared closer to being approved for key federal funds. But an associated project to build a new rail tunnel under the Hudson River was still at an impasse with the Trump administration, despite shaving nearly $1.5 billion off the project’s cost.
BRIDGEGATE GOES TO WASHINGTON
The U.S. Supreme Court agreed in June to hear the appeal of two defendants in the so-called Bridgegate case.
Two former allies of ex-Gov. Chris Christie — Bridget Kelly and Bill Baroni — were convicted of federal charges stemming from the 2013 political payback scheme in which local lanes to the George Washington Bridge were closed to punish Fort Lee’s Democratic mayor for not supporting the Republican governor’s reelection.
The court’s decision to hear the case led to Baroni being released from prison, where he was serving an 18-month sentence. It also delayed Kelly from reporting to prison to serve her 13-month sentence.
Rutgers University, which claims to be the birthplace of college football, had little to be happy about as the sport celebrated its 150th anniversary in 2019.
Athletic director Pat Hobbs fired coach Chris Ash early in the season as the Scarlet Knights faced their second winless season in the Big Ten.
Talks to rehire former coach Greg Schiano gained some traction, but broke off before Thanksgiving. Fans and boosters rebelled until an eight-year, $32 million contract was approved by the university’s board of governors.
Schiano would not put a timetable on transforming a program that has struggled since joining the Big Ten in 2014.
Associated Press writers Michael Catalini in Trenton, David Porter in Newark, Christina Paciolla in Philadelphia and Wayne Parry in Atlantic City contributed to this story.