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Christie picks Chiesa to replace Dow, warns horsemen on collapsed talks

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Gov. Chris Christie has appointed Paula Dow to a new job and nominated her for a Superior Court judgeship, while also nominating his chief counsel Jeff Chiesa to take her place as attorney general.

At the same press conference where he announced the cabinet changes, Christie called the state's thoroughbred horsemen "completely untrustworthy" and warned that they have seven days to improve their offer to save their type of horse racing in the state.

Dow was appointed to be first deputy general counsel at the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey where the governor said her work would parallel a new audit being conducted of authority finances.

"I want her to look at the legal operation there, which has obviously failed us," Christie said.

Christie also nominated Dow to serve as an Essex County Superior Court judge; Dow would leave her Port Authority post once she is confirmed and moves onto the bench.

Christie and Sen. Ronald L. Rice (D-Newark) are in a dispute over the nomination of Acting Education Commissioner Christopher Cerf and Christie has stopped making any Superior Court nominations for the county, which has a shortage of judges. He described the Dow nomination as a "peace offering to Essex County."

Christie said he would miss having Chiesa in the office next door to his, saying that he has been near Christie for nearly 20 years. The pair worked together at the U.S. Attorney's Office and the Cranford law firm that is now called Dughi & Hewit.

The governor put the onus for resolving the horse racing dispute on the thoroughbred horsemen.

"The problem is that the thoroughbred horsemen are completely untrustworthy," Christie said, adding that the state had a handshake deal with the horsemen at 12:45 a.m. on Dec. 6, only to have the horsemen ask for a $5 million subsidy eight hours later.

Christie said real estate developer Morris Bailey walked away from talks to operate Monmouth Park Racetrack because of the horsemen's lack of trust. Christie said he was still willing to strike a compromise, pointing to the state's deal with Jeffrey Gural to operate standardbred racing at Meadowlands Racetrack.

"We've had none of these problems with Jeff Gural and the standardbred horsemen that we've had with the thoroughbred horsemen," Christie said.

Christie said the thoroughbred horsemen have seven days to save their industry.

"If they don't come to us in the next week with a deal that works and stop extorting the taxpayers for millions of dollars in subsidies to their industry, then we're not going to have a deal and we won't have a horse racing industry in the state anymore," Christie said.

New Jersey Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association President John Forbes said Christie’s allegation was “patently absurd” and that if anyone was untrustworthy in the negotiations, “it’s wasn’t the thoroughbred horsemen.”

Forbes said the thoroughbred horsemen believed an agreement signed in June was still in place until Dec. 2, when the governor’s office said that the thoroughbred horsemen wouldn’t receive the Meadowlands Racetrack thoroughbred racing permit. The horsemen saw this permit as a potential additional source of race dates and revenue.

Forbes said the handshake agreement was over some legal language that would be part of a potential future agreement. The horsemen objected to the language when it was presented to them the next day, he said.

However, the request for additional money had nothing to do with the dispute over the legal language, Forbes said. Instead, it was a request for compensation for the loss of the Meadowlands permit.

Forbes said the horsemen would accept a greater share of revenue from simulcasting thoroughbred races or a share of $30 million in racing subsidies from casinos that was included in a law earlier this year. Christie blocked the subsidies by vetoing Racing Commission minutes that would have issued them.

Forbes also noted that Gural is hoping for gaming revenue if slots are allowed in the Meadowlands. Forbes said that Gural's possession of the Meadowlands standardbred permit could be the basis of his claim for gaming revenue and that the horsemen's control of the thoroughbred permit could provide the basis for a similar claim.

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