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Grapevine: Panning span plan

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Raise the Bayonne Bridge, or raze it? That's one question being asked these days in commercial real estate circles, an industry insider said.

While trade groups have lined up behind the Port Authority's plan to lift the span, in an effort to allow larger, more modern cargo ships to reach the state's ports region, the source said "many in New Jersey's development community" feel the bridge should be removed altogether, especially given recent toll hikes on Port Authority crossings and the growing need to replace the Goethals Bridge. The two bridge projects have been said to cost around $1 billion and $1.5 billion, respectively.

Removing the Bayonne Bridge would resolve the issue with larger ships, the insider said. That happens to be the Port Authority's main reason for raising the structure in the first place, but the person said there is concern, especially in the industrial sector, that the project will not be done in time for the expected arrival of the new vessels.

The supersized ships will appear as a result of a project to widen the Panama Canal. That project was originally scheduled to be complete by 2014, but now is said to be six months behind schedule. Officials with the Port Authority recently touted that the Bayonne Bridge planning is moving along ahead of schedule, closing the gap with the expected completion of the canal project.

Seeing Scarlet over appointment

Martín Perez beat an 18-month senatorial blockade last week when Chris Christie exercised his direct appoint-ment power to install Perez on the Rutgers University board of governors. Perez' nomination had been held up by objections from Middlesex County's two Democratic state senators, Barbara Buono and Bob Smith, but the governor was at last able to sidestep their objections by using the new direct appointment power granted his office as part of the legislation allowing Rutgers and UMDNJ to merge.

It's not surprising that Perez's appointment would upset the county's Democratic establishment. Back in 2009, Perez chaired the "Coalition for Democracy," which fought, unsuccessfully, to change New Brunswick's form of government into a ward-based city council. The following year, Perez's wife, Patricia Bombelyn, lost a spirited mayoral campaign against longtime New Brunswick Mayor Jim Cahill. Those campaigns also gave Perez a unique relationship with Rutgers University. Much of the muscle from those two campaigns came from Rutgers student volunteers.

For Democrats, 'it's like Syria'

Speaking of the Dems, the race for governor was taking shape at press time. Buono threw her hat in the ring this month, and Cory Booker last week said he's exploring a run for U.S. Senate instead. Other names floated include Dick Codey, Steve Sweeney, Lou Greenwald, Bill Pascrell Jr., and Frank Pallone.

It has kept New Jersey's political watchers chatting, and wondering what's next for the party.

"It's like Syria in that party right now," said a political observer about the Democrats. "No one's sure who's going to be in charge tomorrow, but they're all up for fighting today."

Granting relief

After nearly two months of taking in donations, the Hurricane Sandy New Jersey Relief Fund will soon be disbursing the cash it's raised.

Grapevine has learned that the fund's board is poised to announce its grant-making process shortly, with the goal being to announce the process by the end of the year.

The fund was set up Nov. 5 to assist residents hurt by the storm, and is being chaired by first lady Mary Pat Christie. Former U.S. Sen. Bill Bradley is honorary vice-chairman. The fund is working with experts who helped administer relief funds after Hurricane Katrina, in 2005, and the 2010 earthquake that devastated Haiti.

Even as the grant-making process begins, the fund continues to raise money at a brisk pace. As of last week, the fund had raised $26.5 million from more than 11,000 donors. Donations are still being accepted online at www.sandynjrelieffund.org.

Grapevine reports on the behind-the-scenes buzz in the business community. Contact Editor Sharon Waters at sharonw@njbiz.com.

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Write to the Editorial Department at editorial@njbiz.com

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