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Prudential Financial has been quiet about plans to build a new skyscraper in downtown Newark, but legal filings tied to the project are beginning to stack up.

A series of lawsuits challenging the plan are now pending in New Jersey's court system, a source said, threatening to slow the project for much of this year. Driving the litigation are three of Prudential's current landlords at Newark's Gateway Center, which would lose the insurance giant as a tenant once the 20-story building opens.

Last month, a Superior Court judge denied Prudential's motion to throw out a suit challenging its redevelopment agreement with Newark, the source said. That means Gateway's attorneys will be able to press their case for invalidating the document, which the lawsuit says is rife with conflicts of interest. The complaint also takes issue with the redevelopment agreement because it does not require studies of the project's impact on city infrastructure.

Prudential spokesman Bob DeFillippo said he couldn't discuss active litigation, but "we're continuing and we're proceeding with the project." He also declined to say whether the company has set a timetable or a groundbreaking for the development.

The landlords, meanwhile, have not relented in a separate challenge against the EDA, which awarded Prudential a $211 million tax credit for the project. The source said the case is pending before an appeals court, which could set arguments for later this year.

Prudential's project calls for building a 740,000-square-foot office complex alongside Military Park, some two blocks north of Prudential's headquarters. The $444 million project, which has been championed by city officials and other landlords, was approved in August by the Newark planning board.

Musical chairs

Speculation has begun among Democrats about whether John Wisniewski will remain the Democratic state party chairman, and who might replace him if he should step down. However, other Democrats say such talk is premature, and that the party's gubernatorial primary winner usually has a say in who becomes the chair.

One Democrat said Wisniewski will stay until June, but will likely not seek another term. Another said there has been talk, described as rumor, that Wisniewski may want to spend more time focusing on his law practice. A third said there is "strong, growing dissatisfaction" with Wisniewski.

Names floated included lawmakers Albio Sires, Nellie Pou, Troy Singleton and Jason O'Donnell, plus Mike Murphy, at Impact NJ; Kevin Hagan, at Princeton Public Affairs Group; and Janice Kovach, now mayor of Clinton.

"If two males running (for governor and lieutenant governor), a woman Dem state chair will be a must," a Democrat said.

Democrats described the job as "tough" "thankless" and even "useless" when the party doesn't have the executive branch, and with redistricting finished. "Would be shocked if someone really wanted to raise the kind of (money) you need to have a good operation there given current circumstances," said one Dem.

Wisniewski said he's proud of his party's accomplishments during his tenure as chairman, including the legislative redistricting and 2012 elections, and "Once we have a Democratic nominee for governor in June, I will confer with party leadership and the nominee about the future of the" committee.

Alicia D'Alessandro, NJDSC spokeswoman, said Wisniewski has been able to focus on his law practice, Assembly job and party chairmanship, and any talk about him spending more time on his business may stem from his statement that he would not run for governor. "Those are apples and oranges," she said.

Party politics

It was a who's who at Jon Bramnick's annual New Year's Eve party. Sources said attendees included Chris Christie, Mary Pat Christie, Jim McGreevey, Don DiFrancesco, Kim Guadagno and governor staff including Regina Egea and Michael Drewniak, along with wife Nicole Davidman.

Republican legislators included Anthony M. Bucco, Mary Pat Angelini, John Amodeo, Donna Simon, Caroline Casagrande, Robert Clifton, Nancy Munoz and Holly Schepisi.

Attendees also included Bramnick's Westfield Five neighbors: Bill Palatucci, Rich Bagger, Mike DuHaime and Tom Kean Jr. Basketball star Earl Monroe and Murphy, with Impact NJ, also were there.

Bramnick wouldn't name any attendees. He said he considered canceling the party due to Hurricane Sandy but then decided to use it to raise money for the Hurricane Sandy New Jersey Relief Fund.

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

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