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Grapevine: Ray of light for Pernetti

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Ray Lesniak, left, and Tim Pernetti.

Ray Lesniak is still upset about Tim Pernetti's forced resignation during the Mike Rice mess, and is casting blame on Bob Barchi, saying the Rutgers president made the athletics director a scapegoat.

"Barchi makes (Richard) McCormick look like Mason Gross," said Lesniak, about what he labeled a "rush to judgment" on Pernetti. "It takes courage and fortitude to admit when you've made a mistake. A mistake was made when Pernetti's resignation was demanded, and he was made a scapegoat for following an institutional process that was inadequate."

Lesniak, a lawyer by trade, believes Rutgers administrators got too lawyered up while evaluating what to do about Rice's behavior, which included kicking and pushing players, and hurling homophobic slurs at them. The Rutgers managers acted under the philosophy of "basically you can't fire (Rice) because we'll be subject to a wrongful discharge, so this is what you do to cover your ass." Lesniak said Rutgers administrators needed "to go beyond the four corners of a legal document" and consider the human issues involved.

On April 17, Lesniak, a 1971 Rutgers grad, sent a letter to Barchi, and copied the boards of governors and trustees, Chris Christie, Steve Sweeney and Sheila Oliver. The letter asks Barchi to not accept Pernetti's resignation and "to acknowledge the institutional failures of the university up and down the chain of command."

Asked about the response to the letter, Lesniak said, "I haven't heard from anyone yet, but I know it's being discussed among the board of governors. I have been told that. I don't know anything more than that."

A Rutgers spokesman issued this statement: "For more than 30 years, Senator Lesniak has been among the very strongest supporters of the university in the Legislature. His passion for all things Rutgers is exceeded by no member of the state Assembly or Senate. That being said, we think it is far more appropriate to work with and respond to the senator personally and not through the media."

Izzo's strong, energetic words

Ralph Izzo seems mild-mannered enough, but he didn't mince words during a recent edit board meeting while talking about the Chemistry Council of NJ's opposition to PSE&G's Energy Strong proposal.

Izzo believes the association is protesting the proposal even though their members don't know—or don't care—about the $3.9 billion investment program for utility infrastructure upgrades.

"I would wager everything short of my children's health that those CEOs have no idea what Energy Strong is," said the chairman and CEO of parent company PSEG.

Izzo said the association previously would complain about the state Department of Environmental Protection and taxes, and now they have Energy Strong to add to the list, providing "a disproportionate amount of rancor" on the issue.

"At the end of the day, they have to demonstrate some value, and this is what they've chosen," said Izzo.

Industrial customers, like chemical companies, represent only 11 percent of PSE&G's customer base, according to Izzo.

Asked for a reaction, Hal Bozarth, executive director of the Chemistry Council of NJ issued this statement: "This issue is important to CCNJ because our members pay some of the highest electricity rates in the nation, 57 percent above the national average. For some energy-intensive products, energy for both fuel and power needs and feedstocks account for up to 85 percent of total production costs; therefore, high energy costs put our members at an economic disadvantage."

Bozarth continued: "Also, for the last six years, CCNJ companies have unanimously ranked energy costs as one of the top two issues of concern facing their companies in New Jersey. Our members' top concerns, in this case energy costs, drive our advocacy efforts."

Navigating health care reform

Grapevine has learned that about 30 entities, primarily nonprofit organizations, are interested in becoming "navigators" that will help enroll uninsured New Jerseyans in health insurance when the federal government launches a health insurance exchange for New Jersey on Oct. 1 under the Affordable Care Act.

The Department of Health and Human Services is allocating $1.5 million to New Jersey for outreach and enrollment to the uninsured, many of them eligible for federal subsidies to help pay for coverage. A source close to the process told Grapevine that two organizations or a consortium of organizations likely will be designated as navigators by Aug. 15.

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

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