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TRENTON, N.J. (AP) - The federal prosecutor who helped convict former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich is being asked to investigate the apparent political payback scandal involving New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie's administration.
 
The New Jersey Assembly tapped former assistant U.S. Attorney Reid Schar, who helped convict Blagojevich of corruption, as special counsel Wednesday.
 
The special counsel will advise a legislative committee investigating a plot that shut down lanes to the George Washington Bridge for four days in September.
 
The shutdown caused massive traffic jams in the town of Fort Lee. The plot apparently was hatched as a political vendetta, possibly against the town's Democratic mayor for not endorsing the Republican governor's re-election.
 
Four members of Christie's circle have been fired or resigned.
 
Christie, a possible 2016 presidential candidate, has apologized.
Published in National News
TRENTON, N.J. (AP) - New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie says his administration "let down the people we are entrusted to serve" in an apparent political payback scandal but says it doesn't define his team or the state.
 
Christie made the comments Tuesday in his annual State of the State speech less than one week after revelations that at least one of his top aides helped plan politically motivated lane closures last year that led to massive gridlock. The widening scandal threatens to undermine his second term and a possible presidential run.
 
Christie addressed the issue only briefly before taking credit for improving the state's economy. According to a prepared version of the speech provided by his office, he spent only 148 words talking about the lane closings, which has been the biggest scandal of his governorship
Published in National News
FORT LEE, N.J. (AP) - Gov. Chris Christie has arrived in a northern New Jersey borough to apologize in person to the mayor for traffic jams that were apparently created as political payback.
 
Fort Lee Mayor Mark Sokolich had urged the governor not to make the trip late Thursday, though he said he accepts the governor's apology. Sokolich wants to see if more details emerge from various investigations.
 
Christie did not comment as he entered the Fort Lee municipal building.
 
The governor publicly apologized at a Trenton news conference Thursday morning after emails seemed to show an aide wanted highway lanes near the George Washington Bridge closed in September because the mayor wasn't endorsing Christie.
 
Christie fired the aide.
 
Sokolich says he hopes Christie will apologize again if investigations reveal additional misconduct.
Published in National News

   ASBURY PARK, N.J. (AP) — The 2016 overtones were clear in this year's two most high-profile elections.

   Republican Gov. Chris Christie's resounding re-election victory in Democratic-leaning New Jersey sets the opening argument for a possible White House run while Terry McAuliffe's gubernatorial victory gives fellow Democrats — if not his confidante Hillary Rodham Clinton, herself — a road map for success in the pivotal presidential swing-voting state.

   Christie became the first Republican to earn more than 50 percent of the New Jersey vote in a quarter-century. McAuliffe is the first member of the party occupying the White House to become Virginia governor since 1977.

   Among a slate of off-year balloting from coast to coast, New York City voters also elected Bill De Blasio, making him the first Democrat to lead the nation's largest city since 1989. Colorado agreed to tax marijuana at 25 percent, and Houston rejected turning the Astrodome into a convention hall, likely dooming it to demolition. Alabama Republicans chose the establishment-backed Bradley Byrne over a tea party-supported rival in a special congressional runoff election in the conservative state.

   Turnout was relatively light — even in the most hard-fought races. Without presidential or congressional elections on the books, voters were primarily hard-core partisans. But to win, both gubernatorial victors sounded a tone of pragmatic bipartisanship — at a time of dysfunctional divided government in Washington — and, because of that pitch, they managed to cobble together a diverse cross-section of voters from across the political spectrum.

   In Virginia, McAuliffe eked out a smaller-than-expected victory over conservative Republican Ken Cuccinelli. Exit polls found Cuccinelli fared well among core right-flank constituents — tea partyers, gun owners and rural voters. But the victor, McAuliffe, held advantages among unmarried women, voters who called abortion a top issue and the vote-rich Washington suburbs.

   "Over the next four years most Democrats and Republicans want to make Virginia a model of pragmatic leadership," said McAuliffe, a Democrat taking the helm in a state where Republicans control the Legislature. "This is only possible if Virginia is the model for bipartisan cooperation."

   Democrats won the top two offices in Virginia, while the attorney general's race was too close to call. Democrats, who already control both Senate seats, hoped this election would give them control of all major statewide offices for the first time since 1970, a rejection of the conservatism that has dominated for the past four years.

   "Virginia's on its way becoming reliably blue," Democratic National Committee chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz said.

   In New Jersey, Christie coasted to a second term, defeating little-known Democratic state Sen. Barbara Buono.

   He assembled a winning coalition with broad support among constituencies that don't reliably vote Republican. Exit polls show that Christie carried a majority of women and split Hispanics with Buono. He improved on his share of the vote among blacks in 2009 by more than 10 percentage points.

   Christie's advisers saw his ability to draw support from Democrats, independents and minorities as a winning argument ahead of 2016, pitching him as the most electable candidate in what could be a crowded presidential primary field.

   "As your governor, it has never mattered where someone is from, whether they voted for me or not, what the color of their skin was, or their political party. For me, being governor has always about getting the job done, first," Christie told supporters inside a rowdy convention hall in Asbury Park, N.J., just steps away from the same Jersey Shore that was devastated by Superstorm Sandy a year ago.

   Taken together, the results in individual states and cities yielded no broad judgments on how the American public feels about today's two biggest national political debates — government spending and health care — which are more likely to shape next fall's midterm elections.

   Even so, Tuesday's voting had local impact.

   Other races of note:

   —In Alabama, the GOP's internal squabbles played out in the special congressional runoff primary election. Bradley Byrne, a veteran politician and the choice of the GOP establishment, won against tea party favorite Dean Young. The race was the first test of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce's promise to try to influence primaries. The group had pumped at least $200,000 into supporting Byrne.

   —Big city mayors: In New York, de Blasio cruised to victory over Republican Joe Lhota after Michael Bloomberg's 12-year tenure. Atlanta, Boston, Detroit, Minneapolis, Seattle and other cities also chose mayors.

   —Colorado: Voters agreed to tax marijuana at 25 percent and apply the proceeds to regulating the newly legalized drug and building schools. And 10 rural counties refused to approve secession from the state. One county narrowly voted to secede, but it was a symbolic gesture.

   ___

   Elliott reported from Virginia. Associated Press Director of Polling Jennifer Agiesta, and writers Bill Barrow and Christina Almeida Cassidy in Georgia, Kristen Wyatt in Colorado, Chris Grygiel in Washington state, Corey Williams in Michigan, Thomas Beaumont in Iowa and Nedra Pickler in Washington contributed to this report.

Published in National News

   PARAMUS, N.J. (AP) - Authorities say a man suspected of firing multiple shots and causing a lockdown at New Jersey's largest shopping mall has been found dead of a self-inflicted wound.

   Bergen County Prosecutor John Molinelli says the body of 20-year-old Richard Shoop of Teaneck was found in a back area of the Garden State Plaza mall in Paramus early Tuesday. He says Shoop killed himself with the same weapon he used at the mall and that a note has been found.

   There were no other injuries.

   Police received reports of man who fired multiple shots shortly before the mall's 9:30 p.m. closing time on Monday, sending customers and employees rushing hysterically for the exits and hiding places.

   The mall, which has more than 270 stores, is located in Bergen County, about 15 miles northwest of Manhattan.

Published in National News
Saturday, 19 October 2013 10:08

NJ offices add hours for marriage sign up

JERSEY CITY, N.J. (AP) — City halls in several New Jersey cities and towns are adding extra office hours today to accept marriage license applications for same-sex couples.

The state's highest court says the marriages can start Monday. Jersey City, Hoboken, and Asbury Park clerk's offices will be open today.

Gov. Chris Christie says he disagrees with the state Supreme Court ruling to recognize same-sex marriages in the state, but he will comply with the decision. He says the people, rather than the courts, should have been the ones to decide the issue.

Meanwhile, U.S. Sen.-elect Cory Booker says he will officiate at weddings of both gay and heterosexual couples as the mayor of Newark. Booker was elected this week to the Senate and has been a strong supporter of gay rights.

Published in National News
Wednesday, 18 September 2013 01:16

Sandy continues to damage Jersey shore with fire

   TOMS RIVER, N.J. (AP) — Superstorm Sandy still isn't done with the Jersey shore — investigators are blaming the storm for damaging electrical wiring that touched off last week's devastating boardwalk fire in Seaside Park and Seaside Heights.

   And they also said similar danger could be lurking elsewhere underneath other boardwalks, businesses or homes that were exposed to flood waters from the Oct. 29 storm.

   "I'm sure on every boardwalk everywhere (at the Jersey shore), there may be compromised wiring," said Ocean County Prosecutor Joseph Coronato. "We don't want to start a panic mode; we just want to be reasonable. If you're a property owner and you think your electrical work came in contact with water and sand, we strongly recommend you have it inspected."

   Gov. Chris Christie's administration decided the state will use Sandy-recovery money to pay for debris removal. He also pledged $15 million in Sandy money to help rebuild the burned businesses.

   Christie said Tuesday the state will let businesses affected by the fire postpone filing sales and use tax returns that were due this month until Oct. 21 to help them recover.

   The boardwalk fire began accidentally Thursday in aged wiring that had been compromised by salt water and sand during the Oct. 29 storm, federal and county investigators said at a news conference Tuesday. The wind-whipped blaze destroyed more than 50 businesses in the two towns.

   Seaside Heights Mayor William Akers, reached after the briefing, said there is no issue with potentially compromised wiring on the surviving sections of the boardwalk.

   "We did a total rebuild. All 16 blocks got all new wiring," he said.

   In Point Pleasant Beach, one of the approximately half-dozen Sandy-ravaged towns where businesses with electrical connections are located on the boardwalk, Mayor Vincent Barrella said streetlight wiring is all new in a section of the boardwalk that was rebuilt last winter.

   But he said about half the boardwalk, including sections in front of businesses, still needs to be redone this winter. After the prosecutor issued his warning, Barrella said he instructed borough officials to work with the local electric company and identify any wiring that might need to be replaced as part of the upcoming work.

   Flood-damaged wiring caused fires in several houses in Sandy-damaged communities once power was turned back on last November. Many homeowners had to replace their electrical wiring and main electrical boxes before moving back in.

   Investigators said last week's fire began in wiring that dated to the 1970s, and was located under a Kohr's frozen custard stand and the Biscayne Candies shop last Thursday afternoon.

   Jessica Gotthold, a senior special agent with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, said investigators located wires under the boardwalk that somehow came in contact with each other, causing an electrical arc that is believed to have started the fire. Coronato said those wires had been exposed to the storm surge and grating sand action of the storm, which compromised them.

   But as far as why the wires contacted each other, he said, "we will never know."

   The prosecutor said the investigation ruled out all other possible causes of the fire, including careless smoking or a deliberate act of arson. The wiring was inaccessible to the public, he noted.

   Authorities even pulled financial records of the businesses involved in the blaze to make sure no one had a financial motive to start a fire.

   "We left no stone unturned," he said. "This was not a suspicious fire."

Published in National News

   LITTLE EGG HARBOR, N.J. (AP) - Two New Jersey officials say 16 workers from a county garage in Toms River have one of the three winning tickets in the $448 million Powerball jackpot.

   The Press of Atlantic City reports that Ocean County Vehicle Maintenance Department Director Jim Pine and Freeholder Jack Kelly say the employees have the ticket sold at an Acme Markets store in Little Egg Harbor.

   Pine says they're a group of "wonderful, hardworking people," who showed up for work on Thursday.

   Paul White, a 45 year old project engineer from Ham Lake, Minn., claimed his third of the jackpot Thursday. He's taking a lump sum, which will amount to $58.3 million after taxes.

   The holder of the third ticket, also from New Jersey, hasn't come forward yet. That ticket was sold in a supermarket in central New Jersey.

Published in National News

JERSEY CITY, N.J. (AP) - A northern New Jersey sheriff's office has impounded a commuter bus in the first seizure that's part of a new crackdown on the private buses.

Authorities say the driver of a similar bus was on a cellphone when he hit a pole that fell and killed an 8-month-old this week.

A spokesman for the Hudson County Sheriff's Office said officers pulled over a jitney bus Thursday afternoon after it ran a red light and found the driver had a suspended license.

The crackdown was announced Thursday, two days after a bus driven by Idowu Daramola plowed into a pole that fell and killed 8-month-old Angelie Paredes.

Daramola made a brief court appearance Thursday. He's charged with death by auto, reckless driving and using a cellphone while operating a vehicle.

 
Published in National News
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