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This Week in Politics: A Single-Digit Showdown for Senate in NJ

With all the focus on efforts to flip the House this November, and the media coverage of contested congressional seats in New Jersey and New York, one could be forgiven for forgetting there's a U.S. Senate race going on in the Garden State. And according to the latest Quinnipiac Poll, it's a single digit contest. In the late August poll of likely voters, Democratic Senator Bob Menendez leads over Republican challenger, former pharmaceutical executive Bob Hugin by just 6 percentage points. This week, Patrick Murray – the Director of the Monmouth University Polling Institute – joins David Furst for a closer look at New Jersey's senate race. For more info, check out our 2018 election guide.

Review: 'The True' Is Truly Extraordinary

In "The True," Polly Noonan is the power behind the throne — in this case, the long-serving mayor of Albany, Erastus Corning. Polly was a real person (her given name was Dorothea; Polly was a nickname) and, though it's barely hinted at in the play, the grandmother of Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand. She also had a complicated relationship with Corning — there were rumors that they were having an affair while both were married to other people. But playwright Sharr White didn't interview Noonan's family; this isn't documentary theater. Instead, it's a rich, imagined look at the local Albany Democratic machine told through the story of a woman who loves it. It's 1977, and Noonan will do everything she can to ensure that Corning (Michael McKean) gets re-elected when faced with a tough primary fight. In actor Edie Falco's hands, Polly Noonan becomes one of the great characters of the American stage — confrontational, foul-mouthed, smart, funny, vulnerable. She's a woman without an official political job, who nonetheless cracks the whip of power with tough authority. Noonan is a sharp political mind: it's clear that Corning won't win without her strategizing and her behind-the-scenes machinations. But he sidelines her because of the personal rumors, and that leaves her very hurt. This love triangle may have been true in real life (no one's sure), yet it doesn't always serve the dramatic narrative. My one quibble with the play is how strongly Noonan's romantic feelings guide her actions. She just doesn't seem the type — and the scenes between the two of them are a touch too sentimental. In fact, they are a stark contrast to the scenes between Noonan and her husband Peter (an understated, excellent Peter Scolari), which feel like they add up to the real, rueful portrait of a long marriage. In any case, the main love story of this drama isn't between Noonan and her husband, or Noonan and Corning. It's between Noonan and the patronage system (not the machine — as she says, "machines don't have a heart."). She believes that politics works best when it has concrete payoffs for voters. It is heartbreaking to watch her begin to understand that not everyone feels the same and that the system she loves might lead to deeper corruption than she knows. White doesn't gesture toward current politics, but he doesn't have to. This play, about a moment in time when perceptions of the machine were starting to change, is still deeply relevant in an era when Albany corruption continues to be uncovered. It is also an extraordinary portrait of a woman who, in a different time, may have — like her granddaughter — become a political leader herself. "The True," by Sharr White, directed by Scott Elliott. Presented by the New Group at the Pershing Square Signature Center, through Oct. 28.

Bergen Sheriff Resigns After Racist Remarks Caught on Tape

Bergen County Sheriff Michael Saudino resigned Friday under pressure from officials across the state after WNYC broadcast a secretly taped conversation that included the sheriff making racist remarks about black people and the state attorney general. Saudino, a 47-year veteran of law enforcement, stepped down at 3 p.m., as did all four his undersheriffs — two of whom were involved in the recorded conversation, according to the source who provided the tape. On the tape, Saudino, a white Democrat, disparaged black people and said they shouldn't be let into his county. He described state Attorney General Gurbir Grewal, whom he worked with for years, as being nothing more than an unqualified minority. And then he admitted to breaking a rule involving the use of his officers. Saudino's conversation last winter was recorded by a person in the room and provided, late Wednesday night, to WNYC. Saudino's spokesperson was asked about the recording on Thursday at 7 a.m. By noon, Gov. Phil Murphy, a fellow Democrat, was calling for him to resign. A long list of Democrats followed suit: Two congressmen, the Bergen County executive and the leaders of the state legislature. But Saudino dug in his heels, releasing a statement Thursday night to apologize, but refusing to step down. On Friday, Saudino skipped a public event and didn't show up to the office. By mid-afternoon he announced his resignation. The sheriff's office sixth-in-command, Chief Kevin Pell, will run the department pending Murphy's appointment of an interim sheriff. The Bergen County Prosecutor's Office will oversee operations, according to Grewal, the attorney general. An election for the next sheriff will be held in November 2019. "The fact that a top official could make racist comments about the African-American community — and that no one in the room would challenge or correct him — raises serious concerns," Grewal said in a written statement. Notably, he did not mention Saudino's racist slander that Murphy only appointed Grewal because of "the turban." "The overwhelming majority of law enforcement officers in Bergen County and across New Jersey are honorable public servants who care deeply about the work they do and the way they do it," Grewal said. "Their good work — performed day-in, day-out — is ultimately what will help repair the damage brought about by Sheriff Saudino's highly inappropriate comments." Grewal also raised the possibility of an investigation into the sheriff's office. A newly launched Office of Public Integrity and Accountability will work with the prosecutor's office to examine "whether there are deeper issues that warrant a wider investigation." The recording was secretly taped on the day of Murphy's inauguration after Saudino returned from the ceremony. Saudino is heard telling colleagues what Murphy said in his speech: "He talked about the whole thing, the marijuana, sanctuary state...better criminal justice reform. Christ almighty, in other words let the blacks come in, do whatever the f*** they want, smoke their marijuana, do this do that, and don't worry about it. You know, we'll tie the hands of cops." Later in the recording Saudino admits to breaking a rule about corrections officers on the K-9 unit. That refers to how the county police department was recently disbanded and absorbed into the sheriff's department, putting Saudino in charge of corrections officers, police officers and sheriff's officers. Police officers laid off in this process say corrections officers assigned to the county jail are now doing police jobs on the street that they are unqualified for — like working on the K-9 unit. The admission from Saudino that he misused his force could be fodder for a state investigation. The sheriff's office is the largest law enforcement agency in New Jersey's most populous county. It run the jail, which now mostly operates as a contracted detention center for Immigration and Customs Enforcement. More than 500 immigrants from New York are detained there in unusually difficult conditions: They are not allowed to make physical contact with their children and spouses. Saudino was making $130,000 in the job, plus another $130,000 a year for a pension he received as a retired police chief. Murphy on Friday promised to restore faith in the sheriff's office, and make sure "bigoted beliefs displayed by the former sheriff are not given shelter." He said the interim sheriff he appoints will rebuild the public's trust. Saudino's resignation statement was curt. It included neither regrets nor an apology.

So You Got Elected to County Committee. Now Comes the Messy Part.

In the Bronx, Queens, and Brooklyn, hundreds of people are learning what it means to be county committee members. That's because in last week's primary, voters chose committee members who represent them within the local democratic or republican party. WNYC's Shumita Basu shared impressions of a county committee meeting in the Bronx on Thursday night, where newly-elected members mixed with the old guard. No judicial nomination announced for Jeff Klein at this @bronxdems meeting. Chairman @MarcosCrespo85 says: Yes, I supported Klein, but we have to respect the votes of the people and work with @Biaggi4NY. — Shumita Basu (@shubasu) September 21, 2018 And WNYC's Yasmeen Khan updated her reporting on suspicious mailers sent to members of the Brooklyn County Committee ahead of next week's meeting. I've been hearing about these letters all day. They're asking for county committee members to turn over proxy power to BK Democratic Party boss Frank Seddio — Yasmeen Khan (@yasmeenkhan) September 21, 2018 Basu and Khan spoke to WNYC's Jami Floyd.

Tennis' Battle Of The Sexes Match Still Resonates 45 Years Later

This week marks the 45th anniversary of the Battle of the Sexes, the landmark tennis match between 29-year-old Billie Jean King and 55-year-old Bobby Riggs. King soundly defeated Riggs in the three-set match, instantly becoming an symbol for women's equality on and off the court. Her victory was timely. It came in the first year of Title IX, which required the government to equally fund both men and women's sports programming in colleges across the country. The issue of gender inequality in professional tennis made headlines again recently, when Serena Williams protested a penalty she perceived to be sexist during a championship match in this year's U.S. Open in Queens. Caitlin Thompson, founder of Racquet Magazine, spoke with WNYC's Richard Hake about the historic match, and how much has — and hasn't — changed in the decades since.

Review: The Other Bauhaus

Everyone interested in art history knows about the Bauhaus, the adventuresome school in Weimar, Germany, that put crafts on equal footing with high art. But inevitably you are less familiar with "The People's Art School," a similarly progressive academy that was founded in the snowy provinces of Vitebsk, Russia, in 1918, just a few months before the Bauhaus. The Vitebsk school is now the subject of a fascinating group show at the Jewish Museum that brings together the work of about a dozen of its faculty and students. The three best-known among them are mentioned in the title – an act of snobbism that flies in the face of the collectivist beliefs explored by the show. No matter. "Chagall, Lissitzky, Malevich: The Russian Avant-Garde in Vitebsk, 1918-22" offers a deeply satisfying introduction to an overlooked moment in art history. In 1918, in the wake of the Russian Revolution, Marc Chagall became head of the brand-new, tuition-free People's Art School in his native Vitebsk. It was a triumphant period for Chagall, not least because the Revolution granted full-fledged citizenship to Russian Jews for the first time. His eight-foot-tall painting, "Double Portrait with Wine Glass" – in which the artist sits astride his wife's shoulders, raising a glass – looks almost tipsy with optimism. A year after the opening of the school, Kazimir Malevich arrived and joined the faculty. He quickly became Chagall's nemesis. While Chagall painted poetic scenes of his hometown – with cows and goats and upside down houses – Malevich, the founder of Suprematism, demanded that realistic subject matter be jettisoned from art. His paintings, with their airy arrangements of crosses and rectangles rendered in stark red and black, have the look of revolt, and students immediately signed on. To Chagall's dismay, his own students abandoned him, quickly switching to Malevich's class and the vogue for geometric abstraction. Chagall resigned from the school and moved away from Vitebsk. Not all of the work in the Jewish Museum show is first-rate, but it's not intended to be. Instead, it evocatively captures one of those rare moments in history when art fervor blended with political fervor. How best to capture it? The other day I watched "Chagall-Malevich," a Russian film that came out in 2014, and is available online. As far as period dramas go, it's a bit heavy-handed, but it includes some wonderful scenes of the cobblestone streets of Vitebsk festooned with Suprematist-style posters, banners and trolley car decorations. They're a poignant reminder that the People's Art School began as a utopian project, but produced only one graduating class. Sadly, it resembles the Bauhaus not only in its early idealism, but in its tragic defeat by the forces of fascism. 'Mystic Suprematism (Red Cross on Black Circle)' from 1920-22 by Kazimir Malevich now on view at the Jewish Museum. (Stedelijk Museum Collection, Amsterdam. Ownership recognized by agreement with the estate of Kazimir Malevich, 2008)

Percoco Corruption Called "Corrosive" by Sentencing Judge

A former aide so close to New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo that he considered him like a brother was sentenced to six years in prison Thursday for fraud and accepting bribes. The judge said she hopes the punishment "will be heard in Albany." U.S. District Judge Valerie E. Caproni tried to put the sentencing of Joseph Percoco in perspective, noting other recent high-profile convictions of state leaders. She said those seeking the modest salaries of government jobs should not seek to supplement their incomes by accepting bribes. "If you do so, this court will show you no mercy," she said. Percoco, 49, was convicted in March of accepting more than $300,000 from companies that wanted to gain influence with the Cuomo administration. The conviction was an election-year embarrassment for Cuomo. His opponents say it proves the two-term Democrat hasn't done enough to address chronic corruption in state government, even within his own administration. Prosecutors had asked Caproni to sentence Percoco to well over five years in prison. His lawyers said he should get no more than two years. Cuomo wasn't accused of wrongdoing, but testimony presented an unflattering picture of the inner workings of his office. In a statement after the sentence was announced, Cuomo said: "Joe Percoco is paying the price for violating the public trust. And it should serve as a warning to anyone who failed to uphold his or her oath as a public servant. On a personal level, the human tragedy for Joe's young children and family is a very sad consequence." In a court filing, Percoco's lawyers wrote that his punishment has already begun. "The trial - which played out on the pages of virtually every newspaper and media outlet in New York - has all but destroyed Joe's life. Joe faces impending bankruptcy and a substantial term of incarceration," they wrote. In court, Percoco told Caproni he wanted to "express how sorry I am for my actions." Outside court, Percoco declined to comment, walking away as he was asked if he had remorse. His lawyer, Barry Bohrer, said outside court that it was a "difficult day in court." He vowed to appeal. "We had hoped for better. Obviously it is not the sentence we requested but it wasn't the sentence the government requested either. Mr. Percoco is a man of strength and a man of faith. He has faith in the system and we are hopeful that our appeal will be successful," Bohrer said. Prosecutors in pretrial submissions had called on Caproni to send a message to state officials. "As the Court is aware, and all too sadly, Percoco's trial exposed wrongdoing at high levels of state government that is hardly aberrant. Recent prosecutions and trials in this district have laid bare the ugly truth that, too often, political power and responsibility in New York leads to political corruption," they wrote. After the sentence was announced, U.S. Attorney Geoffrey S. Berman said in a statement that the punishment "sends a strong message that public officials who violate their duties to faithfully serve the citizens of New York will be held accountable for their corrupt actions." During the state's Democratic primary contest, Cuomo's opponent, Cynthia Nixon, dismissed the governor's explanation that he didn't know about Percoco's misdeeds. "We have either incompetence or corruption," she said. "Which is it?" The scandal didn't substantially hurt Cuomo with Democrats. He won in a landslide. But his Republican opponent in the general election, Dutchess County Executive Marc Molinaro, has picked up the cudgel, asking police to investigate Percoco's use of a state office and telephone while he was leading Cuomo's 2014 re-election bid. Percoco plays a big role in Molinaro's "Cuomo Corruption Tour," a series of campaign events that he launched last week.

Sweeping School Desegregation Plan Approved in Brooklyn

City officials approved a plan to overhaul admissions in one Brooklyn school district on Thursday, in one of the most striking examples of desegregation under the administration of Mayor Bill de Blasio. Middle schools will no longer grant admission based on grades, test scores and attendance across District 15, which spans Park Slope, Red Hook and Sunset Park. Enrollment in the coming school year will instead be based on a lottery system that offers preference to English language learners, students from low-income backgrounds and those in temporary housing. The plan was developed through public engagement sessions over the course of a year, with input from parents in the district, which is more racially diverse than many others. Students currently enrolled in middle schools across District 15 are 42 percent Hispanic, 31 percent white, 12 percent Asian, and 12 percent black, according to city officials. Schools Chancellor Richard Carranza applauded the effort to make classrooms more reflective of both the racial and economic diversity in the district, and said the plan could serve as a "template" for other districts. "It's a top-down, bottom-up approach," he said. "From the top, we're signaling that we want communities to do this work and that we'll pay for it. We'll invest in this work." The plan's approval was announced at M.S. 51 in Park Slope, a school that had been attended by both the mayor's children. He said he worked with other parents on a plan to better integrate schools in the district 15 years ago, but received "the coldest shoulder" from the Department of Education. "You can feel in the air that momentum for diversity is growing, momentum for change is growing," he said. He noted that there has been a similar change in the admissions policy in District 3, which spans the Upper West Side and Harlem. That plan, when it was in the proposal stage, received far more vocal push back from parents. They were concerned that grouping students with varied academic achievements would lower education standards. Lenore DiLeo, principal of M.S. 51, said teachers are prepared for more diverse classrooms. She said that if teachers are supported, "I know that they can do greater things to a greater extent to meet the needs — whether it's culturally or academically — to meet the needs of all the students in this district." Eliza Seki, a seventh grade student involved in developing the desegregation plan, said schools aren't just about learning from textbooks. "If everyone has the same experience and the same background, no one is going to learn about things that are going to happen in the real world, especially in such a diverse city," she said. Seki said she felt it was important that students like her had a say in the plan. Those leading the charge sought input from across the district, but Neal Zephyrin, a member of the district's community education council, said that the black, Hispanic, and Asian parents who predominate in Red Hook and Sunset Park had been less involved than white parents in Park Slope. At a recent dismissal time at the Red Hook Neighborhood School, WNYC spoke to more than a dozen parents. Not one had heard of the plan. In the next phase, the Department of Education will reach out to parents and inform them about their children's school options.

Bergen County Sheriff Questions If the NJ Lieutenant Governor Is Gay

The recording also included an admission by Saudino that he broke a "rule" involving corrections officers, as well as an inquiry about whether Lt. Gov. Sheila Oliver, who is unmarried, is gay.

Bergen County Sheriff Says NJ Attorney General Chosen Solely Because He Wears a Turban

Excerpt from a tape recording made Jan. 16, 2018.

Bergen County Sheriff Says NJ Attorney General Chosen Solely Because He Wears a Turban

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