The truth about politics in New Jersey

Having worked in two state-wide campaigns in New Jersey, it is not true that the Garden State is dirtier or more corrupt than other states.

New Jersey has long been mocked as “the dirtiest state in the nation.” That is not true. Did anyone make that claim when Tom Kean was the governor? No. He was -- and is -- honest and ethical -- and for those eight years there was not one whiff of dirt or scandal.

The “dirtiness” and “corruption” that arises from time to time in any state government is not endemic to that state; rather, it comes from the individual occupying the governor’s chair. 


For example, Connecticut’s recently jailed governor, John Rowland, was found to have illegally accepted “gifts” – free improvements to his country home - from a contractor. Off to federal prison he went. But there wasn’t the stench of corruption throughout the state government; it was confined to Governor Rowland -- and when he was removed, the corruption was removed.

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The Chris Christie Scandals – what some are calling "BridgeGate" and now the latest revelations about Hoboken-Sandy-Aid – reflect on the personality and character of the governor himself.

Governor Christie has proclaimed "The Godfather" as his favorite movie. In that saga, Michael Corleone, played by Al Pacino, takes over the “Corleone Family” business and then exacts punishing and vicious revenge and payback on any and everyone who has ever crossed the family. 

In one of the movie’s most telling scenes, upon becoming godfather to his sister’s first-born baby at the christening in a Catholic church, a simultaneous series of murderous shootings and stranglings take place – all aimed at settling old scores.

Those who have followed Christie know that Jersey politicians who cross the governor find themselves receiving almost-immediate -- and often simultaneous -- payback. There are abruptly cancelled appointments – all within a few hours of each other, protective security details withdrawn, relatives suddenly removed from state positions, university grants withdrawn, favorite programs line-item vetoed out of the state budget by the governor. It goes on and on. Not illegal. Just rough and tough and very macho. You cross me and you’ll pay!

The problem with this way of governing is that it infects everyone down the chain of command to the point where they compete to see who is the roughest and toughest. And then they start to cross the line – and a horrendously idiotic stunt like closing the four GW Bridge lanes happens. And then comes the inevitable cover-up. And then comes lawyers and subpoenas and pleas and immunity deals. The whole Godfather mentality leads to mass self-destruction.

Chris Christie has set this tone for his government. His public castigations of voters, teachers and people on the boardwalk – calling them “idiots” for example – is now reflected in the subpoenaed emails where his top staffers refer to mayors as “idiots – or with disparaging ethnic characterizations attached.

The governor ought to remember that he works for the people. Attacking them – even the ones who disagree with them – is disrespectful. Would anyone go after their Boss this way? Of course not.

Governor Christie has been called a “bully.” But a more accurate appellation would be a “bulldozer” – and anyone who gets in his way gets run over by Team Christie. 

Thus you get a Hoboken situation, where the Lieutenant Governor and the Commissioner of Community Affairs are tasked to play the Tough Guy role in trying to “bulldoze” Mayor Zimmer into agreeing to allow a private development deal favored by the Governor to go forward. 

His leverage? Sandy Relief money. 

Mr. Tough Guy – who loves to "make an offer they can't refuse," tried to strong-arm Mayor Zimmer into doing what he wanted. A Christie supporter and fan, she was crushed to see this other side of the governor. In this case, however, she stood up to him – and now it is all coming unglued and may even lead to the end of Christie’s political career.

No matter what happens, the American people do not want to see Michael Corleone sitting in the Oval Office.