A new movie out this week will leave viewers laughing and cringing about the crazy politics in a state unlike any other. It’s called “The Soprano State, New Jersey’s Culture of Corruption, The Documentary: Part One.” It will be released in select Clearview Cinemas in the New Jersey/New York area beginning Friday, October 22.
The film traces the operatically grotesque culture of bribery, money laundering, public project kickbacks, sexual shenanigans, political shakedowns, and looting of the public purse that has made New Jersey a political joke, from colonial times to the present.
The documentary, inspired by the bestselling book by Bob Ingle and Sandy McClure, is narrated by the comedian, singer and actor Tony Darrow, renowned for playing mobsters in movies like Goodfellas and in the erstwhile hit TV series “The Sopranos,” about a (fictional) New Jersey gangster, Tony Soprano.
The documentary shows that when it comes to corruption in New Jersey, truth trumps fiction or, as Darrow jokes in one of his many profane comments, “Bada bing. You can’t make this sh*t up.”
In an interview yesterday with Martha MacCallum of Fox News, Ingle said that bid rigging and political kickbacks have been so rife in New Jersey that he estimates that to build and maintain a mile of road in the Garden State it costs $1 million dollars more per mile than anywhere else.
In the documentary, Ingle cites one maddening example of a New Jersey school built (with $1 million in public money) on a base of trucked-in contaminated dirt. The school was quickly torn down at even greater taxpayer expense because some brilliant person pointed out that, uh, children couldn’t attend a school built on contaminated dirt.
The movie’s hero is New Jersey’s Republican Governor Chris Christie who, as the state’s U.S. Attorney, won convictions or guilty pleas from a colorfully corrupt collection of 130 public officials (Republicans and Democrats) without ever losing a case.
The movie’s villains include Sharpe James, who was allowed by New Jersey’s perversely permissive laws to simultaneously serve as both state Senator and mayor of Newark. -- James got paid for both positions while taking advantage of many opportunities for conflicts of interest. James’ salaries alone couldn’t pay for his Rolls Royce, yacht and expensive wardrobe. As “The Soprano State” shows, James’ riches came from a property purchase and resale scam he ran in Newark through his mistress while the rest of the city festered with crumbling neighborhoods, dysfunctional schools and debilitating crime. After 20 years of corrupt activity, James finally got nailed for fraud in 2008 by a federal jury; yet he is still lionized by many in Newark.
One of the wonders of “The Soprano State” is why the citizens of New Jersey put up with massive corruption involving James and others featured in the movie, including former Governors Jon Corzine and Jim McGreevey.
The closest the documentary comes to an answer is that the cynical citizens of New Jersey figured that’s just the way it’s done in “The Soprano State.” -- Until Christie, that is. Indeed, without putting it this way, the documentary portrays decades of New Jersey’s corrupt politicians as if they were “Untouchables” and it turns Christie into a modern day Eliot Ness, the famous government agent whose crime fighting brought many mobsters—including Al Capone—to justice in the 1920’s and ‘30’s.
“The Soprano State” will fuel talk of Christie as a Republican presidential candidate in 2012—although he currently says he won’t run. Christie attended last night’s premier of the documentary in New York City with his wife, Mary Pat. Producer Steve Kalafer hailed Christie for making himself so available to the filmmakers.
“The Soprano State” will undoubtedly draw the same loud groans and rueful chuckles from audiences in New Jersey and New York as it did from the audience at the premier -- which included cast members of “The Sopranos.”
Christie says in the film that if you want to clean up political corruption you have to clean up a state—not just its image. Extend that thought to the our nation just before the midterm elections. It makes you wonder what Christie’s role might be in a “Part Two” of this documentary.
Communications consultant Jon Kraushar is at www.jonkraushar.net.
Watch the film’s trailer here.