Having been born in New Jersey and spent considerable time over the last two decades engaged in its politics there is very little that surprises me in this state. Still, even with my antennae up for the absurd, this year has been a special year for my state’s unique brand of electoral madness. Granted, we have had our fair share of elected officials on the 'Perp Walk' and carted off to federal prison, a governor that confessed his sexuality in public and resigned, and another governor who spent a fortune from his personal wealth to get elected and then got entangled in a messy intra-capital romance with a union leader. Not to mention the current governor who is a cross between a member of MTV’s “Jersey Shore” cast and one of Tony’s crew (and that’s not an ethnic reference but a style comparison) from the “Sopranos,” and whose outsized personality earns him more in celebrity points than credit for substance.
When voters in New Jersey go to the polls on Tuesday November 5 it will be their third visit in four months. Yes, we do elections like Dunkin Donuts does coffee. In August there was a primary for the United States Senate, an election to determine the party candidates to seek the seat left vacant by the death of Senator Frank Lautenberg. Rather than schedule the special election to coincide with the already mandated November election, Governor Chris Christie authorized a special October election and on a Wednesday no less. And, our governor stuck us with a $26 million bill for this politically contrived election
Last week’s special Senate election was a gentlemen’s agreement of sorts between Governor Christie and Newark mayor and now Senator-elect Cory Booker. The two have been playing ‘warm and fuzz’ for some time now, each calculating the other’s political moves and motivations. Sensing Booker could challenge him for the state’s top job; Christie was overly accommodating to his guy-pal and made us pick up the tab. The governor also helped himself. By not putting Booker on the November ballot Governor Christie also helped suppress the turnout among Democrats in an election in which he is at the top of the ballot. It also helped sink the prospects of Democratic gubernatorial nominee state Senator Barbara Buono who was like bologna in the Cory/Christie manwich. Booker, rather than risk a loss against a governor whose popularity is perplexing, opted against taking on Christie for what is arguably one of the most constitutionally powerful governorships and ran for the hills, Capitol Hill that is. Cory Booker’s $26 million gift from the governor put him in an election against a far-right Republican who he outspent but still only managed to beat by a shade over 10 points. Much of Booker’s troubles during the campaign were self-inflicted; the product of too much hype and the lifting of a carefully constructed veil.
Wait, there’s more absurdity, Jersey style.
We are a state with no real statewide media presence as folks in the north gravitate toward New York City based media while the southern end of the state relies on Philly. The one broadcast television station in the state, a Fox affiliate and a channel former Senator Bill Bradley fought to secure for New Jersey, canceled its nightly news program this year. It was replaced by something that resembles a video supermarket tabloid. Our sorry state of in-state media is one of the reasons daily newspapers still survive and our state has a collection covering state politics, with the Star-Ledger having the largest circulation and farthest reach. It was the Ledger, the grand old lady of Newark, which gave us our latest Jersey ‘moment.’
This is some of what the Star-Ledger had to say about Governor Chris Christie in an editorial on Sunday:
The property tax burden has grown sharply on his watch. He is hostile to low-income families, raising their tax burden and sabotaging efforts to build affordable housing. He’s been a catastrophe on the environment, draining $1 billion from clean energy funds and calling a cease-fire in the state’s fight against climate change.
The governor’s claim to have fixed the state’s budget is fraudulent. New Jersey’s credit rating has dropped during his term, reflecting Wall Street’s judgment that he has dug the hole even deeper. He has no plan to finance transit projects and open space purchases now that he has nearly drained the dedicated funds he inherited from Gov. Jon Corzine.
His ego is entertaining, but it’s done damage as well. By removing two qualified justices from the Supreme Court without good cause, he threatened the independence of judges at all levels, and provoked a partisan stalemate that has left two vacant seats on the high court. This was a power grab gone wrong.
After skewering Governor Christie, the Ledger concluded, “But our endorsement goes to Christie, despite the deep reservations. He has refused to speak with The Star-Ledger editorial board for four years, the first governor in either party to do so.” Even I had to do a triple-take after reading the Star-Ledger’s endorsement. It will go down as one of the most bizarre moments of political journalism in our state’s history. It also further cheapened the value of a paper’s endorsements when a newspaper goes to such great lengths to disparage an elected official’s performance, even throwing in the word “fraudulent,” and then turns around and recommends his re-election to voters. Could you imagine if the Titanic had survived its maiden voyage and a travel agent belittled the ship’s safety record in a review but then recommended customers take a cruise on the ship? It seems like the passenger always goes down before the captain in Jersey politics.
But I digress. My real purpose here is to offer my continued dismay with the nature of politics in my home state. The Democratic county executive of the county with the largest bloc of Democratic votes has endorsed the Republican governor who has done little or nothing for Essex County’s mostly urban African-American core, the bulk of the Democratic votes. Some Black ministers have embraced the governor; apparently a nod to their own fulfillment given there is little evidence of the governor’s policies having a positive impact upon the African-American community. The mayor of our largest city is now the Senator-elect after he ran away from taking on the incumbent for the most important and meaningful government job in New Jersey. And we got a $26 million bill for his great escape. Our governor, the “Jersey Strong” guy who the state’s largest paper admits leaves much to be desired, looks to coast back to the State House on November 5 barring some miraculous awakening by the state’s hypnotized electorate.
Where is Ron Burgundy when you need him? Stay classy New Jersey.
Walter Fields is Executive Editor of NorthStarNews.com