Corruption in the Garden State – Cronyism in the Green Mountain State
New Jersey has been known for its culture of mobsters, hooligans and political dirty tricks for many decades. When I was a kid, anytime the topic of New Jersey was discussed, my Dad would smile and say — “Yep, that’s where all the crooks are.” He always had a twinkle in his eye when he said that. Naturally, it made me want to move to New Jersey as soon as I was old enough. New Jersey sounded really cool, like an exotic land of fun and excitement … especially while growing up in the coal mine region of Pennsylvania.
Eventually, I did reach that magic age when I could leave home. The day finally came when I moved to New Jersey. I searched for the crooks and hoodlums, but didn’t find many — and this was during the wild ’60s. South Jersey was great. There were interesting “activities” on the Jersey shore, but not any real crooks in my circle of friends … well, maybe one or two shady characters. I heard stories about when Jack Nicholson lived in the same town. He must have been quite a hit at the high school prom years before. I met fishermen, teachers, garage mechanics … but no members of the Mafia. No real big-time crooks.
Now many years later, I live in beautiful, mythical New England. I listen to the news reports of Gov. Christie and the traffic jam. In one Vermont town, a disabled vet has recently been the victim of assault by an elected public official. The threat was accidentally caught on a live microphone and recorded on video. There is no question of proof. It seems to me that this is serious and should result in something — anything, but this is Vermont. No legal action. No massive public outcry.
The Vermont governor was recently the subject of an investigation for taking advantage of a “vulnerable adult” in a questionable real estate “deal.” Not much public outcry there. No-bid $200 per hour contracts have been awarded to political buddies. Almost no one noticed. More than 300 cases of abuse of the elderly/disabled have been reported to the state. No real action taken. Abuse continues.
The entire state, from the Massachusetts border to the Canadian line, is famous for cronyism. In Vermont we call it ‘cronyism’. In New Jersey they call it ‘corruption’. By comparison, New Jersey seems rather tame and lawful.
Back to Gov. Christie and the traffic jam. How could it happen? Political tricks are part of the game. They happen all the time.
Just one personal anecdote: During the last election cycle, I was the Socialist candidate for Vermont Attorney General. One day during campaign season, as I happened to be driving past the Democratic campaign headquarters, I noticed something was different. The very large, professionally manufactured campaign sign for the Democratic candidate for Attorney General was missing from the front window. In its spot some unknown person had placed a homemade campaign sign supporting me. I burst out laughing and wondered who could have done that, and why. I had not even visited the Democratic campaign headquarters. When I stopped laughing, I went into the headquarters and asked: “Why?”
It seems that one of the campaign workers had become impressed with my platform and took it upon himself to campaign for me, even while on duty at the Democratic site. I had never met this campaign worker before, but we talked. He told me that he had gotten “chewed out” by the big boss for removing the official sign and replacing it with the one he made for the opposition candidate — who was a Socialist no less!
The campaign worker was very creative. He figured out the schedule of the boss. When the boss was expected to visit, the worker would simply switch the sign back to the official one. The worker had nothing to gain. His actions could have cost him his job. But he continued to do what he believed to be the right thing. His “conspiracy” lasted all through the campaign season, right up to Election Day.
The moral of the story is that sometimes political dirty tricks happen without the knowledge or consent of those up the chain of command. Maybe, just maybe, Gov. Christie did not have any knowledge of the traffic jam. This is not meant to support Christie … heaven knows I would never support any Republican or Democrat.
Jackowski is an advocacy journalist and author of BANNED IN VERMONT. In the past she has lived in Hoboken, Jamesburg, Manasquan, Lavallette, Seaside Park, Ocean City, Cape May County and too many other locations in New Jersey to list. She now lives in Vermont.