InsiderNJ’s… Ten Worst Political Decisions of the Past 20 Years in New Jersey

Look, these outrage-inducing lists are never comprehensive, and often stand out by virtue of some glaring omission or omissions.

Certainly, we could compile something that simply organizes and cages in print those flailing demons that resulted – in each case – in that particular politician’s public jam-up.

But the line of cocaine that went up the right nostril at the wrong time doesn’t get to what we’re trying to present here as a fairly diversified list of decisions some of these politicians probably would like to have back. Having said that, politics should not be lived in the rear view mirror. They crossed the Rubicon in each case, and had to live with the consequences, some of which might have appeared to the public to be ill-starred, even as another span of life opened up; to paraphrase Bobby Kennedy paraphrasing Aeschylus, “pain which cannot forget, 
falls drop by drop upon the heart,
until in our own despair, 
against our will,
 comes wisdom through the awful grace of God.”

So here are ten bad decisions, so identified with the obvious benefit of hindsight.

There were many others we could have included: Jim McGreevey’s decision to run for governor the second time and his obvious lack of judgment with appointments while in office, one in particular, Kim Guadagno’s decision not to develop more of an identity prior to running statewide, Bob Torricelli’s decision to try his hand at social media, the NJEA’s decision to agree to Governor Chris Christie’s benefit reforms prior to his budget address, Christie’s appointments to the Port Authority, Jon Corzine’s 2009 campaign decision to use the term “throwing his weight around” in referring to Christie, Christie’s bucking of the ARC tunnel, Dick Codey’s decision not to run for governor in 2005, Senator Girgenti’s decision not to run for sheriff of Passaic County when he had the chance, Joey Torres’ decision to have DPW workers fulfill private jobs, anyone’s sticky handshake with Dwek, and any number of decisions by public men – misidentified as gutsy or outspoken at the time – to get on Christie’s bad side.

We welcome a consideration  of more, but for the moment, here is our list:

Jon Corzine’s Decision to Give up His Senate Seat to Run for Governor

He had a U.S. Senate seat. While occupying that seat he helped cultivate the U.S. Senate candidacy of the man who would become president: Barack Obama. He also correctly voted against the 2002 Iraq War Resolution, which sent young men and women into combat to die for a lie. So far so good. But then Corzine did a terrible thing. Thinking that he needed to be a governor in order to be president, he ran for governor of New Jersey. Four years later, badly bruised and beat up, mostly by fellow Democrats, he lost the office to Chris Christie by a vote of 44.9 to 48.5%.

Frank Pallone’s Decision Not to Run for the U.S. Senate in 2002

The party wanted him during the infamous 12 days of Torricelli. But the 6th District Congressman from Long Branch hesitated, not knowing whether he could trust South jersey, not knowing if it was the right time. Surely, he felt, just like Dan Marino did when he lost Super Bowl XIX, that he was young, and he’d back. But it never happened. Pallone spent years subsequent to 2002 wearing the tires out on his car driving up to North Jersey to build relationships. When the seat finally opened in 2013 with the retirement of U.S. Senator Frank Lautenberg, the Democratic Party stepped over Pallone and wrapped itself around rising star Cory Booker.

Torricelli’s, LoBiondo’s, Frelinghuysen’s, Smith’s, Pascrell’s, Rothman’s, Andrews’, Saxton’s, and Ferguson’s ‘Aye’ vote on the 2002 Iraq War Resolution

President George W. Bush hadn’t done the diplomacy to take America into war against Iraq. The case for weapons of mass destruction proved a concocted piece of theater. But one of New Jersey’s two senators at the time and eight of its representatives voted in favor of giving Bush the authority to invade Iraq, a costly, conscience-plaguing and terrible decision that resulted in the estimated combat deaths of 4,400 American troops and over 100,000 Iraqi civilians, and contributed to the destabilization of the Middle East. what’s interesting here is none of these men actually paid a political price, in the sense that they faced opposition in a primary or general election that did them in; but several of them over the years have confessed to InsiderNJ the private agonies of their own afflicted consciences.

Samson’s Decision to Pursue a Special Flight to South Carolina

So a judge ultimately slapped him  on the wrist, but the former attorney general’s abuse of his public perch as chairman of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey when he sought the creation of a private flight from Newark to his South Carolina home exposed him as corrupt. Applying the strictest code of the noble Romans, the penalty of a done-in name hurts worse than a jail cell.

Steve Rothman’s Decision not to Run Against Scott Garrett

A 2011 Republican redistricting map sliced Rothman’s home town of Fair Lawn out of the 9th District and into the 5th, already occupied territory by movement conservative U.S. Rep. Scott Garrett. But rather than run against Garrett in what he and his team assessed to be an unwinnable – or at least unsustainable – Republican district, Rothman opted for what looked like the safer decision to run in a Democratic Primary against U.S. Rep. Bill Pascrell. Mistake. Pascrell whipped Rothman. Four years later, Democrat Josh Gottheimer defeated Garrett. Now Rothman’s back, it appears, penning this op-ed and feeling out – along with Assemblyman Tim Eustace and others, a 5th District Congressional run, as Gottheimer examines the possibility of running for a U.S. Senate seat statewide rather than attempt to win reelection in the Republican-leaning district.

That Unknown Staffer’s Decision to Allow Tom Kean to Get Devoured by Brian Thompson

Running for U.S. Senate in 2006, the young Kean acquitted himself honorably, but made mistakes, including making a lawnmower muffled appearance in Jersey City, allowing a staffer to rudely steer a war time mother away from him, and getting planted in front of NBC attack dog Brian Thompson here.

Chris Christie’s Decision to Run for Reelection in 2013

He had a good run during his first term, but hubris got the better of Christie over the course of the second. Bridgegate dinged him early, then a succession of terrible and ugly moments – celebrating in the private box of Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones, joking about personally placing the cones on the George Washington Bridge, and constantly prioritizing a presidential run at the expense of the state – sank him to where he is now: below 20% job approval.

You could make the case that compulsion for power always drives the Christies of the world, and that he really had no hand in the decision, he simply acted out the compulsion to position himself to acquire more power; or that a reelection bid with a different strategy might have saved him. But as it was, so it is.

Corzine’s Decision to get Interviewed by The New York Times

Maybe he had a shot at squeaking it out in that 2009 reelection campaign. But the Democratic governor’s decision to dredge up his ill-starred asset monetization scheme just days before the election probably drove a dagger into the heart of his reelection hopes.

Bob Menendez’s Decision to go to the Dominican Republic

For a lot of people wired into New Jersey politics, this one is the most truly classically tragic – pay attention to that word classically, as we strictly refer to Aristotle’s Poetics for the definition of tragic, not the modern media definition. Menendez had reached a special pinnacle in politics here as the chairman of the powerful Senate Foreign Relations Committee when the feds hit him with charges of improperly benefiting from gifts bestowed by eye doctor Salomon Melgen, some of which the senator did not disclose, including access to an exclusive Dominican resort, which sparked the investigation. Of course, Menendez’s case is not over, and he continues to fight to clear his name, but in a competitive national election last year, the subdued star had to sit out what would have been the political battle of his lifetime in support of Hillary Clinton.

Sharpe James’ Decision to Run for Reelection in 2002

Cory Booker was coming up hard and fast and, just as it always does, pride got in the way of good judgment in the case of the long-serving Newark mayor in 2002. James needed to dig in  and stare down Booker, which he did, only to create a new universe of scrutiny around himself – including the eyes of ambitious U.S. Attorney Chris Christie, resulting in his 2008 jam-up on  corruption charges. In retrospect, he should have gotten out of the way.

 

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  • jaylassiter

    Maybe we need more women in office.

  • Bertin Lefkovic

    I argued that Gottheimer should run for the Senate instead of the House months ago. If nothing else, it would enable him to vote like a Democrat instead of a Republican.

  • Daniel Nee

    Should’ve included the decision to appoint the judges who gave us Abbott and Mt. Laurel, which have all but destroyed our state’s middle class.

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