When Bob Menendez won his US Senate campaign in 2006, it was a thrilling result for me and my blog-mates at BlueJersey, a fresh political weblog offering a liberal take on New Jersey politics. BlueJersey was barely a year old and Menendez, newly appointed to his seat, was making his first US Senate run.
Bloggers were still an intriguing novelty and most politicians remained unconvinced that blogs and web video had any real staying power. Menendez and his campaign knew better. Even in the pre-Facebook & Twitter era when going viral on YouTube meant 10,000 hits.
By ostensibly co-opting NJ’s progressive Internet grassroots — the “NetRoots” — Menendez tech-savvy communications team dominated the debate online, with BlueJersey frequently figuring prominently. Remember the time Menendez’ opponent, Tom Kean Jr tried to discreetly exit a candidate forum and it went horribly wrong? That cringe-inducing video dropped on BlueJersey. (Sorry to bring this one back, Tom.)
And let’s recall when Kean’s campaign staffers posted all over BlueJersey, pretending to be pro-Kean liberals. Crazy huh? That practice is called “astroturfing” i.e.: fake grass roots. We call those people “trolls” nowadays. Of course posing as liberals from Kean’s GOP HQ eventually backfired when the IP addresses matched. No one knew what an IP address was back then. The whole thing made national news and BlueJersey’s traffic soared. And all the while, Menendez stretched his lead over Kean to the point of inevitability as voting day drew closer.
The Iraq War was foremost in voters’ minds on Election Day ’06. And by morning, Democrats had taken control of Congress and the Senate, a resounding repudiation of then-President George W Bush’s wartime folly. Bob Menendez led the Democratic stampede that year. His 9-point victory over Tom Kean Jr was so comprehensive, it was the first race called as polls closed on the East Coast.
Halfway through his triumphant victory speech, Menendez called BlueJersey “a conscience to the campaign” before urging us to “keep blogging on!”
As mentioned in the very first sentence, it was thrilling. All of it: Menendez’s win, flipping Congress, being called the conscience of the campaign. It felt good to contribute to those election results in such a meaningful way. And it was incredibly empowering to discover our voice blogging at BlueJersey.
That was 11 years ago. I’m happy I took Senator Menendez’ advice to keep on writing. But who’s the conscience of Bob Menendez’ campaign nowadays?
Last week, a jury deadlocked on federal bribery charges against Senator Bob Menendez in a case focusing on the relationship with his best friend and “hermano”, disgraced Florida eye doctor Salomon Melgen.
Outside the courtroom, after the verdict, Menendez has a message for his doubters: “To those who were digging my political grave so they could jump into my seat, I know who you are and I won’t forget you.”
His press conference, wholly devoid of introspection, was designed to infer retribution while projecting strength.
By the end of the day, most NJ Dems circled the wagons around NJ’s wounded, defiant senior senator.
Sen. Steve Sweeney is “absolutely” all-in should Menendez run again.
“He will have my full support,” Gov-elect Phil Murphy vowed.
“New Jersey’s working middle-class families could not have a stronger advocate fighting on their behalf in Washington than Bob Menendez,” Assemblyman Craig Coughlin said.
Rich shady Florida doctors could not have a stronger advocate in Washington than Bob Menendez, either.
Menendez’ close personal relationship with Salomon Melgen was the basis for his entire defense. It’s not corruption, his lawyers argued, just the generosity of a good friend. All those lavish gifts Menendez received – the flights, the 5-star accommodations, the campaign cash – it’s just a perk of having very rich friends.
Oh and BTW, Dr. Melgen is currently in jail awaiting sentencing for “one of the biggest health-care fraud convictions in the nation.”
Big big big fraud. $105,000,000 worth. Let that sink in.
That largess didn’t equal superior care for Melgen’s patients, the cash-cows in Melgen’s scheme to get rich the old fashioned way. By screwing the taxpayers. And in many cases, Meglen’s own unsuspecting patients as well. Over a hundred million dollars worth.
“It’s the most egregious example of totally taking advantage of patients, not caring about diagnosing them properly, not caring about treating them properly. It was the antithesis of what a decent physician should do,” said Dr Robert Bergen, a retired retina specialist who was a witness in this case.
Dr. Julia Haller, chief ophthalmologist at Wills Eye Hospital in Philly testified about Dr. Melgen’s “abusive,” behavior which left her “embarrassed for our entire profession.”
Dr. Salomon Melgen is a bad guy. New Jersey deserves a senator who protects us from such parasites. Instead, we have Bob Menendez who’s off benefitting from the whole sham, for years never bothering to report all those goodies (like private plane rides to the Caribbean.)
Elected officials are required to report and disclose when rich people give them stuff. Something about curbing corruption.
And yet, here we are.
Let’s spare a thought for the foreign “models” whose visas were secured by Senator Menendez at Dr. Melgen’s behalf . I’m no prude, but the specter of Senator Menendez prioritizing visas for Melgen’s “models” feels especially awkward giving the national discussing currently taking place about how rich and powerful men treat much younger women.
Menendez will treat this hung jury like an acquittal. It’s not. I’ve mixed feelings about a re-trial though. The Supreme Court gives wide berth to politicians who violate the spirt of federal corruption laws. Once the Supremes tossed out VA Gov Bob McDonnell’s corruption case, convicting any lawmaker got a whole lot tougher. Menendez’ case mirrors McDonnell’s in many ways: a lawmaker, a patron, exotic trips, valuable prizes, favorable treatment of patron by lawmaker.
A re-trial would be another reminder that politicians play by their own rules.
Which gets me back to the Bob Menendez at a bank of microphones outside Newark’s Federal courthouse just after the verdict. Menendez’ remorseless bravura was like something out of the Sopranos. Inferring retribution on national TV (“I know who you are!”) proves he can’t tell between nerve and outright gall.
“To those who left me, who abandoned me in my darkest moment, I forgive you,” Menendez added, highlighting his own lack of self-awareness.
I mean gosh, you don’t suppose Menendez’ bad judgement has anything to do to with any of this, do you!?
Jay Lassiter is an iconoclast, tech savvy media artiste, street warrior for LGBT liberty and marijuana reform, and an un-intimidated presence if the halls of Trenton power as he aggressively pursues liberal causes. He’s often at brunch and always on Twitter @Jay_Lass