Statehouse Reporting Legend Jim Goodman Has Died


Jim Goodman, an old-school newspaper reporter who wrote about New Jersey and national politics for more than 40 years, died June 11, 2017 in University Medical Center of Princeton after a long illness. He was 86.

Most of his newspaper career took place at The Times of Trenton. Known for his white beard and feisty manner, Goodman also was a long-time fixture on the Reporters Roundtable television show and wrote numerous guest columns for the now-defunct New Jersey Reporter.

Jim Hooker, a former Times reporter, worked with him for several years in the Statehouse. “It seemed he knew everyone in New Jersey politics back then. And everyone knew him. So his calls were always returned,’’ he said.

His brusque speaking style was unforgettable, reminding Hooker of “Edward G. Robinson in some gangster movie. Beneath that gruff exterior was a softee that cared deeply for the people he knew and their families.”

“Like so many journalists from his generation, Jim was a real character and a dogged reporter,’’ said Joe Donohue, a former Star-Ledger reporter and long-time friend of Goodman. “He relished the memories of his journalism career until the end.”

Goodman had a strong belief that most big stories originated with basic news-gathering. “I reminded students in journalism classes that Woodward and Bernstein were beat reporters.  That’s where stories come from,’’ he said recently.

He wrote stories about national events like the Abscam scandal in the late 1970s and early 1980s. But he also produced stories that had a big local impact.

Like when he figured out a Trenton group was pretending to raise money to help starving people in Africa when the organizers actually were pocketing the cash. It quickly closed because of his reporting.

Perhaps the most famous story connected to Goodman was prompted by one of his questions.  When Vice President Dan Quayle visited a Trenton elementary school on June 15, 1992, Goodman asked Quayle after a spelling flashcard session how he spelled potato. Quayle misspelled it, and it became a national story that haunted him the rest of his political career.

While writing about the public backlash that resulted after former Governor Jim Florio raised taxes in 1990, Goodman himself took fire for defending Florio’s action. Gun owners distributed bumper stickers that read: “Annoy Goodman; Dump Florio.”

Goodman didn’t apologize for his liberalism. But he took pride that he wrote biting stories about both Democrats and Republicans.

Born in Philadelphia in 1930, he attended Hatboro high school where he competed in running events, including meets at the Penn Relays. He remained a fan of track and field events his whole life.

While he never attended a four-year college, he graduated from the Charles Price night school with two years of journalism training.

His first paid job was with the Hatboro Spirit weekly newspaper. “I got paid a few dollars per article,’’ he said. He worked short stints at various small papers in Pennsylvania and New Jersey, including the Wildwood Leader and the Perth Amboy Evening News, before joining the Times of Trenton in 1961.

Goodman was an avid reader and a student of opera and classical music. After his retirement from the Times in 2005, he annually audited classes at Princeton University on a wide variety of subjects.

Like many journalists, he said his newspaper career was a daily adventure. “There were a lot of things I couldn’t have done if I hadn’t been a newspaper man,’’ he said.

Goodman held numerous parties over the years at his former house in Langhorne, a converted firehouse built in 1861. His “soup” parties, where guests competed to make the best liquid feasts, were legendary.

Goodman is survived by long-time partner Harriette Rubenstein and step-son Sonny.

A memorial service will be held in Goodman’s honor time and place to be announced.


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