The New Jersey Corruption Scandal is Fun for Us, But Bad for Obama

07/24/2009 3:33 PM |

4e78/1248460607-briefcase_full_of_money.jpg New Yorkers love to take juvenile digs at its neighbor to the west: its citizens can’t drive! The whole state is ugly and smells! But the news of the epic corruption unveiled yesterday now supplies Gothamites with more joke-fodder than they’ll be able to process for quite a while. Um, its mayors trade $100,000 boxes of Apple Jacks! Its rabbis traffic in bodily organs!

Seriously, it’s been a long time since the New York Times had such a juicy lede: “Illegal sales of body parts. Furtive negotiations in diners, parking lots, and boiler rooms. Nervous jokes about ‘patting down’ a man who turned out to indeed be an informant. And, again and again, piles of cash being passed along — once in a box of Apple Jacks cereal stuffed with $97,000.”

Wow! The scale of this bribes and money laundering scandal is nearly unfathomable: three mayors, two assemblymen, five rabbis and 34 others were caught up in its sweep. “It’s going to just reinforce the stereotype of New Jersey politics and corruption,” a political scientist told the Times. Yeah, ya think? (In fairness, three of the rabbis were from Brooklyn.)

But there’s something more serious to this rampant corruption, aside from the epic fail of New Jersey government at so many levels: it’s a big blow to Governor Jon Corzine, who spent his way into office (a la Bloomberg) in part as a reformer of a notoriously corrupt state government. His elected predecessor, Gay American Jim McGreevy, had appointed his lover to a staff position. (One of the arrested assemblymen was also elected as an enemy of corruption who once told the Times, “I don’t take cash. I don’t let people give me things.” Investigators allege he accepted $15,000 in bribes.) Corzine only managed to achieve authority as a seatbelt advocate. But now that he’s in a contentious re-election battle, it looks like a Republican could take over the Jersey statehouse; this scandal certainly doesn’t help Corzine. A member of the governor’s administration has resigned, following a federal search of his home. Corzine’s opponent, Chris Christie, is a former U.S. Attorney who’s responsible for initiating this investigation.

Should this prove a game-changing blow to Corzine’s re-electability, the episode will also be a blow (granted, a small one) to the greater Obama agenda. While governors obviously have no real power at the federal level, they hold a powerful bully pulpit as their states’ highest executives; and they’re often elevated to the national stage: think Bobby Jindal before his collapse. Think of all the trouble Sarah Palin wrought. Think of Jeb Bush’s convenient position during late 2000. And collectively, the governors form a prominent lobbying organization, The National Governor’s Association; the party-breakdown of the 50 governors obviously affects its policy positions which can change every few years.

One governor won’t make or break the Obama administration, but the president is in some trouble. Some recent polls suggest his support is eroding, as joblessness doesn’t improve and healthcare reform remains stagnant. It would be a shame if voters took out their discontent by voting Republican at any level of government during mid-term elections, as it will only stifle Obama and his ambitiously progressive agenda further. And it’d be even worse if the Democrats lost New Jersey because an ineffective executive like Corzine couldn’t keep his state safe from corrupt politicians and money laundering rabbis.