Skip to comments.N.J. Gov. Spends Year Explaining Errors
Posted on 12/20/2002 2:17:42 PM PST by GeneD
After getting elected on a promise to look out for the people's money, Gov. James E. McGreevey has spent much of his first year explaining away junkets, helicopter rides and a mysterious $110,000-a-year aide.
Even poetry has proved poor politics for the Democrat: He has been accused of racism for trying to remove New Jersey's poet laureate over a Sept. 11 memorial verse critics called anti-Semitic.
"This administration seems to create their own problems and then rather than solve them, try to cover them up," said Carl Golden, a Republican political analyst and former aide to former Gov. Christie Whitman. "They seem to want to grow another foot so they can shoot that one, too."
McGreevey, 44, came within one percentage point of defeating Whitman in 1997, then came back four years later to win a landslide victory over Republican Bret Schundler by de-emphasizing his Ivy League background and boasting of his blue-collar roots.
He pledged to impose fiscal discipline, restore public trust in government and end business as usual in Trenton. Among other things, he called for bringing back the post of public advocate, whose job was to fight for consumers against state government. He also faulted Whitman for allowing political insiders to get contracts for the state's electronic-toll system and auto-emissions testing program.
But things have soured since then.
The blame is squarely McGreevey's, many contend, because he has tried to run the Statehouse the way he did Woodbridge, the commuter suburb where he was mayor for 10 years.
"He doesn't know how to do it any other way. That's the way the mayor operates," said political analyst Nick Acocella. "Mayors are control freaks because you can do it. The state government is enormous and you can't get away with it."
In one recent poll, only 37 percent of voters said they approve of the way McGreevey operates as governor. When it came to issues like the budget, taxes, the economy and jobs, only one in three backed him.
In an interview this week, McGreevey said his biggest problem was not understanding how complicated it is to get something done in government.
"It's a matter of learning, growing. The important thing is that if you're going to do it, you're going to make mistakes, and that's inevitable," McGreevey said. "The important thing is to learn from those mistakes, to learn those lessons, and to move on. I've worked to learn those lessons."
McGreevey took office last January battling what he said was a projected budget gap of $6 billion.
But the governor's choice to head the state police, Joseph Santiago, quickly drew fire. Santiago resigned in October after a flurry of criticism and news reports about bankruptcies and assault charges and alleged organized crime ties. Santiago denied the mob allegations.
Meanwhile, McGreevey was ducking complaints that his homeland security adviser, Golan Cipel, was not qualified and that as an Israeli he could not get the needed security clearances. Cipel refused to speak to reporters and the administration withheld details about his duties, even after McGreevey reassigned him to an unspecified job with a $110,000 salary.
Cipel has since left state government, but Amiri Baraka refuses to go. He has rejected McGreevey's calls to resign as poet laureate. The governor has pressed for legislation giving him the authority to fire the poet, prompting activists to accuse him of racial insensitivity.
In July, McGreevey headed to Ireland on what he called a trade mission. Four months later, he admitted that taxpayers should not have been stuck with the $70,000 tab for banquets, shows and stays in boutique hotels. Included in the costs was a $16,000 bill for cell phone use.
"Who's he calling? My answer is everybody," Acocella said. "There's no chain of command. He's the hub and all his folks report to him."
A few weeks later, a newspaper reported that he made personal trips in the State Police helicopter. McGreevey responded by saying the Democratic State Committee would pay for 12 of the trips. The administration refused to say where McGreevey flew.
Change may be coming. McGreevey is getting a more experienced chief of staff, Transportation Commissioner James P. Fox, who was once Sen. Robert Torricelli's top aide.
Rider University political scientist David Rebovich said McGreevey's troubles might end if he relinquished some duties: "McGreevey now needs someone to say that to him and he needs to respect the advice of those people."
Cipel is allegedly McGreevey's boyfriend. My cousin-in-law is fairly high-ranking in the NJ State Police brass and tells me that Cipel, whom McGreevey hired after meeting Cipel on vacation (?!?), regularly sleeps over the governor's residence near Princeton and accompanies the McGreeveys on outings and vacations which no other state employees other than his security detail does.
He swears up and down that they're lovers.
Definitely something in the water in NJ..........
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