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Once upon a time, before there was the Daily Kos, the Internet, MSNBC, or intrepid journalists like Rachel Maddow, Chris Hayes and Steve Kornacki:  I was very involved in politics in New Jersey.  I grew up there.  I lived in very Democratic Teaneck, and got my taste for electoral politics from my Dad, who was the District 6 Democratic Committeeman for a number of years.   I knew our local town council and our mayor.  When I say I was young - I was really, really young.  Like I was at a McGovern for President rally in Hackensack when I was 8 years old.  I was an intern for my Congressman when I was 13.  And, my political career culminated the year I graduated from college - in 1986 - as a full time, paid press aide on a Bergen County campaign.

When I say I was involved, I mean that I never, ever missed a campaign.  I always found a candidate to back and support.  

I want to give you some background, just to give you a flavor of what has changed, and what has not.  And, perhaps, some insight into what makes this state (and some of these players tick), even today.  So, enjoy below the squiggle.

First, let me say that politics in New Jersey is tough.  Both parties were like this.  An important key to this is the power that the county governments have in the framework of governance within the state.  I have lived in New England for the past 23 years, and there are counties here, and - perhaps - they are like the counties in your state.  There is a sheriff and a police force, and a few other government responsibilities.  Not in New Jersey.  In New Jersey, counties are serious government entities.  They have sheriffs and courts, yes, but they have intense and well-funded governments.  There are county roads, county welfare distribution areas, county parks and even county schools.  I lived in Bergen County - the most populated of all 21 of them.  Bergen is the county where the GW Bridge is, and was considered a swing county (although when I was there county elections swung Republican).

Bergen was suburban, and there were really 5 legislative districts that made up the county.  District 36 (where Giants Stadium is) was very blue collar and democratic.  District 37 was where I lived and was solidly democratic - but more because of the mix of African-American, Jewish and other ethnic voters that made up the district.  District 38 was the swing district, and the 2 state assemblymen and 1 state senator (all districts have this) would move back and forth.  District 39 and 40 were in the northern part of the county, and were centered around very wealthy and republican towns like Upper Saddle River (where Richard Nixon lived in the final decade or so of his life).

Familiar names that are popping now in this scandal?  Well, State Senator Loretta Weinberg, back then, was one of Teaneck's Democratic committee people (along with my Dad and the parents of several of my school friends). She was a friend of my parents, and my friends parents (her kids were a bit older so I didn't know them as well).   She was as she is today:  measured, persistent, and incredibly honest.  Tough, too, though.  I loved being with her and the other Teaneck committee people.  They were passionate about their politics, and their belief in activist government.  Teaneck was ground-zero for liberal politics in Bergen County.

Loretta was very supportive of my desire to be involved.  In 1986, she invited me to attend Democratic committee meetings and wanted me to consider becoming the new committeeman for my district (my father was no longer involved, and the guy who was doing it was moving to DC to work with our Congressman at the time - Bob Torricelli).  At any rate, some other people didn't trust the Teaneck town committee (long story that goes back to the Vietnam war split among democrats in the late 60's), and somebody in the campaign from Paramus demanded that I go and essentially spy on Loretta and all of my parents' friends (never mind that Matty was also from Teaneck) - and report back to her.  I said no, and ratted her out to Loretta.  When this other woman retaliated, Loretta got my back.  Honesty prevailed.

Our state senator back then was a man named Matty Feldman.  Matty was amazing.  He had been our mayor, was already state senator for years before I ever got involved, and he knew people.  Countless people.  He took pressing the flesh to an art form.  In fact, on my last campaign, he was the Democratic candidate for a new office of County Executive.  And polling in the Bergen Record (you've seen that paper on the news a lot lately) consistently showed that 15% or so of the people who were asked about him said they new him personally.  After campaign event hours, Matty would typically ask me to come with him (and sometimes his wife Muriel, as well) and we would press the flesh some more at a local diner.  He was incredible to watch.  The 2 assemblymen in the district were Byron Baer and Alan Burstein.  Byron would eventually become the state senator when Matty retired (he lost that election in 1986) and then Loretta would take the seat when Byron passed away.

Our county "Freeholders" (the legislators) before that election in 1986 were mostly Republican.  Usually by a majority of 4 - 3 or 5 - 2.  Two of them stand out.  One was a ditzy, but really lovely, older woman named Barbara Chadwick from Rutherford.  We used to call her "Bubbles."  The name totally fit her.  The other was also the mayor of Bogota (next door to Teaneck), and - at some point - a legislator for district 38 - Pat Schuber.  That's the same Pat Schuber who is another GOP'er on the Port Authority (even now), and who Senator Weinberg has been trying Schase down on the lane closing issue.  I gather Pat Schuber beat Loretta in a later contest for Bergen County Executive, but that was after my time.  Most of the Republicans were pretty moderate.  One wasn't.  He was the State Senator from either District 39 or 40.  His name was Gerry Cardinale, and he was a dentist turned politician.  He was insane.  My father used to refer to him as the Barry Goldwater of Bergen County.  Except, as Senator Goldwater aged, he got better.  Cardinale didn't.

In 1986, in the middle of Matty Feldman's campaign for County Executive against the county sheriff (yes, even counties as big and bureaucratic have a sheriff) William McDowell, Matty's grandson died in a bus accident while at summer camp.  He was a kid.  It was horribly tragic.  The entire campaign was suspended for 2 weeks.  Sheriff McDowell attended the funeral.  The Republican candidates for the new county legislature, including Pat Schuber and Bubbles Chadwick attended.  The Republican Governor at the time - Tom Kean - was there, along with most of the state senate.  But, not Gerry Cardinale.  What a jerk.

Counties are a big deal in New Jersey.  And this impacts the Port Authority in a major way.  In fact, it's safe to say that I recall from some of the Gubernatorial campaigns I worked on way back when (in particular John Degnan, Jim Florio, and Peter Shapiro), the Port Authority was a big deal.  It was important to have somebody from Bergen County on the board there (hence Pat Schuber today), but it was equally important to make sure the other two big counties that send commuters into NYC were also given a voice at the Port Authority.  Those two counties are Essex County (where Newark is and where NJ's newest Senator - Cory Booker - hails from), and Hudson County, where Hoboken and its mayor - Dawn Zimmer - come from.  Essex County  - because of the size of Newark (New Jersey's largest city) was incredibly poor.  Hudson County was known as the core of corruption in the state.  

Essex County is also where you'll find Livingston, a wealthy, suburb that is home to Tom Kean (former Governor), Chris Christie (bully-at-large) and David Wildstein.

Hudson County brings us to another familiar, if peripheral name, in the Christie saga:  Bret Schundler.  You will recall that Schundler was serving as the education secretary for Christie and was forced to resign his post.  During that hubbub, Christie accused Schundler of being a liar.  And then Schundler publically released emails that showed that Christie, was in fact, the liar.

Remember Schuber and Schundler.  I am convinced that we will hear lots more from both of them before this saga finds its conclusion.

Schundler was the only Republican mayor of Jersey City in its history, back in the early 1990's.  To say Jersey City was corrupt is an extreme understatement.  The guy was an ordained minister, and he won the seat as an anti-corruption candidate.  Definitely not likely to be in the corruption circle.

In 1981, I was in High School, and working as a volunteer on the Florio for Governor campaign.  Gerald McCann was the Democratic Mayor of Jersey City - but he backed Tom Kean.  Jersey City is legendary for letting the dead vote.  Former Governor Brendan Byrne is said to have joked that when he died he wanted to be buried in Jersey City so he could remain a part of the political process.

The election between Jim Florio and Tom Kean turned out to be one of the closest in New Jersey's history.  And - who knows - perhaps the dead under McCann may have helped to put Tom Kean into office.

As I said, county politics in New Jersey was very important and powerful.  You can see that in the burbling story now about the Christie administration intervening in a county prosecution in Hunterdon County (very Republican county), and firing the prosecutor.  Back during my time in politics in New Jersey, Hunterdon, Warren and Sussex counties were the country.  There were fewer people, and far fewer Democrats than there even are there today.  Statewide democratic candidates I volunteered for like Jim Florio, Peter Shapiro, Andy Maguire, Frank Lautenberg or Bob Torricelli didn't spend much time or resources there are all.  They basically wrote them off.  But primaries in New Jersey are often multiple candidate affairs.  There were times when a Gubernatorial or Senatorial primary would feature over 10 candidates - for each party!  For the Democratics, the big suburban counties - Bergen, Hudson, Essex and Passaic in the north, and Camden County (outside Philadelphia) in the south mattered.  But for the Republicans, Essex, Morris (famously home to Millicent Fenwick who lost to Frank Lautenberg back in 1982) Ocean and Hunterdon mattered.  Counties were like fiefdoms - you just needed to get support from your county and a few strategic others, and you won the nomination.  

That's how we won the nomination for Peter Shapiro to run against Tom Kean in 1985.  He was the Essex County executive (so there's one county for you), and we were able to marshall over 50% of the Bergen county Democratic vote (no Bergen County candidate was running) - and that did it.  It beat the Hudson County guy, the Passaic County guy and the Monmouth/Middlesex county (Central Jersey) guy.  Peter got his clock cleaned that November, but in a NJ primary, counties create strategies and it got him the nomination.

I know this is a long diary, but one more thought:  The modern culture of politics and government in New Jersey has very strong overtones of corruption and patronage - for both parties.  The Democrats have held more power over more time, so there are more specific incidents for them (think about Harrison Williams, Jim McGreevey, Sharpe James, or even the Democratic state legislator from Hudson County who faked is own death when he was indicted for racketeering, but then turned up on some far flung island and then was extradited back to the US).  There's lot's of individual drama, but this all pales in comparison to the size and breadth and - frankly - "ballsiness" of the multiple examples of obvious corruption in the Christie administration.  

It's not like they are the first Republican administration to serve in the past several decades.  You had the more liberal Tom Kean and Christie Todd Whitman, both of whom served two terms - but still Republicans.  Same need for patronage appointments, and same need for specific county alliances.  And there was even some scandal "noise" around them.

And, honestly, it's hard to understand how a Pat Schuber or a David Sampson would go so "all in" with such obvious wrongdoing.  

Unless you consider this:  Chris Christie is the first statewide NJ official from either party to be seriously considered Presidential material - and to actually send the signals that he was building a campaign since - probably - Woodrow Wilson in 1912.  That's a very long time.  Perhaps all of these players sensed the momentous opportunity, and they decided to ride it for all it was worth, even if that included the crime and the cover up.

Clearly, whatever the outcome of these multiple accusations and investigations, the national wave has dissipated.  It will be interesting to see which of all of these cronies decides to tell the truth.

 

Originally posted to JBtakenote on Mon Feb 03, 2014 at 07:10 PM PST.

Also republished by Christie Investigations and Community Spotlight.

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Comment Preferences

  •  was your congressman Andy McGuire? (0+ / 0-)

    My best guess was a reflection that did not look back, an image lost in every mirror.

    by Zacapoet on Mon Feb 03, 2014 at 10:05:11 PM PST

  •  Bergen County votes Democratic--Corzine won it (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    kaliope

    twice, but not by enough the 2nd time.  Corzine won all the counties in 09 that he won in 05, except not by as much--except in Camden County, where he won by more in 09 than 4 years earlier.  The difference:  Obama campaigned for him in Camden.

    I spent half my youth in Teneck w/ my Grandma, though I lived in Fair Lawn.  I interned for Andy Maguire in college.

    My best guess was a reflection that did not look back, an image lost in every mirror.

    by Zacapoet on Mon Feb 03, 2014 at 10:19:37 PM PST

  •  Interesting history. Thanks for posting! (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Dirtandiron, pvasileff

    Poverty is not an accident. Like slavery and apartheid, it is man-made and can be removed by the actions of human beings. —Nelson Mandela

    by kaliope on Tue Feb 04, 2014 at 03:00:37 AM PST

  •  Loretta, Matty and Millicent (7+ / 0-)

    How enjoyable to read about people I know and knew in Daily Kos.

    Small correction -- Millicent Fenwick was from the northern end of Somerset County, bordering on Morris, but her residence was in Bernardsville, where there is a statue of her.  She was a mentor to my mother in her own small political career.

    Loretta is not only a neighbor, but her office was the beginning of my daughter's career as an activist; my daughter interned there during her high school years.

    And Loretta's nickname should be Tenacious "W."

  •  Great stories, thanks for posting. (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Dirtandiron, pvasileff

    District 37 is, indeed, fertile ground for progressive Dems. Another one you'll probably remember is D. Bennett Mazur, who held the Assembly seat which eventually went to  Loretta Weinberg. I think she was his Legislative Director at the time.  
    Also, I think it's Albert Burstein, not Alan. I went to school with his daughter, but had no idea who he was.

  •  my pet theory (5+ / 0-)

    on Christie is that he went into a tough political ecology and went all-out on tactics without retaining any of the wisdom of previous years, the ability to win one, lose one, protect the institution, etc. So he has this image of what a tough politician is, and he enacts it. He has the image of three lanes of local traffic slowing down commuters on the interstate and he obsesses on it. He knows real estate is king in local politics, and he goes all out for connected 1% projects. He has an image of bipartisanship, and he makes every Machiavellian move possible to get those pictures taken.

    The three lanes are a perfect example. Instead of going through a long institutional process an creating documents and bribing engineers and holding sham public meetings etc., old way, the new way is just to call somebody up and play Tony Soprano. Have a lunch meeting with Samson, whatever. By the way, there has been some evidence the engineers were bludgeoned into signing off on something, but we haven't seen what, as afar as I know.

    Seems this is different than Nixon - though the parallels are enticing. Nixon was an actual scrapper who had a cold war sensibility, deep resentments, patriotism, love for the cloak and dagger, etc. Everything was informed by a long education in cases and analysis. With these baby boomers like Christie, Bill Clinton, GW Bush, Obama, we're getting people who think visually. Christie has no real foundation for his "beliefs," he just knows he was a douche in high school and he's going to play it out on as large a public stage as possible until he reaches his limit. If New Jersey is tough, he's going to out-tough anything that's ever been done. If corruption is what silent majority voters in NJ hate, he'll pretend take that on.

    And at every step you can see him appealing to the non-urban silents, basically, people who drive cars. (Killing the tunnel deal to recoup a temporary windfall for the highway fund.) He figured his two-hour press conference was a wink-and-nod to those voters. When he said "traffic study" who could practically see him laughing about playing some line at a school meeting. His eyes got big and vacant whenever he said "traffic study," the opposite of Nixon's blinking, shifty look when he lied. The wink-and-nod is OK as long as people like him. By the time he was on the Ask the Governor radio show yesterday, I think he had lost most of that quarterback magic and was flailing. Nixon never had to worry about his self-image: all the way to the end he was Nixon.

    Or I'm all wrong and it's his staff doing it! Jobs like those people have are as precious as gold these days. You don't ruin a middle class situation mid-career and survive very easily, not with the cost of housing in NJ/NY. So instead if you're in politics you play everything for keeps.

  •  McGreevy - False Equivalence (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Dirtandiron

    Or do you really think that putting your boyfriend on the state payroll is the equivalent of all the things Christie is accused of doing? Ah, well.

    Excellent diary otherwise.

  •  Great historical information! (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Dirtandiron

    Takes me back to my high school years in Hunterdon County and the first political campaign I volunteered for in 1972--Harrison Williams!

  •  Counties (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    SuWho

    Strong counties and relatively weak towns are more common in the south and the west. Texas has lots and lots and lots of counties; looking at genealogical records they are mostly found at the county level. Quite different than New England, where towns are the primary entity, much stronger than the county.

    Mark Twain: It ain't what you don't know that gets you into trouble. It's what you know for sure that just ain't so.

    by Land of Enchantment on Tue Feb 04, 2014 at 08:28:50 AM PST

    •  Counties and Towns (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Dirtandiron

      Oh, in NJ, the towns are sacrosanct--"home rule" is the predominant political principle.  Growing up in Morris County, I was part of the Chatham Borough vs. Chatham Township rivalry (especially in the schools), as well as the disdain both Chathams leveled on Madison (a far more healthy community)--mainly because 'black people lived there'.  

      Proposals to merge services generally falter.  

      NJ has strong towns and counties (and I'd say that in Morris, the towns win over the county, although county-involvement is a springboard for later political success).

  •  wasn't Bill Bradley considered (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Bill W, Dirtandiron

    to be serious presidential material in 2000? He was by me.

  •  I love diaries like this one. (4+ / 0-)

    I am involved in local politics in my county (Kings, NY). I'm a firm believer that local politics are far more important than most people realize, even here on DK. It may not be as glamorous as statewide or national politics, but it often turns out that by the time a politician or issue has attracted higher-level attention, the outcome is already a fait accompli.

    Tipped & recced, thanks!

    "The only thing we have to fear is fear itself."........ "The test of our progress is not whether we add more to the abundance of those who have much; it is whether we provide enough for those who have too little." (yeah, same guy.)

    by sidnora on Tue Feb 04, 2014 at 09:53:54 AM PST

    •  Municipal government is where the (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      sidnora

      rubber hits the road: government services either work or don't work and everyone notices.

      I recently attended an amazing non-partisan symposium on civility in government. The professional consensus was that executuve leadership should be demonstrated at the muni level before anyone can even submit their name for a national office.

      I was taken by the idea that collaboration and a desire to achieve mutual benefit are nurtured in the best of these municipal governments.

      However, what has played out in NJ (and elsewhere) is a corrupt perversion of this noble American ideal of mutual benefit.

      "Let us not look back to the past with anger, nor towards the future with fear, but look around with awareness." James Thurber

      by annan on Wed Feb 05, 2014 at 11:59:29 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  What an excellent idea! (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        annan

        Prerequisites for national office! Just like you have to pass French 101 before you get to take French 201.

        Not so sure it must be executive leadership, we need good legislators too, and it's not necessarily the same skill set.

        "The only thing we have to fear is fear itself."........ "The test of our progress is not whether we add more to the abundance of those who have much; it is whether we provide enough for those who have too little." (yeah, same guy.)

        by sidnora on Wed Feb 05, 2014 at 02:33:29 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  True (0+ / 0-)

          For me, the exciting part was hearing pros talk about the importance of the collaborative political skills that are necessary to create a civil society.

          The symposium was held at the University of Indianapolis at an event honoring Senator Lugar for his role in the transformation of the Indianapolis metro area while he was Mayor.

          So much bad news, it was refreshing to sit in a room with hundreds of  Hoosiers listening to young Indiana Mayors from both parties talk about their successes at the muni level. Mayor Zimmer in New Jersey is from the same mold. Actually gives me hope.

          Demanding practical muni experience on a candidate's resume would weed out a lot of the tools that get elected to Congress and do nothing to actually represent the citizens who elected them.

          "Let us not look back to the past with anger, nor towards the future with fear, but look around with awareness." James Thurber

          by annan on Wed Feb 05, 2014 at 08:23:29 PM PST

          [ Parent ]

          •  OTOH, (1+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            annan

            it would have weeded out Sens. Franken and Warren, among others.

            "The only thing we have to fear is fear itself."........ "The test of our progress is not whether we add more to the abundance of those who have much; it is whether we provide enough for those who have too little." (yeah, same guy.)

            by sidnora on Thu Feb 06, 2014 at 04:41:36 AM PST

            [ Parent ]

  •  Thanks for this diary. NJ politics (4+ / 0-)

    is still difficult for me to understand even after ten years here.  But one important thing that I think may not be clear from the coverage of this scandal--I haven't seen much attention to it--is that people can and regularly do hold two political offices in the state of New Jersey.  This is prohibited in most states. But Brian Stack (one of the Democrats who has continued to support Christie) is both the mayor of Union City and a state senator (I live in his district).  This is a recipe for corruption.

  •  NJ and Politics (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Dirtandiron

    My political teeth were cut working for Leanna Brown during her successful primary campaign against Sen. Jim Vreeland, the drone of the Senate (according to NJMonthly or some such magazine).  Leanna is your basic moderate, sane, Rockefeller/Eisenhower Republican, and was then, and our campaign really was to bring energy to the 26th District--Chatham Township north to West Milford.

    We won by 300 votes out of 11,000 cast in the primary, which in the 26th meant she won the General election also.

    I met a number of the people you mention, including Matty Feldman, working for Leanna, as she was in the Assembly as she ran against Sen. Vreeland.

    I also met Rodney Frelinghuysen, currently in the house, and rapidly discovered he's a gutless turd of the first water--a scion of one of the oldest families in the Republic and NJ, he goes along with everything the leadership tells him to do.  Leanna had more balls than Rodney.  I have more respect for loathsome teapartiers than I do for him.  

    He makes Nebbishes look macho.

    Leanna didn't have the gumption to go all in with the boys--she was the only GOP woman in the Senate, and one of two women, the other of whom was a Dem from Essex County whose name I can't find.  Ultimately she jumped to the Casino Control Commission.

    I wish she had decided not to play, but to stand out, but I suspect generational issues (and perhaps party) intervened.

  •  Thank you for that diary (0+ / 0-)

    I found it an interesting read. I am on the left coast so to read about Jersey politics was quite interesting.

    Let's see how this all plays out. I have a feeling that this is just the beginning.

  •  Great Diary, JB! (0+ / 0-)

    Pretty accurate description of NJ politics.

    Where are all the jobs, Boehner?

    by Dirtandiron on Tue Feb 04, 2014 at 08:37:35 PM PST

  •  Very informative diary! (0+ / 0-)

    Thank you! You have a great memory too!

    "For we, the people, understand that our country cannot succeed when a shrinking few do very well and a growing many barely make it." - President Barack Obama, Second Inaugural Address, January 21, 2013.

    by surfermom on Tue Feb 04, 2014 at 11:19:06 PM PST

  •  A question: Revenues from tolls on GWB... (0+ / 0-)

    My question is this:

    Where do those revenues go? I understand that a lot of these toll revenues probably get paid to the Port Authority. But do ALL of those revenues go to the PA?

    And a second question:

    Does the state of New Jersey -- their treasury -- get any money from said toll revenue?

    And a final one:

    Does Fort Lee, specifically, get any of the said revenues?

  •  great point (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    annan

    following him to the White House could very well be the difference.  But i think it was also gradual corruption and the idea that guys like Samson thought it was all fine, a kind of group think that made them not think, and the fact that Christie had been getting away with it so long, why not forever?  

    Problem was within Christie, he stayed small, and he could not not retaliate.  He should have been able to realize that Dawn wasn't corruptible and that treating her fairly would have helped diminish the claims from others. He should haver realized that traffic problems would wake up the inconvenienced and the public would be looking for blood.  

    He just isn't smart enough, and in the way of the not smart enough, he thinks he's smarter than everyone else, and looks like he still suffers from that delusion.  He'll never be wrong, it'll always be someone else's fault.

    I feel sorry for his family right now, bet he isn't fun company.

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