Is New Jersey The Sewer Of The Republic?

That’s the first line of the second paragraph on page 35 of a new book called Pinstripe Patronage that researches whether political patronage is the “dark underbelly of American politics, with its practitioners fortunate to keep one step ahead of the sheriff” or an “essential ingredient of effective governance”. 

Based on my own experiences, mostly on the county level, it’s easy to see why New Jersey would have a featured role in such a debate.  I have several examples supporting the former position but here’s how that second paragraph ends:

Hardly, although the extent of corruption in New Jersey still seems to outdo many of its sister states.  One of the reasons is that rich industrial states like New York, New Jersey, and Illinois simply have more riches to offer: higher-priced real estate, tax breaks, zoning variances, lucrative jobs and contracts, and courthouse patronage.  City and county leaders have construction contracts to dole out that are worth more than they are in North Dakota, as well as contracts for the increasing numbers of privatized services on the local level.  Most of the time, economic development deals don’t capture the public imagination or even its interest.  The worst aspect of the scandals in New Jersey, for example, is that the public accepted these practices as politics as usual, and aside from isolated expressions of outrage, only the federal prosecutors displayed any interest at all in stopping the nefarious activities going on all around them.  The leader of the Hudson County Democrats attended a fundraiser for freeholder Nidia Davila-Colon, who had just been indicted for delivering cash-stuffed envelopes to the county executive:  “Nobody even asked about it [the indictment],” scoffed Colon, who won her election in a landslide.

Bingo!  New Jersey is a sewer because we have inured ourselves to the stench.  We accept the backroom deals, incestuous bargaining, lies, rants, selective prosecution, dodgy budget numbers, pension padding, and musicfest.   Having accepted all this we must also accept the bill for it.

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