Last month, in the premiere of this column, I promised to “give some ink” to South Jersey. But before heading due south, I want to talk a little about Central New Jersey.
The middle of the state—rich in clout, commerce, and farmland—is foreign territory for many of us living at either end. Sure, we’ve been to Princeton, maybe even Flemington. We know there’s more to the region than that, but we have a hard time leaving our comfort zones.
As a one-term state legislator in my mid-twenties, I spent two years in Trenton (which was South Jersey to me then). I could never find the State House. I’d be on Route 29 driving in circles, with the golden dome mocking me from a couple hundred yards away. Eventually I made it to the place where the honorable business of our government is conducted, but on countless occasions I was late for the opening gavel. Of course, I never could find the bathrooms.
How about Rahway State Prison—oops, sorry, I mean East Jersey State Prison? Seriously, Rahway mayor Jim Kennedy and restaurateur David Drake, among others, have taken the town once linked to the intense 1978 documentary Scared Straight! and given it a brighter future. Hell, even the prison got star treatment—George Clooney, Brad Pitt, and Julia Roberts filmed scenes there for Ocean’s Eleven. That has to help.
I can’t go any further without talking up Rutgers and what its football success has meant to the university. Admissions are up, and the scrutiny over dropped varsity sports has sparked controversy. Truth is, though I have a master’s degree and PhD from RU and have taught there for more than 20 years, I’ve never made a big deal of my scarlet-and-black connection. But now that Rutgers football is big time, I’m on the bandwagon. Only in New Jersey can fickle fans like me pledge allegiance without getting abused by the most loyal and grateful fans you can imagine. Did I mention we have a big poster of Rutgers football coach Greg Schiano hanging in our sons’ bedroom? Not for nothin’, but it’s clear that all Rutgers football needed was an Italian guy to take it to the top.
Only in New Jersey can a state this small get chopped up into at least three distinct regions, with residents fighting intramural turf wars with such intense pride. Of course, the central and south factions do agree on one thing: The North Jersey contingent’s loyalty is thinly veiled arrogance (I guess it’s the New York factor).
Okay, so next month it’s South Jersey. No, really, I promise.
Only in New Jersey Only in New Jersey can you have a dozen or more out of 40 state senators retire and not run for reelection and call that “campaign reform.” Some of them are decent people, but others, like Camden’s Wayne Bryant, have given new meaning to the term “greedy politician.” Not too long ago Senator Bryant was on at least four public payrolls, and for a couple of them it looks like he never showed up for work—all done to fatten up his government pension. Now, as this issue went to press, the feds have indicted Bryant on twenty counts of fraud. Only in New Jersey can a guy like Wayne Bryant, who is so ethically challenged, become chairman of the Senate Budget Committee in control of tens of millions of public dollars.
PS: Several Hudson County legislators are stepping down, meaning New Jersey’s sleaziest political county (I’m from Essex and I’m saying that) will lose a lot of clout. Only in New Jersey can you die and continue voting for at least several years—that is, if you’re from Hudson County and you’re a Democrat!