Prescription For Corruption

Corruption pervades the state. Is the problem too much government? Steve Adubato debates today's political realities.

Former Hoboken mayor Peter Cammarano III, 32, (center, blue shirt) was surrounded by media as he left federal court in Newark on July 23. He is one of 21 Garden State politicians charged in an FBI corruption probe.
Photo by Mel Evans/Associated Press.

What is it about New Jersey that causes us to have more corruption than virtually any other state? I used to say, “Thank God for Illinois,” with its long history of crooked pols. But after the July 23 arrests of 21 elected and appointed New Jersey officials, along with 23 others (including some rabbis down in Deal), I think Illinois is off the hook.

Something about New Jersey causes this insidious problem of official corruption. No, it’s not in the water. And we don’t simply attract or nurture people with questionable ethics.

I’ve said it before, but it bears repeating: New Jersey has too much government, too many elected and appointed positions, and too many special authorities and commissions. There are too many layers possessing the power to sign off on building and construction permits, special water deals, infrastructure projects, high rises, low rises, strip malls, sewage deals, etc. Just start with our 611 school districts and 566 municipalities. Lay on top of that 21 county governments and a massive state government bureaucracy.

The nice term for this is “home rule.” For some, it is a license to steal. Specifically, a license to peddle influence and give special treatment to people looking to move their projects along for a price. It’s hard to imagine this happening all these years after Abscam in the late 1970s and early 1980s, when the FBI created an elaborate sting featuring a fake Arab sheikh who gave envelopes stuffed with money to crooked politicians. That scandal took down New Jersey senator Harrison Williams and other elected officials. Yet now history repeats itself as individuals in government allegedly take cash in a new set of envelopes.

I’m convinced that these allegedly corrupt pols are not that much different from others in public service. They just were presented with an opportunity and were dumb enough to take the bait. But why did they have the opportunity at all?

It is long overdue for New Jersey to force consolidation of its small towns and communities. Consolidation alone will not stop corruption here, but it will reduce the opportunities for people to act corruptly. It will also allow state and federal authorities to brake this runaway train.

Write to me at [email protected] and tell me what you think.

Steve Adubato, PhD. is an Emmy Award-winning anchor for Thirteen/WNET and a media analyst and columnist for MSNBC.com, who also appears regularly on CBS 2. He is the author of the book Make the Connection, as well as his newest book What Were They Thinking?, which examines highly publicized and often controversial public relations and media mishaps. For more information, log on to stand-deliver.com.

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