GOP not backing up Cardinale on Boxer strategy

State Sen. Gerald Cardinale’s move to hold up the nomination of Matthew Boxer as New Jersey’s State Comptroller might be considered a good political move by Republicans interesting in keeping Gov. Jon Corzine’s ties to his former girlfriend in the news, but his colleagues in the Senate minority aren’t rushing to help him out.

Cardinale’s idea is to tie up the nomination of Boxer for the newly created office until Corzine appoints an independent prosecutor to look into the matter of Rocco Riccio, a brother-in-law of Corzine’s ex-girlfriend/paramour/companion Carla Katz, who he gave $15,000 after pressuring him out of his accounting job at the Turnpike Authority. Boxer was reportedly present at a meeting in which Riccio was asked to leave his job.

Cardinale said that rumors about Riccio looking into tax records of Corzine’s political enemies — which were reported when the Star-Ledger broke the Riccio story — were of particular concern.

“Nothing yet,” said Senator Cardinale when asked if he had heard of any Republicans willing to join him. “We’re not in session, but what I have seen is that some other Republicans are interested in the issue and calling for similar things to what I’m asking.

Realistically, Cardinale does not have much of a shot of convincing Democratic John Adler, the Senate Judiciary Chairman, to hold up the nomination –which is not yet official, although Corzine has reportedly informed the committee of his intentions. But that doesn’t mean his efforts would be futile.

Cardinale sent out a press release on the Boxer nomination last Friday, the day after corruption bust of eleven public officials. While that may seem like bad timing, it did help keep Riccio from sinking out of the public’s view while most people were distracted by the arrests of tnen-Assemblymen Mims Hackett and Alfred Steele.

“I think there’s smart politics here, especially in this environment where citizens are concerned about corruption and lawmakers need to answer any concerns or questions about possible conflicts of interests,” said David P. Rebovich, Managing Director of the Rider University Institute for New Jersey Politics.

Also, Cardinale is facing a tough re-election battle against Joseph Ariyan, a well-funded Democrat in a district the GOP has held for 26 years. In pursuing this strategy, he may be doing more than just taking one for the team.

“If this is what he’s concerned about, if he thinks he has a record of calling candidly on the governor to deal with certain issues, that’s what he should be doing in a political campaign,” said Ingrid Reed, director, New Jersey Project at the Eagleton Institute of Politics at Rutgers University.

GOP State Sen. JosephKyrillos, a Senate Judiciary Committee member, encouraged Cardinale’s efforts but stopped short of saying that he’d join him in the call

“I respect Senator Cardinale, who has, and rightly so, very strong feelings about problems associated with the highest and most senior players in the state government. I guess I’ll just leave it at that,” said Kyrillos.

Senate Minority Leader Leonard Lance has already called on Attorney General Anne Milgram to head up an investigation on the allegations that Riccio looked into tax records. But he would not commit to Cardinale’s strategy.

“I would phrase it this way: I support a full investigation of the Riccio matter immediately,” said Lance.

If Republicans really wanted to get serious about holding up Boxer’s nomination, then Sen. Walter Kavanaugh, who represents the nominee’s home district, could exercise senatorial courtesy and block his confirmation. But he’s never exercised it before and is highly unlikely to do it this time around, said his Chief-of-Staff, Ricky Trappe.

Democrats were dismissive of Cardinale’s strategy. The governor’s office highlighted the recent corruption busts as evidence for the need of a comptroller to audit all levels of government spending, and accused Cardinale of playing politics.

“If Republicans think it makes more sense to play politics and prevent a nominee from getting to work, they’re free to make that case to the voters,” said Corzine spokesman Brendan Gilfillian.

Raymond Lesniak, one of the Democrats on the Judiciary panel, said that he doesn’t understand the point of holding up Boxer’s nomination, as there is no indication that anything illegal happened.

“You don’t look into something unless you have reasonable suspicion that there was criminal activity. That doesn’t exist, except in Senator Cardinale’s mind,” said Lesniak.