I was in a campaign once with New York-based Republican consultant Arthur Finkelstein. I always remember the advice Arthur gave to candidates or public officials who find themselves answering any questions about transparency, honesty, or integrity, or dealing with governmental actions that touched on these issues.
Arthur proposed a formulation that he called “the dance of the honest man.” What he meant is that the official or the candidate should always put themselves in the shoes of any normal honest voter who might be asked these same questions, or be required to make a governmental decision, and react according. How the regular honest voter would react to a particular issue of this kind is the “dance of the honest man.”
I recalled this advice on the occasion this week of learning that UMDNJ lost a whistle-blower lawsuit to my friend Carol Caprarola. Carol was a governmental affairs staffer at UMDNJ who was fired because she dared to question in writing her superiors’ little habit of writing illegal campaign contributions from the non-profit state agency to favored political candidates, mostly Democrats, and after she cooperated in a criminal investigation into the agency.
Carol had the courage to question this practice in writing, and was fired in 2006. She sued UMDNJ and last week a jury awarded her nearly $400,000 in punitive damages. The jury found that she was passed over for a promotion after testifying before a grand jury, and after a memo she wrote appeared in the Star-Ledger.
The most amazing and telling part of this affair is the reaction of the Corzine Administration, which called the whistle-blower’s Court victory “disappointing.”
If you apply the Finkelstein formula, ask yourself how a normal honest voter would react if he or she were Governor and in charge of an agency that lost a whistle-blower case? Would they express disappointment? Or would they praise the whistle-blower who ended corrupt practices?
I think if the Administration were doing the “dance of the honest man” the Administration would be crediting people like Caprarola for shining public scrutiny which ended the abuses and illegal practices in our state agencies, especially since many of these abuses occurred before Governor Corzine took office.
The dance of the honest man would look like an Administration that would not be overtly defending a corrupt agency’s illegal actions. The dance of the honest man would not be expressing “disappointment” at a Court victory for the lone citizen who exposed these corrupt acts.
It is possible that the decision to pursue this particular case was made by UMDNJ’s politically-connected lawyer, Walter Timpone, without the input of the Front Office. If so, Mr. Timpone and UMDNJ are doing the Governor a serious disservice, because ultimately it is the Governor who is responsible for this agency, and it is ultimately a reflection upon his Administration when the agency decides to defend the illegal and corrupt actions that honest citizens took pains to speak out against.
It is the Governor, unfortunately, who is stuck doing the dance.