Bill Pascoe

Three years ago today, Bob Torricelli’s notoriously pugilistic – and corrupt – life as an elected official came to an end with a Chang and a simper, at a packed statehouse press conference where he choked up, cried as if on cue, bemoaned the loss of civility in the public arena, and channeled Elmer Gantry. “When did we become such an unforgiving people?” he wailed, teary-eyed, “When did we stop believing in and trusting each other?”In the case of Bob Torricelli, the answer to those two questions is: a long time ago, sir. With many scandals, as the old axiom goes, it’s not the conduct but the cover-up that does in the perp. Torricelli’s downfall proved that sometimes it’s the underlying conduct itself. There wasn’t any cover-up involved; what there was instead was mountains of evidence that Torricelli had taken cash and gifts in exchange for the use of his office – so much evidence that a U.S. Senate Ethics Committee controlled by his own party voted unanimously to “severely admonish” him. Little did we know then that Mr. Torricelli’s resignation – and the ensuing legal and political firestorm, which made front-page news across the country and drew television crews from as far away as Japan and Australia to the Richard J. Hughes Justice Complex – was but the precursor to an even larger drama yet to play out: the resignation of Governor Jim McGreevey two summers later. In between, of course, New Jerseyans got to see their state’s dominant political class audition for continuing roles in “Cops”. The Governor’s chief of staff, Gary Taffet, and his chief counsel, Paul Levinsohn, were forced to resign after news reports indicated they had used their influence to benefit a private company they owned; The Governor’s Superintendent of the State Police, Joe Santiago, was forced to resign when it was revealed that he had illegally ordered the confiscation of background files on himself and his top aides; One of the Governor’s top fund-raisers, David D’Amiano, was caught in a federal investigation of his fund-raising activities, and the Governor himself was implicated in the “Machiavellian” scheme, which led to an 11-count, 47-page indictment; Another of the Governor’s fund-raisers, Roger Chugh, was forced to resign over revelations of failed business debts and pending lawsuits, and later was under high-profile federal investigation for his own extortive fund-raising tactics in McGreevey’s 2001 campaign for Governor; The Governor’s top donor, Charles Kushner, had to resign his seat as a Commissioner of the Port Authority amidst questions about his business ethics, and later pled guilty on 18 federal counts including tax violations, fraud, and intimidating a federal witness; The Governor’s Commerce Secretary, the Rev. William Watley, resigned in disgrace under an ethical cloud after it was revealed he had handed out taxpayer-funded jobs to relatives of his top aide – including one who lived in California; And the Governor’s Secretary of State, Regena Thomas – a GOTV expert who was instrumental in Jon Corzine’s 2000 U.S. Senate victory – came under fire earlier this year when it was revealed that she had taken a month’s leave last fall to work for John Kerry’s presidential campaign (in exchange, she said originally, for a promise from Sen. Kerry himself of a federal job – itself a violation of federal law), even as she was already taking heat for neglecting her official duties. This list could go on, of course, with names like Paul Byrne, and Bobby Janiszewski, and Marty Barnes, and Sara Bost, and William Braker, and Nidia Davila-Colon, and Anthony Impreveduto, and others. Clearly, Torricelli’s withdrawal from the race set the stage for the higher-profile scandals to come, leading right up to the Governor’s resignation. Three years later, New Jerseyans face a choice: will they vote for a candidate for Governor who looked upon Bob Torricelli as his mentor, and who proudly embraced Jim McGreevey even as McGreevey was aware of his looming ultimate scandal? Or will they vote for the man who deserves credit for not letting Torricelli get away with it? Bill Pascoe was Doug Forrester’s campaign manager in the 2002 U.S. Senate race

Bill Pascoe