Getting Out of the Gutter

By Steve Adubato, Ph.D. Okay, so it is all over now. US Senator Jon Corzine will become the state„s next governor. Over $70 million was spent in the most expensive gubernatorial race in New Jersey history. For weeks, we were inundated by 30-second television commercials touting the candidates’ virtues but mostly trashing the other guy. So while Corzine wins and all of us wish him well in dealing with the considerable problems New Jersey faces over the next four years, there are some other more complex issues and questions that need to be raised about how we run campaigns and what it means to New Jersey and its future. It seems like after every election we say this one was just about the “nastiest and most personal” in state history. We said it after the McGreevey / Schundler race in 2001. We said it in the Lautenberg / Forrester US Senate race in 2002. We say it all the time, but in this most recent race for governor, new lows were reached that were disgraceful and embarrassing. On the Friday before the election, I interviewed Jon Corzine for public television. While I should have been asking him about his plans for property taxes, homeland security, education and over-development, I felt compelled to ask the Senator to respond to a last minute Forrester ad. You know the one with the words of Jon Corzine„s ex-wife Joanne saying that when she saw Andrea Forrester„s commercial in October bestowing the virtues of her husband and saying; “Doug never let our family down and he won„t let New Jersey down,” the former Mrs. Corzine felt compelled to add, “Jon let our family down and he will probably let New Jersey down, too.” Devastating. Embarrassing. The words of a scorned ex-wife? (Even though she got millions in the divorce settlement.) The comments of someone who knows Corzine better than anyone else given they met in first grade? Words that should clearly be off limits and out of bounds because they are so personal and have nothing to do with the challenges and problems we as a state face? The answer could be ‘yes’ to all of those questions, but the other piece is this–When I asked Corzine to respond to the spot, you could see the pain in his eyes. He kept repeating that it was a “private issue” and that his ex-wife had a “right to her opinion.” But you could see that he was dying inside wondering how his three grown children (two of whom were asked in a public forum if they agreed with their mother„s assessment of their father), not to mention his 89 year old mother, would be impacted by this. But it got worse after that. The day before this Corzine interview, Forrester was asked by reporters if it was true that he had an affair with a former staffer who also happened to be a former Ms. New Jersey. Forrester balked at first, then responded by saying that he had never had “sex” with the woman. The fact that he was even asked the question and he answered in front of dozens of reporters is an issue that all of us need to be concerned about. What happened to the line between public and private lives of candidates? Does the line even exist anymore? But it gets even worse. Within an hour after my public television interview with Corzine, he faced a gaggle of cameras and microphones and was asked if it was true that he had an affair with a young staffer who became pregnant (her name was actually disclosed) and that Corzine had paid for an abortion in Ohio. As this was going on, I was about 10 feet from Corzine, standing with other journalists. I was embarrassed for everyone in our so-called profession. The scene was unreal. Corzine was visibly shaken but held firm and then finally said something about the question being “in the gutter” and denied the charge. On election night, both Corzine and Forrester said we needed to forget the references to sexual and marital infidelity, alleged abortions and countless other scurrilous and degrading charges and countercharges. But it is not that easy to forget when all of us, particularly those in the campaigns and the rest of us who covered it, are filled with dirt and grime and garbage after rolling around in a cesspool that we call a campaign for governor. My point is that there is no turning back now. While Corzine has won, on a larger scale New Jersey has lost. We„ve lost in terms of our reputation. (As if it could get any worse than it already is?) We„ve lost by sending the message to decent, caring, but flawed potential public servants that this is the price you, your family and anyone connected to you could pay if you are crazy enough to enter the fray. We also pay the price because the reputation of both men, but particularly our new governor, have been sullied beyond anyone„s wildest imagination. Where does it end and when will those that have the ability to turn this thing around begin to realize that the consequences are too great to be playing the politics of personal destruction? We„ve elected a governor who is a decent but flawed human being, just like the rest of us. We„ve elected a governor who has made hundreds of millions of dollars on Wall Street and whose judgment about who he loans money to and what implications it may have appear to be effected by having so much money. We„ve elected a divorced man (I„m divorced too. Join the club.) who has an ex-wife who tried to end his political career five days before an election. We„ve elected our US Senator to become governor and go to Trenton to try to make things just a little bit better. We„ve elected a human being, flaws and all, but someone with great potential. We„ve not elected a scoundrel, a cad, a creep and a cheat, but you couldn„t tell that by this campaign. Maybe it„s me, but I„m just wondering when it is all going to stop and enough New Jerseyans open the window and yell as Howard Beale did in the movie ËœNetwork„; “I„m mad as hell and I am not going to take it anymore.” Well, that„s how I feel. I„m just not sure what to do with any of it. What do you think? Write to me at sadubato@aol.com

Getting Out of the Gutter