What’s the protocol when a corrupt politician dies?

The death of legendary Hudson County political boss William Vincent Musto poses some interesting questions for several New Jersey officials: will U.S. Senator Robert Menendez attend the funeral of his former mentor, the way then-Vice President Harry S. Truman flew to Kansas City to pay his respects to Thomas Prendergast, the Missouri political boss who gave Truman his start in politics before his own corruption conviction? Will Governor Jon Corzine authorize state flags to fly at half-staff in memory of Musto, as is the custom of Governors when a former state legislator dies? Will Senate President Richard Codey and Assembly Speaker Joseph Roberts allow tributes to the man who served seventeen years in the Senate and nineteen years in the Assembly, as the Legislature traditionally does following the death of a former colleague? There is some precedent: a portrait of former Governor Harold Hoffman still hangs in the Statehouse, despite Hoffman’s posthumous admission that he was a thief — he had stolen money almost from the time he entered politics. (Harold G. Hoffman High School in South Amboy, where the corrupt ex-Governor began his political career as Mayor, has not changed their name.) A bust of former Vice President Spiro Agnew sits in the U.S. Capitol, even though Agnew resigned his office in disgrace. A portrait of former Governor James E. McGreevey, who resigned from office in November 2004, has reportedly been completed but does not yet hang in the Statehouse. Addressing the General Assembly after taking the oath of office, Assemblywoman Evelyn Williams praised one of her predecessors, Jackie Mattison, who had been removed from office following a criminal conviction. (Mattison is back in politics, sort of, doing redevelopment projects in Newark with the blessing of his old mentor, Sharpe James; Williams was arrested for shoplifting a week after taking office and never returned to the Statehouse.) John Gregorio, Musto’s colleague in the State Senate and the Mayor of Linden, left office following his own criminal conviction in 1983; a pardon during the final days of Governor Thomas Kean’s term allowed Gregorio to resume his political career a year later. Another onetime Musto colleague, State Senator/Camden Mayor Angelo Erichetti, who went to prison for his role in the Abscam scandal, has attended some South Jersey political events in recent years, even being photographed with a former Governor and a sitting Superior Court Judge. Should a criminal conviction automatically disqualify former public officials from recognition in death? In the current political climate, it is fashionable to attack the so-called culture of corruption. It may be up to Menendez, Corzine, Codey and Roberts to set that standard of what type of memorial tributes with go to Musto and the increasingly growing number of ex-felons who once held high public office in this state. They might want to take some advice from Donald Scarinci, a powerful North Jersey lawyer and Democratic leader who spent 3 1/2 years as an aide to Musto. Scarinci issued an incredibly classy statement that might set the tone for how the tributes should go: “Bill Musto became a part of my life, but I grieved the loss of the Bill Musto I knew, loved and will always remember in 1982. I have not seen or spoken to him since then, but today I said a prayer that God will welcome him home and that his family may take comfort in knowing that he sleeps in peace.”

What’s the protocol when a corrupt politician dies?