A Tale of Two Donalds

The campaign of 2006 featured a Tale of Two Donalds: Scarinci, who put his friend and party ahead of himself, and Rumsfeld, who did not. After a firestorm of attacks against Senator Bob Menendez in September gave State Senator Tom Kean Jr. a lead in most of the polls, the Philadelphia Inquirer introduced Dr. Oscar Sandoval. The paper published secretly recorded tapes he made over seven years ago with Donald Scarinci, Menendez’s best friend and closest advisor. Scarinci showed steadfast loyalty to his friend and did what was probably the most difficult thing he could have done — step aside and be quiet. Had Donald Rumsfeld done the same for President George W. Bush, the outcome of the 2006 national elections might have been dramatically different. The day the Sandoval tapes first appeared, Scarinci and Menendez made a quick decision. If Scarinci defended himself, then the campaign would have spent weeks discussing Sandoval and disgraced former County Executive Bob Janiszewski. Menendez and all of the elected officials in Hudson County would have been drawn into a statewide discussion of one of Hudson County’s darkest eras. This is exactly what the Kean campaign was counting on. Instead, the campaign severed its ties with Scarinci. He issued a simple statement, took a leave of absence from his law firm, and then disappeared from the stage. The next day, the Star Ledger published a letter from Janiszewski, written from his jail cell, giving advice to the Kean campaign that included using Sandoval. The following week, Kean was on the defensive and the momentum of the campaign shifted in favor of Menendez. Both campaigns went with television ads — Menendez’s ad featured federal prisoner Janiszewski giving campaign advice. Kean’s ad featured the picture and crackled voice of Scarinci on tape. Ominous voiceovers claimed kickback schemes, shakedowns, and bossism. The Kean commercial was not without its problems; the sound quality was bad and others just didn’t see what was criminal. The tape was just an ordinary conversation between a lawyer and a client. Scarinci, the lawyer, asks Sandoval, his client to rehire a doctor he had previously fired and who was competing against him for a county contract. The conversation was anything but intimidating. Scarinci repeatedly says, “If you can hire him, hire him. If you can’t, you can’t” The Star-Ledger’s Tom Moran asked Edward Stier, the respected former Director of the state DIvision of Criminal Justice to review the tape. “I’ve heard I don’t know how many recorded conversations with corrupt people,” Stier said. “And this sure doesn’t sound like one.” There are not many people in New Jersey politics who would have done what Scarinci did for Menendez. The natural response of almost all people is to defend themselves and fight back. Scarinci demonstrated loyalty to his friend and his party and showed the rest of the state that people from Hudson County are known for character, not corruption. Scarinci is the man you want to be with in a foxhole. The story of Menendez and Scarinci, which began thirty years ago on the front porch of Menendez’s apartment in Union City and continued through one political battle to another, will now move to a national stage. Even in the heat of the Sandoval story Menendez would not say that he had severed his personal ties with Scarinci. We are told that the bond between them is tighter then ever. The U.S. Senate was Menendez’s boyhood dream, and Scarinci was willing to do anything to help him. Scarinci’s sacrifice clearly helped other Democrats on the ticket. It was Scarinci’s ability to rise from the ashes of Bob Janiszewski and the attacks of Rudy Garcia that caused PoliticsNJ.com to name him the Politician of the Year in 2000. Six years later, a more seasoned Scarinci has earned that accolade and more.

A Tale of Two Donalds