News that two of his colleagues in the Assembly – among others – had been indicted on corruption charges in federal court Thursday sounded like a leaden cymbal clash in the lead up to festivities at the Democratic State Conference at Bally’s in Atlantic City.
But State Democratic Chairman Assemblyman Joseph Cryan gave no indication he believes the party, as in the one he belongs to, shouldn’t go on, even as he acknowledged that the state needs stronger ethics reforms.
Meanwhile, a Republican outfit ridiculed for months as the most obvious institutional wreckage left over from a sagging Bush presidency, found an opening.
Cryan was grimly soldierly.
"I’m saddened and disappointed at today’s news, and I hope the people involved as they consider their future strongly consider the interests of the Democratic Party," the chairman said.
Across the aisle, Assemblyman Bill Baroni, a candidate for state Senate in the 14th District, sent up a trumpet blast for reform.
"There is no bigger crisis than what we are facing right now," said the Republican. "We need a ban on dual office holding. We need an end to wheeling. We need to ban pay-to-play."
In the wake of news that Assemblyman (and Orange Mayor) Mims Hackett and Assemblyman (and Passaic County Undersheriff) Alfred Steele were among those indicted in federal court Thursday, Baroni said he was drafting a letter to send to Gov. Jon Corzine on Friday, asking the governor to trigger his Constitutional powers and convene a special session of the Legislature to implement key reforms.
"(Mims Hackett) was on the state government committee; Alfred Steele waspushing ethics reform bills while he was being investigated," said Baroni, who is hoping Corzine morphs into Harry Truman circa 1948, when the president pushed nationwide reforms in a political season.
"We can come back next week to do this," Baroni said.
Both Baroni and Cryan noted the innocent until proven guilty factor. Neither saw any evidence of wrongdoing on the floor of the Assembly or in the halls of government when it came to Hackett and Steele.
To U.S. Attorney Christopher Christie’s comments regarding "blind eye" Legislative leadership appointing officials indicted today to important committee assignments, Cryan said, "I don’t see how anyone could have possibly seen this coming. Anyone in leadership would resent that. The suggestion that it’s reflective of Assembly leadership is ludicrous."
While speaking on the Assembly floor last June, Cryan questioned the legality of taking the vote away from citizens who had already selected a candidate with the knowledge that he or she was a dual office holder, favoring a grandfather clause in the Legislature, today nodded in the face of the indictments.
"The legislation we passed was different from the governor’s initial call for an all-out ban on dual office holding, and I think today’s events require that we revisit that legislation," said Cryan.
Baroni during the debate complained about the dual office holding legislation as presented by the majority party, but voted for it eventually, calling it better than nothing.