Hold me Accountable: Corzine’s aspirations

At his press conference yesterday, Gov. Jon S. Corzine made an especially interesting remark:

“If I stand for reelection, I certainly will be held very specifically accountable,” he said, emphasizing the “if.”

When you’re the most powerful politician in the state, every word you utter gets picked apart and examined for any hint of greater meaning. So, is Corzine’s non-commitment to run for another term in two years’ time merely careful language? Or does the Governor, facing a legislature not as pliable as he had hoped and a potentially serious challenge in 2009 see another possible position in his future — perhaps in President Hillary Clinton’s cabinet?

Quite possibly, say political analysts.

Corzine has done it before, after all, when he left the Senate to become Governor. In doing so, many observers saw the move as a logical step, that Corzine had his eyes not on the Statehouse, but ultimately on the White House.

“A lot of people in D.C. think that Corzine returned to New Jersey not to join someone else’s cabinet, but to form his own as president,” said Washington-based political analyst Stu Rothenberg.

Others say that he was frustrated with the work of a Senator, especially as a member of the minority party.

“I think he did that because he didn’t like the Senate. The Senate is a really tough place for executives” said Jennifer Duffy, Editor of the Cook Political Report.

Today, as the man who’s leading the charge for Hillary Clinton in New Jersey, the Governor downplays the idea of ever being president, telling the Star-Ledger’s Tom Moran that it would be “ridiculous.” Moreover, Rothenberg said, don’t expect to see Corzine tapped to run for Vice President, since having such a northeastern, metropolitan New York City ticket would be geographically, if not ideologically, undesirable.

Taking such an active role in the Clinton campaign, and helping raise millions for it, will certainly make him a contender for a cabinet post or an ambassadorship. And with Corzine’s background as a Goldman Sachs executive, one position in particular sticks out: Secretary of the Treasury.

But it’s unclear which job the Governor would prefer.

“As Governor of New Jersey, he’s the number one elected official in the state. He’s got all the security, he makes decisions, all the papers report what he says, when he says it…… that’s very appealing for a lot of politicians,” said Rothenberg. “But if you’re talking about Secretary of Treasury, your playing field isn’t just Trenton and the state. Your playing field isn’t just even the United States. It’s the world.”

Corzine wouldn’t be the first governor to leave office for a cabinet position. Most recently, Gov. Christie Whitman left office to head the Environmental Protection Agency under the Bush Administration, but she only had a year left in her second term.

Another former Governor, Thomas H. Kean, Sr., was given the option during his term in office, but chose Trenton instead (Kean said it’s tradition not to say which president offered you what position). And earlier this decade, while serving as President of Drew University, he was considered for the Secretary of Education post in the Bush Administration.

“It’s a better job, and you’re your own boss,” said Kean of being governor. “If you go in the cabinet, you’ve really got to be willing to do whatever the president wants you to do.”

But David P. Rebovich, Managing Director of the Rider University, sees Corzine as having a tough choice. After spending millions of his own money to get to Trenton, he might not want to relinquish the office. But after experiencing first-hand the long, hard, frustrating slog of Trenton politics, Corzine may just want to get out of dodge.

“Let’s be honest, he has experienced enormous frustration as a governor trying to forward a policy agenda that’s important to him, and from where we sit right now it’s hard to imagine that the next six years of New Jersey government are going to be better or easier,” said Rebovich, who added that there was speculation about Corzine taking the same post if Kerry won the 2004 presidential election.

But GOP State Chairman Tom Wilson said that a Corzine nomination would be off the table if an incoming President Clinton was smart about it. The issue, he said, is a “non-starter” as long as the cloud of his relationship with union leader Carla Katz hangs over the Governor’s head.

Although a recent poll showed that 61 percent of New Jerseyans (let alone Americans) had not heard of union leader Katz, Wilson, said that the relationship would never withstand the national media spotlight. A relationship that only political insiders seem to care about could become a sordid affair with enough media attention. And a new administration, seeking to enter office with momentum on its side, would not want a candidate who would bog them down in scandal.

“This guy will never break out of New Jersey, because that question is too ripe for the kind of scrutiny that the national media would give it,” said Wilson. “When you serve in the cabinet, you’re not meant to be a liability. It’s not about you, it’s about the president.

But Corzine spokeswoman Lilo Stainton said that not only has the governor not given thought to being reelected, but he hasn’t thought of what he’d do if he chooses not to run again either.

"The governor is focused on New Jersey's future, not his own. He's working hard every day at the state's business — helping to improve schools, provide tax relief and ensure health care coverage – not worrying about the landscape in Washington, D.C. after Hillary becomes president,” said Stainton.

Hold me Accountable: Corzine’s aspirations