New Jersey’s legislative leadership expressed frustration with the arrests of Assemblymen Alfred Steele and Mims Hackett, but Senate President Richard Codey, Assembly Speaker Joseph Roberts, Senate Minority Leader Leonard Lance and Assembly Minority Leader Alex DeCroce stopped short of calling for the resignations of the two legislators accused of accepting bribes.
But several legislators, including State Sen. Ellen Karcher, Assemblywoman Linda Greenstein, and Assemblyman Michael Panter — all Democrats — said that Steele and Hackett should resign.
Assembly Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Nellie Pou, who is Steele’s running mate in the 35th district, talked of ethics reform but stopped short of commenting on Steele specifically.
“I was shocked, saddened and troubled by today's news involving Assemblyman Steele,” Pou said. “I believe all public officials should and must be held to the highest ethical standards. The public deserves no less. I will not be making any further comment until I have an opportunity to speak directly with Assemblyman Steele.”
Roberts said that he was “absolutely sickened by today's news involving the arrests of two Assembly members,” and called the charges against Steele and Hackett “extremely serious.” But the Speaker said he would wait to speak with the Democratic Assemblyman before making further comment.
Codey, who is Hackett’s running mate, acknowledged the “serious, serious allegations,” made by federal prosecutors today, but said that he wanted to let the legal process play out.
Karcher, in a tough battle for re-election to a second term, said that her two fellow Democrats should resign.
“While I am not passing legal judgment on any of these individuals, and the presumption of innocence is an integral part of our legal system, we need to restore the public’s faith in government by holding all public officials to a higher standard,” Karcher said.
Karcher and her GOP opponent, Assemblywoman Jennifer Beck, have already called on two other legislators under indictment, State Sens. Sharpe James and Wayne Bryant, to resign.
Karcher’s running mate, Assemblyman Michael Panter, who sponsored a new law that would require public officials convicted of bribery to forfeit their state pensions, said that “regardless of conviction, we call on these individuals to resign their public positions immediately, to focus on their impending trials without access to public tax dollars.”
Greenstein, also in a competitive race for re-election, said indicted public officials should resign so they could focus on their legal defense. Her running mate, former Hamilton Councilman Wayne D’Angelo, joined Greenstein in seeking the resignations of Steele and Hackett.
GOP Assemblyman Bill Baroni, who is running for the State Senate, praised U.S. Attorney Christopher Christie for his war on corruption.
"New Jersey is better off today than it was yesterday thanks to Chris Christie, Baroni said, noting that the U.S Attorney shouldn't have to fight corruption alone. “New Jersey deserves a Legislature that is as committed as he is to ending New Jersey's Culture of Corruption."
The Democratic legislative candidates in three open seats in District 11, John A. Villapiano, John P. Napolitani, and John Pirnat, said that Steele and Hackett should be suspended from office while facing trial, but did not call for their resignations.
Lance blamed part of the problem on dual officeholding.
”It is worth noting that the Legislators facing these charges hold more than one public office. It is my hope that today’s events inspire a new and real commitment from Governor Corzine and Democratic legislative leaders to fulfill their pledges to enact laws that ban pay-to-play across the board, outlaw wheeling and end dual office holding for all,” said Lance. “I ask them to support legislation I have drafted that would prohibit anyone from holding more than one government office, elected or appointed.”
“It has become fashionable to say that there is little difference between the parties. There is a real distinction between Republicans and Democrats regarding campaign finance and ethics reform. Senate Republicans are ready and willing to provide 18 of the 21 votes needed to pass comprehensive bans on pay-to-play, wheeling and dual office holding. In contrast Democrats have been unwilling, or unable, to provide the other three votes needed to approve those real reforms, Lance said.