The Revolving Door?

In the old days, political reporters were often recruited to work for the elected officials they covered. Joseph Katz covered campaigns for the Newark News before taking a job with Governor Richard Hughes; he later went on to open a lobbying firm that became a model for modern contract lobbyists. 1977 gubernatorial candidate Raymond Bateman started out as a journalist with Forbes magazine before becoming Executive Director of the Republican State Committee and launching a twenty-year career in the Legislature. Walter Edge served as Governor and as a U.S. Senator after a career as a newspaperman in Atlantic City.

The announcement last week that Deborah Howlett, a highly-regarded Star-Ledger statehouse reporter, would become Governor Jon Corzine’s new Communications Director has renewed interest in the revolving door between politicians hiring the reporters that cover them. Howlett joins a team of ex-reporters that covered Corzine before they worked for him: Mark Perkiss (Trenton Times), Ralph Siegel (Associated Press), and David Wald, who began the 2000 cycle as the Star-Ledger’s chief political correspondent and columnist and ended it on Corzine’s U.S. Senate campaign staff. Wald spent five years on Corzine’s Senate staff and is now the spokesman for the state Attorney General.

Sometimes there is a revolving door and sometimes the door just swings wide open. Bob Comstock went from Associate Editor of The Record to Communications Director for Governor Brendan Byrne and then returned to The Record as Executive Editor.

Other ex-reporters remain on the state payroll, including Donna Leusner, a Star-Ledger reporter who is Siegel’s wife; Caryl Lucas (Star-Ledger), and Peter Aseltine (Trenton Times). Larry Hanover covered the school construction beat for the Trenton Times before he was hired as the spokesman for the School Construction Corporation.

Perhaps one reporter who has set the standard for ethics is Lilo Stainton, Corzine’s Press Secretary. Stainton was the statehouse reporter for Gannett, but left the paper in 2005 and joined Corzine after a cooling off period of nearly two years.

Then there’s the reporter-to-operative rotation: Pat Politano is now a successful political consultant and Tom Turcol (Philadelphia Inquirer) went to work for Kennedy Communications as a political consultant. In between separate reporting gigs, Karen DeMasters (New York Times) was Chuck Haytaian’s press secretary. Conservative strategist Rick Shaftan was a Bronx Review-Press reporter in 1981. Democratic consultant Paul Swibinski is also an ex-reporter.

Star-Ledger Pulitzer Prize winner Jeff Whelan worked on U.S. Senator Frank Lautenberg’s staff before going to Columbia Journalism School.

Democratic pollster Joel Benenson was a reporter. So was Mickey Carroll, the Director of the Qunnipiac University Polling Institute and the father of Assemblyman and unpaid PolitickerNJ.com columnist Michael Patrick Carroll; Mickey Carroll covered New Jersey politics for several newspapers, including the New York Times.

Sometimes an overture of employment goes nowhere. In his book on the 1993 Governor’s race, New Jersey Network’s Michael Aron reported that he was asked to go to work for Christie Whitman’s campaign; he turned it down. Several sources say that The Record’s Jeff Pillets had discussions with the Senate Republicans, who were seeking a new Communications Director; Pillets would only say that he wouldn’t “walk away from serious journalism in this kind of target-rich environment.”

There are reporters who go from journalism to becoming front line public officials. Carl Zeitz, who covered the early days of legalized gambling in New Jersey, became a Casino Control Commission. James Weinstein became the state Commissioner of Transportation.

And reporters become lobbyists: The Record’s Trenton Bureau Chief Leon Zimmerman, who first went to work for a committee promoting Governor William Cahill’s tax reform plan; Newark News’ William Kohm, who went to work as Assembly Clerk before joining a State Street firm; and Alan Marcus, a Hudson Dispatch reporter who started a successful public relations and government affairs firm after serving as the youngest Bergen County Republican Organization Executive Director and, at age 21, Assembly Clerk.

In 2005, former Trentonian reporter Sherry Sylvester was Doug Forrester's campaign spokeswoman.

Others former reporters who went to the taxpayer-funded side of politics: Jo Astrid Glading, Jon Shure, Jim McQueeny, Fred Hillman, Carl Golden, Joseph Donnelly, Carl Winter, Michael Jennings,Kevin Davitt, and Peter Suharko.

And full disclosure: Robert Sommer, the President of the Observer Media Group, which owns PolitickerNJ.com, is a former political operative and lobbyist.

There are alot more. Please feel free to add names to our list, or email them to us at editor@politicsnj.com.

The Revolving Door?