About twenty five years ago, former Associated Press Trenton Bureau Chief John Kolesar wrote a story for New Jersey Monthly listing the biggest political scandals in New Jersey history. Among the best: the scam in which some Burlington County Republican leaders, including former Acting Governor Clifford Powell, bought two Delaware River bridges for $8 million and sold them the same day to the county for $12 million; the 1872 scandal when the Assembly Speaker forged an amendment to a bill the legislature had passed that would have broken the Pennsylvania Railroad’s mainline monopoly in New Jersey; the 1899 gubernatorial election when Hudson County produced a 14,000-vote margin for the successful Democratic candidate, including 10,000 votes from people were deceased or non-existent. (67 Democratic election workers went to jail); in 1871, the Jersey City Treasurer was found to have looted the city treasury, but law enforcement officials could nail him, he beat it to Mexico, where a bandit relieved him of his booty; and Jersey City Mayor Frank Hague’s entire career, in which he never made a salary higher than $7,500 but left an estate worth a couple of million dollars.
But the best scandal, Kolesar says, involved Governor Harold Hoffman. President Franklin Roosevelt had established the unemployment compensation system while Hoffman was Governor in the 1930’s. Hoffman appointed the State Unemployment Compensation Commission and places his political allies as commission members. They established an $18,000-a-year annual salary, which at the time was 80% higher than the Governor’s salary. The commission took a long time in their search for a Director, and when Hoffman’s term expired, he got the job. Hoffman made a deathbed confession that he stole hundreds of thousands of dollars in that job.