When state Sen. Loretta Weinberg (D-Teaneck) took the stage with Gov. Jon Corzine at the Bergen Performing Arts Center last week, it was clear what role the Corzine camp had in mind for their new lieutenant governor candidate.
Weinberg, 74, started her first speech as a candidate for the number two spot on the ballot by introducing herself as a "feisty Jewish grandmother from Bergen County." She later ripped into Republican gubernatorial candidate Christopher Christie as an "insider with George Bush" who wants to deny a woman's right to choose, said he would reject part of the federal stimulus funds, and gave his friends and a former boss no bid contracts worth millions.
And if her role was not clear enough based on Saturday's event, it was she who went after Christie in press releases yesterday and today, alleging that, because a defendant accused of tax fraud hired a law firm run by friends of Christie, he got a "sweetheart" plea deal.
But when asked whether she sees her role as Corzine's attack dog, Weinberg said no.
"I see it as my role to be me in this campaign and there aren't many people who will be able to change me," she said.
It isn't even Weinberg's first time has gone after Christie. The two have long been at odds over the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey's (UMDNJ) oversight. In the legislature, Weinberg criticized the choice of his friend and political ally John Inglesino as one of the federal monitors.
"When you hold people responsible for what happenings on your watch unquote you have to be responsible on all sides of the coin," she said.
Nevertheless, Weinberg's background suits her role. Her battles with former Bergen County Democratic Chairman Joseph Ferriero – who was one of the most powerful men in the state at the time – gave her more ethical street cred than most politicians.
Weinberg's opponents bring up her time as a hospital administrator in the 1980s, when she was fired over eight tons of canned tuna disappeared on her watch.
Weinberg sued the hospital for wrongful termination.
"I was named by the then-assignment judge as the heroine of that story," she said.
So far, when the Republicans have hit back on Weinberg, it has not been on ethics. Rather, the Christie campaign responded to Corzine's selection of Weinberg as "just more of the same," characterizing her as a Trenton insider who was partly responsible for the state's struggling economy and rising taxes.
Since this is uncharted territory for New Jersey, the Corzine campaign seems to be equating the role of lieutenant governor to the traditional role of vice presidential candidates in national elections, according to Seton Hall University political science professor Joseph Marbach.
"Usually the role the vice-president plays is the attack dog for the administration, and it allows the presidential candidate to be above the fray. I expect that's the same type of model they'll be using," he said.
But on the other side of the campaign, Republican lieutenant governor candidate Kim Guadagno, the sheriff of Monmouth County, has not been any more aggressive in attacking Corzine than Christie has.
"She uses strong language with regard to the state of New Jersey and Corzine… but I don't think that's been very different from Christie's tone," said Christie spokeswoman Maria Comella. "We see Kim as an asset in that she can talk about Chris and Chris's record in a way he can't talk about his own record. She can brag about Chris in a way he wouldn't do looking forward."