PARAMUS – Republican gubernatorial nominee Chris Christie and lieutenant governor candidate Kim Guadagno came to this swing town in the middle of the state’s big swing county to lay out a plan aimed at reducing government corruption.
About 60 Christie supporters showed up to a church’s community room to listen to their candidate outline 10 proposals that he said would be enacted in a Christie Administration. He gave a 24 minutes speech on the subject before sitting down for a roundtable discussion.
Christie did not mention disgraced former state Sen. Joseph Coniglio (D-Paramus), whom he indicted as U.S. Attorney early last year, in his opening remarks. Addressing corruption in Coniglio’s home town was message enough.
Instead, Christie focused on lambasting Gov. Corzine for not setting a strong example to the state’s lower-ranking politicians by using a double standard in political rhetoric against officials charged with corruption. Christie noted that in 2007 Corzine did not call on powerful former state Sens. Wayne Bryant (D-Camden) and Sharpe James (D-Newark) to resign after their indictments, nor did he for former Passaic Mayor Samuel Rivera. But now in 2009, when Corzine is up for reelection, he has pressured former Hoboken Mayor Peter Cammarano and Ridgefield Mayor Anthony Suarez to resign.
“When you send mixed signals on matters that you claim involve principle, you hurt the fight against corruption. You give cover to those who believe that maybe next time those laws and ethical standards don’t apply evenly to them because they’re in the party of the guy in power.”
Christie also said Corzine still sent those mixed signals by targeting Suarez in the small town of Ridgefield but not the much larger Jersey City, home to a Democratic machine that is important to his reelection prospects.
“Where is his concern for the 241,000 residents of Jersey City? In a city with much more development than Ridgefield. With a City Council President, a Deputy Mayor and an army of city employees charged with corruption,” he said.
Christie’s ethics plan was a mix of reforms he’s already proposed on the stump and ones already proposed or even partially enacted by Gov. Corzine, along with a couple reforms not previously discussed:
∙A complete end to dual office-holding, including the loophole in the current ban that grandfathered in already existing dual officeholders
∙A ban on dual public employment
∙Mandatory forfeiture of all public pensions after any corruption conviction – not just for the office that the offense touched on, as is currently on the books.
∙Stricter disclosure of conflicts of interest for legislators
∙Establish an elected state auditor
∙A stricter ban on pay to play that includes counties and municipalities
∙A ban on the use of election funds to pay for politicians’ legal defense
∙Immediate suspension of any officeholder charged with a crime until the case is resolved in court
∙More detailed financial disclosure forms for state public officials
∙Forfeiture of campaign funds for anyone convicted of a crime touching on his or her public office. The funds would be surrendered to the Election Law Enforcement Commission, which will donate them to charity.
But many of the reforms have not been enacted – or fully enacted – because Corzine ran into opposition in the legislature. Reporters instantly raised the question of how Christie will be able to push his bills through what is expected to remain a Democratic legislature without them suffering a crippling comrpomise.
“When the people of New Jersey elect me and Kim in November, they will be sending a very clear message. When you’re sending two former federal corruption prosecutors to run the state government, I don’t think there should be any question about what the people of the state want, and they will refuse to act at their political peril,” he said.
Absent from the ethics plan was a ban on the practice of wheeling, in which political action committees and parties donate to each other. Christie said he would address that later on in the campaign.
Christie’s press conference coincided with the Corzine Campaign’s release of an ad about how Christie, a George W. Bush fundraising “Pioneer” in 2000, helped raise hundreds of thousands for the former president’s first national campaign. The ad equates the way Christie got became U.S. Attorney with the pay to play he railed against today.
Christie responded that Corzine was a U.S. Senator at the time and singed off on the appointment.
“If he thought it was a massive example of pay-to-play he could have stopped it,” he said.
Democratic lieutenant governor candidate Loretta Weinberg (D-Teaneck) brought up the commercial in her response to Christie’s presser.
“Christie’s ethics talking points don’t seem to break any new ground,” she said. “And they also don’t mention how he got his job from George Bush because he raised money for his campaign, or how he handed out multi-million dollar contracts to friends and people who could help him, which is classic pay to play. Christie’s ethics talking points are lacking in credibility.”
Also speaking on behalf of the Corzine camp was Mercer County Executive Brian Hughes, who flashed back to Christie’s campaign for Morris County Freeholder in 1994. Hughes said that Christie campaigned against no-bid contracts, but voted to give them out to campaign contributors when in office.
When asked for documentation, the Corzine campaign provided a copy of a September, 1997 Morris County freeholder resolution hiring the engineering firm French & Parrello Associates for $31,700 of work for planning a bridge replacement in Montville. At the time, Christie was the freeholder director.
The resolution was not competitively bid. The company, according to an Election Law Enforcement Commission report provided by the Corzine campaign, donated $500 to Chrsitie’s reelection campaign three months before the contract was awarded.
“I agree with Christie that broken promises are the first path to corruption,” said Hughes. “Unfortunately, Christie’s history shows that he has set a standard that he continuously violated, and then refused to accept responsibility for his actions. It seems as though the rules Christie has laid out do not apply to him.”