N.J. abuse of power: It didn’t start with ‘Bridgegate’

The controversy surrounding lane closures on the George Washington Bridge claimed Gov. Chris Christie’s top appointee at the joint state authority tasked with managing the crossing.

Former state Sen. Bill Baroni’s resignation came after his own No. 2, David Wildstein, resigned amid growing furor from critics that the two played a direct role in shutting down lanes on the GWB for nearly a week in September.

While some have insisted the lane closure was the result of a traffic study, many more have cried foul and described the incident as just another example of abuse of power in the Garden State.

Of course, there’s been no evidence to date that the controversy was connected directly to the governor’s administration. However, even if so-called “Bridgegate” ends with Baroni, it came within arm’s reach.

With that said, here’s a look at some other noteworthy examples of questionable decisions in New Jersey politics that grabbed the spotlight and involved the state’s governor or people within an arm’s length of the executive:

Chris Christie

While the brouhaha surrounding the controversy didn’t last particularly long or really ever stick, Gov. Chris Christie faced criticism earlier in his first term for flying to his son’s high school baseball games in the state’s police helicopter.

Christie agreed to reimburse the state for the trips (as well as a flight to the governor’s mansion in Princeton to meet with campaign donors) despite asserting the uproar over the flights was merely “political theater and media theater that people enjoy at times.”

Zulima Farber

After she was tapped by former Gov. Jon Corzine to serve as Attorney General, Zulima Farber faced criticism from Republican lawmakers during the nomination process over her driving record (following her confirmation it would later be reported that Farber’s driving record included 12 speeding tickets, four bench warrants and three license suspensions).

Although it wasn’t her record behind the wheel that would lead to her fall from grace.

In May 2006, Farber reportedly showed up to the scene of a seat-belt enforcement checkpoint in Fairview (in her state vehicle driven by a trooper, nonetheless) after her companion, Hamlet Goore, was stopped for driving with a suspended license. While a subsequent investigation found Farber broke no laws while at the scene of the incident, her presence raised “serious ethical questions,” according to published reports.

Farber resigned in August 2006 after the investigation found she had violated her own department’s code of ethics.

Of course, going to the aid of her companion during a routine traffic stop didn’t force her to resign, she insisted. Rather, Farber argued at the time, saying, “I am steadfast in my conviction that the findings do not compel my resignation, and no one asked for it,” she said during a news conference with Corzine at her side.

Jon Corzine

Speaking of the former governor.

Gov. Jon. Corzine was ensnarled in a traffic controversy of his own while in office after an accident nearly took his life.

In 2007, the governor’s SUV was traveling at 91 miles an hour shortly before it slammed into a guard rail off the Garden State Parkway and sent Corzine, who wasn’t wearing a seatbelt, to the hospital with a broken leg, breastbone, 11 ribs and a vertebra.

The governor ultimately volunteered to pay the $46 fine for not wearing a seatbelt and starred in a PSA warning drivers of the dangers of traveling without wearing a seatbelt.

Gary Taffet

Gary Taffet, a former chief of staff to Gov. Jim McGreevey, stepped down from the top aide position after the administration awarded a lucrative state contract to a firm with ties to a South Jersey businessman who had just signed a deal to buy billboard advertising from Taffet’s company.

The $100,000 contract was awarded during the gubernatorial transition period.

Jim McGreevey

Golan Cipal.

Christie Whitman

Conceding sometime after the incident that it was a mistake, the former governor took a political hit when a photo surfaced that showed her frisking a Camden man who was detained during a drug raid in 1996.

The photo appeared around the time Whitman’s name was circulating as a possible candidate for vice president to George Bush.

The incident occurred as Whitman took part in a police ride-along.

Joe Salema

In 1993, Gov. Jim Florio’s chief of staff, Joe Salema, resigned amid allegations that his private business directly benefited from his political contacts.

The former top aide’s bond company was at the center of a federal investigation that was attempting to determine whether Salema’s business improperly benefited from about $2.9 billion in state turnpike bond deals.

Harold Hoffman

People may label the state’s current executive as “a bully.” After all, Christie is known not to back down from a confrontation even if that means arguing with a resident at a town hall or engaging in a verbal spat on the Jersey boardwalk. But, a former Garden State governor who served in office in the 1930s, Gov. Harold Hoffman, took hot tempers to a whole other level.

Hoffman was known to lash out against opponents and critics, including reporters. The former governor (who would later be labeled “a thief”) once socked a reporter whom reports indicate he outweighed by 90 pounds.

The punch knocked the reporter out cold.

All was not lost for the trade, though, when Hoffman picked a fight with a Trenton journalist, Lou Angelo, who was a former boxer. Angelo reportedly punched the governor in the nose and later wrote about the scuffle in the self-published pamphlet, “I Socked Hoffman.”

N.J. abuse of power: It didn’t start with ‘Bridgegate’