The Ten Biggest NJ Political Shockers in the Last 15 Years

When you put lists like this together inevitably someone instantly comes forward with, “you forgot about…”

But there are some big ones that seem to eclipse the others, and you will find them below…

1. Jim McGreevey’s August 12th Press Conference

It was one of those surreal moments in the same state that (maybe not coincidentally) was once home to Dada pioneer Man Ray. “As a young child I often felt ambivalent about myself,” the 47-year old governor announced in 2004, his wife Dina and Marine Corps father standing behind him at the podium.  “My truth is that I am a gay American,” McGreevey declared, “and I am blessed to live in a nation with the greatest civil liberties in the world. …However… I have decided the right course of action is to resign.”  

2. “Time for some Traffic Problems in Fort Lee”

Few treated the Bridgegate crisis as a major story until the emergence of that email showing the order to a Port Authority official originating with Christie Deputy Chief of Staff Bridget Kelly. The line from that forbidding tower on the George Washington Bridge to the governor’s office created the first direct hit on the inner sanctum of Gov. Chris Christie, not only an overwhelming 2013 re-election victor but the frontrunner for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination. What followed was days of shelling, as the embattled governor and his equally bunkered administration attempted to ride out a national-media-sized barrage.

3. Christie’s 2009 victory over Corzine

Coming off Barack Obama’s historic 2008 victory, New Jersey Democrats appeared to be in a strong position to retake Drumthwacket. Despite ominous reminders about the bad history of statewide incumbents failing to win re-election in those years immediately following their same-party allies winning the White House, party members figured they could compensate for Corzine’s lack of charisma with a big dose of Obama love. It never happened, as Obama landed at the PNC Bank Center and proved to the world – maybe for the first time – that he was not a people person. Handing Corzine his coat on stage, Obama proceeded to talk about healthcare, leaving the anecdote-starved governor to bob in his wake like a water-logged cork. The campaign brought Obama in for the weekend before election Day, but the Obama 2.0 drill fizzled as the former U.S. Attorney conquered Corzine in a blue state.    

4. Corzine’s MF Global meltdown

Plenty of insiders refused to register shock when the Democratic governor lost re-election. “He wasn’t ready for prime time,” was the assessment of many longstanding unimpressed ward bosses who from the start saw the Wall Streeter as a political interloper. What did baffle them was Corzine’s confusion about the loss of $1.5 billion in customer accounts at MF Global.  

5. Torricelli’s withdrawal from the race

It looked like the ultimate gladiatorial contest, as The Torch girded for his 2002 re-election against game Republican millionaire Doug Forrester. But the U.S. Senator suddenly withdrew from the race amid headlines outlining illegal contributions made to his campaign by North Korean businessman David Chang. “When did we become such an unforgiving people?” asked a humbled Torch as he exited the contest and paved the way for the return of Frank Lautenberg.

6. Dick Codey’s 2009 dethronement by Steve Sweeney

To appreciate the jolt this put on the political establishment, you have to remember that at the time Codey – a Democratic Party star and former governor – was a figure of public admiration, arriving on the scene as he did after McGreevey’s meltdown. Codey had a style and delivery – not unlike the late W.C. Fields – that endeared him to those appreciative of avuncular populism. But Sweeney and South Jersey Democrats shocked the state when they summoned the votes in the caucus and ran over the sitting senate president, making roadkill of the one politician in the state who could arguably be used in the same sentence as “beloved.”

7. Congressman Mike Ferguson’s retirement

It was, in the words of one Democratic Party insider, “mind-blowing” at the time when the young, perfect holiday postcard father and congressional rising star announced his retirement in the lead-up to a much-anticipated rematch with Assemblywoman Linda Stender (D-22). Tuning into CD7 in 2008 was like watching the political equivalent of Duran’s second fight with Ray Leonard.  

8. Congressman Jon Runyan’s retirement

He said he wasn’t going to last long, but Runyan was done-yan in four years. It marked another sudden startling change in the weather in CD3, which had gone through a party-rattling primary in 2008 and a seemingly decade-long vigil at the shrine of Al Leiter before finding a willing sports hero in the form of Runyan, who beat Jon Adler in 2010 only to demonstrate a distaste for the office.

9. John Adler’s 2008 Obama-aided victory over Chris Myers

The Third Congressional District seat had been in Republican control going back to the 19th Century. Adler’s victory not only signified Obama’s top-of-the-ticket strength (if the prez lacked the translation of warmth to allies, he had coattails), but the full-on geared-up arrival of the South Jersey Democratic operation, which a year leader would displace Senate President Dick Codey (D-27). Almost as shocking were the fates of the two contenders: as Mr. Adler died of a heart condition following his 2010 re-election loss, while Myers faded into obscurity in disgrace after allegations surfaced of him paying for sex.

10. Bill Pascrell’s 2012 win over Steve Rothman

The raw numbers gave the Bergen portion of the district an advantage and when a high-fiving GOP delivered a redistricting map that mashed Pascrell’s and Rothman’s districts together, Pascrell looked like imminent roadkill. But the tough incumbent congressman showed why it counts to be from Paterson as he turned the contest into a street fight and beat Rohtman by delivering a huge plurality out of the Silk City to catch the suburbs slumbering.

Runners-up:

Christie Todd Whitman’s resignation to go serve as W’s EPA administrator;

The federal sting that corralled rabbis and elected officials in the midst of the 2009 gubernatorial election;

Wilda Diaz defeating Joe Vas in the Perth Amboy mayor’s race;

Bret Schundler defeating Bob Franks

The Ten Biggest NJ Political Shockers in the Last 15 Years