All Trenton is shocked (Shocked!) at Bryant

All Trenton is shocked (Shocked!) at Bryant
Friday, September 22, 2006 Star Ledger

Maybe Sen. Gerald Cardinale was joking this week when he demanded that Democrats convene the Legislature's ethics committee to investigate Sen. Wayne Bryant's no-show job.

That committee has not met once this year. It has no chairman. It has no schedule. It is a tired old watchdog that snores while burglars climb in the window.

It should be clear to Cardinale by now that Democrats have no interest in removing the scoundrels from among their ranks.

Bryant is proof of that. He had four public jobs until earlier this year, when he dropped one of them under pressure. He's made sure that every blood relative within 100 miles of his home base in Camden has a public job, too. The latest charge is that he had a phony job at the state's medical university.

Democrats look the other way because Bryant is in their club. He moves budgets, he votes the right way, and he raises enough money. So as long as they keep winning elections, what's the big deal?

This week, even Senate President Richard Codey, normally a voice of sanity in Trenton, joined the scrum that was protecting Bryant.

Codey is the only person with the power to remove Bryant from his position as chairman of the Budget and Appropriations Committee. And he won't do that.

So Bryant will remain a senior player Trenton, with control over a budget that is supposed to give us clean and efficient government.

"We're going to let the process play out," Codey says. "My thinking is that since there has been no indictment, anything we do would obviously prejudice any process they might carry out."

Call it the Tom DeLay standard.

DeLay is the former Republican congressman from Texas who performed a dark miracle by making Washington an even sleazier place than it was when he arrived after the 1994 elections. He made the same argument, and lost his post as majority leader until he was indicted last year.

Can't we set a higher standard for public service? Must our government be run by people whose only moral credential is that they haven't been indicted yet?

Bryant's troubles began when he landed a job at the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey.

As luck would have it, U.S. At torney Chris Christie later found that UMDNJ was so thoroughly corrupt, it required a federal monitor to conduct a cleanup. And Bryant was caught in that dragnet.

The monitor this week issued a report that basically confirms your worst nightmares about how this state really works.

Bryant was paid $38,000 a year in a job created just for him. He never produced a memo or an e- mail. He had no boss. And the only thing he was observed doing was sitting in his dormant office one morning a week reading newspapers.

At the same time, funding for UMDNJ's School of Osteopathic Medicine -- where Bryant "worked" -- was increased by about $2 million.

Codey argues that this report is not proof of wrongdoing. Fair enough. If Christie wants to throw Bryant in jail, then his work has only begun.

But the report was done by former federal Judge Herb Stern, one of the most accomplished corrup tion fighters in New Jersey history. It is credible enough to turn the stomach, and to justify removing Bryant as chairman.

Republicans like Cardinale are demanding Bryant's head, as you'd expect. They would have more credibility if they made the same fuss over allegations that one of their own, Sen. Martha Bark, has a no-show job. This is selective outrage.

Gov. Jon Corzine gave us the only reason to cheer this week when he suggested that Bryant should resign his chairmanship. That took guts. And it keeps alive hopes that he is serious about cleaning up his party's act.

As for Codey, you have to hope he'll return to the reservation soon.

But in defending Bryant, he's picked a terrible time to go wobbly.

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