GOP and governor decry 'culture of corruption' 'Deeply disturbed' Corzine says 'we need to get our house in order'

GOP and governor decry 'culture of corruption'
'Deeply disturbed' Corzine says 'we need to get our house in order'

Saturday, September 16, 2006 Star Ledger
The fall of a one-time Senate president and longtime Democratic powerbroker rocked New Jersey's political establishment yesterday and brought calls from Republican leaders and the Democratic governor for cleaning up a "culture of corruption."

Shortly after John Lynch pleaded guilty in federal court in Newark to fraud and tax evasion, Gov. Jon Corzine said he was "deeply disturbed by the breach of public faith, public trust."

"We need to get our house in order," the governor said. "This is a pretty positive step in that direction."

Among his longtime colleagues at the Statehouse, Lynch was respected as a shrewd political strategist and expert on issues like property taxes and urban development. But he also inspired fear and resentment as a political boss and often clashed with other Democratic leaders.

Senate President Richard Codey (D-Essex) expressed regret at the downfall of his sometime rival. "It's unfortunate that in the twilight of a great public career that this has happened," Codey said.

State Sen. Joseph Doria (D-Hudson), who also had his share of clashes with Lynch, said it is "truly a tragedy for him personally and his family."

"I'm naive but it always surprises me" when a colleague admits to corruption, Doria said. "It's not a good thing for the party. It's not a good thing for the state."

Corzine lamented "a broad cultural problem" in the state's political system, "a pretty toxic mix of money and politics." He has called for changes such as a ban on unlimited transfers of campaign cash during general elections and tighter restrictions on donations by public contractors at all government levels.

Republicans called for a special legislative session devoted entirely to ethics reform.

"The scandals won't stop until the Democrats take their heads out of the sand and join us to end the culture of corruption in New Jersey," said Assembly Minority Leader Alex DeCroce (R-Morris).

In a news conference in Newark following Lynch's plea, U.S. Attorney Christopher Christie challenged the state's political leaders "to decide whether they want to continue on this path of corrupt conduct, of deceiving the people, or whether they want to have a change."

Without naming names, he criticized state leaders for being "inconsistent" about opposing corruption. He appeared to swipe back at Democratic officials who last week suggested a political motive behind a federal investigation into a Hudson County rental deal involving Democratic Sen. Robert Menendez, who is facing a tight election against Republican state Sen. Tom Kean Jr.

"Either what we do is the right thing to do in pursuing corruption, whether it's against their political party, or their particular chosen candidate, or it's not," Christie said. "And so when our political leaders send mixed signals to the people they serve, it doesn't help to bring about change."

Senate Minority Leader Leonard Lance (R-Hunterdon) said Lynch's guilty plea "proves yet again that the U.S. Attorney's Office is investigating these situations aggressively and appropriately."

David Rebovich, political science professor at Rider University, said he believes Lynch's downfall causes political problems for Menendez this fall and for Democrats trying to keep control of the Legislature next year.

"This Lynch admission of guilt provides tangible evidence that there's something very wrong in the Democratic Party establishment," he said. "With the Assembly and Senate races coming up in 2007, Democrats would be well advised to rally behind Gov. Corzine and enact comprehensive pay to play reform at all levels of government."

Joseph Marbach, chairman of the political science department at Seton Hall University, agreed Menendez could feel some fallout. "Does Menendez suffer from guilt by association? Can the Kean campaign try to paint all Democrats as corrupt? It will be interesting to see if there's a residual effect."

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