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Monday, September 1, 2008

Corzine talks corruption

Gov. Jon S. Corzine seems to think that his administration's prosecution of corruption is noteworthy, as evidenced by criticism the governor has received from party insiders regarding "aggressive" activity by the office of state Attorney General Anne Milgram.

"I've already been criticized by my party for how aggressive our Attorney General's Office has been," said Gov. Corzine, according to The Star-Ledger.

This appears to be some kind of political posturing, perhaps born out of a recognition that a race against Gov. Corzine's likely 2009 gubernatorial opponent, U.S. Attorney Chris Christie, will be one where corruption, the public trust, and Mr. Christie's aggressive prosecution of corrupt New Jersey officials are all central issues.

In the same Star-Ledger piece Gov. Cozine said he plans on stepping up his anti-corruption efforts. That's a good idea, despite whatever protests he may hear from his fellow Democrats. Gov. Corzine really does need to get serious about his administration's handling of corruption if he wants to mount another successful campaign for governor.

It is true that Ms. Milgram's office has done its share of prosecutions, handling many low-level municipal and governmental officials caught stealing, skimming, or otherwise sapping either money or trust, or both, from the public. She even assisted with the prosecution of former Newark mayor and state Sen. Sharpe James.

But, like the rest of the anti-corruption efforts in New Jersey, Ms. Milgram still leaves much to be desired. New stories are unearthed daily in Trenton city political circles about instances of official excess, questionable business practices, and other incidents that get very far out into the public sphere, yet nearly never receive any official attention.

In the City of Trenton alone, the municipal government has engaged in questionable budget transfers, the abuse of municipal cars and employees for personal uses far outside the realm of official capacity, and countless other activities.

Besides those local anecdotes, it remains a widely-held public belief that New Jersey's political class, whether through actual or perceived corruption, continually act in a manner more fitting of organized crime figures than public servants, and that perception comes despite the efforts of Gov. Corzine, Ms. Milgram, and Mr. Christie.

That situation means that Gov. Corzine does indeed need to give serious consideration to stepping up his own administration's anti-corruption campaign. Mere comments from the leading party official in the state about party brethren complaining about overly-aggressive attorney general activity is not enough for New Jersey residents, who will likely support whichever gubernatorial candidate appears to be the best counter to the state's systemic corruption.

If achieving that perception means stepping on the toes of party officials, then Gov. Corzine ought to come to understand that this is the price of the state's highest elected office. Perhaps if New Jersey sees the day when the normal, everyday residents begin to complain about overzealous prosecution of corruption, maybe that's the time to call off the attack dogs.

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