Tuesday, December 20, 2011

When a Democrat Snuck Into Becoming New Jersey Governor

Richard J. Codey with Stephen Seplow. Me, Governor: My Life in the Rough and Tumble World of New Jersey Politics. New Brunswick, N.J.: Rivergate Books, 2011.

The author, Richard Codey, was New Jersey’s Senate President, next in line to be Governor, when Governor James McGreevey suddenly announced he was resigning, which then made Codey Governor.  Codey first heard the report McGreevey from a reporter. Codey doubted its truthfulness as Codey had met with McGreevey ten days prior and McGreevey gave no hint he was leaving office.  There had been scandals in the McGreevey Administration, but none seemed to have directly involved McGreevey.

New Jersey then had no Lieutenant Governor.  The Constitution then called for the Senate President Pro Tem to serve as both Governor and Senate President should the Governor’s office be vacant.  This was an usual lack of separation of two branches of government.

Codey’s wife had surgery that day.  She she awoke, she was informed she had become New Jersey’s First Lady. Her response was “Where’s the anesthesiologist? Tell him to put me back under.”

McGreevey resigned because his Homeland Security aide Golan Cipel claimed McGreevey sexually assaulted him. McGreevey claims the relationship was consensual.  Cipel never produced evidence he was harassed and Cipel tried blackmailing McGreevey.  McGreevey quit as


Cody believes McGreevey was too close to political bosses who led McGreevey to appoint the wrong people to office.  Cipel wasn’t even an American citizen and he was the Governor’s liaison to Homeland Security. 

Cipel, though, was not in charge of Homeland Security, which was a separate office.

Former Governor Chrstine Whitman believed McGreevey created a defense of being a homosexual as an excuse to hide other scandals in his administration.  She believes those scandals were the real reason why McGreevey resigned.

Codey did not like political bosses.  The bosses knew they couldn’t control Codey.  If McGreevey resigned immediately or soon enough to put the Governor’s vacancy on the November ballot, the bosses could pick the nominee for the November elections and they would pick a candidate they could control.  McGreevey set his resignation so Codey would be Governor for 14 months.  McGreevey timed his resignation, not to help Codey, but because he wanted to accomplish some matters before leaving office.  Also, McGreevey feared a Republican could win the Governor’s election in the midst of this scandal.  McGreevey also didn’t like the political bosses and felt no desire to do anything to help them.  McGreevey also didn’t have a home, car, or job to move to and he needed time to get his future life together.

Codey kept McGreevey’s Cabinet except for Clifton Long as Commissioner of Health and Human Services.  Codey replaced Long for seeking to become the head of a university hospital while on the job, a job Long eventually got. Codey also kept some of McGreevey’s aides.

Codey set a limited 14 month agenda for himself as Governor.  He sought to work on health care and mental health issues.  He also wanted towork on getting the unbalanced budget more in balance.  Codey declined having an inauguration celebration, as he didn’t feel that was a time for celebrating.

Codey entered politics in 1968 by running for, and losing, for a Democratic County Committee seat.  He lost by four votes. Yet he saw he had actually won when checking the voting machine.  Codey went to the Town Clerk to protest the election.  The Town Clerk advised if he didn’t challenge the election he’d be the party’s choice the next time. He didn’t challenge and he was the party’s choice in the next election.  He then became a ward leader and then Orange County Democratic Chairman.  He learned about the patronage process.  He was elected to the legislature in 1974.

In 1976, the state Supreme Court closed all public schools due to a lack of funds.  Governor Brendan Byrne sought to create an income tax.  Codey stated he would support the tax yet sought a highway exit to Orange in return.  The Transportation Department suddenly proposed an exit be constructed.  The legislative votes were close yet New Jersey became the 43rd state with an income tax.  Even then, it was only for enacted for two years.  A year late, and by one vote in the Senate, the tax became permanent.  The exit was build and named the Richard J. Codey Exit.

In the legislature, Codey successfully fought for placing a highway emergency phone box in district.  He further served on the Orange Housing Authority and successfully fought for more senior citizen housing.

While Codey enjoyed being on the Housing Authority, he didn’t like being Democratic County Chairman, a job that drew lots of complaints over matters of which he couldn’t be of assistance.

When Codey entered the legislature, he found very few professional staff and resources available to legislators.  He had two district offices, one in a rundown storefront and the other in a basement below a bar.  Legislators usually were unable to view bills and learn what they did before voting on them.  Caucus meetings were run by the Governor’s staff members.  Some legislators smoked and there was no air conditioning, making the Capitol building smell.  Lobbyists were influenced and supplied alcohol, meals, and event tickets to legislators.  There are eight and a half lobbyists for every legislator.

Codey proposed a bill that was enacted that created a Division of Aging. He also criticized an economic development loan to McDonald’s. He fought to allow local government to charge frees to tax exempt properties.

Lobbyists (circa 2007) spent $50 million annually influencing legislators.  Codey writes of legislators who introduce bills just so legislators will be retained to fight their bills.

Codey fought to ban contingency fees paid to lobbyists, which is where lobbyists are paid only if their efforts on a bill are successful.  Codey believes this pressures lobbyists to offer bribes.  Governor Byrne vetoed this proposal.  Cody has also proposed disallowing lobbyists from giving to legislators.  This bill passed only the Senate and has yet to be enacted.

Codey fought to take away absolute preference that a veteran goes to the top of lists for civil service hires.  Codey lost this fight and he has since changed his mind of this issue.

New Jersey legislators used to be paid $10,000 annually.  Codey proposed raising the salary to $18,000.  Salaries have since increased to $49,000.

President Pro Tem Pat Dodd was a mentor towards Codey.  Codey would often go to the podium where most believed Dodd was giving advice.  Often, though, Dodd would whisper about women he’d dated.

Casino legislation was debated thoroughly.  Legislators passed a bill using every method to keep organized crime away from casinos.  To stimulate economic development, each casino had to include a hotel, restaurant, and meeting rooms.  Codey had the bill require the slogan “Bet with your head, not over it” placed on all ads for casinos.

Casinos began operating successfully financially.  Resorts predicted their first year profits would be $12 million from $30 million of revenue.  Third first year brought pretax profits of $135 million on $233 million revenue.

Codey proposed disallowing prosecutors from running for election until two years after they’d left their prosecuting positions.  This was to prevent politically ambitious prosecutors from seeking headlines more than doing their jobs.

New Jersey does not have the death penalty.  Codey proposed creating the death penalty for premeditated murder and for killing a police officer of a firefighter.

In 1983, Codey faced a primary challenge from Orange Mayor Joel Shain in the most expensive primary to date in New Jersey. Shain accused Codey of having organized crime connections because some mob figures had been buried by his family’s funeral home.  Shain spent $285,566 while Codey spent $154,771.  Codey won with 13,451 votes to 4,044 for Shain.

Codey campaigned 14 months ahead of primary elections.  He would telephone the fifth of voters who vote in primaries every evening until 9:30 and discuss issues with them.  While speaking, he would write thank you letters to them.  He observes voters appreciated hearing from their representative when there is no election soon, and they remember that.

Codey did not like the bullying ways of his county Democratic boss who was also under indictment for extortion.  The Chairman ran a candidate against Codey, Maybe Bob Brown of Orange.  Codey noted Brown was bond counsel for two agencies, was an Assemblyman, and Mayor and earned more than the President of the United States. Codey won.

Codey notes New Jersey’s reputation for political corruption. He notes most New Jersey public corruption has been in local governments.  New Jersey has 588 school districts with taxing powers.  He also believes some prosecutors seek public corruption cases to further their own political ambitions.

Codey in office was very concerned about mental health issues.  He had heard horror stories about mistreatment in mental health institutions.  He was surprised to learn there were employees working with mental health patients with convictions for sexual assault, kidnapping, murder, etc.

Codey researched the issue by obtaining a fake Social Security card on Times Square under the name of a convicted sex offender. He then applied for employment at a state mental health hospital.  None of the people he listed as references were contacted.  He was hired.  He was instructed he could be fired for hitting a patient, so he should take a patient into a closet and hit where no one else would see it.  He found conditions were poor and people there were people who didn’t do their jobs.  He found there were no activities and little care, including proper clothing, for patients.  He reported these conditions.  Governor Thomas Kean increased hiring practices, including criminal background checks.

Legislative hearings learned of further problems in mental health institutions, including isolating prisoners for several days and unreported rapes of patients.

Codey then led a surprised legislative visit of a state licensed mental health nursing home.  They found overcrowded conditions, mice, and cockroach infestations, no air conditioning, etc.  This resulted in the state Health Committee ordering inspections of all 151 mental health residential facilities.

As Governor, Codey fought for and signed legislation for a Special Needs Housing Trust Fund with $200 million allocated for 10,000 housing units for people with mental illness (intellectual disabilities).  He oversaw the construction of new facilities.

Governor Codey inspected a mental health facility of 200 people in room of temperatures from 80 to 89 degrees. He also found the food service was terrible.

In 1997, Republicans won 53% of the votes for State Senate yet won 60% of the seat with a 24-15 advantage.  Codey sought to redistrict so Democrats had a shot at winning the Senate majority.  He did this by proposing putting more African American voters (who are mostly Democratic) into more districts, thus giving Democrats chances of winning more districts.  He was worried this could violated the Civil Rights Act that protected seats for racial minority voters.  He explained his plan to African American and Hispanic Democratic legislators, showed how they would still win but with lower percentages, and they all agreed with the plan.  The Democrats made their plan realistic, which helped in the long run.  With the plans of the two parties deadlocked in the redistricting commission, the Chief Justice of New Jersey appointed an unregistered nonpartisan Political Science Professor at Princeton to be the decision 11th member of the commission which had five Republicans and five Democrats.  The Democrats argued that the plan had partisan fairness and responsiveness as the votes cast by party should reflect what party wins seats.  The Democrats were obliging when the new 11th member made suggestions, while the Republicans tried bullying him.  The Commission chose the Democratic plan.

The election result was a 20-20 tie between Senate Democrats and Republicans.  An African American even won a seat where the district was 27% African American.  The Senate elected Co-Presidents from both parties, with Codey being the Democratic Co-President.This created a legislative dilemma as Donald DiFrancesco was currently Governor and Senate President  due to the resignation of Governor Christine Todd Whitman.  DiFrancco’s tenure as Senate President, and thus also as Governor, ended a week before the new Governor was inaugurated.  Codey and his co-Senate President each agreed to be Governor for three and half days.  There was even an hour gap between the legislature ending and the Governor’s inaugural, making the Attorney General the Governor for one hour.  New Jersey had five Governors in a week long span.

Rutgers University asked for his papers has Governor for three and half days.  He told them to buy the state’s newspapers.

This tied party control of the Senate led to each committee having co-chairs from each party.  Codey refused to agree that each President agree picking bills for bills as that would give Republicans veto power over Democratic Governor Jim McGreevey’s programs.  They came to an agreement where, for every 30 bills, each Co-President could post nine for votes.

Essex County Democratic boss George Norcross offered to Republican John Bennett that Bennett could be Senate President by getting some South Jersey Democrats to vote for him.  Bennett turned down the offer, stating he could work better with Codey than being at Norcross’s mercy.  Thus, Democrats won a majority in the next election.

Governor McGreevey wanted a bill passed for rights for same sex domestic partners.  Sen.John Adler would support the bill only if Codey appointed him Judiciary Committee Chairman. Codey agreed but had to go back on his word to name someone else Judiciary Committee Chairman.  Five African American Senators then refused to back Codey for Senate President.  They offered the Senate Presidency to Republican Senate Leader Leonard Lance, who declined, believing the majority party had the right to the Senate Presidency.

The New Jersey Governor is more powerful than Governors in most other states.  The New Jersey Governor appoints the Attorney General, Treasurer, and the Secretary and State, which are offices elected in some other states.  The New Jersey Governor has line item veto power.  In addition, Codey still served as Senate President.

Codey wanted to restore public faith in the Governor after the McGreevey Adminstration scandals.  Codey called for an ethics audit of state government.  It was proposed the Ethics Commission be independent and of private citizens.  Executive employees could not receive gifts, there would be a standard ethics code, there would be ethic training, there would be an ethics code for vendors and contractors with state contracts.  A bill passed disallowing anyone contributing over $3,000 to a state or county candidate or party from receiving a state contract for over $17,500 within 18 months of the contribution.  Also, a $25,000 maximum contribution was enacted.  Codey signed an Executive Order banning Trustees from conducting business with their schools.

A radio announced made jokes about Codey’s wife.  Codey went to the radio station to defend her.  Codey’s approved ratings increased overnight.

Governor Codey signed legislation banning smoking in most public places (casinos were exempted), conducting random drug testing of high school athletes, and creating a stem cell research centers, as well as others.

Coedy kept the budget at about the same level as before, which hadn’t been done in a decade.  He reduced the property rate rebates to save $63 billion.

New Jersey constructed a 2,000 foot pier that Delaware claimed crossed into the aquatic border.  Republican House Majority Leader Wayne Smith proposed the Delaware National Guard prevent this.  Codey threatened that New Jersey would defend the pier with a battleship.

Codey was more popular than the two candidates for Governor.  Yet Jon Corzine had far more money to spend and Codey knew he could not compete with Corzine’s financial advantage.  Codey did not run for Governor.

Political boss George Norcross maneuvered to get his candidate, Sen. Steve Sweeney, become Senate President.  Two Senators who had pledged to vote for Codey switched to Sweeney.  Thus, Codey no longer was Governor nor Senate President.


Blogger DurwinWilson said...

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7:58 AM  

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