Tag Archives: Jim McGreevey

Recalling the Challenger tragedy

When the space shuttle Challenger exploded 29 years ago today, killing all seven astronauts aboard, I was working as a State House reporter for The News Tribune of Woodbridge. It’s one of those days a journalist always remembers because it involved reporting a historic event — – and in this instance an extremely tragic one.

For me, there were several additional reasons why Jan. 28, 1986, remains a vivid memory. Continue reading

A PR Lesson Courtesy of Wally Backman

Rich Lee and Jay Horwitz

Rich Lee and Jay Horwitz

I am a big baseball fan – a New York Mets fan to be exact, and that has not been easy the past few years. On the other hand, thanks to their colorful and controversial off-the-field activities, the Mets often provide valuable lessons in public relations, which I’m teaching at St. Bonaventure University over the next five weeks.

Over the years, the team has presented plenty of challenges for Jay Horwitz, the Mets’ vice president for public relations. He’s had to deal with players who were involved with illegal drugs, barroom brawls, sex scandals and countless additional unsavory activities. Continue reading

Public Figures Have Yet to Learn an Important Lesson about their Personal Lives

Seven years ago today, New Jersey Governor Jim McGreevey made international news when he announced that he was gay, had engaged in an extramarital affair and was resigning as the state’s chief executive.

Since then, it seems that America’s politicians have been playing a game of Can You Top This?

Political Parties Are Not the Only Winners and Losers in Redistricting

Next month, after we learn what New Jersey’s 40 Legislative districts will look like when the State Apportionment Commission completes its work, we also will get a sense of which political party fares better under the new map.

But the biggest winners in the redistricting process – at both the Legislative and Congressional levels – sometimes are not the parties themselves, but individual lawmakers.

That’s what resulted from the redistricting that took place after the 1990 Census – and it could happen again this time around. The scenarios are somewhat similar. Continue reading

Separated at Birth?

Roberto Rivera-Soto and Richard Lee

State Supreme Court Justice Roberto Rivera-Soto has not exactly distinguished himself on the bench, but I for one will be sad to see him go.

Back in 2004 after news reports appeared about then-Governor Jim McGreevey’s decision to nominate Rivera-Soto to the high court, the Governor had one of his aides call to “congratulate” me on my nomination. It seemed that, in the photos of Rivera-Soto that appeared with the news accounts, the new justice bore a resemblance to me. At the time, I was the Governor’s Deputy Press Secretary and the next few times McGreevey saw me, he called me “Justice” instead of Rich.

As for the resemblance, the photos are above and you can judge for yourself, but I will say this for Justice Rivera-Soto: Although his judicial career was a stormy one, he played his cards right today by announcing that he will not seek reappointment, thereby avoiding an embarrassing scenario that likely would have ensued since Governor Christie was not expected to re-nominate him. And because Christie’s only nominee to the Supreme Court is sitting in limbo as a result of a stalemate with the Legislature, much of the focus of the news accounts about Rivera-Soto’s departure has been on impasse between the Governor and the Legislature – not on the controversies that took place during his time on the bench.

Rivera-Soto even managed to garner some words of praise from the state’s chief executive.  “Your tenure on the court has been marked by a conscientious commitment to the rule of law, and enduring respect for the core principles of fairness decency and impartiality that support our legal system,” Christie wrote in a letter responding to the justice’s decision not to seek reappointment. “As the first Hispanic American to serve on our state’s highest court, you have used your historic appointment to provide an intelligent and balanced voice in each decision.”

Did New Jersey Elect Governor McChristie?

Having been in the room eight years ago when the State House Press Corps staged a mini-revolt in reaction to the McGreevey Administration’s attempt to set a new set of ground rules for a press briefing on the state’s fiscal condition, I must admit I was mildly amused to learn that history seems to have repeated itself in the early days of the Christie Administration.

Back in 2002, reporters walked out of a budget briefing when they were told they could not tape record the session nor could they quote by name the officials who would be outlining the issue and answering questions.

Fast forward to 2010 and the special address on the state’s budget crisis that Governor Christie delivered to the Legislature last week. According to Sunday’s Star-Ledger, the Governor’s staffers insisted that reporters refrain from using tape recorders and from quoting those conducting the briefing by name. The ground rules didn’t sit any better with the press corps this time around, but apparently a compromise of sorts was reached. Reporters were allowed to record the session, but still could not identify the officials giving the briefing.

What makes this case of déjà vu all the more intriguing is that Christie and McGreevey are on opposite ends of the political world – and that this is not an isolated similarity.

Shortly after he was elected in November, Christie tapped David Samson to head his transition committee — the same David Samson whom McGreevey chose as his Attorney General eight years earlier.

Then, Christie added Woodbridge Mayor John McCormac to the transition team. McCormac served as State Treasurer while McGreevey was Governor and as the Chief Financial Officer in Woodbridge for the 10 years McGreevey was the township’s Mayor.

It’s not hard to see why Christie would reach out to individuals such as Samson and McCormac. Both are well-respected and highly regarded by members of both political parties.

One can make a similar argument for Glenn Reith, who was first appointed Adjutant General of New Jersey by McGreevey and will continue to serve in that role under Christie.

Even some of Christie’s new cabinet members have ties to the McGreevey Administration. The new Governor’s first cabinet announcement was his choice of Essex County Prosecutor Paula Dow as Attorney General. Dow was appointed to her county post by McGreevey in 2003.

Likewise, Christie’s choice for Community Affairs Commissioner is Lori Grifa. Grifa was Samson’s chief of staff while he served as Attorney General under McGreevey.

Aside from the people who share connections with the two Governors, I also noticed a similarity in their inaugural addresses. In their remarks after taking the oath of office, both reflected on Abraham Lincoln’s 1861 visit to New Jersey and the inspiration that his words provided at a time when the nation wason the verge of rupture (Christie 2010)” and/or “on the verge of its greatest crisis (McGreevey 2002).”

But there is a more serious side to all of this too.

When Christie addressed the Legislature on the current budget crisis, he attributed much of the problem to tax revenue projections that turned out to be far less than anticipated. “With spiraling unemployment heading over 10 percent, with a financial system in crisis and with consumers petrified to spend, only Trenton treasury officials could certify that kind of growth,” he said.

His point is well-taken. Perhaps that is why McGreevey made a similar argument after he took office and – like Christie – had to address an immediate shortfall in the budget he inherited from his predecessor.

The numbers were not as large in 2002, but the argument was the same. As Anthony Coscia, an advisor to then-new Governor, said at the time: “The budget calls for a 7 percent increase across the board in revenues. Last spring, virtually everyone knew there was economy weakness, and all of the economists who had analyzed where the state’s position was at that point disputed the notion that a 7 percent increase in revenue was realistic.”

Faced with a large budget shortfall in the state budget he inherited, McGreevey called the Legislature into special session and outlined a plan to address the problem on February 11, 2002. Eight years later to the day, Christie took a similar path and addressed the Legislature in a special joint session.

Besides making for some interesting trivia, there is a lesson to be learned from some of the similarities in the early days of the administrations of two New Jersey Governors separated by a number of years in time and an even larger span in ideologies.

On the national, state and local levels, officials often come into power promising change. But even when it is desperately needed, change is difficult to attain – especially when it is unpopular and opposed by powerful, influential forces. The Christie Administration is still in its infancy, but ultimately our new Governor will be judged on whether he can successfully deliver the change that eluded his predecessors.

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Lincoln’s Birthday & NJ Govs

As we celebrate Abraham Lincoln’s birthday, it’s a good time to note that Chris Christie quoted Lincoln at the end of his inauguration speech in January:

When Abraham Lincoln came to New Jersey in February of 1861, awaiting his swearing in as president of a nation on the verge of rupture, he said while visiting the people of Newark: “Without the people I cannot hope to succeed; with them I cannot fail.”

So today, the time for change has arrived. Today, change is here. And I ask not only for God’s blessing, but for your help.

Christie was not the first New Jersey Governor to Continue reading

Has There Been Too Much Change in NJ?

When there are major public policy problems, such as those that have confronted our state and nation over the past 10 years, solutions are few and far between.

Blame, however, always seems to be in abundance. Continue reading

Reflections on Ted Kennedy

The passing of Senator Ted Kennedy is sad news for all Americans, regardless of one’s political or ideological persuasion.

Through a strange series of events, I was privileged to write a short quote for Senator Kennedy in 2001 for a press release promoting a campaign stop he was making in New Jersey for Democratic gubernatorial candidate Jim McGreevey. It was just a few sentences and I did not get to work with him directly before the event, but I did have the opportunity to speak with him briefly when he arrived in New Jersey. He was very gracious and I take pride in the fact that I was able to write something for a man who was a true American icon.

Cats, Dogs and Kids: The Perfect Formula for Good Press

The lighter moments that took place during the McGreevey Administration were few and far between. On any given day, those of us in the press office would find ourselves answering questions about the likes of Roger Chugh, Amiri Baraka, Golan Cipel and whoever else managed to find his or her way into the 24-hour news cycle.

One of those rare light moments took place in July 2002 when the Governor was scheduled to sign an Executive Order establishing Continue reading