By Mike Sherr
As a political science major, I have learned a lot about civics, the role of government and the importance of independent election agencies. I could confidently say I am rather educated on politics and the American political system. I therefore can not stay quiet about the continuous, embarrassing circus that is New Jersey politics.
Political machines found their platforms in the early 1800s, and the most notable one, Tammany Hall in New York City, operated well into the 1960s. In exchange for campaign donations and voter drives, political machines gained favors from candidates that turned into profitable zoning laws, public contracts and literal bribes.
New Jersey’s political corruption, however, is long rooted in our governing system. During our time as a colony, the state’s governor Lord Cornbury was accused of accepting bribes, embezzlement and fiscal mismanagement.
Frank Hague, the mayor of Jersey City from 1917 to 1947, died in 1956 with an estate estimated to be worth $5 million after only making $9,000 a year for his 30 years in office.
Former United States Senator for New Jersey Harrison Williams was caught by a Federal Bureau of Investigation sting operation in the early 1980s where agents pretended to be wealthy sheikhs attempting to buy political favors.
In the late 1990s, the chief of staff and chief of police of Newark were convicted on corruption charges. Sharpe James, the Mayor of Newark from 1986 to 2006, was also found guilty on corruption charges, but not until years later in 2008.
An investigation that started out looking into black-market kidneys and fake Gucci handbags turned into indictments for 44 individuals in 2009. The list includes the mayors of Hoboken, Ridgefield and Secaucus, two members of the New Jersey Assembly and the deputy mayor of Jersey City.
Many New Jerseyans can remember Bridgegate, where Former Governor Chris Christie closed two lanes of traffic on the George Washington Bridge for political reasons.
And of course, just recently, U.S. Senator Robert Menendez and his wife were indicted, again, on bribery charges claiming he received envelopes of cash and gold bars. Gold. Bars. Menendez rejoined a very long list of New Jersey politicians and officials that embarrass the Garden State.
It is disgusting and a disgrace that officials in this state continuously engage in unethical behavior, regardless of whether it is technically “legal” or not. In order to start changing our system, we have to realize it is capable of allowing corrupt individuals to lead.