The Governor and I - The American Spectator | USA News and Politics
The Governor and I

In the election year 2000, New Jersey Sen. Frank Lautenberg announced his retirement, and set off a political shuffle all down the ticket that had, potentially, national implications.

Sixth District Congressman Bob Franks, a Republican, decided to seek the Senate seat, leaving his House seat vacant. I had a few insights into Franks and other local politicians, courtesy of the outgoing political reporter at the Westfield Leader, the newspaper where I had talked myself into a job, and courtesy, as well, of a gentleman with whom I had made friends at the local Panera’s, Joe Shukis. Franks had started his first campaign years before from Joe’s living room.

On both Republican and Democratic sides, the parties had candidates presumed to be in line to replace Franks. The establishment Republican was none other than Thomas Kean, Jr., son of the former Governor (and member-to-be of the 9/11 Commission). The Democrats fielded Union County Administrator Mike Lapolla.

In the primaries, however, the voters handed both establishment candidates defeats, nominating Fanwood Mayor Maryanne Connelly on the Democratic side and Republican Mike Ferguson, who had moved to the district only in 1998.

Ferguson won the House election. Goldman-Sachs multi-millionaire Jon Corzine beat Franks in the Senate contest.

POLITICS, AS YOU CAN SEE, were thick on the ground in the Sixth District. With two kids at home, one of them newly adopted, I worked mostly from my home desk and my car as the Leader‘s assignments editor, with about half the weekly paper’s copy coming across my desk in one form or other.

The paper’s computer whiz set up the paper’s home page as my own. Every week, the home page featured a front-page picture from that week’s paper, a picture I came to memorize as I saw it literally dozens of times when I booted up my computer. A year or two went by, and one week in the summer of 2002 the picture on my screen depicted Woodbridge Mayor Jim McGreevey in the middle of a lineup of three smiling suburban ladies, all quite attractive, one of them McGreevey’s wife Dina in a demure lawn party dress. McGreevey had been visiting Westfield while campaigning for Governor.

“I don’t know about McGreevey,” said my friend Joe Shukis one morning in Panera’s, holding out one hand horizontally, and tipping it from side to side in the gesture universally indicating doubt — and something else.

IN THE SUMMER IN NEW JERSEY’S it’s gloriously hot and sunny, and the little towns erupt in street fairs and carnivals. I played second tenor saxophone in a music store’s big band, and we played just about every street fair in Westfield.

A big band is seated in a certain order. Saxophones sit in the right front row, with tenors to the right side of the row. I had a front seat at every street fair. During one of them, a young man dressed in a tight black T-shirt and blue jeans pulled up a stool and sat right in front of our section. He was well built, he had black short hair and a lopsided grin, and he looked right at us and beamed.

I was busy at the time reading some chart or other — the music blowing all around us in great brassy gusts — so I didn’t have a lot of time to look at or think about the young man, except to feel that somehow I ought to know him. During an eight-bar rest, I glanced at him and caught his vivid direct gaze and that disarming grin. It made me a little uncomfortable, so I looked away.

Behind the man, standing on the street, I saw a pretty woman in a demure dress, standing in a kind of careful pose with a look on her face — guardedly — that any married man should know: “He’s doing it again.” That woman I recognized from the home page picture in the Westfield Leader. It was Dina McGreevey.

Still I didn’t put it together. You know how some people simply do not photograph the way they look? Check out the Jim McGreevey entry on Wikipedia. He looks nothing like that picture. He looks nothing like the picture that the Leader ran, back in 2002. The guy who sat down on the stool in front of the saxophone section of our band, no more than four feet from me, looked like the nicest, friendliest guy in the world.

By the time we had finished our set, the would-be Governor had moved on. But the more I thought about it, the more remarkable I found it. In the middle of a campaign, a candidate for Governor of a major state dressed in full Christopher Street cruise and made no bones about his intentions. So I was unsurprised when McGreevey made his declaration “I am a gay American” after having been accused of using state office to pay off homosexual favors.

“I think that was Jim McGreevey,” I said to one of my band mates.

“McGreevey? Running for Governor?” my friend responded. “Nah.”

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