One of the on-going stories in New Jersey has been the parade of politicians marching from city hall to a federal courtroom and then to a federal prison.
The guy responsible for ending a slew of government careers was Chris Christie, the former federal prosecutor. It's what got him noticed and earned him the ranking as chief GOP challenger to Gov. Jon Corzine.
But with the campaign in progress, it appears that few care about corruption. Christie's successes in the courtroom aren't likely to garner him much in the way of votes.Despite all the carping about crooked politicians, voters, this time around, aren't really concerned about corruption. Maybe they're just resigned to it. It's down around 4 percent just above immigration and same sex marriage as issue important to the voters, according to a recent Monmouth University poll.
What's at the top? Property taxes, what else. That issue — mentioned by 48 percent of those polled — is an evergreen in New Jersey gubernatorial campaigns.
When asked whether Corzine or Christie owned the ethics issue, Patrick Murray, director of the Monmouth Poll, offered a simple answer: "It doesn't really matter. Property taxes remain the main issue for most voters."
That would seem to be bad news for Christie. He owes his status as the one guy who could beat Corzine to his reputation as a crime fighter. He's the sheriff who rode into town on a snow-white horse and served notice that he was going to change things.
And he did. During his tenure 132 state and local politicians were hauled into court and made to pay for cheating taxpayers. He's the one who brought down those at the top of the state's political hierarchy - John Lynch, Sharpe James, and Wayne Bryant to name just three.
But being a crime fighter isn't good enough, and he knows that.
Christie's campaign, so far, hasn't centered on his role as the crusading federal prosecutor who never lost a corruption case. Instead of just touting his crime-fighting record, he cites his tenure as U.S. Attorney to make a bigger point about his style. Basically, it's this: He's a guy who knows how to accomplish his goals. He delivered as federal prosecutor and he'll deliver as governor.
It's a reasonable approach because Christie won't get far suggesting Corzine has a lackadaisical approach to ethics. And Corzine won't get far trying to sully Christie's reputation, although he has done a good job of splashing some mud on that white horse.
It's hard for Christie to offer any plausible explanation for why he gave a multi-million dollar no-bid contract to his former boss - former US Attorney General John Ashcroft. His law firm was hired to be the federal monitor as part of a deferred-prosecution agreement. The company avoided prosecution by accepting a federal monitor of its operations.
Then there's his selection of David Kelley, a former New York federal prosecutor to handle another monitoring case. Kelley is a former federal prosecutor in New York who handled a case involving Christie's brother. Critics claim Kelley went easy on Todd Christie, although that's a judgment call.
Corzine isn't in the clear on ethics either. It's not that he has done anything untoward. Rather, it's the silly blunders he makes.
Last month at a private, campaign fundraiser in Atlantic City, Corzine had only good things to say about a guy who admitted bribing local officials to win contracts.
Here was Corzine, who has made cleaning up politics one of his priorities, playing nice, nice with Howard Schoor who pleaded guilty to federal corruption charges.
Some wondered why the Christie camp didn't jump all over that. I suspect that Corzine's labeling Schoor a "good man" will resurface later in the campaign but will it make much difference?
The early evidence is that it won't.
Brendan Byrne was the last gubernatorial candidate who played up his ant-corruption credentials and it paid off for him. But that was 1973 when Watergate was a national disgrace and kitchen table talk centered on crooked politicians. Today the family room conversations are about trying to make ends meet.
If Christie is to have a chance of ousting Corzine, he needs to talk property taxes. "As long as he (Corzine) keeps property taxes off the table, he's ok," said Murray.
Still it's not enough for Christie to just make vague promises of lowering property taxes or increasing rebates. Voters want to know what he would do. And of course, he doesn't want to be pinned down. No candidate does.
Voters already know what Corzine did with property taxes - he nibbled around the edges. Most homeowners would give him a failing grade.
For his part, Christie needs to do more than point to his resume. Voters want to know what he plans to do. He can't simply criticize Corzine. He needs to offer an alternative.
New Jersey's voters are understandably skeptical about another politician asking them to trust him, to believe he actually will do something to ease property taxes.
But the polls show they're willing to listen.
Corzine has shown he was unable to meet expectations. Voters are willing to give the next guy a shot and polls show they don't really care much if the horse he's riding is white or grey.