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Corzine plays it safe with selection of Weinberg

weinergcorzine072509_optBY CARL GOLDEN
NEWJERSEYNEWSROOM.COM
COMMENTARY

The Hippocratic Oath reminds physicians of their utmost obligation to their patients: “Above all, do no harm.”

So it is oft times with politicians as well.

Gov. Jon Corzine evidently had this pledge in mind when he selected Bergen County State Sen. Loretta Weinberg as his lieutenant governor running mate.

She certainly won’t inflict any harm on the ticket and there’s a possibility she’ll be able to help it some by drawing on her strength in Bergen County.

She’s a 74-year widowed grandmother with a left of center voting record and a recent history of doing battle with the Bergen Democratic organization and not only holding her own but winning.

Her selection by the Governor brings to an end a protracted and often embarrassing process which appeared to be a captive of identity politics as pressure groups urged the selection of a minority candidate, an outsider to rebut the “inside Trenton crowd” criticism, or a South Jersey resident to shore up Corzine’s tepid support there.

The party establishment immediately rallied behind the Governor and Weinberg, indulging in the usual hyperbole about how her selection nails down a November victory and retains control of the Assembly,

If the African-American community and its leadership were disappointed that Corzine did not select one of their own, they remained largely silent or supportive, with the exception of Newark State Sen. Ron Rice.

Rice was mildly aggrieved that an African-American was not on the ticket and suggested that there was never any serious consideration given to such a selection.  As an aside, he took a swipe at the Corzine campaign for what he said was a less than stellar performance so far.

Rice’s comments, though, are for neighborhood consumption, rather than any signal that the Corzine-Weinberg ticket will not enjoy the broad support of African-American voters, a constituency that has become one of the most politically reliable for Democrats.

African-Americans are not about to desert the Democratic Party and flock to Republican candidate Chris Christie, but a strong turnout by minority voters is crucial to Corzine’s re-election.  It would be in the Governor’s best interest if he ordered Democratic State Chairman Joe Cryan to concentrate on developing and financing a solid get-out-the-vote program, rather than to allow the chairman to continue to speak out on policy matters and campaign issues. He hasn’t been effective at it in any event.

The Governor’s choice of Weinberg – something that normally would have been a major media event – was forced to share the news cycle with the ongoing blanket coverage of the largest political corruption scandal to ever hit the state.

The FBI sweep which netted 44 persons, including mayors, sitting legislators, ex-legislators, a host of appointed government officials, and a number of rabbis on bribery, extortion and money laundering charges, dominated the 48 hours leading up to Corzine’s announcement and threatens to become the central issue in the gubernatorial campaign.

In such an environment, the Weinberg selection can be helpful because of her involvement in battling the heavy-handedness of her county party’s leaders and her record of support for ethics and campaign finance reforms.

Her age may quietly concern some, but in a state that has shown its willingness to send an 84-year-old to the U. S. Senate and to meekly accept his promise to seek another term when he’s 90, it won’t be much of an issue.

In fact, the more cynical among the political cognoscenti are convinced that her age was a factor in her selection because, should Corzine win a second term, Weinberg will be 78 at the end of the four years and it is extremely unlikely she’ll seek the job for herself. In 2013 the Governor’s office will be an open seat and the party leaders will conduct auditions free from any need to concern themselves with the desires or feelings of a sitting lieutenant governor.

Because this year is the first time voters will have an opportunity to choose a ticket rather than an individual for its highest offices, the level of attention directed toward the respective lieutenant governor candidates remains to be seen.

It is inevitable, though, that at some point someone will observe that the Democrat candidate is old enough to be the mother of the Republican candidate, 50-year-old Monmouth County Sheriff Kim Guadagno.

It is, of course, the long held conventional wisdom that nobody votes for vice president, or, in this case, lieutenant governor. It remains the person at the very top of the ticket who wins or loses for both. Odds are that will rule once again.

By selecting Weinberg, Corzine has adhered to the physician’s oath and his party seems satisfied with it. Not necessarily overjoyed, but satisfied.  For someone who’s consistently trailed in the polls, that’s enough.

Carl Golden served as press secretary to Govs. Kean and Whitman.

 

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