Thank you for joining this seminar on what it means to be “qualified” to be governor of New Jersey. As you’re probably aware, former Gov. Tom Kean famously says Barbara Buono is a “nice lady” who is “not qualified” to be governor. So we should talk about the men and one woman who served as governor in the last 50 years and see what sort of qualifications they had and compare those qualifications with Sen. Buono’s.
Because Kean brought it up, let’s talk about him first. These are his qualifications: He was a private prep school teacher and then an assemblyman for 10 years. He also became assembly speaker . To do that, he had to be able to make friends easily. One of those friends was David Friedland, a Hudson County politician who—in much the way Brian Stack is shilling for Chris Christie now—sold out his party to advance Kean’s career. Kean then became governor under equally sketchy circumstances—look up Tony Imperiale and the Ballot Security Task Force.
And, of course, he was rich. Very rich. And, for no apparent reason, he speaks with a Massachusetts accent.
Barbara Buono is not rich—and that, to me, is a qualification. She served 20 years in the Legislature and was the first woman Senate majority leader and head of the finance and appropriations committee. She also was a criminal trial lawyer for the Department of Public Advocate, a department Republican governors like to eliminate because it serves poor people. Republican criminals can afford their own defense lawyers.
Although Kean says she is “very nice,” Buono does talk back to men who push her around. That to me is another qualification. Unlike most Democrats, she is not afraid of George Norcross, the man who believes he owns Camden County and all the politicians and institutions of higher education in it. She also is not afraid of Joe D who often knows where Essex County is. To forward her career, she cut no deals with people like them or Friedland and Imperiale. I know that, to some in NJ, refusing to cut deals with slimy people is considered a disqualification.
Here are the others. Richard J. Hughes was a federal prosecutor and a judge. William T. Cahill was a county prosecutor and congressman.
Brendan Byrne was probably the most qualified of any modern candidate to be governor. He served as counsel to Gov. Robert Meyner, president of the Board of Public Utility Commissioners, Essex County prosecutor, and a state court judge. He also is a good stand-up comic and a gangster once said about him he was a man “who couldn’t be bought.” This did not stop him from becoming a good governor.
Jim Florio was a municipal lawyer, two term assemblyman, and congressman. This also should not be overlooked: He was a good boxer, so I count him as second most qualified after Byrne.
Christie Whitman was a Somerset County freeholder. She also worked for Donald Rumsfeld (yikes!) when Richard Nixon was president (again, yikes!). She, like Kean, comes from a very rich family. She also once famously said the air quality level at Ground Zero after 9/11 was acceptable but that occurred after she left the governor’s chair.
No, I haven’t forgotten Donald DiFrancesco, but everyone else has.
Jim McGreevey was an assemblyman, state senator and mayor of Woodbridge. He also did a very dumb thing by hiring his lover to be an anti-terrorism adviser but he did that after he became governor so we can’t count that as a qualification.
I suppose we should count Dick Codey although he never was elected governor. He became acting governor after McGreevey did his dumb thing. Codey might have become governor years ago but he chickened out after Jon Corzine bought up all the county democratic chairpersons and didn’t leave any for him. He also chickened out this year when he could have become the Democratic version of Chris Christie. Codey offered to beat up a shock jock who smeared his wife; Christie stands behind very big state troopers and threatens people with an ice cream cone and suggests someone else should beat up an elderly woman with a baseball bat.
But I digress.
Jon Corzine had fabulous credentials with Goldman Sachs. He was very rich and he bought a US Senate seat. He was not good at some things. For example, he predicted the Democrats would not win a majority in the US Senate so he traded in his senate seat and bought a governor’s chair just before he might have become chairman of the Senate Finance Committee and maybe even Treasury Secretary under President Barack Obama. He also did not know how to put on a seat belt and somehow misplaced $1 billion of other people’s money. He wore sweater vests for no apparent reason.
Now we have Chris Christie. Unlike Corzine, he could buy neither a senate seat nor the governor’s chair, so his brother bought him the US Attorney’s position in New Jersey. He also was a Morris County freeholder who could not win reelection. He is not rich but he is getting there. His main qualification for re-election is he often acts and talks like a member of the cast of Jersey Shore and likes to call people “jerks” and “numbnuts” and “idiots.” He would not look good in a sweater vest. And he is not a very nice man.
So, class, is Tom Kean right? Is Buono unqualified? Well, we know she is more qualified than Kean is, although for someone who sold out his legacy for his pal Christie, he is a very nice man. Just looking at executive positions on her resume, Buono is probably less qualified than Brendan Byrne and Jim Greevey (see how well that worked out), but—given her Trenton experience– more qualified than Hughes, Cahill, Whitman, Florio, and Corzine.
If Dick Codey had stopped acting like Hamlet and making anti-Norcross videos, he might have found the courage to run for governor and he might have won. Too bad Bert Lahr isn’t around to play him in the next video. I have to say Buono is at least as qualified as Codey and she has far more courage than he has. Codey is so afraid he doesn’t even mention on his lawn signs that Buono is on the top of his ticket.
So, class, if we’re talking qualifications, let’s consider this: Barbara Buono acts and talks like an educated woman–and might have a New Jersey accent–and displays a decent respect for people, including those who disagree with her.
What Kean left out of his inane, sexist comment was that Barbara Buono is a much better, much more civilized, human being than Christie is—and that’s got to be the very first qualification for governor.