You know those studies that show that you really do become more sensitive to the weather as you get older? A similar principle might apply to the ability to cope with New Jersey corruption, because the 44 recent arrests here seem to have outraged even people who thought they’d become inured to the vast pay-to-play game that is Garden State politics. For anyone who’d like to know more about how it works, a book that relates tangentially is Helene Stapinki’s memoir of a growing up in a Jersey City family, Five-Finger Discount: A Crooked Family History (Random House, 2002). I read this one for fun years ago when I was briefly AWOL from reviewing, so I didn’t bring much of a critical sensibility to bear on its tale of growing up with relatives such as a bookie and a grandfather sent to prison for armed robbery. But Stapinski tells her story with mordant comedy, if with inconsistent results, and I enjoyed it. She also relates her family’s crimes to the major-league corruption of the Hudson County Democratic machine, a group of power brokers sullied again in the July 25 dragnet. Michiko Kakutani had more on the book in her New York Times review.
August 2, 2009
Yes, New Jersey WAS Always So Crooked — Helene Stapinski Remembers When Corruption Ran in Her Jersey City Family in ‘Five-Finger Discount’
July 28, 2009
‘One of the Cardinal Rules of New Jersey Politics Is, There’s No Such Thing As a Private Conversation’ — James McGreevey in ‘The Confession’ — Late Night With Jan Harayda
Update, 9:50 p.m. July 29: Jack Shaw’s autopsy is “inconclusive” pending more toxicology reports.
The New Jersey corruption scandal has deepened with the apparent suicide of Jack Shaw, a Jersey City political consultant who was among 44 people charged Thursday in a federal probe aided by a real-estate developer-turned-informant who wore a wire.
James McGreevey, the former New Jersey governor, wrote about the ubiquitous threat of taped conversations in the state in his memoir, The Confession (HarperCollins, 2008), written with David France, and his comments still apply. McGreevey said:
“One of the cardinal rules of New Jersey politics is, there’s no such thing as a private conversation. Governor [Brendan] Byrne once told me this, as though imparting a philosophical truth from the ages. ‘Somewhere along the line,’ he said, ‘you are going to be taped by someone wearing a wire.’ This is why so many political meetings start with a big bear hug – a New Jersey pat down among friends.”
McGreevey’s memoir has problems well documented by the reviewers and op-ed page columnists who wrote about the book when it appeared in 2008, but The Confession also has many quotes like this one that help to put the latest scandal in context.
(c) 2009 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.