Author Archive: Hank Kalet

The taint of John Lynch

I meant to point this out — Linda Greenstein deserves praise for turning over money she received from disgraces party leader and former state Sen. John Lynch to N.J. Citizen Action. A couple of others — state Sen. Joe Vitale and Barbara Buono — also handed back or donated the cash.

Others, however, are uninterested. Seems a bad move at a time when several high-profile Democrats are facing ethics probes. What does everyone think?

(Here is what I wrote in the South Brunswick Post.)

Channel Surfing

The Menedez problem

I think the assembled are being a bit defensive about what I wrote yesterday about Bob Menendez. I was just stating why it is I think that in a state dominated by Democrats, the Democratic incumbent is having a tough time shaking his weakling opponent.

It was meant as a prod — Democrats, and Menendez in particular, need to do a better job of outlining the consequences of a Kean win and also do a better job of defining the positive parts of Menendez’s record.

Basically, a Kean win would reduce the impact of Democratic wins elsewhere making it that much more difficult to root out dangerous incompetents like Jim Inhofe from committee leadership posts. Someone — aside from Tom Moran — needs to remind voters that Kean’s environmental credentials mean little if Inhofe, a troglodyte if ever there was one, remains in control of Senate environmental legislation.

It’s not enough to tie Kean to Bush. Kean’s contention that he is an independent moderate needs to be imploded by showing what his win will mean.

As for the Hudson County thing: I do mean politics, but as a newspaper editor who receives lots of letters killing him as a run-of-the-mill Hudson County pol, it would be foolish for us not to acknowledge that the prejudice exists.

Channel Surfing

What’s up with Bob?

I am a bit worried about the Menendez campaign. While the latest polls show him moving ahead slightly — though within the margin of error — I have this queasy feeling that New Jersey will find a way to scuttle the Democrats’ attempt to retake the Senate.

Here is what I posted to Channel Surfing:

Jim Testa of Jersey Beat offers a pretty good summary of the failings of the Menendez campaign this year — in a senate race that he should have been winning (in the polls, anyway) by 10 points. I mean this is a so-called blue state, right? And there is a concensus that George Bush is doing a bad job and that his war is a debacle and Tom Kean still supports it — and yet Sen. Menendez has been unable to take advantage.

There always were some questions about Menendez — about his name recognition, about his connections to Hudson County (a canard that shouldn’t have been an issue), about the bodies he’s left strewn across the political landscape (they play rough in his neck of the woods). I had been hoping for someone like state Sen. Nia Gill, a politician who is willing to battle the entrenched elite, or U.S. Rep. Rush Holt, a rather solid progressive. Menendez is reliably liberal — aside from his stance on Cuba and some security issues — but there were always those nagging doubts.

I just hope this is not something that Gov. Jon Corzine — who picked him to fill out the unexpired seat partly because he thought he was the man most likely to retain the seat against a well-financed opponent — will live to regret.

The hypocrisy of Tom Kean Jr.

Tom Kean had a squeeky clean reputation when he announced his candidacy for the U.S. Senate. That’s not the case any longer.

As Steve Adubato, a veteran of the New Jersey political scene, writes today on Politics NJ, young Tom has helped drag this ugly little Senate race as far into the gutter as any race in recent history.

Ironically, many people felt that it would be Bob Menendez, a product of Hudson County — the bastion of dirty Democratic politics — who would drive this campaign into the gutter. And while Menendez has taken his share of potshots (including unfair criticisms of Kean as a “trust fund” kid from a wealthy family), it has been the young state Senator with the “golden” Kean name (and the unassuming face) who has savaged Bob Menendez. Kean has not only implied, but has said that Menendez is corrupt, dishonest and greedy.

As I’ve written before, corruption is a legitimate issue in New Jersey. But the Kean camp’s tactics have been hypocritical to the extreme. He has elevated legitimate questions about Mendenez’s role in an apartment scandal to the same level as the Lynch probe, which resulted in a guilty plea for the former state senator, even though there is no evidence that Menendez violated any laws. And Kean has climbed into bed with convicted felons to find dirt, all the while remaining quiet about the culture of corruption in Republican Washington.

If Kean were to take on his own party’s nefarious activities, then his attacks on Menendez might hold more water. As it is, he just comes off as another cynical politician who will do anything to win.

Channel Surfing

Tom Kean is a dirty, dirty boy

Crossposted from Channel Surfing:

Leave it to Tom Moran of the Star-Ledger to put Tom Kean Jr.’s ugly little senate campaign under the microscope he says he is placing Bob Menendez under. Moran says that Kean has resorted to the smear tactics because he is out of step with most New Jerseyans on the issues (Iraq, Social Security, the Bush budget). Kean, Moran writes “knows he can’t win this race on the issues. So he’s hired a team of consultants and turned his campaign into a snarling machine that would make Karl Rove proud.”

Moran is pretty clear about the way Kean has comported himself during the campaign — climbing into bed with a host of unsavory characters in the hopes that they can help him chip away at Menendez.

For the moment, the attacks seem to be working, keeping the race close — Kean even leads in several polls.

But as he tosses mud he dirties himself. The son of the state’s most popular former governor, Kean Jr. has generally enjoyed a solid reputation. Politicians from both parties have said he is genial and is someone with whom it is easy to work. And before he ran, there had been murmerings that the state senator lacked the fire or the ruthlessness that would be necessary to do battle with someone like Menendez in a statewide race.

Is Menendez corrupt? This is New Jersey and you can lose a lot of money betting on the integrity of any politician. And sometimes, Menendez does act like a Hudson County pol, as when he rented his home to a nonprofit group that relies on federal funds.

But Kean hasn’t come close to backing up his charges against Menendez. And by basing his campaign on cheap shots, he’s raising more doubts about his own integrity than he is about his opponent’s.

My colleagues at The Princeton Packet put it this way:

If nothing else, the campaign being waged by the two major-party candidates for the U.S. Senate from New Jersey has now all but guaranteed that whoever triumphs will be a disrespected, ineffective and generally unpopular officeholder.

Because the only thing either of the candidates — Republican Thomas Kean Jr. and Democrat Robert Menendez — seems to care about is destroying the credibility and reputation of his opponent. This means the one who emerges bloody but victorious in next month’s election will enter the Senate with virtually no credibility and a badly tarnished reputation.

And that is not particularly good news for New Jersey, is it?

Junior sticks with the party

Crossposted from Channel Surfing:

Tom Kean Jr. may not be as independent as he claims — at least that’s what Herb Jackson, one of the deans of New Jersey political reporting wrote today.

Kean’s record as a legislator shows he may not be the independent fighter he says he is. Not only does he serve in the Republican leadership in Trenton, a database analysis by The Record found that Kean voted the same way most of his GOP colleagues did at least 93 percent of the time.

the voting record, when placed along side the very real impact that a Kean victory might have on the composition of the U.S. Senate — ensuring that it stays in the most conservative of Republican hands — should dispel any notions that the young state senator might have a moderating effect on his party in Washington.

And Jackson hits Kean on his signature issue — ethics reform:

Kean’s criticism of ethical lapses has been aimed almost entirely at Democrats, with no discussion of Republicans’ transgressions, either in New Jersey or in Washington.

Kean’s response is to be expected:

“This goes beyond politics,” Kean said. “It just so happens that the last several years Democrats have been in charge of the State House.”

True enough — but also incredibly disingenuous, as has been the entire GOP push in New Jersey for pay-to-play reforms. No peeps from the GOP when Whitman was handing out contracts. Nothing about Tom DeLay or the Jack Abramoff mess being uttered by young Kean, raising questions about his commitment to ethics reforms.

In the end, Tom Kean Jr. appears to be nothing more than your standard political entity, no more principled or groundbreaking than his opponent but considerably more conservative. And that seems to be what the November vote should be about.

A battle of narratives

Cross-posted from Channel Surfing:

I received this letter from a reader from Monroe this week (it will run on Friday in The Cranbury Press):

Last week’s column by Managing Editor Hank Kalet described the campaign between Tom Kean Jr. and Bob Menendez as a choice between bad and bad, Mr. Kean’s positions versus Mr. Menendez’s integrity. This is a comparison between apples and bicycles.

The editorial should have been between the candidates political/policy positions or their personal integrity. As of this morning Mr. Kean is leading Mr. Menendez, a sitting United States Senator, by six points (Monmouth University/Gannett NJ Poll).

The policy differences between the two candidates have been submerged by the questions of Mr. Menendez’s integrity. It would seem that he has very little, if any, integrity. He appears to be nothing more than a second-rate Hudson County Democrat. First-rate Hudson County Democrats dont get caught.

There have never been any questions concerning Mr. Keans personal integrity. He has always conducted his affairs with the highest personal honesty and integrity. This is a hallmark of the Kean family, as Tom, Jr. follows in the footsteps of his father.

However, in whose footsteps does Mr. Menendez follow? Since his roots never seem to manifest themselves, then I would offer a list of Democrats that serve as mentors to Mr. Menendez: James McGreevey, John Lynch, Wayne Bryant, Sharpe James, Robert Torricelli, William Musto, Robert Janiszewski, George Norcross, Peter Harvey, Zulima Farber, Gerald McCann, Thomas Whelan, Hugh Addonizio, Cornelius Gallagher, Kenneth Gibson.

I would recommend that the next time the writer decides to compare two issues, that he ensure the issues are apples to apples.

Harold V. Kane

His letter essentially proves my point — that the election is likely to come down to a competition between narratives, with Mr. Kane subscribing to the corruption story, while I subscribe to the issues narrative.

I’m not a “party” guy — meaning that I do not bleed blue or automatically vote Democrat. I am pretty liberal (actually, I am to the left of liberal and voted for Ralph Nader in both 1996 and 2000), but that does not mean I can be counted on to support any party line.

That said, I am planning to vote for the Democrat, Robert Menendez, though I have misgivings about the ethics “situation” currently hanging over his head, as well as his hardline stance on Cuba and South America, more generally. On the plus side, he voted against the Iraq war and continues to oppose it, co-sponsoring legislation to bring the troops home, and he has been a staunch defender of Social Security.

But the most important issue is this one, outlined in today’s Washington Post by columnist Harold Meyerson.  The thing to remember is that Kean Jr. is running as a moderate (he is far more conservative than his father was, but not as conservative as Bill First) at a time when moderate Republicans like Lincoln Chafee have become nothing more than Congressional enablers.


Chafee and Maine’s Olympia Snowe and such deathbed converts to moderation as Ohio’s Mike DeWine are seeking reelection to the Senate by claiming that they represent a Republicanism less rabid than the Bush-Rove strain. They point to individual votes in which they broke with the president and flouted the party line. But those votes have been negated a hundred times over by their votes to make Bill Frist the majority leader, just as they would be negated when the new Senate takes office in 2007 if the moderates backed any Republican unwilling to make a fundamental break with Bush and Bushism.

The issue isn’t the individual voting records of Frist and McConnell, which are indistinguishable from each other and define the mainstream of today’s gorge-the-rich, drown-the-poor, stay-the-course Republicanism. The issue is that under the control of the Republicans, both the Senate and the House have abandoned their constitutionally mandated obligation to oversee executive branch endeavors, most especially endeavors gone as awry as the war in Iraq. The issue is that under Republican control, both houses have abandoned any effort to address America’s real problems.

Unless state Sen. Kean is willing to go on the record saying he would not support arch-conservative Mitch McConnell for majority leader, for instance, his moderation seems useless. The majority leader posts the bills and controls the flow of legislation, meaning that no matter how much of a pro-choice, pro-environment Republican Sen. Kean is, the legislation that will emanate from the Senate will be anti-choice and anti-environment (not to mention Sen. Kean’s support for the war and unwillingness to take a position on Social Security).

South Brunswick Post, The Cranbury Press
The Blog of South Brunswick

Baby steps toward reform

From Channel Surfing:

Maybe something good can come from all this ugliness and greed in Trenton. Maybe reform will finally end up on the agenda — like those ordered for independent authorities by Gov. Corzine or proposed by legislative Republicans (a mixed-bag of the good and the politically expededient, but a proposal nonetheless worth a discussion).

Here, according to the AP, is what the GOP is proposing:

The Republican-supported bills, among other things, propose barring public officials from holding more than one elected office, prohibiting public officials from receiving late-career salary increases that boost taxpayer-funded pensions, expanding a state anti-nepotism law, requiring unpaid suspensions of indicted public officials and mandatory jail time and full pension forfeiture for public officials convicted of corruption.

The Corzine executive order:

requires state authorities to establish bidding procedures, award most contracts to the low bidder, boost financial reporting, publicly advertise all contracts and work with state economic growth officials to coordinate spending.

A first step? I hope so.

South Brunswick Post, The Cranbury Press
The Blog of South Brunswick