What a strange political world we live in: At a time when the country is reeking from the excesses of corporate greed, we in New Jersey have a millionaire businessman running for Senate — a man who some might argue has made his money off the backs of sick people buying drugs at their neighborhood pharmacy.
Yet what does his opponent and the media — from the New York Times to the Star-Ledger to the Associated Press — grab on to as an issue? The candidate’s musings as an unpaid columnist for his community’s weekly newspaper back in the early 1990s.
We are talking about Doug Forrester, of course, the CEO of Benecard Services on Franklin Corner Road, a firm that has found a niche designing prescription drug and vision care plans for small to mid-sized companies and associations (typically 50 or so up to a few hundred people) and that has created a reported $50 million in wealth for Forrester.
But instead of casting an eye on his present-day business life, Forrester’s opponents have raised an eyebrow about the personal views expressed in those newspaper columns. A newly minted television commercial by newly minted Democratic opponent Frank Lautenberg depicts Forrester as a trigger happy gun nut, and quotes from a column in the West Windsor-Plainsboro Chronicle (no longer in business) in which Forrester opposed a ban on assault weapons — a position that he no longer holds.
For the media the columns have been even more fun. The New York Times quoted from a Forrester column on ice cream: "There is something about ice cream which reduces all who partake to common ground. Even as the ice cream melts, so do the artificial barriers of economics, social status, age, sex, appearance, and other impediments to the enjoyment of our simple humanity."
Matthew Purdy of the Times raced through the writings of citizen Forrester and concluded that he was "more libertarian than conservative."
Here at 12 Roszel Road we also took a special interest in Doug Forrester because of our sister newspaper, the West Windsor-Plainsboro News. Bill Sanservino, senior editor of the News and formerly with both the Chronicle and the subsequent News Eagle (also since closed down), looked through his old newspapers. His take made Forrester more conservative than libertarian. For example, commenting on John F. Kennedy and JFK Jr., Forrester had this to write:
"I am pleased some temporal distance has now made it possible for a more analytical assessment of Kennedy’s presidency . . . I think there is now a chance that no more public schools or facilities will be named after the 35th president."
In referring to an article by JFK Jr. in George magazine defending Kennedy cousins Joe and Michael, Forrester wrote that "the reason JFK Jr., as a standard bearer for an enormously influential family, needs to be called into account is because of his implicit defense of behavior which victimizes trusting people . . . An essential part of what a community should be is the mutual effort to acknowledge the value of what is nice and respectable and challenge each other to seek understanding of our true selves."
What you read in the columns is what you might expect from a nearly 50-year-old Republican whose first career turn after Harvard (Class of ’75) was the Princeton Theological Seminary. Deciding that he needed a little more "seasoning" before he would be prepared to serve as a minister, Forrester instead went to work for the state, serving as director of the Division of Pensions under Governor Tom Kean (who now lauds the candidate in a television commercial).
Along the way Forrester pursued some hobbies: serving as committeeman and then mayor of West Windsor Township and writing those columns.
But what about Benecard and why isn’t anyone talking about the dilemma of health care costs? Republican strategist Pete McDonough, helping with PR on the Forrester campaign, notes that Robert Torricelli attempted to make the prescription benefit management (PBM) industry a campaign issue. "Torricelli raised some good questions about PBMs," says McDonough. "But what he found out was that Benecard is not a PBM. In fact, Benecard is probably a good model for what a national pharmaceutical benefits program should be. Doug knows the issue inside and out. If I were his opponent, I wouldn’t want to raise it."
As for why it’s out of the spotlight, just consider which is easier: Discussing health care costs or pondering the melting of ice cream?
Back in his days as a West Windsor civic leader Forrester helped organize a community festival to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the War of the Worlds broadcast that used Grover’s Mill in West Windsor as its locale. He’s gone from one strange media event to another. Call it the War of the Words.