Are you excited about this year’s gubernatorial campaign? Are you looking forward to the debate between
1.) The millionaire former corporate executive who promises to wipe out corruption in New Jersey politics even as he forgives a $400,000 loan to his ex-girlfriend who happens to represent an important political group; and
2.) The millionaire self-made entrepreneur, who promises to wipe out corruption in New Jersey politics even as he runs pieces of his corporate empire from Delaware so that he can circumvent a state campaign finance law?
Or are you saying enough of this already?
We suspect that a lot of New Jerseyans already have grown tired of the political rhetoric, even though the heavy campaigning for the November 8 election is only just beginning. To us the worst thing about Corzine’s forgiven loan to the ex-girlfriend/slash union official is not the loan itself, but rather the way he responded by trying to tar Forrester.
To us the worst thing about the Forrester position is not that he runs his business out of a Delaware-chartered corporation (join the crowd), but it’s his 30 percent property tax reduction promise. If we checked his website we would undoubtedly find some fine print about the reductions contingent on economic growth or savings from more efficient collections of tolls on the Parkway, or whatever. But the reality — as former governors Byrne and Kean somberly noted last fall — is that New Jersey is as corrupt fiscally as it is in any other way.
The other day we received an announcement from Rider University, promoting its annual lunchtime lecture series. The October 26 event will feature David P. Rebovich, professor and managing director of Rider’s Institute for New Jersey Politics. This is how the choice is being described:
“High property taxes, government waste and inefficiency, tales of political corruption, unmet needs in health care, affordable housing, and transportation are the important issues of concern to New Jerseyans. . . Both parties have nominated multimillionaire businessmen, who plan to spend a good portion of their private fortunes on their campaigns. But will these candidates educate voters about the state’s problems, offer plausible policy proposals to address those problems, and attract more voters to the polls? Or will they devote much of their time and money to negative campaigning?”
That’s an indication of the cynicism held by the professional political observers at the academic level. What’s the mood of the average Joe at the corner bar? We will answer for them: Enough of this already.
On that note we are pleased to introduce the next governor of the great state of New Jersey, a man who has shown his leadership skills by successfully managing a great institution to the greatest heights; a man who has successfully balanced a budget while simultaneously increasing the opportunities for the most needy constituents; and a man who has led the nation in discussions of some of the most controversial areas of public concern, which just happen to be critical to the future of the cornerstone of New Jersey’s economy, the pharmaceutical industry.
Ladies and gentlemen, the next governor of New Jersey: Harold Shapiro.
That’s right, Harold Shapiro, the former president of Princeton University.
In his 13 years as president of Princeton, Shapiro not only presided over a huge physical expansion of the campus, but he also expanded the student financial aid pool so that undergraduates in need of financial aid wouldn’t be saddled with debt when they graduated. Princeton today consistently ranks as the top 1 or 2 in the U.S. News and World Report surveys of best universities in the nation. Take note voters: Shapiro helped get it there, without plundering the endowment or making phony promises.
As chairman of President Clinton’s National Bioethics Advisory Commission, which produced the 1997 report “Cloning Human Beings,” Shapiro proved to be a thoughtful chronicler of the real and potential consequences of the collision between scientific advances, human ethics, and government policy. Take note voters: Science and technology are two of the key ingredients in the New Jersey economy. Who better than Harold Shapiro to encourage the continued growth of the pharmaceutical industry in this state and to hold it to the highest standards?
Now, as one of 11 members of the board of directors of the United States Olympic Committee, Shapiro has stepped into another quasi-public role. Take note voters: If he can instill some common sense into the quagmire of Olympic politics, he ought to be ready for the New Jersey legislature.
In fact, Shapiro may be a novice at politics, but he is not without his political connections. Even before he was tapped by Clinton for the bioethics position, he served as a member of Poppy Bush’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology. And his eye toward political connections must have been working when he accepted a position on the board of directors of HCA, the network of nearly 200 hospitals and 100 outpatient centers and the nation’s leading provider of healthcare services.
HCA just happens to be the Frist family enterprise, and that family includes Bill Frist, former Princeton University trustee and also Senate Majority Leader. Perhaps not coincidentally, that gleaming new student center built on the Princeton campus during Shapiro’s tenure as president is known as the Frist Center.
So if you’re looking at Corzine and Forrester and saying enough already, you might be pleasantly surprised by Harold Shapiro’s credentials.
But first a sobering technicality. Forgetting for a moment that Shapiro has not even been approached about this possibility (and forgetting also that the mild-mannered academic’s response might be “if nominated I won’t run and if elected I won’t serve”), we can nonetheless guarantee that you will not find Harold Shapiro’s name on the ballot this November 8. Even though you need the signatures of only 800 state residents to gain a spot as an independent candidate in the governor’s race, you needed to have those signatures by June 7, no later than 4 p.m.
And in New Jersey, no matter how many loans you forgive to ex-girlfriends and no many how many tax cuts you promise, you still can’t make June 7 come after September 7. The best we can do for Harold Shapiro, and for the state, is to write his name in. Okay, it’s a long shot, but even a few thousand votes would make people notice and hear the call: Enough already.
A long shot? Yes. Unprecedented? No.
Turn the clock back to the summer of 1910. With just a few months to go before the general election, two Democratic power brokers (one a former U.S. Senator, the other the editor of Harper’s Weekly Magazine) sought a squeaky clean candidate who could energize the voters. The name that popped to the surface was the president of Princeton University, the man who had transformed the college into a nationally elite institution by raising admission standards, reorganizing the university’s budget, and introducing the preceptorial system — famous at Oxford in England — as the basis for undergraduate education.
The president: Woodrow Wilson. His lack of political credentials probably helped him more than hurt in the general election, which he won with the largest majority that a Democratic candidate had ever gained up to that time.
Wilson’s stature as a reform politician grew when — after the election — he denounced the very system that helped him get elected. He pushed through legislation that required political parties to nominate candidates through primary elections rather than tap them by the bosses, as had happened in Wilson’s own case.
After less than two years as New Jersey’s governor Wilson won the Democratic nomination for president. In the 1912 election the Republican Party was split by the candidacies of the incumbent, William Howard Taft, and former President Theodore Roosevelt, running for the Progressive “Bull Moose” Party. Wilson won the election handily.
Now one more comforting piece of information about Harold Shapiro. Lest you fear that history could somehow repeat itself, and Shapiro be thrust into the national spotlight by our little write-in campaign, and somehow turn into a political animal himself, hell bent on 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, we can add this guarantee: Harold Shapiro will not be president of the United States. While he is a citizen of the United States, he is not a natural born American. He was born in Canada.
So unless a certain and much more politically ambitious governor from the state of California engineers a Constitutional amendment, the political career of Harold Shapiro is not likely to go much further than Drumthwacket, if it even gets that far. Ladies and gentlemen: Practice your penmanship, as we offer two more words — Harold Shapiro — to the two you already have in mind — enough already.