VIVA MENENDEZ!

Friends of justice:

Robert Menendez, the distinguished senior senator from the great state of New Jersey, is in a jam.

Just because of flights on a private jet, a vacation in a five-star Paris hotel with a limestone bath, a soaking tub and enclosed rain shower and a Caribbean hotel, and close to a million in campaign contributions allegedly received to promote the business and personal interests of his good long-time friend, the Florida eye specialist, Dr. Salomon Melgen, according to a 14-count Federal indictment!

Just because in exchange for the goodies, the 68-page indictment accuses our senator of trying to help Dr. Melgen, a long-time friend of 20 years, keep $9 million that Medicare said he over-billed the government, lobbied the State Department to provide visas so the good doctor’s girl friends from Brazil, the Dominican Republic, and Ukraine could study, visit, have their eyes checked out in Florida, and turned the heat up on the Dominican authorities to green light a port security contract for one of Melgan’s companies!

What, I ask, are friends for?

Now I’m not saying Sen. Bob and Dr. Salamon went to Talmud Torah together when growing up in Union City. But their friendship predates his senatorial election, and since when is it a crime to share good times together, living the luxurious life the senator had grown accustomed to, a life to which a large majority of his constituents aspire?

Anyway, what can be wrong with a senator having the same tastes in travel and lodgings as our state’s governor?

Why, they might as well indict Gov. Christie for taking a free flight to Israel on Sheldon Adelson’s private jet where they might have discussed the Atlantic City casino business, or accepting seats in Dallas Cowboy owner Jerry Jones’ private box while one of his company does business with the state, or letting his old friend, King Abdullah of Jordan, wine and dine him in his five-star tent in Arabia!

If there is anything corrupt about these friendships, you can blame the Supreme Court. The line between propriety and criminal has become as fuzzy as a line drawn in the sands of the Jersey Shore ever since the Citizens United decision ruling that corporations were people. Corporations now have the freedom to donate money to politicians with relatively few strings attached, like you and I. Why even Exxon is legally considered a good fellow making contributions to the Super PAC funds of New Jersey politicians who might some day be ruling on $8.9 billion settlements requiring cleaning up their mess as they go out the door.

The Feds are portraying our Sen. Bob as the poster boy for corruption, demeaning the state of New Jersey and thereby the people who elected him. Does friendship mean naught in the rigorously moral climate that prevails elsewhere in Congress?

If the indictment against Sen. Bob holds up, then it just goes to prove he is one of the group, a real New Jersey guy, a member of the chosen people who believe so-called corruption is one of the perks of public service, an example of what could be known as New Jersey Exceptionalism.

In a worse case scenario and the case actually goes to trial some year, our senator should plead not guilty by way of geographic and environmental-impairment. Let me explain for the people who don’t know their New Jersey.

Senator Bob grew up in Union City, a town in that bastion of good governance, Hudson County, ruled by Mayor Frank Hague of Jersey City. A struggling young politician, rising through the ranks in the 1980’s, our Senator Bob wore a bullet- proof vest to work. Not every day, just when he was in court.

One of the great moments in the annals of American courthouse politics took place in Hudson County during the reign of Mayor Hague. The night of a close election, a judge ordered the impounding of the ballot boxes in a Jersey City courthouse. A recount was scheduled for the following morning. Late that night the courthouse burned down. It was a coincidence.

As odd as what was the equivalent of the Reichstag Fire in New Jersey politics, there was the campaign for mayor in which some benighted soul actually mounted a serious effort to unseat Hizhonor. It happened that at a rally for this foolish fellow, Mayor Hague asked some of his staff (known as Goons) to attend the event. They showed up and started throwing their weight around. The ever-alert constabulary rushed in to bring order by arresting the clueless candidate for disturbing the peace. Clearly, he was guilty. The very notion of a campaign to challenge Frank Hague was unsettling to the citizens of Jersey City. The fellow remained in the slammer until after Election Day. It saved his life. Incidentally, Mayor Hague received 99% of the votes, my source recalls, and everyone lived happily ever after.

Now I am not a rocket scientist, or any other kind of scientist, but it seem to me that if chemicals and other pollutants can remain in the ground or air for millenniums, why can it be expected such a contagious disease as corruption will disappear from the air politicians breath in Hudson and adjoining counties in virtual nano seconds? Even if the forces for clean government did their darndest to scrub the contaminated area clean, before they, too became infected by the disease!

You can take the boy out of Hudson County, as the political maxim goes, but you can’t take the Hudson County out of the boy.

IMO, Sen. Bob is environmentally-challenged. And should be cut some slack in morality judgment. Or so it can be argued.

There are those who believe the indictment is politically motivated. The Obama administration is out to get our Senator Bob because of his opposition to the Iran nuclear deal. The hope is that if he is besmirched by scandal the people of New Jersey will not return him to Washington in the next election.

I am not sure that strategy will work.

Let me tell you about my favorite Congressional campaign. I live in the 9th Congressional District, in Bergen County, abutting Hudson County.

Two weeks before election day in 1976, our Congressman, the Rt. Honorable Rep. Henry Helstoski was accused of beating his wiFe. Pundits predicted this would hurt Rep. Helstoski’s re-election chances. They were wrong.

He easily won re-election. Apparently, Hammerin’ Hank, as we called him, had appealed to both those who beat their wives and those who wanted to. His re-election was considered a mandate from the people.

The New York Times editorially on April 3 (“Step Down, Senator Robert Menendez”) has called his”mutually beneficial relationship” a reason to throw in the towel. “He is doing a disservice, by clinging to power.”

Don’t listen to them, Senator Bob.

Judging by the quality of Gov. Christie’s appointments to the Port Authority – who can forget the two Davids, Wildstein and Samson?— I’d vote for a corrupt Bob Menendez again, warts and all.

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Marvin Kitman
April 14, 2015

Marvin Kitman was the media critic at Newsday. His column, “The Marvin Kitman Show,” began on Dec. 7, 1969, a day that still lives in infamy, according to network executives. On April 1, 2005, he stepped down from his position of power. As he explained, “Newsday gave me a tryout, and after 35 years we decided it wasn’t working out.” He is the author of nine books.

CC Creative Commons Photo "Welcome to New Jersey & Sussex County" by Flickr user Jimmy Emerson, DVM.