Uh, stick to the facts
Sen Robert Menendez
New Jersey Senator's Rival Faults Him in 80's Corruption Case, but History Disagrees
By JIM DWYER
Published: June 25, 2006
A few days into the campaign for United States Senate in New Jersey, the Republican candidate, Thomas H. Kean Jr., called a news conference in Newark to declare that the integrity of his opponent, Robert Menendez, was a nail he would hammer.
For starters, he scoffed at a claim of early civic virtue by Mr. Menendez, the current senator and the Democratic nominee.
In particular, Mr. Kean said that Mr. Menendez had distorted his own role in the political corruption of Union City, the Hudson County community where Mr. Menendez came to public life 30 years ago as a protégé of an old-fashioned political boss, William V. Musto.
Mr. Kean said that while Mr. Menendez now poses as a brave truth teller who helped topple a regime of political crooks, he had actually issued $2 million in public money to a corrupt contractor "as part of a massive illegal kickback scheme." Had Mr. Menendez not cooperated with prosecutors, aides to Mr. Kean said, he might have gone to jail himself.
To a depth unusual for events that are decades old, the Kean campaign's accusations can be measured against a robust historical record — including F.B.I. tapes and volumes of trial testimony — of a roiling human and legal drama between 1978 and 1982 in Union City.
The Kean accusations find no support in those records or from independent authorities of that era.
The four former federal prosecutors who prosecuted senior Union City officials say that, in fact, Mr. Menendez did nothing wrong and much that was right under difficult circumstances.
"It's a sad commentary that Menendez's role in the trial is being used against him," said Samuel Rosenthal, one of the prosecutors, "when it was certainly an act of courage for him to testify against the entire city government, as well as an influential state senator, and people who are accused of being members of organized crime."
Mr. Kean's aides say they continue to see in Mr. Menendez's conduct today echoes of the gamy political culture of Union City in his early years. A film about Mr. Menendez is being made with guidance from a Kean campaign contractor; that contractor, without disclosing his affiliation or the nature of the project, asked for help from this reporter, who covered Union City 26 years ago.
From the public records, Mr. Menendez emerges as a young man who plainly thrived from his first moments in public life, thanks to the backing of a political machine; just as plainly, the full record shows that he helped thwart a group of politicians and organized crime figures who ran that machine and were looting public funds.
That process brought down Mr. Musto, the mentor and surrogate father whom Mr. Menendez publicly beseeched to abandon his corrupt associates. He ended up going to federal prison. So did six other people, all of them convicted of racketeering in one of the longest criminal trials in New Jersey's history.
The fact is that Tom Kean should be ashamed of himself. He knows Bob Menendez wasn't a crook in the 80's and to pretend otherwise is wrong.
Jim Dwyer covered North Jersey earlier in his career. I covered the same towns in the mid-1980's. I can say that Menendez was not a crook, considering the number of people who went to jail in that period and after, if Bob Menendez was a crook, his ass would be in jail. Everyone else went. The county leader, mayors, school board officials. All crooks, all jailed.
Let me put it this way, if Menendez was a private citizen, Tom Kean would be facing a libel suit. North Jersey politics is no joke, it's rough and tumble. It's the Sopranos without the guns. To survive that without an indictment is amazing. You can't be cutting corners, because they all go to jail.
To say he was taking kickbacks without proof is disgusting. And there is no proof, only the opposite.
posted by Steve @ 12:02:00 AM