"Me, Governor?" by Richard J. Codey


"Me, Governor?" by Richard J. Codey

APP previews Codey's new book
March 14th, 2011

Richard J. Codey enjoyed wide popularity during a 14-month tenure as New Jersey's governor. But the reward was a clobbering by the state Democratic machine after he returned to the state Senate, Codey says in his upcoming book.

Codey said he was stripped of his Senate leadership by fellow Democrats in 2009 because Camden County powerbroker George Norcross and Essex County Executive Joe DiVincenzo teamed up, settling old scores against him.

Codey vents about the fall from power in the book, "Me, Governor?," due out in June, saying DiVincenzo has held a grudge ever since Codey backed an opponent in a 2002 county election.

Codey also writes that he "always resented backroom bosses like Norcross. They wield a lot of hidden power over elected officials by controlling patronage, but they never face the voters and they are not a legitimate part of government."

In an e-mailed response Saturday, Norcross said, "What Sen. Codey lacks in credibility, he more than makes up with paranoia. If he had spent more time leading the caucus and less on leaking misinformation about other Democrats, he might still be Senate President."

DiVincenzo said, "I'm very surprised he would write that stuff in his book. I always supported Senator Codey in whatever he wanted to do."

However, DiVincenzo did admit eventually yanking support from Codey's bid to remain Senate president in 2009. The post is chosen by a vote by the majority party caucus.

"It was obvious he didn't have the votes," DiVincenzo said. "What I did at that point was to protect Essex County and make sure Essex retained leadership."

The Norcross-backed Stephen Sweeney toppled Codey in the power play that had its roots in the retirement of Assembly Speaker Joseph Roberts Jr., D-Camden.

Sweeney is from Gloucester County.

North and South Jersey essentially traded leadership posts, with DiVincenzo's candidate, Sheila Oliver, becoming Assembly speaker. Oliver is also from Codey's home county of Essex.

Oliver in her fulltime job is an assistant county executive for DiVincenzo.

"I'm so proud of Sheila Oliver and the job she's done in the Assembly not only for the state but in being a voice for Essex County," DiVincenzo said. "Dick Codey should be very proud of his own career and leave it at that."

Codey became governor in 2004 when Jim McGreevey resigned (The book's first chapter is entitled "McGreevey's gay, I'm the new governor").

Carl Golden, who served as press secretary to Govs. Thomas Kean and Christie Todd Whitman, once likened Codey's dustup with DiVincenzo and Norcross to an 1804 political disagreement.

"In the early morning hours on the Heights at Weehawken, Aaron Burr and Alexander Hamilton settled their political differences on the dueling ground," Golden wrote. "Hamilton finished second."

Codey in an interview said he didn't enjoy coming up short in his bid to remain Senate president. But he said writing the book was enjoyable.

"It took about four years to do the book but it was on-and-off writing over that time," he said.

Codey, 64, still serves as a Senator from Essex, winning his first election to the state Legislature 38 years ago.

The memoir isn't only about politics.

For instance, Codey writes the work he did for funeral homes owned by his father and uncles.

"Some of those stories are probably my favorite parts of the book," he said.

Codey writes about an occasion when he was sent by his father to pick up a body in Baltimore.

"We decided after picking up the body to go to Timonium racetrack in Maryland. In those days, you parked in the infield. So we parked the hearse, pulled the curtains around the body and spent three hours
betting the horses. Only the corpse came out even," Codey writes.

But it's Codey's inside look at New Jersey-style politics that is bound to drive book sales.

** On McGreevey's announcement that he would accept a salary of $150,000 as governor instead of the $175,000 budgeted for the governor: "He thought he'd get political mileage out of that, but nobody cared. He wound up only screwing himself and his family out of some much-needed money."

** On how he's avoided Jersey-style political scandal: "It's really easy. The most important thing is that the day I'm buried, my wife and children can hold their heads up high."

** On the anticipation in political circles on the book's release: "I would also like to acknowledge all those people who bought this book half hoping their their names were in it and the other half hoping their names weren't."

Despite Codey's strong showing in public opinion polls as governor, he stepped aside and didn't enter the 2005 gubernatorial race. Jon Corzine became the party's candidate.

Corzine defeated Republican Doug Forrester — but Codey says now that could have been him beating Forrester, and maybe should have been him.

And that could have led to a bid for a second term in 2009 — against that year's GOP candidate, Chris Christie.

But machine politics were again in play, he said.

'I thought real hard about running (in 2005). I loved being governor," Codey says in the book, adding that county party bosses were fond of the idea of Corzine running a self-financed campaign.

"The county bosses, who have a lot of power, could only see dollar signs going from Corzine to their organizations, just as they in 2000 when he first ran for the U.S. Senate. I don't think there's another state in which I would have been denied the nomination," Codey writes.

Codey in the interview says he doesn't blame Corzine.

"That's the party's fault. That's New Jersey politics," he said. "I don't think about how that went down anymore."

Codey said he has about two-dozen book promotion appearances lined up when "Me, Governor?" is released and is also planning to run for re-election to the state Senate in November.

As for bidding again for higher office, perhaps in the U.S. Senate someday, Codey said that's possible, too.

"My thing is not letting party bosses decide what I'll do," he said. "Anybody who counted me out doesn't know how to count."

"Me, Governor?" by Richard J. Codey is being published by Rutgers University Press.

The book is scheduled for June release and will sell for $24.95.


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