U.S. Senate 2006: Nation is watching our Senate race

Nation is watching our Senate race
October 1, 2006  Asbury Park Press

TRENTON — Your pols in action: When it became clear Sen. Wayne Bryant, D-Camden, was in deep trouble growing out of the federal UMDNJ investigation and what appears to be a no-show job, the knee-jerk reaction was to circle the wagons and keep him in place as chairman of the powerful Senate budget committee.

Senate President Dick Codey, who defended keeping Bryant head of the committee, was singled out for practicing business as usual. Next thing you know, Bryant wrote Codey a letter signed "Yours in Humanity" asking to be replaced.

It has more to do with Sen. Bob Menendez than Bryant, who is considered one of the more greedy pols in the Statehouse. If the Democrats conclude Menendez, who is being pounded by state Sen. Tom Kean on ethics issues, is unelectable, don't be surprised if they pull another switcheroo, a la Lautenberg for Torricelli.

An obvious choice to replace Menendez is Codey, who enjoys high approval ratings even with Codey colleagues Bryant, Sharpe James and John Lynch stinking up the joint. Codey wouldn't want to run a long statewide campaign, but if the Ds offered him a chance to replace Menendez with a short campaign, he just may take it.

Wouldn't it be ironic if a Democratic-leaning state like New Jersey sent a Republican to Washington and kept the U.S. Senate in the GOP column?

Incidentally, Bryant showed up for last week's Senate session and when it ended raced from the room with reporters in hot pursuit. He fled in his Lincoln Town Car, which he parked in such a way to take up two spaces.

Another Menendez scandal: In court papers filed in March a psychiatrist says he was pressured to hire a doctor favored by Menendez or risk losing contracts valued at $1 million. The psychiatrist, Oscar Sandoval, worked as an FBI informant and recorded a conversation in which lawyer and prominent Democrat supporter Donald Scarinci tells the informant Menendez would consider it a favor if he hired a certain doctor.

After reviewing a transcript of the conversation, a Menendez spokesman said Scarinci would no longer be a part of the campaign and denied he was acting for Menendez when recorded.

Scarinci worked as a consultant to the Assembly Democrats when fellow Hudson County pol Albio Sires was speaker. Assemblyman Guy Gregg, R-Morris, asked, "What exactly did Mr. Scarinci do in his role as a paid employee of the Assembly Democrats?"

A year before, Gregg asked Democrats to remove Scarinci from the state payroll after reporter Sandy McClure revealed Scarinci communicated with Gov. McGreevey's then chief of staff, Gary Taffet, telling him it was important the State Parole Board reconsider its decision to deny parole to alleged mob capo Angelo Prisco. Two weeks later, under unusual circumstances, Prisco was freed. First Amendment lawyer Tom Cafferty, who works in Scarinci's firm, represents Gannett New Jersey newspapers.

Rabner revs up: Stu Rabner was sworn in as attorney general and soon after the Camden Redevelopment Agency was subpoenaed to turn over to a grand jury all records concerning the $1.2 billion Cramer Hill redevelopment project. Sen Bryant worked in an extra $1 million for the city's budget, and his law firm got $56,000 of it.

Here's some other stuff Rabner needs to check out:

What's up with the BPU, where an audit showed a secret $80 million bank account and a program that gave grants to way too many former BPU employees? I'm betting Rabner won't give a fig that BPU president Jeanne Fox's husband, Steve DiMicco, is managing Sen. Bob Menendez's campaign, as he did for Gov. Corzine and Gov. McGreevey.

What did Sen. Martha Bark, R-Burlington, do for those extra paychecks she got? Were those no-show jobs?

How did Prisco get sprung early from prison? Were prominent Democrats with ties to the governor's office involved?

What about Camden County's paying out $46 million in illegal, lifetime benefits to retired government workers, about 57 percent of whom had not worked long enough to earn them?

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