Acting NJ Governor Dick Codey

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A crowd of over 400 McGreevey loyalists and members of the press gathered in the state museum in Trenton for the final public farewell speech from the New jersey Governor.

After Governor McGreevey’s farewell there was relief and apprehension. The personality driven media wanted to know what was next for the state’s outgoing disgraced Governor. But what was in store for the state?

Bill Dressel with the League of Municipalities says incoming acting Governor and Senate President Dick Codey will have to hit the ground running.

DRESSEL: Well it’s going to be tough for the New Governor because he is going to be confronted with an unprecedented budget deficit. He has got to put behind him a lot of the controversies of the McGreevey Administration.

On a cold weeknight in Essex County’s West Orange the High School marching band practiced under the night time flood lights. This is the home town of Senate president Dick Codey who will assume the post of Acting Governor without pomp but lots of circumstance in a low key private ceremony. So who is Dick Codey?

Peter Wooley, political scientist and executive director Farleigh Dickinson Public Mind Poll.

WOOLEY: This guy has a really tough road to hoe because here he is his name recognition is very low in the state. The last time we polled this 60 percent of the people asked had never heard of the guy.

Sitting on the couch of his busy Senate Majority Leader office Codey has used not being recognized to his advantage. Several years ago, as a state senator, he learned that almost a third of the employees at the state’s psychiatric hospitals had criminal records. Some for murder. Codey, armed with a forgettable face, decided to assume the name of a dead felon to see if he could get hired.

CODEY: So I decided to go undercover. I got a job at Marlboro Psychiatric Hospital as an orderly working the midnight shift. My first day at work I was told ‘your lucky the midnight shift is the easiest way to have sex with the patients.’ I saw things I did not see in the movie "One Flew Over the Cuckoos Nest". As a result of what I uncovered the President of the hospital and about thirty five to forty other employees were let go. We now require in our state psychiatric hospitals criminal background checks on every employee before they can go to work."

Codey will function both as Senate President and acting Governor thanks to what some scholars now say was a flaw in the state’s 1947 Constitution. Despite the fact that he will serve as Governor for 14 months he and his wife and two sons will not move to the Governor’s mansion in Princeton. He says for his family, working class Irish Catholics, a key goal was to get out of public housing.

CODEY: Born and raised in the City of Orange, one of five, raised in a small apartment house over my dad’s funeral home. My generation in my family is the first to get a college degree. My parents and grandparents never had an opportunity for an education or to even live in a private home. So I think I’m like the average New Jersey family--- each generation doing better.

Codey says he got a grasp of the importance of knowing who was who in local politics parking cars at his father’s funeral home.

CODEY: Politics—I know politics really well. When I was about thirteen I worked for my dad at the funeral home in the parking lot and my dad always told me if there are no parking spots left and a priest or a politician pulls in, find them a spot.

A few years later when Codey‘s father was appointed county coroner a young Dick Cody would accompany his father on his rounds.

CODEY: At the age of 14 to 15 I was taking bodies off train tracks, out of plane crashes, out of rivers. You grow up very quickly. But you also learn how to be sympathetic and compassionate to people at the time of the death of their loved one.

Codey contends winning public confidence will be hard but he plans on upholding the McGreevey ban on pay to play, the practice of contractors making campaign contributions to get state contracts. He says he wants to avoid even the appearance of impropriety.

CODEY: Started up my insurance agency about twenty years ago as of today however I have put my insurance business in to a blind trust. I receive no income from it and will not until I have finished being Governor.

Whether he runs for Governor in 2005 depends on a lot of variables. Will Senator Jon Corzine tire of his minority status in the US Senate, flash his cash, and become Governor of a blue state? Can the GOP avoid a fractious primary that does not badly deplete the winner? As for Codey.

CODY: I think it would be wrong for the people of this state for me to take over the Governor’s office at almost at the same time announce myself as a candidate for office. It would tint everything that I would do for the first couple of months. And people would say oh, he’s trying doing that so he can keep on to the seat. That’s not me. It’s not my style.

Codey’s first test could be closing a $5 billion dollar deficit. The state’s bond rating has been dropped twice and the state’s highest court ruled as unconstitutional a McGreevey bond issue that borrowed against future tax revenues. Also school and transportation construction trust funds are near depleted.

CODEY: I think we can avoid severe cuts. We’ve already asked for a ten percent across the board reduction in all the departments. So I’m hoping there won’t be huge cuts in government services and their won’t be an increase in both sales and income for the people of New Jersey next year.

FDU’s Wooley says Codey tenure is most likely to take a toll on the political bosses within his own party who originally backed McGreevey.

WOOLEY: There is no doubt that he works well with everybody he rarely claims credit for himself. He likes to get the job done. He has a reputation for being very honest. He is an insider but he is not part of the developers, the shadow Governors who have run New Jersey for along time. So on November 16th Richard Codey is really going to be something of an adventure for New Jersey.

Adventure, as compared to what?

For WNYC I am Bob Hennelly