Garden Shame

01.13.14

Bridgegate Looks Almost Good Next to New Jersey’s Other Embarrassments

For 200 years before Chris Christie, my state has been the butt of America’s jokes thanks to big mouths, big hair, and big corruption.

“We’ve now ensured that we’re going to remain the butt of every political joke for the next 20 years,” decried Fort Lee Mayor Mark Sokolich in response to recent revelations about Bridgegate.

But as a person proudly born and raised in the great state of New Jersey, I can assure you that we were going to be the butt of jokes for next 20 year regardless of Bridgegate.

Here’s the truth: People love to mock New Jersey. Some actually profit off ridiculing my beloved state, such as by selling t-shirts emblazoned with, “New Jersey Sucks” You can even buy a hoodie for $43.99 which reads, “New Jersey: Shitty since 1787.” 

Jokes poking fun at Jersey have a long history in our nation. Benjamin Franklin reportedly mocked our state with the quip that New Jersey is like, “a beer barrel, tapped at both ends, with all the live [good] beer running into Philadelphia and New York.

In typical Jersey fashion, my response to Franklin’s joke is: How many other states can boast that one of the Founding Founders of our country—inventor of bifocals and the lightning rod—mocked them? Not many, so suck on that Pennsylvania.

So why do so many people enjoy ridiculing my New Jersey? One word: Jealousy. 

Okay, I know, there’s more to it. We have a history of both political scandals and cultural fads that have hurt our state’s reputation. In fact, Bridgegate may actually be a step up when compared to some of New Jersey’s past embarrassing moments. 

So here are just a few of the things that have contributed to Jersey’s image:

1.  Political money laundering.  In 2009, two state assemblyman and three mayors were part of the 44 people arrested in this money-laundering plot that reached from the Jersey Shore to Israel.  The bizarre scandal also included the arrest of five rabbis, the sale of body parts and the resignation of one official in then-Governor John Corzine’s administration.

2. Snooki fights Angelina over Vinny. The trainwreck known as Jersey Shore has defined the Garden State for many, which is not good for us.  The worst moments included Snooki getting arrested on the beach for public intoxication and her fistfight with another roommate over cast member Vinnie’s affection. 

3. Governor James McGreevey’s affair. In 2004, McGreevey resigned after revealing he had engaged in an affair with a man he had appointed to advise the state’s Office of Homeland Security. McGreevey’s lover was being paid $110,000 even though he was “wildly unqualified” for the position

4.  Bad smells. The foul smells that people are greeted by when driving on the Jersey Turnpike in the Elizabeth area has launched thousands of jokes. I could forgive Christie for Bridgegate if he could just eliminate this odor.

5.  Abscam.   While this scandal did involve officials from other States, Jersey pols were at the heart of this 1980s FBI sting operation.  Once the dust settled, three big Jersey fish—U.S. Senator Harrison Williams, Camden Democratic Mayor Angelo Errichetti, and Congressman Frank Thompson Jr.—were all convicted.  On the bright side, this scandal did inspire the critically acclaimed film, American Hustle. (I can’t wait until the film for “Bridgegate.” I’m thinking Jon Favreau could be great as Chris Christie.)

6. Big Hair. We have suffered immensely as the state blamed for the “big hair” phenomena.  Thankfully, Christie is not a “blow-dried politician.” No blow dryer means no big hair.

7. County executive caught taking bribes. Hudson County Executive Robert Janiszewski was sentenced in 2005 to 41 months in jail for accepting over $100,000 in bribes. This corruption escapade also involved Janiszewski serving as an informant for the state that led to the conviction of another Hudson County legislator and a political consultant.

8. The Sopranos. To be honest, most of us were proud of this series.  Yet it did cause New Jersey to be the subject of many insults.  Still, I’d take ten more years of The Sopranos over even one more season of Jersey Shore or its bigger-hair cousin, Jerseylicious.

9. Numerous other political corruption scandals. From 2000 to 2009, Jersey has witnessed a veritable cornucopia of political shenanigans ranging from Senator Bob Torricelli’s ethical improprieties to various local officials accepting kickbacks to the mayor of Camden soliciting bribes from mobsters and staging a fake burglary.  Here’s a quick summary:

At this point, we still don’t know the full extent of Bridgegate. There’s a decent shot it may not even make the list of top ten embarrassing moments for the Garden State.

Yet even if it gets worse, the people of New Jersey can take it—we are resilient, we are fighters, we are “Jersey Strong.” And for that reason I can also tell you with confidence that Chris Christie—another son of New Jersey—won’t go down without a fight.