Gov. Jon Corzine (D)
Elected: 2005, term expires Jan. 2010, 1st term.
Born: Jan. 1, 1947, Taylorville, IL .
Education: U. of IL (Urbana-Champaign), B.A. 1969; U. of Chicago, M.B.A. 1973.
Family: Divorced; 3 children.
Military career: Marine Corps Reserve, 1969-75.
Elected office: U.S. Senate, 2000-05.
Professional Career: Officer, Continental IL Natl. Bank, 1970-73; Asst. V.P., BancOhio, 1973-75; Goldman Sachs, Bond Trader 1975-80, Partner 1980-99, Chmn. & CEO 1994-99.
Democrat Jon Corzine was elected governor in 2005, and had been a U.S. senator from New Jersey since 2001. Corzine grew up on the family farm in Christian County in rural Illinois. In addition to farming, his father was an insurance salesman and his mother a teacher. Corzine got his undergraduate degree at the University of Illinois, which was three counties over from home, and went on to get a business degree from the University of Chicago. He served six years in the Marine Corps Reserve. His first job after college was as a financial analyst for Continental Bank in Chicago. In 1975, he joined the Goldman Sachs investment banking house in New York. His entry-level position included fetching coffee for his boss, but in a few years, Corzine was a successful bond trader and a protégé of Robert Rubin, who became Treasury secretary in the Clinton administration. In 1980, Corzine was made a general partner at Goldman Sachs, and 14 years later he was co-chairman and chief executive officer. In May 1999, when Goldman Sachs went public, the $3.6 billion initial public offering netted Corzine more than $300 million. He retired from the firm after a management shake-up that year. By that time, he had moved to New Jersey. Aside from contributing to Democratic (and some Republican) candidates, he had not been engaged politically except to co-chair a 1997 presidential commission on increasing investment in technology, infrastructure, and schools.
|Jon Corzine (D)||1,224,493||(53%)|
|Douglas Forrester (R)||985,235||(43%)|
|Jon Corzine (D)||207,670||(88%)|
|James Kelly (D)||19,512||(8%)|
Prior Winning Percentages: 2000 Senate (50%)
In February 1999, Democratic Sen. Frank Lautenberg announced he would not seek re-election in 2000 (Lautenberg later returned to win election to Bob Torricelli’s seat in 2002). Former Democratic Gov. Jim Florio, still remembered for increasing state taxes by $2.8 billion in 1990, got into the contest, as did former Republican Gov. Christine Todd Whitman, who, unlike Florio, was still popular in the state. (She defeated Florio in 1993.) Many Democratic leaders feared that Whitman would win, and, searching for an alternative to Florio, they found Corzine. Having just retired from investment banking, Corzine had time and money on his hands, about $300 million in fact. Without any real experience in electoral politics, Corzine traveled around the state to meet leaders of the county Democratic organizations, who are vital in the primary. He also began to contribute large sums to community groups and political organizations that could be helpful in a statewide campaign. Between 1999 and 2007, his foundation gave $48 million to charities, including African-American churches, arts groups, and Jewish organizations. His wealth and willingness to spend it cleared the field. Whitman withdrew in September 1999, although Florio was not dissuaded and stayed in the race. He attacked Corzine’s inexperience and the fact that he hadn’t voted in every election. In March, three months before the primary, Corzine went up with television ads in the New York and Philadelphia markets. He spent a whopping $35 million on the primary race, and won 58%-42%.
Meanwhile, the low-turnout Republican primary was won by 7th District Rep. Bob Franks, a member of the same church as Corzine. With a big disadvantage in finances, Franks went on the attack, criticizing Corzine’s lack of experience in government and accusing him of trying to buy the Senate seat. He called on Corzine to disclose his income-tax returns, which Corzine refused to do. (However, in mid-September, he released records showing that in 1996-99 he made $145 million, paid $43 million in taxes, and contributed $25 million to charity.) Franks also benefited from endorsements by The New York Times and Philadelphia Inquirer, and Corzine’s beginner’s mistakes. Corzine told the Sierra Club he had voted for an open space referendum in 1998, when in fact he had not voted that year. Still stuck below 50% in the polls, Corzine started running negative ads against Franks, and dominated the airwaves in the weeks before the election. He spent $7.4 million on turnout efforts, including busing in residents of Philadelphia homeless shelters and halfway houses to work on his campaign. In total, he spent $63 million, a record that still stands. He won 50%-47%, with big margins in the central cities. But he ran behind Democratic presidential nominee Al Gore’s 56%-40% showing in New Jersey that year.
In his first year in the Senate, the September 11 attacks occurred, hitting New Jersey especially hard. Ten people from Corzine’s hometown of Summit died. His major initiative that year was a chemical-security bill to require businesses to conduct vulnerability assessments and consider safer security technology. He was also a co-sponsor of the Terrorism Risk Insurance Act, which became law in November 2002. With a seat on the Banking Committee, where he had considerable expertise, he worked on the 2002 Sarbanes-Oxley Act, which dramatically tightened accounting regulations after a series of accounting scandals. He also fought successfully that year to delay for a year the Education Department’s plan to reduce deductions for state taxes when parents and students calculate their eligibility for Pell college grants. The change would hurt most in high-income, high-tax states like New Jersey. Corzine worked to raise the maximum jail penalty, from six months to 10 years, for willful worker-safety violations that result in an employee’s death.
Corzine became an active partisan in New Jersey and national politics. He supported the election of Democratic Gov. Jim McGreevey in 2001, and showed skill at handling difficult political situations in the imbroglio over whether his scandal-plagued Senate colleague, Democrat Bob Torricelli, should drop out of the 2002 Senate race. He had backed Torricelli but helped to negotiate his departure and also Lautenberg’s Senate comeback to replace Torricelli. In 2003, he liberally supported county Democratic organizations, which helped Democrats win majorities in both houses of the Legislature. In late 2002, Senate Democratic Leader Tom Daschle named Corzine as chairman of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee. His major responsibility was fundraising for the party’s candidates for Senate, and he was good at it, out-raising the Republicans’ Senate committee in the 2004 election season. He sought out candidates capable of self-financing their races and discouraged primary competition in four of the five Southern states where Democrats were retiring. Through the summer, he said, not unreasonably, that Democrats had a chance to gain seats. But in the end, the close races went the other way, and Democrats lost all five Southern seats, and in the biggest blow, Daschle lost his re-election bid.
In 2004, Gov. McGreevey was in trouble. His job rating was low, there was talk of replacing him with another candidate, and hanging over state government was a cloud of corruption. U.S. Attorney Christopher Christie obtained indictments of two prominent McGreevey fundraisers, one of whom was accused of trying to thwart a federal investigation by luring a grand jury witness into a tryst with a prostitute. At the Democratic National Convention in July 2004, Corzine, not McGreevey, was head of the New Jersey delegation. Then, on August 12, McGreevey announced that he had had an extramarital affair with a man whom he had appointed as his homeland security adviser and would resign effective November 15. Some state Democrats urged him to resign sooner so that state Senate President Richard Codey could become acting governor and get a head start on running for the post in his own right. McGreevey refused, and Codey was stymied from moving up. But he began to lay the groundwork for a campaign.
Meanwhile, after the Democratic losses at the polls, Corzine was facing the prospect of at least another two years in the minority. While he said he was happy in the Senate, he also said he missed being in an executive position. And the New Jersey governor wields broad executive powers. The state has the strongest governor in the nation, the only statewide elected official who appoints all others, including the attorney general and the 21 county district attorneys. Corzine decided to run, and quickly lined up endorsements from dozens of Democrats, including U.S. representatives Bob Menendez and Frank Pallone, both of whom were interested in being appointed to Corzine’s Senate seat if he won. He also got the backing of New Jersey Speaker Albio Sires and many others whom he had supported generously over the years. Corzine said his wealth ensured that he would be “unbought and unbossed” as governor. In addition to Codey, 1st District Rep. Rob Andrews, who narrowly lost the 1997 gubernatorial primary to McGreevey, was also interested in the Democratic nomination for governor, and with his base in South Jersey, he looked like a formidable contender. But it became clear that Corzine had much more support than the other two. In the Republican primary, Doug Forrester, a health benefits administrator who had lost the 2002 Senate race to Lautenberg after spending $8 million of his own money, was able to defeat his competition, former Jersey City Mayor Bret Schundler. Organization Republicans disliked Schundler for his maverick ways and conservative views on abortion. Forrester spent $10 million of his own money to defeat Schundler, 36%-31%.
New Jersey’s property taxes, the highest in the country, were the main issue in the contest between Corzine and Forrester, and both presented property-tax relief plans. Forrester called for a 30% cut over three years and said he would pay for it by spending cuts and layoffs of state employees. Corzine called for graduated rebates over four years averaging 10%, with higher rates for those with lower incomes and for senior citizens. Corzine charged that Forrester’s plan would end senior-citizen rebates, and Forrester charged that Corzine’s spending programs would be unsustainable. The arguments over policy became overshadowed by personal attacks. Forrester charged that Corzine sought a government subsidy as part of a group seeking to buy the New Jersey Nets. Corzine said Forrester’s firm benefited from government contracts made by officials to whom he gave campaign contributions. Both charges were based on flimsy evidence. Forrester trumpeted the revelation that Corzine had loaned $470,000 to girlfriend Carla Katz, who was the head of the largest state public employee union, and that he had forgiven the loan around the time he announced for governor. In the final week of the campaign, Forrester ran an ad that quoted Corzine’s former wife of 33 years telling The New York Times: “When I saw the campaign ad where Andrea Forrester said, ‘Doug never let his family down and he won’t let New Jersey down,’ all I could think was that Jon did let his family down and he’ll probably let New Jersey down too.” But despite the flood of negative ads, Corzine won 53%-43%, racking up big margins in the central cities. Forrester carried only three counties on the shore and five counties from affluent Morris and Somerset west to the state line. Interestingly, Corzine’s old hometown of Summit split evenly, 3,328 to 3,328.
When he took office, Corzine pledged to take only $1 a year in salary and soon started wearing what became his trademark navy blue sweater-vest. One of his first orders of business was to appoint his successor, and he chose Democrat Robert Menendez, the 13th District House member and a member of the House leadership. In January, Corzine faced a projected $4 billion budget deficit. His $31 billion budget imposed on hospitals a $620 monthly per bed fee, froze state aid to poor school districts, and increased the sales tax from 6% to 7%. New Jersey Speaker Joe Roberts, a Democrat, balked and forced an impasse in July 2006. The state government shut down and so did Atlantic City’s casinos, which require state monitoring to stay open. Corzine threatened to spend his own money on ads targeting Roberts, and the Assembly backed down and the sales tax was increased, with a promise that half of the proceeds would go to property-tax relief.
In January 2007, Corzine asked the Legislature to cap property-tax increases at 4% a year; they had been capped at 7% a year. When lawmakers missed their deadline to act, he threatened to call for a constitutional convention in the fall. He also demanded that the bill include a ban on double officeholding; New Jersey had allowed its legislators to hold local office while serving in the Legislature. The ban passed in June, with exemptions for current legislators. And the Legislature came up with a bill that met his specifications, with graduated property-tax rebates up to 20% and a 4% cap on increases. In June 2007, he signed a $33.5 billion budget with property-tax relief and, for the first time in six years, no tax increases. Corzine was less successful at “asset monetization,” his plan to lease the often-jammed New Jersey Turnpike and increase tolls.
In April 2007, Corzine was seriously injured in an auto accident. A state trooper driving him on the Garden State Parkway from Atlantic City to a meeting in New Brunswick was traveling over 90 miles per hour when a truck veered into its path. The governor’s sport-utility vehicle crashed into a guardrail, with Corzine in the front seat and not wearing a seat belt. He suffered a broken breastbone, collarbone, and leg and many broken ribs; he was on a ventilator for several days and returned weeks later to the governor’s mansion, Drumthwacket. When he recovered, Corzine, who had championed mandatory seat belt laws, publicly apologized for not wearing his seat belt, paid a $46 fine, and filmed a 30-second public service announcement in which he said, “I’m New Jersey Governor Jon Corzine, and I should be dead.”
Late in 2007, Corzine called for “transformational change” in state finances, and argued again for leasing the turnpike to realize $38 billion in higher tolls. He paid $4 million to a Manhattan law firm to analyze the legality of such an arrangement in which a state leasing corporation would be tax-exempt. In early 2008, he rolled out a $33.5 billion budget, with no spending increase but with the turnpike leasing plan. It also included $168 million in cuts in state aid to 323 municipalities, which was an attempt to force them to consolidate services. His budget plan drew hostile receptions in a series of town hall meetings, and in February, he admitted he didn’t have the votes in the Legislature for the turnpike leasing plan. (It didn’t help that Lautenberg weighed in against it.) In the meantime, Corzine pushed for nearly $4 billion in borrowing for school construction to meet the terms of a state Supreme Court decision. In June, after some back-and-forth with the Legislature, Corzine signed a $32.9 billion budget. Property taxes increased only 3.7% in 2008, the lowest rate in 10 years and below Corzine’s 4% cap.
Although he lost on the turnpike leasing plan, Corzine nonetheless chalked up several successes in the legislative session. In July, with former vice president turned environmental activist Al Gore at this side at the Meadowlands, he signed a bill requiring a 20% reduction in carbon emissions by 2020, and an 80% reduction by 2050. His proposal for universal health insurance coverage passed and was put into place in July 2008. It mandates coverage of all children in three years. His proposal for 12 weeks of paid family leave, which he backed fervently after his own convalescence, was pared down to six weeks and passed in May 2008. And the death penalty, not administered in New Jersey since 1963, was abolished. However, voters rejected Corzine’s ballot proposal to borrow $450 million for embryonic-stem-cell research.
Also in 2008, Corzine played a role in presidential politics. He heartily supported New York Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton for president and had the satisfaction of helping her win the New Jersey primary on February 5. In March, he and Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell, also a Clinton supporter, pledged to raise $15 million to fund rerun primaries in Michigan and Florida, which Clinton had won but which were not recognized by the national Democratic Party because of a dispute with those states over the timing of their primaries. However, rerun primaries were not held. When Illinois Sen. Barack Obama clinched the Democratic nomination in June, Corzine fully supported him.
At home, Corzine faced continued controversy over his relationship with union leader Carla Katz. Steve Lonegan, the mayor of Bogota and an unsuccessful candidate for the Republican gubernatorial nomination in 2005, brought an ethics complaint against him for forgiving a $475,000 mortgage when their relationship ended in 2004. Corzine had also given her large undisclosed sums that enabled her to send her children to private school and to purchase a $1 million apartment in the same Hoboken building where Corzine had his residence. The complaint ultimately was dismissed, but that wasn’t the end of the publicity. Republican state Chairman Tom Wilson brought a lawsuit seeking disclosure of e-mails between Corzine and Katz and her brother-in-law, Rocco Riccio. The suit alleged that Corzine had given Riccio $15,000 and promised to get him a private-sector job. In May 2008, a judge ordered disclosure of the e-mails, and Corzine appealed. In November, Corzine admitted he had paid $350,000 to Riccio after Riccio threatened to sue for breach of the promise to get him a job. In January 2009, a state appeals court reversed the decision ordering release of the e-mails, and the state Supreme Court declined to review the decision, ending the case.
By early 2009, the recession had brought its bad tidings to New Jersey, and Corzine started the year facing a $2.1 billion budget shortfall. He proposed an 18-month freeze on state pay increases and ordered cuts in aid to community health centers and school districts. In March 2009, he proposed a $29.8 billion state budget—well below previous levels—with reductions in property-tax rebates, a one-year suspension of property-tax deductions, and cuts in aid to small municipalities. “Tough choices to do the right thing,” he said. He pledged $12 million in aid for homeowners threatened with foreclosure and small businesses short of credit as a result of the crisis in the financial markets.
With Virginia, New Jersey is one of two states that elects its governor in the year after the presidential election, putting Corzine up for re-election in 2009. He began in parlous political shape. Polls in March 2009 showed him with negative job ratings and trailing Republican Christopher Christie, who as U.S. attorney secured convictions of dozens of New Jersey politicians of both parties. Christie launched his campaign in February with a series of appearances across the state. Also running in the June GOP primary was his old nemesis in the ethics controversy, Lonegan, the Bogota mayor. Christie called for overhauling the pension system and requiring supermajorities for tax increases. And Lonegan called for replacing the state income tax with a flat tax and reducing the state budget to $27 billion. Christie easily won the June primary, besting Lonegan 55%-42%.
Corzine said in December 2008: “I really would like to be re-elected. But it’s more important that I use the time that I have to do the best I can to try to address the challenges that the people of the state have.” It was unclear whether he could finance his own campaign as lavishly as in 2000 and 2005. His income declined from about $55 million in 2006 to $4 million in 2007, and presumably his blind trust suffered significant losses in the market crash.