Friday, July 24, 2009
New Jersey's air just got a bit cleaner after the FBI's corruption sweep led to 44 arrests two weeks ago. The stench of corruption is a part of life here. Prior the busts, more than 100 elected officials in the state have been arrested since 2001. Unfortunately, nobody is surprised about the arrests, the question is usually a matter of "Who'd they get this time?" The angle about the rabbi charged with selling kidneys on the black market, however, adds a unique twist to the usual garden variety shakedowns and bribery in municipal corruption cases. It was a day that I wished I was in journalism. A newsroom can be an electrifying place when there's a big story to pursue. You always want to know what happens next.
Here are some of the thoughts that I had about the arrests:
-- Kudos to any reporters who worked the organ selling angle into the lede of their stories. Bribery in New Jersey is not too shocking, but black market organ selling is sensational and needed to be high in the story. Yes, 44 people being arrested is a big deal. Yes, the Hudson County political establishment and the Syrian Jews in Monmouth County took a big blow here over these allegations of scuzzy behavior. You have to figure that more than 100 officials have been arrested in recent years. A rabbi dealing kidneys and marking them up by 1500 percent is a shocking charge. The writers of The Sopranos would have been hard pressed to come up with that twist.
-- A lot of the coverage was chasing NJ 101.5 at first, and they were first with the detail about human organ trafficking. Some other news sites were hesitant to run with that detail until after Thursday's press conference when the indictments were made public. I think the station's friendliness to Chris Christie helped their reporters here.
-- It was disconcerting to see that the Asbury Park Press, the hometown paper for Deal, resorting to using the AP to cover "the insular Syrian Jewish community at the New Jersey Shore." Alesha Williams Boyd's article captured the reaction at the temple where Rabbi Edmund Nahum, a rabbi accused of money laundering, worked. It was a missed opportunity for the paper to send a few people from the Neptune office to talk to people at the temples or even the coffee shops on Norwood Ave to provide additional coverage. I used to work in the town, when I was a floor layer. In my observation of Deal, people flashed a lot of money around, drove expensive cars, and put a lot of stock in social status, but I wouldn't call the Syrian Jews insular. It's also one of the most picturesque communities in Monmouth County and probably one of the wealthiest zip codes in the country. Where was the color to really illustrate what happened here? Alesha had two bylines on the web today, so she doesn't deserve any of the blame. Couldn't an editor have picked up the phone or left the office to help out? Could the paper have pulled someone from the other Monmouth bureaus? Why not send the reporters out to gather the information and have a sharp rewrite guy take their notes to make the stories sing? To the Asbury Park Press' credit, they identified Dwek very early in the proceedings as the cooperating witness.
-- Dwek! If this guy was damaged goods to begin with, why were people so eager to do business with him?! Would you want to do business with a guy who tried to pass off a $25 million bad check? There really aren't many IQ tests in politics or wealthy communities?
-- Joe Doria stepped down from Corzine's cabinet after his house was raided. This guy was a long time Democratic staple in state politics-- a former Assembly Speaker! No charges have been filed. Media reports are saying he met with Dwek.
-- "Political Consultant' Jack Shaw died shortly after criminal charges were filed in this case. Authorities haven't made a final determination on the cause of death but they are not ruling out suicide. That definitely will leave many wondering what secrets he kept with him or what secrets he told the authorities. He was also not in good health, according to media reports.
I really hope justice is served here. New Jersey's political culture is a swamp that needs to be drained. We're all paying for it with politicians handing off sweetheart deals to their friends. Sadly, the 44 arrested is probably just the tip of the iceberg. Let's hope the guilty do some real time and wake up the rest of the political establishment to mend their ways.