Jon Corzine for Governor

By New York Times, New York Times - October 18, 2009

Like almost every other state in the union, New Jersey is in bad shape. Revenues are down. Unemployment is up. A state deficit is looming. Taxes are high, and more borrowing is taboo. Unfortunately for Gov. Jon Corzine, it is also election time. Mr. Corzine, a Democrat, has struggled through his first term, partly because of a legislature that will not make the tough decisions. He still has lessons to learn about communication and leadership, but he is a better choice for New Jersey voters than either of his challengers. He has earned another four years to deal with the state’s budget problems and culture of corruption.

Despite his support from President Obama, Governor Corzine faces two formidable opponents who have made the most of his stormy first term. The Republican, Christopher Christie, a former United States attorney, has made headway by talking about slashing taxes and state programs. But his talk is far too vague, and he has no record to back it up. Further, there are concerns about whether he appointed politically connected friends to lucrative positions. There were also reports that his office targeted Democrats, including Senator Robert Menendez, close to election time.

An engaging independent candidate, Christopher Daggett, has also done well, even though New Jersey’s infamous political bosses have made sure that only the most intrepid voters will find him on the ballot. Mr. Daggett’s contribution to this campaign has been his thought-provoking ideas about cutting property taxes and shifting some of the tax burden to high-end services like architect’s or lawyer’s fees or fancy haircut parlors.

It is far easier to come up with campaign themes than slog through the real-world quagmire of New Jersey politics, as Mr. Corzine has done. He inherited corruption that is legendary and a budget that his predecessors, Democratic and Republican, had milked nearly dry. Governor Corzine took some difficult steps, like his smart but unpopular plan to increase highway tolls. He shut down the state government when lawmakers refused to back his extra-lean budget. He has managed to increase the contributions to the underfunded pension plan. And he has begun the hard task of reforming state government by limiting some perks for state workers.

Mr. Corzine is hardly the perfect politician. Most New Jersey voters find him astonishingly inarticulate, and his credentials as a former co-chairman of Goldman Sachs do not seem as impressive as they did before the financial meltdown in 2008. He has poured lots of his personal wealth into this race, far too much of it for biting — and sometimes juvenile — attacks on Mr. Christie. In his second term, we would like to see him back away from the state’s unions.

A New York Times poll completed last week captured the way New Jersey voters have been grumbling about all their choices for governor. But Jon Corzine, who is slightly ahead among likely voters, is a decent man with a laudable set of goals for his state. We endorse him for re-election in New Jersey on Nov. 3.

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