Newspaper article The Record (Bergen County, NJ)

Christie's Partisan Knows One When He Sees One

Newspaper article The Record (Bergen County, NJ)

Christie's Partisan Knows One When He Sees One

Article excerpt

BRADLEY Campbell is a known partisan. This salient fact was sent out by Governor Christie's office Thursday by his spokesman, Kevin Roberts, who is not only a known partisan, but a political flak. Which means Roberts outranks Campbell when it comes to knowing partisanship.

Roberts' proverbial bun was in a twist because Campbell, commissioner of the state Department of Environmental Protection during the McGreevey administration, wrote an op-ed piece for The New York Times published Thursday criticizing the proposed deal the state made with Exxon Mobil to end an ongoing lawsuit.

The state had been seeking $8.9 billion and settled for $225 million. Why this deal was made when a judge was close to ruling on an amount is a big unanswered question. The vast difference between $8.9 billion and $225 million is obvious to anyone, even non- partisans. Few people would reasonably argue New Jersey would have been awarded $8.9 billion, but it seems unlikely that it would have come away with less than $225 million considering Exxon's culpability in years of polluting Bayonne and Linden.

Campbell initiated the lawsuit and it carried on like a plot from Dickens' "Bleak House" through subsequent administrations. Christie's administration had continued that fight, which is why the sudden settlement is startling. Campbell wrote that the governor's "chief counsel inserted himself into the case, elbowed aside the attorney general and career employees who had developed and prosecuted the litigation, and cut the deal favorable to Exxon."

Those are serious charges, and given the political climate, I would not take anyone solely on their word. Yet something does not smell right. Logic would have the Christie administration wait for a judge's ruling. The case has been fought for so long, to end it at this stage seems an odd calculation. Unless the state needed cash now to fill budget holes.

Gov. James McGreevey was not above such tactics. He monetized the state's share in the federal tobacco settlement to pay for state operating expenses, a practice ruled unconstitutional by the state Supreme Court. If Christie realized that you can still get a lot of hamburger out of a third of a cow and settled low, he would not be the first chief executive to have come to that conclusion.

In Christie's case, the hamburger may be tainted. The governor is pursuing a possible presidential run, and Exxon has been a large contributor to the Republican Governors Association, which Christie headed last year. The appearance of the thing is bad.

What makes the governor's press release sound desperate rather than convincing is the examples Roberts uses to discredit Campbell. Roberts quotes from two Star-Ledger articles in which Campbell says a settlement with Exxon could run into the hundreds of millions of dollars and that a settlement might be preferable to a judicial ruling. …

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