McGreevey Resigns: Corzine consults leaders of party about running

The Star-Ledger | August, 18, 2004



U.S. Sen. Jon Corzine confirmed yesterday he is considering a run for governor, adding fuel to efforts by some Democratic Party leaders to pressure Gov. James E. McGreevey into moving up his resignation date.

Back in New Jersey for the first time since McGreevey announced he would step down because of an affair with a male former aide, Corzine embarked on rounds of calls and meetings with Democratic leaders about his political future.

“There’s obviously a decision to be made. There are people out there saying, ‘Jon Corzine should be our candidate,'” said David Wald, Corzine’s spokesman. “It is something he is considering.”

McGreevey appeared steadfast in his plan to remain on the job until Nov. 15, then turn his office over to Senate President Richard Codey (D-Essex), who would serve as acting governor through 2005.

Since he announced that decision Thursday, McGreevey has been under mounting pressure from some of his party’s most powerful figures to quit sometime before Sept. 3, which would allow for a special gubernatorial election on Nov. 2. Corzine had indicated he would run if drafted, but high-ranking Democratic leaders said he did not want to be seen as joining forces with the party bosses.

Yesterday, Wald said Corzine was “talking to people, listening to their advice.”

Corzine began his rounds yesterday at Codey’s West Orange home and spent the rest of the day in talks with Democrats splintered over whether McGreevey should leave immediately. Wald said Corzine spoke to “elected officials, party leaders, former office holders” about the governorship.

Democrats dreaming of a Corzine candidacy this fall want him to privately ask McGreevey to step aside, party officials said. Wald has said repeatedly Corzine will not pressure the governor to quit.

“We still have a governor,” the spokesman said. “Jon Corzine is not pushing McGreevey to get out.”

Three Democratic leaders – former Sen. John Lynch in Middlesex County, George E. Norcross III in South Jersey and Rep. Robert Menendez (D-13th Dist.) in Hudson County – want McGreevey to quit early. They are pressing county party chairmen, labor leaders and lawmakers to join in the call. Officials in Middlesex, Camden and Bergen counties are expected to go public in the coming days with demands that McGreevey leave soon.

Lynch and Norcross, who have feuded with Codey in the past, oppose allowing him to serve as acting governor for more than a few months, and Menendez is angling for Corzine’s Senate seat, party leaders say.

Those favoring an early resignation are also concerned that McGreevey’s troubles could harm the party – especially if there are any further damaging disclosures – and eat away at Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry’s lead over President Bush in New Jersey, party officials said. State Democrats have conducted polling to measure any impact on the presidential race, and Kerry’s camp is expected to do the same in the coming days.

Showing no sign of wavering from his plan to leave in November, McGreevey yesterday met at the Statehouse with Codey, who said they talked about the transfer of power. McGreevey and Codey have state Sen. Raymond Lesniak, the Union County party leader, on their side.

Several sources close to Lynch, who has long been a political mentor of McGreevey, said the former senator repeatedly has tried to call the governor directly to tell him that his position is untenable and he must resign quickly – but McGreevey’s staff is intercepting his calls. “Lynch wants to call the governor but he can’t get through,” one party official said.

Others came to McGreevey’s defense yesterday, including Sens. Barbara Buono and Joseph Vitale (both D-Middlesex), who bristled at the circulation of a petition by county leaders seeking McGreevey’s early exit.

“This was essentially, for all intents and purposes, an edict handed down from above,” said Vitale. “No one was compelled to sign on to the cabal, but there was a fair amount of pressure.”

Vitale said Corzine ought to “free himself from” party bosses who are “chained to his ankles,” and rather than press for a special election, he should wait for 2005.

Codey, for his part, has said he would not oppose Corzine in 2005. Backers of a special election say that if Corzine does not run now, Codey as acting governor could build up momentum for a 2005 run for the governorship. Codey is working to tamp down such fears among Corzine’s camp.

The Senate president declined to talk in detail about his meeting yesterday with Corzine.

“I just spoke to Jon about the government, and where we were going and where we are heading,” he said.

McGreevey meanwhile has been besieged by media inquiries from across the nation.

His aides said they have received requests for interviews from producers for Oprah Winfrey, Diane Sawyer and Barbara Walters. CNN’s Larry King phoned personally, as did NBC’s Katie Couric, who made an appeal from the Olympics in Athens. One adviser also said People magazine was “pushing very hard” for an interview. The governor has no immediate plans to do an interview, his staff said.