Time magazine called it his “most popular move in years.”
Senior New Jersey senator Robert Torricelli announced that he was not seeking reelection, possibly the best thing to happen to the state since the turnpike.
Even by the standards of politicians, New Jerseyans deserve a lot better than a bush league Richard Nixon and hopefully they will receive one in November.
By necessity, we make the assumption that politicians play fast and loose with ethics more than the rest of us.
Then there are the people who take that to a new level of prostitution, taking bribes and selling their souls to the highest bidder.
Richard Nixon taught our parents that and now we have politicians like Torricelli to remind us why we assume the worst of them.
Allegations of bribes surrounded the senator known as “The Torch.”
During that time, Torricelli smiled it away and disassociated himself from the rumors and innuendoes.
Although there was talk for years of impropriety associated with him, Torricelli finally got his hand caught in the metaphorical cookie jar.
A Korean businessman named David Chang gave the senator gifts including an $8,100 Rolex watch, expensive Italian suits and a 52″ television.
Despite a paper trail linking the two, the senator described Chang as “deeply disturbed” in a press conference, disavowing all association with him.
Chang is currently in prison for illegally donating $53,700 to Torricelli’s 1996 campaign.
For his part, the bribes were Chang’s way of requesting help from the government in getting back money owed to him by North Korea.
Apparently, New Jersey’s senator wanted his palms greased in order to help a constituent.
According to a leaked memo from his bribery investigation, there is “substantial corroborating evidence” for criminal charges against the senator.
In light of all this, Torricelli dropped out of the senatorial race at the end of September.
New Jersey cheered.
Even though the state is a Democratic bastion, Torricelli’s antics gave Republican challenger Douglas Forrester a 13-point lead.
Republicans traditionally have not had much luck in New Jersey, especially in congressional races dominated by union-friendly Democrats.
Torricelli’s blatant bribe taking seems to have done the impossible: Make New Jerseyans vote for a Republican.
When Torricelli dropped his plans for reelection, the Democratic Party let out a sigh of relief.
A Senatorial majority is about the only card they have left to play in a Republican administration and a Republican-dominated House of Representatives.
If Torricelli had run, odds would have been decisively in Forrester’s favor, giving Republicans control of the Senate at a crucial time.
Former Senator Frank Lautenberg will be taking Torricelli’s place, thanks to some electoral slight of hand by the state Democratic party.
It is a fitting testament to Torricelli’s political career that cleaning up the mess he made left his party to resort to semi-legal tactics to prevent him from running.
One thing is for certain, though.
Whether Forrester or Lautenberg wins, New Jerseyans will have a senator that will make them proud.
Neal Ungerleider can be reached at email@example.com