This year, New Jerseyans prayed that Gov. Jon S. Corzine would recover after a car crash left him with near fatal injuries that were no doubt worsened by his reluctance to buckle up at speeds up to 91 mph.
Corzine’s rocky year nearly turned tragic in April when his sport utility vehicle collided with a guard rail on the Garden State Parkway as his driver, a state trooper, was speeding at 91 mph en route to Drumthwacket, the governor’s mansion in Princeton.
Corzine, who was not wearing a seat belt, was hospitalized for 18 days, broke 15 bones and lost more than half his blood. He emerged as an advocate for buckling up and taped a federally funded public service announcement promoting it. Imus and Rutgers
Corzine’s rush that night was for another national story with Jersey origins: radio host Don Imus and the Rutgers University women’s basketball team. After the team made a surprising run at the national championship that ended with a loss in the finals, Imus dampened spirits with racially charged comments aimed at members of the team.
Imus was fired from CBS radio — actually, just hours before Corzine’s crash. Imus met with the team at Drumthwacket, sued CBS radio for lost wages, then recently returned to the airwaves on ABC radio.
Death penalty abolished
For a change, New Jersey made world-wide headlines without giving fodder to late-night comedians when it became the first state to repeal the death penalty.
This month’s signing of the repeal drew attention from across the country and the globe, as the Colosseum in Rome — site of gruesome gladiator fights centuries ago — was lit in support of Corzine’s signing the repeal.
Some critics, however, pointed to a public opinion poll that showed split views on whether to repeal and strong support for keeping capital punishment for the most heinous murders. While some families of murder victims lobbied for the repeal, others vowed to work against those politicians who pushed it. Slayings shock Newark
Every year dozens are murdered in New Jersey’s largest city — yet none gripped the city, state and country like the execution-style shootings in a Newark schoolyard of three Delaware State University students and a friend planning to enroll. One victim survived.
The August shootings also swirled together themes of gangs, illegal immigration and child sexual assault, as one of the six suspects is an illegal immigrant who was free on bail on child rape charges at the time of the shootings. Several suspects are members of the dangerous MS13 street gang.
The families were also upset when they learned that the television show “Law & Order: Criminal Intent” based an episode called “Senseless” on the shootings. Clerk foils Fort Dix plot
After an electronics store clerk told the FBI that a customer asked him to transfer to a DVD footage of men firing assault weapons and yelling about jihad, five men were arrested in May in what federal investigators call a plot to attack Fort Dix and kill U.S. soldiers.
The five, all foreign-born Muslims, are scheduled for trial in March. A sixth pleaded guilty to conspiring to sell firearms and ammunition.
The trial seeped into dirty Jersey politics when the wife of one of the court-appointed defense lawyers ran for a state Assembly seat in Burlington County. Her Republican foes mailed an ominous-looking flier filled with masked men carrying guns insinuating the candidate would be soft on crime and terrorism. The mailing drew a rebuke from the federal judge on the case. Bryant indicted
Longtime Camden County legislator Wayne Bryant, D-Camden, head of the influential Senate budget committee, was charged with with creating a no-work job at the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey to boost the school’s state funding.
Sen. Bryant, who pleaded not guilty, declined to run for re-election in November.
State senators, mayors of big cities and the 23-year-old president of a local school board found themselves among New Jersey’s growing hall of shame for elected officials as law enforcement netted some large names in their bid to clean New Jersey government.
In addition to Bryant, state Sen. Sharpe James, D-Essex, also a member of the budget committee and former longtime mayor of Newark, was indicted. James was accused of using city credit cards to pay for personal trips and selling city property on the cheap to a travel companion. All have pleaded not guilty.
The offices of a third member of the Senate budget committee, Joseph Coniglio, D-Bergen, were raided by FBI agents in November in a separate investigation related to state grants. Coniglio has denied any wrongdoing. None of the three ran for reelection.
In September, 11 public officials from Atlantic to Passaic counties were charged with taking bribes from phony roofing and insurance firms set up by the FBI. Those arrested include Assemblymen Alfred E. Steele, D-Passaic, and Mims Hackett Jr., D-Essex, who is also the mayor of Orange. Both resigned from the Assembly. The roundup also snared municipal and school board officials, including the 23-year-old president of the Pleasantville Board of Education. Six of the 11 have pleaded guilty.
After a two-week disappearance, Atlantic City Mayor Bob Levy resigned and admitted he lied about his Vietnam War service to get a bigger benefits check. Voters: Quit spending
Following the budget debacle of 2006, when a stalemate between Corzine and the Legislature shuttered state government over the governor’s proposal to raise the sales tax, things appeared smoother midway through 2007.
State leaders approved the largest-ever property tax rebate, sending 10 percent to 20 percent back to most homeowners, depending on income. They approved a budget three days before the July 1 deadline, remarkably early for a Legislature that usually waits until, or past, the last minute.
Then in November, Corzine, Senate President Richard J. Codey and Assembly Speaker Joseph J. Roberts Jr. took a hit when — for the first time in 17 years — voters unexpectedly rejected ballot questions.
Each of the three were vested in the questions: Corzine and Codey supported and funded the drive to borrow $450 million for stem-cell research, and Roberts was the driving force behind a measure to dedicate the proceeds from the 2006 sales tax hike to property tax relief. While Democrats maintained their control of the Legislature, the votes were seen as their first statewide rebuke since the tax revolt of the 1990.
Corzine and the toll roads
Most likely to appear on next year’s list is Corzine’s toll-road transaction – monetization, or financial restructuring, as he now calls it. That’s because the details won’t be known until Jan. 8, when the governor finally explains the plan that has been source of much speculation and scrutiny through the year.
The plan basically calls for the state to get a lump sum of cash up front, to be paid back through future toll hikes, in order to pay down existing debt and free up funds for other priorities.
Corzine’s reluctance to detail the plan caused even Democratic legislative candidates to say they will oppose it on the campaign trail. He has acknowledged the plan may spark a backlash but says the state needs to change its fiscal direction and urged people to wait to hear the details before deciding whether to support it.
Warren Grove fire
Thousands of people were driven from their homes when a large portion of the South Jersey coastal region burned in May from an errant flare dropped from an Air Force fighter jet.
The blaze burned more than 17,000 acres in the heart of the Pinelands and encroached on the developed environs, destroying three homes and damaging more than a dozen others.
It was the latest scare to residents in Ocean, Burlington and Atlantic counties who live around the Warren Grove Gunnery Range, a military training facility.
The fire renewed calls to shut the range that have arisen through the years after other incidents — an F-16 firing 40 rounds of ammunition that landed on an elementary school roof in the middle of the night in 2004, a 2002 crash that left a jet in the middle of the woods near the Garden State Parkway and an errant dummy bomb in 1999 that sparked a 12,000-acre fire. courierpostonline