Facing Menendez’s wrath

The Greek poet, Homer, might well have created the story that is unfolding in the aftermath of the federal corruption trial of U.S. Sen. Robert Menendez.
In the Odyssey, the great hero Odysseus is mistakenly believed killed while on his return from the siege of the city of Troy. Back home, a pack of princes plot to see which one of them will take his place. His revenge upon them becomes the grand finale of this epic tale.
In New Jersey, many political opportunists assumed that Menendez would not survive a trial that some claim was the result of infighting in the Democratic Party between Menendez and former President Barack Obama.
The five-year investigation of Menendez came under Obama’s watch, and is seen by some as revenge for Menendez’s refusal to support some of Obama’s initiatives, such as the opening of diplomatic relations with Castro’s Cuba and a nuclear agreement with politically-hostile Iran.
Some officials who remained loyal to Menendez are still bitter at Obama for allowing the trial to move ahead, especially when a U.S. Supreme Court ruling changed the legal landscape for what constitutes corruption.
Menendez was charged with conspiracy, bribery, and honest services fraud in his duties as U.S. senator, and for allegedly accepting more than $600,000 in political contributions and gifts from his self-described long time friend Dr. Salomon Melgen. Prosecutors attempted to prove Menendez took these things in exchange for political favors to Melgen, who was convicted of unrelated charges earlier this year.
Like Homer’s suitors in The Odyssey, a number of politicians assumed Menendez would not survive, and thus laid plans to eventually take his place in the U.S. Senate.
A hung jury, however, spoiled their plans, and resulted in the federal judge calling a mistrial. Federal prosecutors have not yet said if they intend to call for a new trial.
While Melgen was also acquitted in this trial, he still faces a stiff sentence for those previous convictions.
The fact that he had not been sentenced going into the Menendez trial suggested that the prosecutors might seek to use him as a witness against Menendez in exchange for a reduced sentence for his previous conviction.
A number of political observers were surprised when this did not occur, and suggest that federal prosecutors might pressure Melgen more now in an attempt convict Menendez in a new trial.
Since a huge portion of the Menendez defense rested on the fact that gifts he took from Melgen resulted from their friendship, Melgen’s friendship may truly be tested when confronted with the choice of testifying or going to jail.
Meanwhile, the vindicated Menendez has made it clear he knows who his friends are and who tried to bury him politically before his time.
Vengeance, of course, may not come swiftly. And to quote another great literary figure, William Shakespeare, “Revenge is a dish best served cold,” meaning that if and when it happens, it will come as a surprise.
While the list of potential political targets is well-known, many local politicians appear to be making sure Menendez is aware of their loyalty, issuing statements that would exonerate them from the suspicion of having betrayed him.
But the real test of who was loyal to him came prior to the conclusion of the trial, and so people like Rep. Albio Sires might well be top of the list of those who continued to support Menendez in his darkest hour. Some suggest Sires was so enraged by the trial and the lack of support from national leaders that he refrained from attending public events in which Obama and others appeared.
Needless to say, Menendez will easily ferret out those who were loyal and those who simply gave lip service.

Murphy faces uphill battle

Menendez’s vindication nearly, but not quite, overshadowed the huge Democratic win of Phil Murphy as governor.
Murphy, unfortunately, inherits a state that is rife with problems, many of which have existed prior to the election of Republican Chris Christie eight years ago, and many of which Christie created himself.
Christie did a lot to dismantle programs to urban districts, and has made a muddle of the aid to many of the urban school districts.
Rebuilding or repairing some of these programs will be high on the new governor’s agenda, along with persistent issues such as how to save floundering Atlantic City.
Taj Mahal casino is expected to be taken over by Hard Rock Café, and there are three other huge casinos complexes currently closed along the boardwalk including the Revel – a $3 billion project that was open for little more than a year. They also include Trump Plaza – which is so old that new owners will have to tear down the structures, and the former Hilton – a complex at the south side of the boardwalk largely abandoned.
Murphy, Jersey City Mayor Steven Fulop, and host of other political figures from throughout the state had a good glimpse of these disasters during the League of Municipalities convention last week, and no doubt got a good glimpse of the boardwalk vendors, including massage parlors, psychic readers, tattoo shops and t-shirt stores and little else, Atlantic City’s version of 99-cent stores.
This blight may well stifle future attempts to allow casino gambling in Jersey City or The Meadowlands that would draw more business away from Atlantic City.

Sad notes for Prieto

One very sad moment at this year’s League of Municipalities came when outgoing Assembly Speaker Vincent Prieto gave a farewell speech. Showing just how opportunistic the political world is, nobody paid much attention to him – even to shake his hand – when the speech was over.
While Prieto got chewed up by the statewide political establishment, especially in regards to casino gambling, he largely retained his core values, pushing an agenda that included alternate education for students who are not college-bound.
The November election also showed a significant weakness locally and statewide of the teachers’ unions. State Senator Steve Sweeney, who these unions worked to unseat, won an overwhelming reelection.

Al Sullivan may be reached at asullivan@hudsonreporter.com.