The multimillionaire throwdown in the race for governor of the Garden State has gotten a wee bit nasty.
Republican Douglas Forrester, who trails in recent polls, has aired a commercial this week featuring a quote from the divorced wife of the Democratic candidate, Sen. Jon S. Corzine. Suffice to say, she did not bestow an endorsement on her ex.
"When I saw the campaign ad where Andrea Forrester said, 'Doug never let his family down and he won't let New Jersey down,' all I could think was that Jon did let his family down and he'll probably let New Jersey down, too," said Joanne Corzine, whose quote first appeared in the New York Times.
A 15-second spot displays the quote against a black background with a touch of drum and violin music.
Joanne Corzine had more to say about Jon, a former childhood sweetheart and a former chief executive of Goldman Sachs, to whom she had been married for 33 years. The senator left his wife and house behind after his 2000 election, and took up with Carla Katz, a powerful state union chief. Their relationship has since cooled, amid some controversy of its own.
Joanne Corzine said her former husband fell into the arms of New Jersey's Democratic Party bosses. "It changed him. I think once you go down that road of making deals, compromising your ideals to get somewhere, it's easier to do it the next time," she told the Star-Ledger of Newark before decamping for France.
On Wednesday, Forrester vowed that he would not turn Corzine family recriminations into a campaign issue. Less than 24 hours later, he changed his mind. "We felt that she, who had seen this abandonment firsthand as a witness, it was fair to say, 'Hey, take an eyewitness account seriously because the stakes are so high,' " Forrester told The Washington Post.
As for Corzine, he acknowledged his former wife's right to speak her mind, and left it to his campaign to rail about "Bush-Rove smear tactics."
This has been the season for plutocratic politics in the New York metroplex.
Corzine is worth hundreds of millions of dollars from his days at the investment house Goldman Sachs Group Inc. Forrester is worth dozens of millions of dollars from his days as a king of prescription drug plans.
Across the Hudson River, billionaire Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg (R) has run the most expensive non-presidential race in U.S. history, having so far spent $80 million of his media fortune in his re-election bid. It has been money well spent: He leads nontycoon Fernando Ferrer, the Democratic candidate, by about 30 points in recent polls.
One advantage of gilded candidates is that they supposedly would not have to engage in money-grubbing. That would be a respite from politics as usual in New Jersey, where most years another prominent politician retires to a penitentiary. (State politics, lately, has also taken some unusual turns, as when then-Gov. James E. McGreevey (D) resigned and left his wife over an affair with a man whose lack of credentials did not prevent his appointment as the state's homeland security chief.)
But boodle still matters in New Jersey. The Star-Ledger report revealed that Corzine gave $7 million to the county Democratic Party bosses who rule politics here.
"They're two white, middle-aged millionaires who are going to spend $80 million between them, and polls show that 50 percent of Jerseyans don't like either one," said David Rebovich, managing director of the Rider Institute for New Jersey Politics. "There is a lot of skepticism that either of these guys can relate to the average voter."
It is hard to know if family politics, millionaire-style, will upend a race in which most polls show Corzine with a lead of about eight to 10 points. But Corzine's strongest support comes from women. Earlier this year, his romance with Katz became an issue when he acknowledged that he had forgiven a $470,000 loan he gave her in 2002, while he was still married. Now, many wonder about the effect of a former wife's severe judgment.
Suzi Bethke waited at the Port Authority bus terminal for the midafternoon ride to her home town of Boonton. She is an artist, and she was a Corzine voter -- until that ad.
"It's definitely a sign of character," Bethke said. "We should be a little more watchful of people who put their own interests before the pain of others."
But a few dozen yards away, Janie Atkin sat and waited for the bus to Montclair. She's a little skeptical about the wife -- "She's speaking out against him now, but when he was running in  she was all for him" -- and disgusted with the mudslinging when property taxes are doubling on her retirement home. Poll after poll show that New Jersey voters are worried about spiraling property taxes, corruption and the environment.
"It doesn't have anything to do with them. It has to do with me, my way of life," the Atkin, 66, said of the election. "Talk about the people . . . medical care, taxes -- all of that is what I'm concerned about."
Across the river in New York, Bloomberg is having a less eventful trot to victory. A Democrat-turned-Republican, Bloomberg spent $70 million in his first election bid in 2001 and once noted that, if he spent the same amount the second time around, he would be in trouble. Not a problem; he will spend much more money this time around.
Democrats had hoped that Ferrer, a native-born son of New York with Puerto Rican heritage, might crystallize working- and middle-class anxieties about a city that increasingly seems torqued toward the rich. Housing costs have spiraled upward, as has inflation. But Ferrer's campaign was stillborn, in part because the candidate was drowned in his rival's money.
"Ferrer can't even get heard competing against this grotesque spending," said Gene Russianoff of the New York Public Interest Research Group, which asked Bloomberg to restrain his spending.
Bloomberg sometimes governs with a rich man's disdain for the symbols of politics. Early on, he described living in the city as a "luxury item" for which New Yorkers should happily pay extra. (The median income in this most expensive of American cities hovers around $50,000.) But Bloomberg is generally credited with governing well. Crime has marched steadily down, the economy has rebounded, and the mayor's school reforms seem to be making real progress.
Fred Siegel, a professor of history at Cooper Union and author of "The Prince of the City," a book on Rudolph W. Giuliani's mayoral tenure, says that Bloomberg made a mistake by pushing for a publicly financed football stadium in Manhattan, giving lucrative union raises and not paying enough attention to the small businesses that are the lifeblood of the outer boroughs. A more adept Democratic candidate, he argues, could have found a message that resonated, even against the roar of a billionaire's money.
"A moderately competent candidate might have given Bloomberg a real race," Siegel said. "Bloomberg was never made to address a lot of the long-term problems in this city."