New Jersey is NOT a Joke

08/27/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Judging from the range of unposted responses to my comments on last week's mass arrests, it seems appropriate to add some more context . Besides, like most of the country, I have so little to say about the health care debate; it's much easier to pick on poor New Jersey.

I received my share of Garden State black humor: a faux announcement of the opening of the New Jersey Crime and Corruption Museum at the Vince Lombardi Service Area on the Turnpike, an imagined ad for Hoboken's suddenly-notorious Malibu Diner -- "open all hours; cash only". Painful stuff for a native whose career has involved public service and lots of contact with decent officials and regulators.

Long before David Chase gave us Tony Soprano, I have witnessed crooks in high places, middle, and low. Integrity has, lamentably, not been a cherished virtue in the selection of leaders or in the conduct of private affairs. Most people play by the rules but we all know folks who have pasted Police Benevolent Association stickers on windshields in the expectation of avoiding traffic tickets, sought a summer job for a child after buying tickets to a local official's clambake, or cheated the tax man. Well, if everyone's doing it ...

It could and has been different. In 1973, an indicted Mafioso insisted on the release of surveillance tapes of conversations which included bragging among the dons of the officials they had on the take. "But there's one guy, this prosecutor (Brendan) Byrne that we can't buy," said Simone de Cavalcante, more popularly known as "Sam the Plumber." In the wake of Watergate and a scandal in which two cabinet members were convicted of selling state contracts, a popular moderate Republican governor was defeated in his party's primary clearing the way for Byrne, then a Superior Court judge, to leave the bench and be elected after a campaign that hailed him as -- guess what? -- "the man the mob couldn't buy!"

Makes one wonder if, this past year, any officials rejected bribes offered by the FBI and its wired informants. If so, maybe New Jersey needs to recognize them and advance their careers rather than those of the prosecutors who get credit for shooting the ducks in the barrels.