Thursday, September 28, 2006

Menendez, Strengths and Weaknesses

I've been watching Sen. Bob Menendez's work in the U.S. senate with marked scrutiny since he has been appointed by Gov. Corzine. His work has been stellar: He is urging the EPA to ensure the safety of environmentally contaminated (Ringwood) sites in the state, he has fought against offshore drilling in the state, he has sought increased federal funds for all original 9-11 responders, he has offered legislation that would make all incoming packages to U.S. ports examined for terrorist threats, he has rightly voted to bring all of our troops home from the awful war in Iraq within a year, he has cosponsored legislation that would provide gas tax relief, he has fought for more AIDS funding for the state, he has sought a more equitable way of distributing 9-11 grant funding for Homeland Security to high-risk areas such as New Jersey, and more.

What troubles me, though, is that he has made some missteps in his career that are now haunting him in his reelection campaign. Just today, some tape has come out about Hudson County contracts in which a Menendez campaign consultant makes comments about the then-congressman wanting a rehire of a former employee for a "favor." That could be nothing or something of interest, but there is also a federal investigation of a Housing Authority group for which he served as landlord. He showed poor judgment in recommending Zulima Farber for attorney general, even when the McGreevey administration previously vetted her.

In N.J., he is neck-and-neck with the son of a popular former governor, a Republican candidate who is short on ideas but consistent in his attacks of the Democratic freshman senator. Menendez could have this campaign in better shape -- if he had showed greater discretion in his previous dealings and made anything with even the possibility of ethical conflict public in the first place. The Menendez campaign should continue to point the finger at Kean Jr., noting that many of the attacks come from his surrogates, and emphasize that Menendez has never been indicted nor charged with ethical wrongdoing in his nearly 20-some years as a politician.