A Northeast governor gets elected in large part on a promise to “clean up” the corruption in his state. He quickly dives into his mission, claiming high-minded interest in restoring public trust in government. Tough and savvy, his popularity increases as he appears to make strides in combating unethical behavior. His national profile grows along with his political ambitions.
Then it all comes to a screeching halt.
A scandal hits. Allegations of potential abuse of power swirl. Investigations are launched.
If this sounds familiar, it should, because it applies to not one, but two northeast governors. This is where the similarities end, though. One governor has taken a beating in his standing with the voters. The other one has not.
One of the big reasons for the discrepancy? The governor with the sliding poll numbers is a Republican; the one skating with the public (so far) is a Democrat.
You’ve probably heard of “Bridgegate.” In September 2013, aides to Mr. Christie ordered lane closures on the George Washington Bridge under the guise of a “traffic study” but allegedly as political payback against perceived political opponents. The closures caused massive traffic tie-ups, causing tens of thousands of commuters grief. The powerful metropolitan press went wild, and it wasn’t long before the national media mobilized, accusing Mr. Christie of abusing his power by personally ordering the closures.
Mr. Christie’s response was textbook leadership. He held a lengthy news conference, in which he claimed no advance knowledge of the closures and announced that the aides who had ordered them were fired, effective immediately. He then stayed at the podium for more than an hour as he took every question from the media.
No evidence has been produced to tie the governor to the closure order, and yet the mainstream press continues to pound him. It’s true that “Bridgegate” isn’t the only reason Mr. Christie is less popular — the state does have some economic problems. However, the constant drumbeat on the issue has played a leading role in denting his seeming invincibility.
According to a Quinnipiac University poll released last week, 49 percent of New Jersey voters approve of his job performance, while 47 percent disapprove That number is still pretty good, given the relentless attacks — and it’s about 10 points higher than President Obama’s current job approval. Still, it’s Mr. Christie’s lowest approval rating in three years.
The poll also found significant distrust of the governor regarding the scandal, and 49 percent now do not think he is “honest and trustworthy.”
Last August, he announced the formation of the Moreland Commission to root out corruption statewide. With great fanfare, he proclaimed that the commission would be “totally independent” and be given a free hand to investigate anybody in state government — including himself. “Anything they want to look at, they can look at — me, the lieutenant governor, the attorney general, the comptroller, any senator, any assemblyman,” he said.
In retrospect, it was not unlike Sen. Gary Hart’s dare to the press when confronted with rumors of extramarital affairs: “Follow me around. I don’t care. I’m serious,” Mr. Hart said. So they did — and that was the end of his presidential dreams.
The New York Times first reported that Mr. Cuomo had “deeply compromised” the work of his own commission, alleging he intervened to halt its investigations when they got too close to him or individuals close to him, or threatened to expose things that “might reflect poorly on him.”