Reports that New Jersey politicians enjoyed special access to sold-out concerts offered an easy one for Gov. Christie — right in his prosecutorial wheelhouse. Last week, he ordered two state agencies to stop holding cheap tickets for legislators and others. "The prior policy had been in place for many years and set a bad example," proclaimed spokesman Michael Drewniak. "Times have changed."
But Christie's white hat got grayer when it came to his own special seats at the same venues. "This is not an arrangement we created," Drewniak said, contradicting his assertion that long-standing bad examples could be smashed to bits.
Last summer, 22 elected officials and hundreds of their cronies were allowed to pay face value to see the likes of Bruce Springsteen, even as the common folk faced steep markups. Christie's administration correctly found the practice in violation of state ethics rules, which say officials should not use their office "to secure unwarranted privileges."
But then there are the governor's privileges. The state reserves two 24-seat luxury boxes at the new Meadowlands Stadium, one for the governor and one for the Sports and Exposition Authority, as well as a 20-seat governor's suite at the neighboring Izod Center. The Turnpike Authority's PNC Bank Arts Center, in Monmouth County, sets aside 40 free tickets for the governor's office, turnpike officials, and the Transportation Department.
Drewniak told the Associated Press that those arrangements "serve legitimate business, government, and political functions." For whom? "Dignitaries, promoters and vendors, political figures, including political opponents, and others" — in other words, anyone the governor chooses.
There may be nothing wrong with keeping a box free for occasional use by the head of state. But it's not clear why both his office and the sports authority need a luxury suite worth hundreds of thousands of dollars a year. And the administration should at least disclose who uses the boxes and make sure they're available to community groups as well as bigwigs.
It's harder to understand the governor's distinction between the tickets the PNC center sets aside for his office and those it was reserving for other politicians. Given that the governor's tickets are free, they look even less defensible than the face-value perk he eliminated.
Of course, it can't be easy for the governor, an avowed Springsteen fanatic, to give up what could be his own block of tickets when the Boss is in town. But next time Christie and company get one of their frequent urges to wax righteous, they should make sure they've thought through such consequences.