PRINCETON - Gov. Corzine took back the reins of state government today from acting Gov. Richard J. Codey, saying that his body may still be recovering from a serious April 12 highway accident but that his mind is firmly intact and he's ready to get back to work.
Corzine resumed his duties at 9 a.m. His first order of business was a meeting with senior staff at Drumthwacket, the governor's official residence.
Walking with forearm crutches, the 60-year-old governor then cautiously made his way down the mansion's front steps to host his first news conference back on the job.
Installing himself on a chair in front of cameras, and propping his broken left leg on a footstool, a noticeably thinner but otherwise remarkably healthy looking Corzine told reporters that, as a result of his physical limitations, he would likely govern from Drumthwacket - about a 20-minute drive from the Statehouse - for the next month or so. "I'm not going to be hightailing it all over the state, to the four corners, for a while," he said.
After a series of meetings last week, he said, his doctors, lawyers and advisers all agreed he was "sharp enough to move forward" and "strong enough to perform the constitutional role" of governor.
"It's time for me to get to work," Corzine said. "I'm anxious to get on with it."
His doctors and advisers were by his side to attest to his readiness.
Steven Ross, who heads the trauma unit at Cooper University Hospital in Camden, said the governor had made a remarkable recovery.
Corzine, who broke his left femur, 11 ribs, his collarbone and breastbone, spent 18 days in Ross' hospital, including more than a week in intensive care and on a ventilator.
"We as a group of physicians who have taken care of him and met with him over the last week feel he is ready to take on executive responsibility," Ross said. "We don't want him riding around in a car, we don't want any undue physical exertion, but he is clearly somebody we would let get back to any kind of mental activity."
Attorney General Stuart Rabner, who met with Corzine on Friday, said they covered a "number of substantive items" and "his mind was sharp."
"I have never finished a briefing with the governor without him interrupting, asking questions, and pausing to probe in areas that were relevant, that he was thinking about," Rabner said. "Friday's session was no different."
Corzine, whose cabinet is expected to make public appearances on his behalf, said his focus would be on policy and legislation and "the fundamentals of my agenda we were trying to work on before the accident."
That includes balancing the state budget, which Corzine said he had been discussing with Treasurer Bradley Abelow. The governor said he and legislators had agreed to have the budget completed by mid-June to avoid a repeat of last year, when the budget wasn't passed until well after the July 1 constitutional deadline, prompting a weeklong shutdown of government services.
Corzine said he also wanted to focus on a proposal to lease or sell state assets that he expects to introduce in the next month, and a health-care proposal that the administration is crafting.
He said he also has a lot of catching up to do on a number of other issues and has scheduled a cabinet meeting Tuesday at Drumthwacket.
Famous for his long hours, Corzine said he expected to be working a modified eight- to nine-hour day, starting with a 6 a.m. wakeup, and punctuated in the late afternoon by a nap.
He also does physical therapy twice a day, which includes stretching, stationary-bike work, walking up and down stairs and, perhaps beginning this week, aqua therapy.
Ross said Corzine was "on appropriate pain medication, far less than what he was on in hospital," but would not discuss types or quantities.
Corzine said driving still was "highly unpleasant" because it jostled his rib cage. His leg, he said rubbing it, "was a little numb, but we're working on that."
Doctors have said he could be walking with a cane within three months, and today Ross said that "hopefully, within six months or so he'll be back at activities he wants to reach."
"He is recovering both physically and mentally very rapidly. He's clearly a very motivated individual," Ross said. "That and his underlying physical condition before he was injured contributed quite a bit to that."
A jogger before the accident, Corzine said a full recovery to him would be "to be able to run again."
At the same time, he said he knew he was lucky to be alive, and once again thanked the state troopers who rushed to his aid, and the medical staff who tended to him afterward.
He also apologized once more for not wearing his seat belt - which he called "a bad habit" - and promised to set a better example. Last week, he asked state police for, and was given, a $46 ticket for breaking the state seat-belt law.
"It's not worth it. I can promise you," he said, sounding like the public-service announcements his staff has said he is likely to launch. "Buckling up is a hell of a lot easier on your body and health than what I'm going through."
The unfastened seat belt and the high speed that Corzine's SUV was traveling proved to be an almost fatal combination.
State police say Corzine's state trooper driver was going 91 m.p.h., emergency lights flashing, on the Garden State Parkway when the SUV was sent crashing into a guardrail by a truck that was trying to avoid being hit by a third vehicle.
Corzine, who was in the front seat, was thrown to the back of the SUV.
Corzine said he hadn't even noticed the SUV's speed, but didn't fault his driver, Trooper Robert Rasinski, whose driving that night is being reviewed as part of a routine investigation into all trooper-related crashes.
An independent advisory group convened by Rabner is reviewing all the practices of the Executive Protection Unit, the elite group of state troopers that includes Rasinski and that is charged with protecting the governor and other top state officials.
State police say the unit, due to its specific mission, has a lot of discretion when it comes to use of speed and emergency lights.