Gov. Corzine yesterday proved to the world he is on the mend, looking healthy and chipper as he mugged for a photographer and pronounced he felt "blessed" to be alive after the car wreck that critically injured him two weeks ago.
"I'm the most blessed person who ever lived," Corzine told an Associated Press photographer taking his picture at Cooper University Hospital in Camden.
The photographer, who captured the governor's first public words and images since the April 12 smashup, isn't the only person outside Corzine's family and close friends being granted access to his hospital room.
Today, Assembly Speaker Joseph Roberts (D., Camden) is expected to visit. Corzine also is planning a face-to-face with New Jersey's other governor.
Senate President Richard J. Codey, who is filling in as acting governor, said yesterday that Corzine had called and asked him to visit.
Codey (D., Essex) said he did not know whether the governor had summoned him for any specific purpose, but joked that he envisioned a scene from The Apprentice, the TV show in which Donald Trump dramatically "fires" contestants vying for a job in his business empire.
Corzine's doctors have declined to predict when he will be well enough to go back to work. They said Monday that it would be at least a week before he got out of hospital.
Corzine, who broke his left femur, his breastbone, his collarbone and 11 ribs and spent more than a week on a ventilator, was upgraded to stable condition and moved out of the intensive care unit this week. Yesterday, medical staff removed the second of two tubes that had been draining fluid from around his lungs, and he was able to sit upright in a chair comfortably, a spokesman said.
Codey said Corzine called Wednesday evening and sounded upbeat, though his voice wasn't quite as strong "as before the accident." The conversation, roughly six minutes, "was gracious on both sides," Codey said.
"He said, 'Dick, I want to thank you for stepping up and doing what you've done,' " Codey told reporters at a ceremonial bill signing.
He added that the former Wall Street tycoon had spoken about the state budget, "which is a good sign."
Corzine's state-police-driven SUV was traveling 91 m.p.h., with its police lights flashing, just before the crash on the Garden State Parkway. The governor, riding in the front seat, was not wearing a seat belt.
State police say they are still investigating the accident and have up to 30 days to issue a ticket.
Meanwhile, an Atlantic County man has filed a citizen's complaint against the governor for violating the New Jersey law that requires anyone traveling in the front seat to wear a seat belt.
A judge will review the complaint next week and decide whether to hold a hearing, which could lead to a fine, said Roseanne Lugg, court administrator for Galloway Township, where the crash occurred and where Larry Angel filed his complaint.
Angel, a self-described gadfly, said he was "a fan of Corzine," and voted for him for U.S. senator and governor. Still, Angel said, "I think he should be accountable. Pay your $46 or whatever it is, and let's move on."
The conduct of Corzine's trooper chauffeur - a member of the elite Executive Protection Unit - is being investigated by a state police panel that reviews every trooper accident. That panel also will probe whether the trooper, Robert Rasinski, used a cell phone or text-messaging device while driving to receive an angry e-mail from the husband of a woman he had been dating.
Yesterday, state Attorney General Stuart Rabner, who oversees the state police as head of the Department of Law and Public Safety, announced that an "independent advisory group" would review the practices of the Executive Protection Unit, which guards and transports the governor.
A goal is to develop clear and practical guidelines for unit members, who police say can break traffic laws as needed.
Rabner named former Gov. Christie Whitman, a Republican, and former state Attorney General John Degnan, a Democrat, to lead the panel. The six other members will include former U.S. Attorney Jonathan Goldstein, former GOP State Sen. William Gormley, a former FBI agent, and a former Secret Service agent.
Rabner said he hoped the group would issue a report within two months.
William Buckman, a Moorestown lawyer and vocal critic of the state police, said he wasn't confident that the panel would be objective. Whitman and Degnan "have been, at various times, in charge of the state police," he said, and no police critics were included.