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Monica Yant Kinney: N.J.'s ex-Gov. Everyman busy hawking his memoir

I can't prove it, but I'm almost certain there has never been a political memoir before that contains both juvenile fart jokes and enlightened admissions about mental illness ravaging a family.

Former Gov. Richard J. Codey in his West Orange, NJ office. (Monica Yant Kinney/Staff)
Former Gov. Richard J. Codey in his West Orange, NJ office. (Monica Yant Kinney/Staff)Read more

I can't prove it, but I'm almost certain there has never been a political memoir before that contains both juvenile fart jokes and enlightened admissions about mental illness ravaging a family.

Then again, there has probably never been a politician like New Jersey's Richard J. "Dick" Codey, who dreamed of calling his book McGreevey's Gay and I'm the New Governor, but ultimately ceded creative ground to publishing pros who preferred Me, Governor? My Life in the Rough-and-Tumble World of New Jersey Politics.

The book, written with my former colleague Stephen Seplow, features a cover photo of a shrugging Codey wearing tan chinos, a snug-around-the-belly button-down, and a navy blazer. He sported an identical look last week when we met. Clearly, "the guv" works harder on his one-liners than his outfits.

"It is what it is," he says when I ask about the book's spirited mix of potty humor and bitter revelations of how a hugely popular "accidental governor" was bullied out of running so a rich, if unlikable, foe could buy the office for himself.

Like Popeye, another heroic figure with thinning hair and ace comic timing, he says, "I am who I am."

'The Undertaker's Son'

If you really want to know who Codey is and how he won over a cynical state, it's on Page 23, in the chapter "The Undertaker's Son: Death and Politics Go Together."

"My father always said, 'When you go into a church, make sure you treat the janitor as well as the priest. He can recommend you for a funeral just as well,' " Codey writes. "For me, that has translated into, 'Every constituent is important; treat them all respectfully.' "

Codey, who was Senate president, got his chance to test that theory after Gov. Jim McGreevey resigned in 2004 amid a self-made sex-and-extortion scandal.

"I wanted my swearing-in ceremony to tell the state something about who I am: another down-to-earth, middle-class guy," he writes, "with a wife and two kids, not very fancy, and not very different from any other state taxpayer." So Codey held a 6 p.m. ceremony at the house he shares with his sons and Mary Jo, who became an unlikely star of her own for speaking out about horrific bouts of postpartum depression.

On his first full day in office, Codey left at 4 p.m. to attend a parent-teacher conference at his son's high school. "After that, I went home for Mary Jo's spaghetti and meatballs."

Gov. Everyman made ethics reform a top priority, mindful that he had just 14 months to restore "decency" in the stained state. He signed an indoor-smoking ban. He continued to coach middle school basketball. He handed out Gov. Codey bobblehead dolls.

In a move I mocked, Codey gave $25,000 in taxpayer money to help cash-strapped Rutgers University students attend the Insight Bowl. He should have put the money in the state's underfunded pension system.

In one anecdote perhaps better not shared, Codey demystifies higher office with a gubernatorial fart story that begins with "me in my private office drinking Diet Coke and eating a hard pretzel" and ends with state troopers in stitches.

Stealth fund-raising

Though polls showed Codey with astronomical favorable ratings, the job would not be his to keep once a bored zillionaire, U.S. Sen. Jon S. Corzine, decided that what he really wanted to be was governor.

Adding insult to injury, Codey lost the Senate presidency in a bloody coup engineered by George Norcross, the South Jersey Democratic boss. Today, the 37-year legislative veteran sits in the nosebleed section without so much as a committee chairmanship to his name.

Codey, who has done his share of political elbowing, fires shots galore at Norcross, reminding readers that party bosses are elected by no one. In person, the legislator admits he's "envious" of New Jersey Republicans, who function largely without the shadow figures.

Sitting on a $1.2 million campaign account - more than any lawmaker in the state - Codey, 64, is uncharacteristically vague when I ask if he may yet run for governor.

For now, he's busy hawking the memoir, shamelessly, relentlessly.

"I've got a list of every independent bookseller in the state, and I called every one of them myself," he shares. "I called supermarkets, Costcos, Hudson News. . . . That's the personal touch people like."

Monica Yant Kinney: Candid Codey

He has been in the New Jersey Legislature for 37 years and served as the "accidental governor" for 14 months, but perhaps Richard J. Codey should consider a second career in comedy. Consider these randy, revealing outtakes from his new memoir, Me, Governor?

"We ran as ebony and ivory, salt and pepper, two good guys, both in their forties, running against the evil, crooked machine. Which the machine always is when you're against it."

 On befriending rapper Jay-Z, part-owner of the New Jersey Nets: "Beyoncé, a true class act, was there, and I decided to try a little hip-hop of my own. 'If I were Jay-Z,' I rapped, 'Beyoncé would be my fiancee.' He turned to his guys and said, 'I told you this guy was cool.' "

On filling in for abruptly resigning New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer at a St. Patrick's Day event: " 'Let's be honest,' I said when I got up to speak before about 2,000 people in the ballroom. 'The only reason I was ever governor of the state of New Jersey was because of sex. And the only reason I'm speaking before you now once again is sex. Which goes to prove that you don't have to engage in the act to get enjoyment from it."

- Monica Yant Kinney