Former state Sen. Wayne Bryant's conviction last month on corruption charges exacerbated the view that New Jersey government is still a cesspool of wrongdoing.
But the Garden State is actually making great strides in cleaning up its tarnished image. And a campaign to recruit dedicated citizens for public service is at the core of that effort.
The Citizens' Campaign, founded in 2004, has been steadily chipping away at the foundations of public corruption in New Jersey.
The grassroots organization successfully pushed for the strongest law in the nation to reform "pay-to-play," the corrupting practice of rewarding campaign donors with government contracts.
Through a network of local leaders, the campaign has won adoption of more than 200 citizen-empowerment laws in various municipalities, including Cherry Hill and Collingswood. It has also educated about 5,000 New Jersey residents in how to get involved in leadership roles in their hometowns.
The campaign's latest effort is a "Call to Service" to recruit citizens for local volunteer leadership positions. That will help change the political culture in New Jersey, where more than 130 public officials have been convicted on corruption charges over the last seven years.
Cleaning up government is one step, but the replacements need to heed the call of public service.
"You can't address the culture of corruption with law enforcement alone," said Harry Pozycki, chair of the Metuchen-based group. "You have to replace it with a culture of service."
Interested citizens can take free leadership courses online at
» READ MORE: www.jointhecampaign.com
Among the "paths to service" taught are serving on an appointed state or local government commission, joining a local political party committee, or becoming a trained member of a first-aid squad.
The nonprofit Citizens' Campaign is teaching people in basic, practical terms how to get involved in shaping government decisions.
Many who have become involved are already having an impact in New Jersey.
Whether it's banning pay-to-play by your local board of education, or serving on a municipal planning board, good government depends on honest citizens who are dedicated and care enough to step up.
That's what the call to service is really all about, and it's a vital effort for New Jersey's future.