New Jersey is a small state, but it's uniquely packed with people, most of whom drive cars, and many of whom do so poorly and aggressively. Perhaps that's why almost no New Jersey governor - not even Gov. Christie, self-appointed guardian of fiscal and ethical purity - can resist a helicopter.
Democrat or Republican, blue collar or blue blood, nearly all eventually succumb to the temptation to rise above turnpike traffic in a state police chopper. Christie Whitman criticized Jim Florio for doing it - and then did it herself. Jim McGreevey, having at one point logged more flights than weekdays in office, was shamed into getting Democrats to reimburse the state for his most egregious trips.
Indeed, we might doubt the Garden State bona fides of a chief executive who could ignore the propeller's siren song. Could anyone who has ever wasted part of his life parked north of Exit 8A?
Sure enough, one of the few who avoided the trap was Jon Corzine - an Illinois native. And he had his own aircraft, as well as a 91-m.p.h. highway crash that inadvertently illustrated the benefits of gubernatorial air travel.
So now that Christie has joined this long line, can we really blame him? Yes. Neither he nor any other governor should be using state police helicopters for personal or political business, and Christie's itinerary this week was a particularly offensive example thereof.
A $12.5 million copter whisked Christie and his wife from Trenton to the North Jersey prep school where their son was playing in a baseball game Tuesday. After they disembarked in a nearby football field, a car reportedly drove them the remaining hundred yards to the diamond.
It's a good thing this was only a high school game, or Christie might have required a horse-drawn carriage to the concession stand, a rickshaw to the restroom, and a palanquin to the souvenir shop.
After about five innings, the first pair were flown to the governor's mansion, in Princeton, where Christie dined with a group of potential presidential campaign donors. No word on whether this crew was outfitted with top hats and monocles, but that's about all that could have made this a haughtier display of high-flown privilege by a man with a penchant for killing public-transit projects.
And of course, this being Christie, he only aggravated matters with his arrogant and dismissive initial response. Directly contradicting the facts at hand, a spokesman asserted that the governor's "air travel has been extremely limited and appropriate" and that the governor would not reimburse the state. Later, he reluctantly agreed to pay for two recent trips "to ensure that this is not a distraction."
If Christie wants more presidential donors to come calling, he should take more care to align his personal conduct with his public message - even if he doesn't actually care to live by the austerity and rectitude he prescribes for those of us stuck in traffic here on the ground.