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as seen on phillyBurbs.com

Ethically challenged
Outted Gov. McGreevey should be forced out of office.

There comes a point in every state's history where politics must be put aside and lawmakers on both sides of the aisle come together to do the common good. That time has now come for New Jersey.

The state assembly should impeach Gov. James McGreevey and try him on television unless he resigns his office immediately.

I don't say this because McGreevey is gay, or because an alleged extortion attempt by the object of his affection outted him nationally. Truth be told, I don't care about that.

I do care, however, that he surrounded himself with a bunch of scumbags before taking office.

Let's review: A top McGreevey political donor, David D'Amiano, was indicted last month for allegedly extorting $40,000 and promises of future political contributions from a Piscataway farmer to influence state and county officials to more than double an offer to preserve his farmland. According to the indictment, D'Amiano set up a meeting between the farmer and McGreevey, in which the governor used the term "Machiavelli" to assure him that he was getting what he was promised.

D'Amiano has pleaded not guilty. But McGreevey's biggest political donor, real estate developer Charles Kushner, has already agreed to pay a $500,000 fine to the Federal Election Commission for funneling illegal contributions through dummy partnerships to McGreevey's gubernatorial campaign and to the Democratic National Committee.

And a former top McGreevey aide, Gary Taffet, is embroiled in a federal insider-trading investigation. To help Taffet, Kushner allegedly lured a grand jury witness - his own brother-in-law - into a compromising position with a prostitute and sent a video of the liaison to the man's family.

It's ironic that it was Kushner who sponsored the work visa for Golan Cipel, the Israeli McGreevey aides say tried to extort up to $50 million in hush money from McGreevey to keep their alleged sexual tryst a secret. Cipel, whom McGreevey appointed to head the state's homeland security office in 2002 even though he lacked experience, claims he is an innocent victim of workplace sexual harassment and is considering suing McGreevey.

Calling McGreevey a gay Bill Clinton is an insult to the former president. At least Monica Lewinsky was qualified to be a White House intern. Cipel reportedly had no prior experience before assuming his $110,000 a year post.

For abusing the power of his office and putting the public in jeopardy months after September 11th, the state assembly must force McGreevey from office before he resigns on Nov. 15. Who knows what more damage this self-maimed lame duck can do in the mean time?

McGreevey didn't just pick the date out of a hat, either. By resigning 90 days later, New Jersey voters won't get to pick his replacement in a special election. Instead, state Senate President Richard J. Codey, another Democat, will become acting governor until the term expires in January 2006.

State Republican Chairman Joe Kyrillos told the Associated Press that it's unlikely the Democraticly-controlled House and Senate would approve a two-thirds majority impeachment vote against McGreevey. "That's not something that is being looked into yet," Kyrillos said. "We want to do this the easy way."

It may be harder, but at the very least it would send the right message.

Who knows, it might even serve as a springboard to pass meaningful campaign finance reform and stronger anti-corruption statutes?

At least that's the working theory of Philadelphia Mayor John Street.

Although his administration is mired in a mammoth federal investigation of its own, Street last week created a city ethics board to forge a new code of ethics that would prohibit public employees from accepting gifts or meals from people doing or seeking business with the city.

Seventeen people face charges in a federal anti-corruption probe that became public in October when an FBI listening device was discovered in Street's office. In the most serious of the charges, city treasurer Corey Kemp, who resigned in November, was accused of accepting gifts including cash, Super Bowl tickets, meals, trips, parties in his honor and a new deck for his house from a lawyer and several financial services firms seeking city contracts. Kemp pleaded innocent.

Somehow, I doubt Street's motives are as altruistic as those of New Hope Mayor Larry Keller.

Shortly after taking office in 1998, Keller began asking couples who wanted him to officiate at their weddings to give him a donation of $150, money he gave to local charities - such as fire and rescue companies, youth sports organizations, an animal shelter and the local library.

Keller's largesse drew the attention of the State Ethics Commission, which last summer ruled it constituted a conflict of interest and ordered him to return to the borough's coffers $1,500 remaining in the account. Commonwealth Court is scheduled to hear Keller's appeal of that decision next month.

Keller never claimed the $16,800 in donations on his taxes and there is no evidence he spent any of it directly on himself, but the Ethics Commission ruled he still profited by "getting the credit/recognition," according to the commission ruling.

During 12 years of newspaper reporting, I've met many mayors and district justices across the state who perform the same service for a fee, but they almost always pocketed the cash.

Keller's lawyer, Douglas C. Maloney, told the Associated Press he hopes the court will overturn the commission, calling it a matter of common sense.

Dave Ralis' Pave The Grass column appears on Mondays. You can send him an e-mail at  or call him at 215-269-5051. To read his previous columns, click here.

Aug. 16, 2004