Gadfly (noun): 1. any of various flies that bite or annoy livestock. 2. a person who stimulates or annoys especially by persistent criticism. (www.merriam-webster.com/dictionry/gadfly)
I have often been unfairly attacked and insulted over my politics. But no attack or insult hurts more than being called a “gadfly.”
When huffingtonpost.com and washingtonpost.com learned that I might run against Gov. Chris Christie in the June 4 Republican primary election, they made me a national news story. To them, it proved that “tea party” conservatives are so unreasonable, we don’t even like an “overwhelmingly popular” (and pro-Obama) Republican like Christie.
Then, without talking to me or making any effort to learn my side of the story, our local daily paper published a lengthy article that described me as a “gadfly” during the past 38 years. Of its hundreds of file photos of me, it chose one that made me look like a gadfly. But it left these important facts out of its story:
Although I was registered to vote as a Republican, both the Republican and Democratic Party organizations campaigned against me in 1986. But I was elected to a citywide council seat in Atlantic City anyway.
Just before I was sworn in, a well-known local developer came to my law office “for advice” and after asking a few questions, casually handed me a hundred dollar bill. When I gave it back, he was so shocked, he blurted out that nobody had done that before.
Ever since then, I consistently fought to make all zoning and tax laws simple, realistic, and equally applied to everyone, so that people do not need special favors from politicians to succeed in business.
When in office, I took the time to read payroll and expense records. I discovered and stopped department heads from padding their budgets with 12 months of salaries for employees who retired before the end of the year. I challenged the practice of paying lifeguards through October to pad their pensions before they retired.
Most voters never noticed the pennies this saved on their tax bills. But the insiders who lost that money never forgot or forgave me (similar to what Vilfredo Pareto described in his 1906 classic “Manual of Political Economy.”)
In 1988, I helped elect Louise Palmentieri, and the effective voting blocks we formed kept spending, debt and taxes under control in Atlantic City for two years. One year we wore raincoats when the unions threatened to throw eggs at us during the Miss America Pageant parade.
In that same year, I became a county freeholder by opposing the incumbent Republican “off the line” in the June primary, and winning by a single vote.
My district included the casinos, boardwalk stores, beach houses and condos of Atlantic City, Ventnor, Margate and Longport, which paid roughly 80 percent of the county taxes. I opposed efforts to redistribute that wealth to programs and projects mainland voters didn’t want their own local taxes to pay for.
But I really angered Republican Party leaders when I opposed their plan to put a new garbage dump off the end of the airport runway in Egg Harbor Township. This was a smart political choice on their part, since few voters lived nearby. But I was afraid that large numbers of birds would fly around the dump and be dangerous to planes taking off and landing.
In politics, “Friends come and go, but enemies accumulate.” After four years, the top political leaders of both parties, including Republican Sen. Bill Gormley, the public employee unions and big campaign donors looking for sweetheart deals all agreed that I was “bad for business” and had to go.
In 1990, they all backed Democrat Jim Whelan for mayor of Atlantic City, and I lost that election. In 1991, they redrew the boundaries of my freeholder district so I could not be re-elected to county government.
This was actually good for me, since I was broke after five years of public office. I never gave out government favors to increase my wealth or advance my career. I then worked long hours for years to rebuild my law practice.
But those five years as an elected official gave me a wealth of knowledge and experience as to exactly how and why government failed in Atlantic City – even with the wealth of the casinos. And what government must do to succeed there – or anywhere else.
I am running for governor against Chris Christie in the June 4 Republican primary election to apply and share that knowledge and experience statewide.
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