Gov. Jon S. Corzine, in announcing the signing of legislation that allows the New Jersey Sports and Exposition Authority to pursue the construction of an aquarium at the Xanadu site in the Meadowlands last week, told the world that a good friend and former business associate has a significant interest in developing Xanadu.
But an ethics panel told him it’s OK to sign the bill, sponsored by Sen. Bob Gordon, D-Fair Lawn, as long as he made the announcement, which dissolved the existence of any conflict of interest, according to panel members.
The people in question include one friend and former business associate, Daniel Neidich, a member of the partnership Dune Capital Management Fund LP that helped in the $1.5 billion bail out of the troubled Xanadu project. Mr. Neidich’s organization’s massive investment will now be buoyed with the ability to add an aquarium onto the list of potential pleasure features at the Xanadu complex, near Giants Stadium.
According to reports in the Bergen Record, there is also a man named Gary Rose, who personally oversaw the financial bailout of Xanadu for Gov. Corzine, by gathering investors to inject serious money into the project. Mr. Rose at one point held stock in Gov. Corzine’s old place of work, Goldman Sachs, which happened to have lent most of money to the Xanadu developer to fix the project, and now boasts a significant interest in its success.
It would appear, at least superficially, that all of these entities could certainly benefit from the construction of only the second aquarium on New Jersey soil, at the site they have so heavily invested in.
Despite all of this, the governor signed the bill, after his Advisory Ethics Panel advised the governor that with full disclosure prior to the bill signing he has eliminated the existence, or even the appearance of a conflict of interest.
“After receiving this advice I proceeded with consideration of the bill, and having determined that enactment of the bill is in the public interest, today I signed the bill into law,” said Gov. Corzine, in a statement issued with the bill signing announcement.
Assemblyman Richard Merkt, R-Morris, immediately assailed the governor on the issue, saying that the governor’s decision to move forward with the bill, despite the advice of the advisory body, damaged public perception of a state government already weakened by constant corruption scandals and prosecutions.
“The governor is, once again, completely missing the ethical point,” said Mr. Merkt, in a statement. “The prevailing public view is that Trenton is an insider’s game, where personal connections decide everything; who gets what and what laws get enacted.”
“ ‘Trust me’ is no longer an acceptable disclaimer by high state officials in New Jersey who engage in deals that arouse public suspicion,” he added.
Democrats like Sen. Gordon and Senate President Dick Codey, also questioned various portions of the issue, in another Record report, although not with the same vigor as Mr. Merkt.