Thursday, February 21, 2008


Who said the Corzine Administration doesn’t know how to keep a secret? Every reporter on press row in the State House was stunned to learn Deb Howlett has signed on as Governor Jon Corzine’s director of communications. I’m told Deb didn’t let her Star Ledger colleagues know until about 20 minutes before the press release went out announcing it. Shock not-so-quickly turned to some saying Deb sold out. Having been offered more than a handful of government jobs including several with past Administrations (not this one!), I understand allure of money. Deb and anybody else for the matter, has every right to better things for themselves and their families. I’ve always admired and respected Deb and her work and I don’t expect that to change.

The above having been written, she is walking into a very tough job. Corzine’s relationship with the press would have to improve greatly just to rise to the level of awful. The relationship between a Governor and his or her communications director is very similar, in one respect, to that of an alcoholic and his or her AA sponsor. The sponsor can’t help the alcoholic if the alcoholic doesn’t want the help. Deb Howlett could offer the best advice ever, but I’ve been told by several people inside the front office that if Corzine has his mind set on a course of action any advice he gets doesn’t make an iota of difference.

At least Deb and Lilo Stainton (Corzine’s press secretary) come from the world of journalism and they understand us completely. That’s a start for Corzine. In May 2006, I was doing a story on how New Jersey prepares for the possibility of a State shutdown if the budget isn’t signed by midnight June 30th. I asked then-press secretary Anthony Coley and he said, “The State would never shut down.” I didn’t say it was going to shutdown, I simply asked, “What happens if it does?” Showing a staggering lack of insight into what makes reporters tick, Coley asked, “Why are you doing that story now? Why don’t you wait until late June and do that story when every other reporter is doing it?” Yeah, that’s what we do. We wouldn’t want to possibly be the reporter to get the story out there first. We get scoops and then tell all of the other reporters and then coordinate with them when we’ll all run the story. By the way, the State did shut down for a week and you might remember that because it was in all the papers.

Deb and Lilo are vast improvements, but ultimately it’s up to Corzine to decide if he wants to use the tools he now has at his disposal. And no, I'm not saying Deb and Lilo are tools in a cynical way.

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