Expose of troubling Christie ties wins major journalism prize


Chris Christie is a saint. At least I read that somewhere recently. Actually, the New Jersey governor is just another politician -- just one who is very, very good at what he does... most of the time. And nothing that Christie has done in his time on the public stage has been more brilliant than his embrace of President Obama, in a very pro-Obama state, on the eve of an election he was smart enough -- unlike the Karl Roves and Dick Morrises of his own party -- to see that Obama would certainly win. Since then, he's been laughing all the way to the Leno/Letterman bank of goodwill -- and his second term as governor is all but guaranteed.

But if you dig deeper, Christie is often just as unsavory as all the rest of our elected officials. Remember these things that were more or less swept under the rug when he was first elected in 2009? Today, arguably the second-most prestigious prizes in journalism, the George Polk Awards, were announced -- and one of the winners was the New York Times for exposing a scandal in New Jersey, an affair that reflects very badly on the Christie administration.

Basically, with New Jersey under pressure to reduce its prison population, the state has done so, in good measure, by shifting inmates to so-called "halfway houses" that are really just smaller-scale prisions. And these facilities, the Times discovered, are very poorly run. In addition to a ridiculous amount of escapes -- about one or two every day, on average -- the Times series found  that "with little oversight, the state’s halfway houses have mutated into a shadow corrections network, where drugs, gang activity and violence, including sexual assaults, often go unchecked."

The newspaper also found that one of the largest operators of these poorly working "halfway houses" had very close ties to Gov. Christie:

Community Education received about $71 million from state and county agencies in New Jersey in the 2011 fiscal year, out of total halfway house spending of roughly $105 million, according to state and company records.

The company first obtained substantial contracts for its “re-entry centers” in New Jersey in the late 1990s, as state financing began increasing sharply. In recent years, it has cited its success in New Jersey in obtaining government contracts in Colorado, Pennsylvania and other states.

William J. Palatucci, who is the governor’s close friend, political adviser and former law partner, is a senior vice president at Community Education.

Mr. Christie himself was registered as a lobbyist for the company in 2000 and 2001 when he was a private lawyer, according to disclosure reports that his law firm filed with the state. In early 2010, he hired the son-in-law of Community Education’s chief executive as an assistant in the governor’s office, according to state personnel records.

OK, maybe Chris Christie isn't a saint. And maybe that's why he so loves going on shows like "Letterman" or "Saturday Night Live," where they're going to joke about eating donuts or his bad temper but aren't going to bring up the complicated -- and complicating -- matter of his ties to this shoddy halfway-house deal. As long as he doesn't go all Rubio and do something crazy like drink a bottle of water, he's still on track to be our 45th president.