Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Farber - Ledger - OpEd - Fran Wood - Bad press not her big problem

Published in the Star-Ledger, Wednesday, July 26, 2006

OpEd: Fran Wood
Bad press isn't Zulima Farber's big problem

If Zulima Farber genuinely be lieves she can remain the state's attorney general, she's got a bigger problem than convincing New Jersey's residents that she exerted no influence when her boyfriend, Hamlet Goore, was pulled over by Fairview police during a seat-belt check on Memorial Day weekend.

That bigger problem is that she's out of touch with reality.

Farber's damage-control interviews over the weekend, followed by the revelation that she's hired a Princeton media consultant to give the whole situation a positive spin, pretty much confirm she thinks the main issue is whether she used her position to influence authorities when she rushed to the scene.

It isn't.

It's her judgment.

People who know Zulima Farber speak highly of her. They say she's smart, personable and has high standards.

I don't doubt any of that. But she needs to work on common sense. Driving without a seat belt was the least of Goore's violations. Besides a string of previous traffic violations, he was driving an unre gistered vehicle on what appeared to be a suspended license. (As Motor Vehicle Commission records subsequently confirmed, he had paid the appropriate fine; he is contesting the latter charge.) The police -- one assumes because they had no intention of allowing him to drive away -- told him he could phone someone to pick up him and his belongings. And, quite logically, he phoned his girlfriend.

Or perhaps not so logically. When your girlfriend happens to be the highest law enforcement officer in the state, you'd think common sense might tell you not to get her involved.

But once he made the call, the common-sense ball was back in her court, and you'd think she might have sent someone else to fetch him.

Or at least not fetched him in the manner she did.

When the attorney general ar rives in a state-provided, chauffeur- driven state car with flashing lights, it's safe to say it conveys the message she's there in an official capacity. She doesn't have to burst out of the car announcing "Do you know who I am?" for that message to come across.

Apparently, the police took it that way because they reportedly later tried to void the tickets they had written for Goore. They also let him drive his unregistered vehicle home on what they thought was his suspended license.

You can investigate this inci dent six ways from Sunday -- and even come up with no wrongdoing -- but you can't escape the obvi ous: Farber exhibited neither common sense nor good judgment.

Nor can you ignore the fact that common sense and good judgment are the most important qualifica tions for an attorney general. She has an entire department of legal experts to keep her up on the letter of the law. Her job is to apply it in a fair and equitable manner.

Sadly, this isn't just a matter of pesky damage control for one isolated incident. Farber's own history of flouting the law is the very reason she isn't sitting on the state Supreme Court today. When former Gov. James McGreevey was poised to nominate her in 2003, it was her driving record (14 traffic violations, resulting in four failure-to- appear bench warrants and three license suspensions) that made him reconsider. The problem has nothing to do with driving skills. The problem is that this many violations suggest the perpetrator thinks the laws were written for other people.

The tragic irony here is that by hanging on, Farber hurts the very people who put her where she is -- specifically Gov. Jon Corzine, who appointed her attorney general, and Sen. Robert Menendez, who publicly boosted her for both the Supreme Court and the attorney general position. If she tries to keep a job for which the public thinks her integrity is compromised, her intractability embarrasses them as well. Why Corzine hasn't asked for her resignation is a mystery. Weeks ago, it was the logical move. It still is. It permits her to save face by ap pearing to take the initiative and allows him to publicly regret her decision.

But however the specific political chess moves play out, the larger issue here is the people of New Jersey. We're now picking up the tab for a costly investigation -- $460 an hour, by one estimate -- that can't possibly change the fact that Farber's authority as attorney general is irrevocably impaired.

Zulima Farber has contributed much to her state, and there are undoubtedly places where a bright, engaged woman can continue to contribute. But the Attorney General's Office is not one of those places. If the public relations consultant Farber hired is worth his salt, he'll persuade her to resign.

Fran Wood is a Star-Ledger columnist. She may be reached at

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Plainfield resident since 1983. Retired as the city's Public Information Officer in 2006; prior to that Community Programs Coordinator for the Plainfield Public Library. Founding member and past president of: Faith, Bricks & Mortar; Residents Supporting Victorian Plainfield; and PCO (the outreach nonprofit of Grace Episcopal Church). Supporter of the Library, Symphony and Historic Society as well as other community groups, and active in Democratic politics.