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N.J. politicos: McGreevey might have shot if he returned to politics

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New York City's 2013 election is shaping up to be something of a redemption-fest, as Anthony Weiner and Eliot Spitzer seek to return to politics after being chased from office by after-hours antics involving Twitter photos and prostitutes, respectively.

New Jersey, too, has had its share of troubled politicians. One of the best-known examples is Jim McGreevey, who resigned as governor in 2004 after admitting he had extramarital affair and was facing the threat of a sexual harassment lawsuit from an employee who had received top jobs from McGreevey in his administration.

McGreevey has since made a name for himself for his work with a prison ministry, and his role in a documentary about that work.

The former governor has said in interviews — including one this week with PolitickerNJ — that he has no interest in returning to politics. But some Trenton politicos say he might have a shot at success if he changed his mind.

Assemblyman Jon Bramnick (R-Westfield) said Weiner is the latest example of a changed political landscape, in which one-time scandals don't hamper a person's career forever.

"What's happening today is the media wants the story of the day and everything people have done in the past appears to be old news," he said.

In such a world, Bramnick said, "anybody can come back."

Besides, Bramnick said, in the past, it was much easier to hide bad behavior. In the Internet age, that's much more difficult for politicians and members of the public alike. That means members of the public can identify with troubled politicians.

"Somebody gets caught and the problem is the voters think, you know something, I'm probably guilty of something, too," he said.

Michael Turner, a lobbyist at Burton Trent Public Affairs, said McGreevey's biggest problems weren't about his sexuality, but about ethical issues within his administration.

Still, he said, McGreevey could win, if he chose the right race.

"It depends on the circumstances of the election," he said. "Without a viable alternative candidate, he could certainly win statewide."

Turner said McGreevey was noted for his political skill and intelligence, traits that could help him if he made a comeback.

Michael Egenton, senior vice president at the New Jersey State Chamber of Commerce, said in many ways, McGreevey's already achieved redemption.

"I have to say he's slowly and surely making a comeback," he said.

Egenton noted McGreevey appeared on a panel of former governors recently in Newark. A few years ago, Egenton said it would have been hard to imagine McGreevey reinventing himself as an elder statesman. He noted the state's most recent governor, Jon Corzine, was not at the event. Corzine has faced allegations of mismanagement after he returned to Wall Street following his term as governor.

But Ben Dworkin, director of the Rebovich Institute for New Jersey Politics at Rider University, said he thinks it's unlikely McGreevey will return.

"From everyone who's spoken to him, he is feeling rewarded and fulfilled in a completely different way in his (ministry) work," Dworkin said. "I seriously doubt he'll have any interest in returning to the New Jersey political electoral jungle."

Reporter Jared Kaltwasser is @JaredKaltwasser on Twitter.

Write to the Editorial Department at editorial@njbiz.com

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