By Mark Lagerkvist
(October 11,2013) For a fleeting minute, the sole debate between Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno and challenger Milly Silva had the potential to be a game-changer.
When Silva was asked about New Jersey's tradition of double-dipping by public officials, she had a golden opportunity to turn Guadagno's worst nightmare turn into a televised reality.
The Democratic contender could have pointed to false statements by Guadagno, as MonmouthCounty sheriff, that allowed her top aide to improperly collect an $85,000 annual pension on top of an $87,500 salary. As a public service, New Jersey Watchdog published a pre-debate primer with links to all documents.
Silva could have prodded Guadagno about the state's hush-hush investigation of the scheme. She could have asked whether Guadagno's boss, Gov. Chris Christie, blundered by not appointing an independent investigator to handle a case implicating his second-in-command.
Or at very least, she could have mentioned prominent double-dippers in the Christie Administration – including deputy chief of staff Lou Goetting ($140,000 salary plus $89,000 state pension) andassociate legal counsel Adam Heck ($110,000 salary plus a $44,000 state disability pension).
Instead, Silva blew her big chance on stage at Kean University in Union Township.
"Pension fraud is something that needs to be ended here in the State of New Jersey," Silva began. Then she suddenly veered off-track in an attempt to praise Buono for reforms that never happened.
Guadagno's response was shameless.
"I agree with this idea 100 percent that we need to continue pension reform..." deadpanned the GOP lieutenant governor. "We can continue to eliminate double-dippers."
Without challenging either response, moderator Luke Margolis of News 12 New Jersey quickly changed the topic. Guadagno was home free, escaping her biggest liability without any political damage. Perhaps Margolis should have asked why neither ticket takes double-dipping seriously.
The remainder of the debate revealed two political lightweights in a pillow fight, content to parrot whatever their running mates said in a gubernatorial debate earlier in the week. The issues were the same – jobs, taxes, same-sex marriage, minimum wage, etc. So were the answers.
The only fresh highlight was Silva's criticism of the post-Sandy "Stronger Than the Storm" television ad campaign that championed Christie in an election year – followed by a response from Guadagno that may raise eyebrows.
"The reality is that the $2 million of federal money that was spent to make sure Gov. Christie was in the commercials is not a wise use of resources," said Silva.
"The face of Sandy, no matter what side of the aisle you're on, was Gov. Christie," replied Guadagno as the audience groaned. "The face of Sandy before the storm was Gov. Christie. The face of Sandyafter the storm was Gov. Christie. And the face of recovery after the storm was Gov. Christie. So I congratulate Gov. Christie for being in those commercials."
So Christie -- a man of many faces, according to his running mate -- was the beneficiary of taxpayer-funded TV commercials during an election year.