How You Can Start and Operate a Soup Kitchen

Mission Possible: How You Can Start and Operate a Soup Kitchen

Thoughts on N.J.'s political leader

The state of politics in New Jersey is appalling.

We have a sitting US Senator who thinks it's okay to take in almost $1,000,000 in luxury gifts and campaign donations from a friend on whose behalf he intervened on various occasions with government agencies.

We have a Governor who created the political culture in which two senior members of his administration thought it was acceptable to cause a traffic jam in Fort Lee because that city's Mayor had the audacity not to endorse his re-election effort.

Our Governor's appointment to head the Port Authority felt it was okay to insist that United Airlines provide a "chairman's flight" from Newark to Columbia, South Carolina to facilitate trips to his estate in Aiken, South Carolina.

Jamie Fox, a very highly-regarded former state cabinet official turned lobbyist, felt it was okay to urge his client, United Airlines, to accommodate the Port Authority Chair's desire for a regular nonstop service to his summer home.

Our legislature and Governor continue to lack the political courage to address our state's public employee pension crisis, which if not addressed will wreck economic havoc on thousands of our state's residents.

Finally, we live in a state in which Democratic political bosses, to a large extent, hijacked the nominating process and pre-selected Phil Murphy to be our state's next Governor. It should be noted that Mercer County's Democratic gubernatorial selection process was exemplary.

New Jersey's citizens need to send a message to the political leaders of both parties that they are fed up with our state's self-serving politics that panders to wealthy candidates and where political malfeasance is the norm rather the exception. It has become far too commonplace to read about politicians, at all levels, who got caught with their hands in the cookie jar. And that's just the tip of the iceberg as William Schluter points out in his recent book Soft Corruption. Schluter presents hundreds of examples relating to campaign finance, lobby, conflict of interest, patronage and the electoral process where "public officials game the system in ways that enrich them and their cronies without breaking the law." He terms this soft corruption which he defines as "unethical [legal] transgressions carried out in the quest for political power or personal benefit, achieving results that work against the public interest."

New Jersey residents need to realize that something must be done to change the gestalt of our state's politics. We probably will never know for sure whether Governor Christie gave his tacit approval to Bridgegate. However, what David Wildstein, Bridgett Anne Kelly and Bill Baroni did was fostered by the culture established by their boss - in which extracting political revenge was not seen as anathema to their boss. U.S. District Judge Susan Wigenton got it right in her comments to Kelly's at her sentencing when she said she "got caught up in a culture and environment that lost its way."

Our nation's founding fathers envision a citizen-politician concept where our leaders would come from citizens who took a leave from their jobs and lives and lend their experience to government and then returning to their private lives. Such a system would periodically infuse fresh flowing clean water in what otherwise is a stagnant pond.

We needs a new generation of political leaders, who have demonstrated a commitment to the highest ethical standards and who have shown that they can get things done. The current recruitment processes of both political parties are far too narrow - they need to cast a much broader recruitment net and implement more inclusive nominating and electoral processes that encourage woman and minorities to run for public office. Business has come to learn that relying solely on the traditional hiring criteria of age, gender; race and even experience do not guarantee job success. While experience is important - many years of mediocre service on town council is not a credential for higher office. Did the local official show creativity, a commitment to hard work, strong ethical standards and demonstrate the ability to work in collaboratively, not strictly in partisan manner?

I see these kinds of smart principled people in my work with nonprofit organizations. Partnerships are the norm rather than the exception. The majority of these leaders are woman who have gravitated to the nonprofit sector because of their desire to bring about change, their concerns for the least among us and the historic less discriminatory hiring practices of the charitable sector.

Leaders in the nonprofit sector are used to doing more with less, a valuable skill which will become increasingly relevant as government at all levels, reduces its commitment to providing health and human care services. One of the ways that nonprofit leaders are achieving remarkable results with less financial resources is through true collaborations in which folks do not get hung up with who gets the credit or who has the power.

It is time for some of these dynamic leaders from the nonprofit sector, to get their hands dirty, and make the switch from the charitable to the political sector. New Jersey needs an infusion of talented outsiders who see public serve as truly noble calling.