Finding Reality on the Wrong Side of Hudson

Forget Manhattan. Low-rent political scandals, toxic dumps, and Tony Soprano make New Jersey a warts-and-all wonderland

By Ciro Scotti

In one of my favorite New Yorker cartoons, a schlumpy woman stands atop a scenic overlook on the New Jersey side of the Hudson. The skyline of Manhattan rises behind her. On her face is a smug smile and on her shirt are the letters "DKNJ." The caption reads: "Donna Karan's worst nightmare."

But who's laughing now that Joisey is on everyone's lips (especially those belonging to Jersey Girls injected with enough collagen to inflate Ally McBeal into a size 14). In fact, New Yawk seems, well, kind of blah these days compared with the oft-maligned home of the bridge-and-tunnel people. Mayor Rudy Giuliani is a lame duck, and the new U.S. senator, Hillary Clinton, is turning out to be as exciting without Bill as the E Street Band without Bruce.

Take TV. Sure, HBO's Sex and the City is a hot show. But what's really riveting America is the mafioso soap opera The Sopranos. Tony Soprano, a porky, stressed-out mobster whose bailiwick appears to include a stretch of wasteland just across the river from the World Trade Center, has made the Garden State mad cool.


  Of course, there are those who believe The Sopranos is having a negative effect on Jersey's image. Watching Tony and his boys drink, kill, smoke, extort, womanize, eat unhealthily large portions of pasta and meat, hang out at strip clubs, and spend their days with no visible means of self-support might give outsiders the impression that Jersey is populated by a bunch of angst-ridden goons on the take and the make.

KnowwahImean? The kind of place where a U.S. senator might pocket some cake, a Rolex, and a closet full of Italian suits from some immigrant Korean hustler looking for a little help in high places.

The kind of place where, if the senator had to step down, his replacement would be chosen by an acting governor who himself is unable to run for a full term because of allegations about public misconduct.

The kind of place where the heat is on a Supreme Court justice to resign because he allegedly made false statements under oath about his role in racial profiling while he was state attorney general.

But all of that is what makes Jersey so appealing. It may be flawed, but it's real. It may be unrefined, but it's unrepentant. It's the in-your-face state -- and don't you forget it.


  In fact, the biggest embarrassment in Jersey these days is not Senator Robert "The Torch" Torricelli or acting Governor Donald T. DiFrancesco or Supreme Court Justice Peter G. Verniero. It's Christie Whitman, the classy, successful woman governor who gave up her office to take a job as head of the Environmental Protection Agency.

Watching a Jersey Girl with guts turn into an environmental doormat for the toxic Texans in the Bush Administration is more sickening than any stack of corruption charges. It's enough to make Tony Soprano reach for the Tums.

With David Polek in New York

Scotti, senior editor for government and sports business, offers his views every week in A Not-So-Neutral Corner, only for BW Online