Another public servant has been infected with an acute case of
helicopteritis. You know: Flights for me, but not for thee. Traffic jams for
the masses, from which government officials get free passes.
King James McGreevey, otherwise known as New Jersey's Democrat
Governor James McGreevey, is still flying blind after his bout with the
illness. Even after Gannett New Jersey reporters exposed McGreevey's
addiction to state-owned choppers for private trips, his royal highness
McGreevey continues to ignore public outrage and claim "executive
Don't they all?
According to Gannett's review of state documents obtained after
a public records request, McGreevey commandeered taxpayer-funded birds 272
times during his first 10 months in office. He avoided notorious Jersey
traffic congestion and took to the friendly skies almost daily in the months
of September, October, and early November 2002. Fourteen of the helicopter
trips were non-government-related, at a cost of $1,200 an hour.
Other than a Sept. 22 flight for a lawmaker's wedding, McGreevey
refuses to divulge the nature of the private flights he took on the public's
dime during a burgeoning state budget crisis. The trips to places including
Newark, Woodbridge and New York, "are pertinent to his functions as governor
but remain as part of a private schedule that governors are entitled to,"
McGreevey spokesman Kevin Davitt explained. The Democratic State Committee
of New Jersey announced it would reimburse the state $18,200 for the 14
flights -- on top of nearly $70,000 it is also shelling out to cover the
costs of a trade junket McGreevey took to Ireland earlier this summer with
his wife and 10 state employees.
The "party of the people" remains defiantly unapologetic about
hiding McGreevey's itinerary and concealing why exactly he couldn't just
suck it up and get on the road like everyone else. Instead, Democrat leaders
insist that taxpayers be grateful to HRH McGreevey for trying to cover up
his tracks by getting his party to foot the travel bill. Democrat spokesman
Richard McGrath extolled McGreevey's "selflessness" and praised him for
"going the extra mile with expenses that most others would have had the
Kneel before him, ye unworthy Jerseyans, and behold the ruler's
McGreevey's case stands out in its brazen contempt for
taxpayers, but helicopteritis has spread across both parties over the years:
Maryland Gov.-elect Bob Ehrlich is now caught in a somewhat
similar, but less egregious, tizzy over private executive helicopter use for
campaign trips and a personal vacation -- funded partly by a GOP donor and
disclosed belatedly to state election officials. (It was an "oversight.")
President Bush the First's Chief of Staff John Sununu used a
White House helicopter to whisk himself off to a rare-stamp convention.
David Watkins, a former Clinton White House official, hopped
aboard a government helicopter to fly to Camp David to play golf.
Massachusetts Governor Jane Swift bypassed Thanksgiving Day
traffic on the state turnpike a few years ago and hitched a ride on a police
helicopter to get home for the holiday. Swift's excuse for whizzing over the
heads of her less fortunate constituents: Her daughter was sick.
And my personal favorite: Carl Covitz, a former California
secretary of business, transportation and housing, piled his family into a
state helicopter to view a Gulf War veterans parade from above. His
rationalization? He was "studying traffic patterns." Of what: parade floats
and marching bands?
These petty abuses are symptoms of a much more serious disease.
It's high altitude political edema. Flying high above the unwashed masses,
breathing the rarefied air of the self-anointed, the minds and egos of
government officials swell rapidly in the absence of the oxygen of everyday
life. King James McGreevey and his ilk absorb the perks of power, demand
gratitude for their "selflessness," move on to grander theft, and then send
their jesters out to stifle the few grumbling serfs who grasp that the
powerful, once elevated, will do anything to keep their feet off the ground
and keep reaching for our pockets.