Jewish World Review Dec. 6, 2002 / 1 Teves, 5763
Flying high on the public's dime
http://www.NewsAndOpinion.com | 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 privilege."
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 state absorb."
Kneel before him, ye unworthy Jerseyans, and behold the ruler's bountiful generosity!
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.
Massachussetts 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 constiuents: 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 "selflesslessness," 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.
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