McGreevey's big heart Don't criticize the cash spent on travel. He did that for us.

Posted: December 05, 2002

Why all the fuss about Gov. McGreevey's spending about $70,000 of taxpayers' money on a junket to Ireland?

True, there is a big budget deficit in Trenton. This is no time for our chief executive to be tossing around the state's mad money in a country that is already green.

But let's look on the bright side of our governor's extravagance: He did it for us.

New Jersey's economy needed help. And the governor, who had been on the job for at least six months, needed a free vacation in his ancestral homeland for himself, his wife, eight colleagues and three bodyguards.

The trade mission entourage also included about three dozen corporate executives, politicians and friends who paid their own way. Which means the governor's traveling posse rivaled anything that Sean "P. Diddy" Combs could assemble.

You think promoting New Jersey overseas is easy? Somebody had to go over there and drink that Guinness, sleep in a five-star hotel, and ride in a Mercedes. Somebody had to step up to the plate, at a steak house near Belfast, and spend more than $3,100 on a dinner in the name of better West-West relations.

Ladies and gentlemen, I submit this is exactly the level of selflessness we have come to expect from our elected leaders.

But one expenditure from the governor's trip in July did seem a tad on the high side. He spent one night at the Berkeley Court hotel in Dublin. Total charge to taxpayers: $720. If he slept six hours, that's $2 per minute.

I wondered if there might have been a mistake on the governor's room charge. So I called the Berkeley Court and told the receptionist that I was calling from New Jersey.

In the United States, I added. Had she ever heard of New Jersey?

"Sure, absolutely," she said.

Already you can see the fruits of our governor's hard work.

I was referred to a lass named Alva in the sales office. I asked her if the Berkeley Court is a nice place.

"It's one of the finest hotels in Ireland," Alva said. "It's five-star."

I was hoping you'd say that, Alva, because, well, some folks back in New Jersey are wondering how the governor and the missus managed to spend $720 in one night.

"Perhaps he had some additional room charges," she said helpfully.

Room-service boiled mutton and you, perfect together.

"Or perhaps he used his laptop computer," she said.

It's comforting to know that, no matter how far away the governor is, he still has the awesome power to scold the DMV via e-mail.

I asked Alva if the governor had behaved himself.

"I'm sure he did," she said. "We would have heard."

The hotel manager said a charge of $720 is standard for a luxury suite at the Berkeley Court. He didn't want to give his name.

As for that $3,100 dinner at the steak house, I say the state got its money's worth. The governor and dozens of his closest friends and relatives ate, drank, and sang Irish songs.

Who wouldn't want to visit the Garden State after hearing the Jersey posse belt out a few lusty verses of "It's a long way to Teterboro?"

I know what you skeptics are thinking. The governor cannot show us a single, concrete example that his trip actually benefited New Jersey.

I prefer to think of it like this: The way McGreevey and his entourage spent money, all of Ireland must think New Jersey is the land of milk and honey. That has to attract business.

The state Democratic Party will reimburse taxpayers for the $70,000, and McGreevey said he will cough up $3,100 for the dinner out of his own pocket. And for those who despair that the governor could display such boneheaded wastefulness in his first year in office, I bring you more good news.

I just finished a four-year stint covering Congress. By federal standards, $70,000 of waste is chicken feed. Congress can waste that much money while flossing.

One final bit of encouragement: Usually politicians who make news for taking trips to Ireland are named Kennedy, Reagan or Clinton.

It's natural, in any governor's first term, for people to wonder if he or she has the right blarney for national office. The audacity, the vision, the town-car-sized ego.

After this episode, there must be people all over Washington thinking that McGreevey has potential.

Dave Boyer is editor of the South Jersey Commentary Page.

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