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Saturday, August 25, 2007
Politics ...

Essex County Prosecutor Paula Dow: A Shakespearean Tragedy? If you are one of the rare few who have followed my blog, you know that I have a professional affiliation with the criminal justice community of northern New Jersey (on the local level, not with the FBI or anything important like that). At any rate, I know some people who are “wired in” to the Essex County Prosecutor’s Office. That Office is now getting a lot of attention for its role in the investigation and prosecution of the gang of Central American immigrants who murdered three college students in Newark (some of the perps were illegal residents). The Prosecutor, Paula Dow, is currently the only female County Prosecutor in New Jersey, and is just the second African American female Prosecutor from that great state. You would think that the press and the local minority community would give her a break. But no dice. When crime is as much of a threat as it is in Essex County, political correctness and ethnic loyalty are jettisoned very quickly. People want results.

Are they getting results from Prosecutor Dow? From what I hear, she’s doing about as well as anyone else could given what she has to work with — which I hear is not exactly first rate. The Essex Office did finally get a good crime scene unit earlier this year. But in general, their operation is underfunded and their staff is often uninspired. Dow is doing what she can, so I hear, but she inherited a lot of dead wood surviving under government labor protection. She brought in some new blood at the top levels, but mostly left the old establishment intact. So nothing too much changed, and the new blood has given up trying to change things. Even Dow seems afraid to take them on; e.g., the lowest rank supervisors (most of whom who never do any field investigation work) continue to get County cars and free gas to commute to work with, an old practice that all of the other County agencies pulled the plug on because of tight budgets.

Dow came from the U.S. Attorney’s Office, where the standards are a bit higher than on the county and municipal level. From what I’ve heard, she is trying to maintain her own personal integrity; she refuses to get involved with the petty corruption and favor mongering that is embedded within the day-to-day workings of Essex County government. She encourages her underlings to maintain their ethics as well (some listen, many don’t). That sounds just wonderful, but it may also be her Achilles heel. She supposedly avoids the politicos and hardly talks with her County Executive, Joe DiVicenzio, a smart and savvy political operator (he’s a guy with a flair for making the old political machine look to the public like a reformist campaign). She basically doesn’t have any friends amidst the mayors, state senators, state assemblymen, county freeholders and other assorted wind-bags that run northern New Jersey. And Jersey’s Governor, Jon Corzine, has no time for her either. She’s staying clean, but she’s predictably not getting much done either.

When a big nasty case comes up, such as they now have with the college student killings, the press looks for a scapegoat, and Paula Dow is the goat without any friends. So it’s not surprising that the local rag, the Newark Star Ledger, hasn’t been very sympathetic with her. None of the big boys will pick up the phone and call the editorial board to tell them to lay off her, as they do for those who they know. Fox News has also been slamming her, and no one with any political juice is speaking up in her defense. Prosecutor Dow has been set up as a lightening rod for the angst caused by illegal immigration, a crisis that she did not create and is powerless to fix.

So it’s a kind of mini-Shakespeare tragedy going on in Essex County. Paula Dow is trying to remain noble amidst a bunch of machine politicians, and things are falling apart around her for it. She’s bearing the brunt of the public’s outrage, focused by a media establishment that needs to blame someone — preferably someone who can’t really fight back. Prosecutor Dow is trying to fight back alone, and in New Jersey, that’s pretty much a lost cause. Yes, Shakespeare would have loved it.

◊   posted by Jim G @ 8:54 pm      

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