1. Aaron Burr
He was the original rogue of U.S. politics, the only known politician to be indicted for both murder and treason — and to beat the rap both times. In 1804, Vice President Burr challenged Founding Father Alexander Hamilton to a duel in Weehawken, N.J., over a vague insult. Hamilton apparently didn’t shoot to kill; Burr, however, always played hardball and blasted his foe to death. Just three years later, Newark-born Burr attempted to create a separate empire on the Western frontier, with himself as its Napoleon.
2. Frank Hague
How do you amass a fortune of millions of dollars on a municipal salary of $7,500? Jersey City Mayor Hague knew how. The dictatorial Democrat controlled not only a vast political machine but, by forcing employees to kick back 3 percent of their salaries, became rich as well. Austere and teetotaling, he didn’t even have the saving grace of being colorful as he looted the public treasury from 1917 to 1947. Never did a grand jury dare to look into his finances – after all, as he once proclaimed, “I am the law!”
3. Enoch “Nucky” Johnson
Atlantic City owes much of its reputation as Sin City of the East Coast to roly-poly, fun-loving Nucky, the Republican political boss who made this town wide open for the mob and gambling 50 years before legal casinos came to town. “We have whiskey, wine, women, song and slot machines,” he once said. “The fact they do exist proves to me that the people want them.” The boss played generous host to Al Capone for the mob’s first national “convention” in 1929, a decade before Johnson, like Capone, got nailed for tax evasion.
4. U.S. Radium
For the young women at U.S. Radium’s factory in Orange, N.J., their daily task — painting watch faces with glow-in-the-dark paint — was tedious but well paying. The paintbrushes lost their shape after a few strokes, so the women were instructed to lick them to a fine point. By doing so, they ingested the wonder substance that made the watches glow: radium. Untold dozens died from radiation poisoning, cancer and a new malady called “jaw rot.” Through lies and cover-ups, the company largely avoided any penalty.
5. J. Parnell Thomas
Before there was Joe McCarthy, Thomas the public face of aggressive anti-communism on Capitol Hill — banging away at his gavel and hollering “Are you now, or have you ever been a communist?” at blacklisted Hollywood writers who appeared before his committee. The Republican from Allendale championed himself as an exponent of 100 percent Americanism. True, if corruption is a traditional value. In 1948, he pleaded no contest to padding his payroll with no-show jobs, and went to prison.
6. Hugh Addonizio
“There’s no money in Washington, but you can make a million dollars as mayor of Newark.” It was the explanation Hugh Addonizio gave his friends in 1962 for giving up a comfortable seat in Congress to take the less glamorous job in his home town. In his shameful two terms as mayor, Addonizio sold out his office to the Mafia while taxes chased the working class out of town and the black ghettoes crumbled. After the Newark race riots of 1967 – among America’s worst in a riotous decade – a federal probe firmly linked Addonizio to corruption and sent him to prison.
7. The Abscam crooks
Proving that sometimes the FBI does have a sense of humor, the bureau from 1978 to 1980 operated an elaborate scam in which agents dressed as oil sheiks and offered bribes to politicians while video cameras secretly whirred. Caught in Abscam were a colorful assortment of pols, dominated by New Jersey Democrats: Camden, N.J., Mayor Angelo Errichetti, Rep. Frank Thompson, and U.S. Sen. Harrison Williams. State Sen. Joe Maressa offered the best excuse: “I thought it would be patriotic to get some of the OPEC money and get it back to the United States.”
8. David Friedland
Staring down a prison term for looting the Teamsters pension fund, former state Senator Friedland of Jersey City just wanted to disappear. So that’s what he did in 1985 — faking his death while scuba diving off the Bahamas. It took two years to track him down in the Maldive Islands, where, either from arrogance or stupidity, he had advertised by presence by posing on a postcard.
9. Nicholas Bissell
By the mid-1990s, Somerset County, N.J., Prosecutor Bissell had the reputation as the most hard-nosed of New Jersey’s prosecutors, as well as the one who most intensively sought to gain money through forfeiture of drug assets. In 1996, the public found out why he was after so much of this cash — he used it to gamble in Atlantic City and join racket clubs. Following his conviction for embezzlement, Bissell cut off his electronic monitoring bracelet, fled to Nevada and finally blew his brains out.
10. James McGreevey
New Jersey’s 52nd governor will always be remembered for the five words he spoke at his stunning resignation speech in 2004: “I am a gay American.” But he deserves to be remembered for so much more. Using the code word “Machiavelli,” for instance, to a wire-wearing informer, to allegedly indicate a corrupt land deal was OK. Having as his chief fund-raiser a venal businessman convicted of extortion by making a sex tape of his own brother-in-law. And, of course, admitting that his own marriage was a “contrivance.”