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The Deal He Made

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It is one thing for Corzine to view Torricelli within a political context as “the oracle,” as one veteran pol put it, but people who know Corzine well believe that the relationship went much deeper. “There’s a whole group of us who believe that when Jon developed his relationship with Torricelli, he began to live some sort of lifestyle that resulted in the breakup of his marriage,” says someone close to Corzine and his ex-wife.

Corzine and Joanne, who’d met in kindergarten and were married for 33 years, split up early in 2002. She issued a blistering statement claiming that politics had “had a noxious effect” on their marriage.

“I still believe in family values, loyalty, and fair play,” the statement, which clearly blamed his conduct for their divorce, went on. “I had no desire to seek a separation from my husband or jeopardize the vows of my marriage, either before he was elected to the Senate or afterward . . . We had grown up together and, I felt, shared the same value system.”

Corzine has never discussed the breakup except in a statement issued when they separated: “While I remain deeply committed to my family, I accept my responsibility for this decision.”

Corzine had a two-year affair with a woman named Carla Katz. What makes this relationship of public interest is that Katz, a cagey political operator, is president of the Communications Workers of America Local 1034, a union that represents nearly half of all New Jersey state employees.

A few people close to Corzine believe that Torricelli engineered the coupling. “Katz was told where to be and when to be there,” one of them told me. “I think Torricelli wanted to control Jon. In order to do that, he had to bring him down to his level. He had to bring him into his political world, and Carla Katz was a key part of that world.”

But whether the former senator played matchmaker is only part of the issue. Two weeks ago, the union endorsed Corzine for governor. No surprise there. But in a somewhat bizarre public display given their romantic history, Katz introduced Corzine at the rally in a very personal kind of way, telling an anecdote about the first time they met. (She said she was expecting Gordon Gekko, and instead, “I found myself shaking the hand of a slightly rumpled, bearded guy.”)

“Jon is like your uncle,” says a friend. “If your uncle happens to be brilliant, intensely ambitious, and very rich.”

This episode opened the door for at least one Jersey newspaper, the Bergen Record, to mention their relationship in print for the first time. Up until then, none of the papers had reported on the Corzine-Katz coupling. And it put Corzine and Katz in the position of having to face reporters’ questions about their relationship. Both refused to talk about their personal lives.

Though their relationship has been over for a while, the fact remains that one of the most important issues the next governor will have to deal with is getting the salaries and benefits of state workers under control. “No matter who the next governor is,” one insider says, “he has no hope of success if he can’t fix the state’s financial problems.”

Corzine grew up on a farm in southern Illinois in a place called Willey’s Station. It was here, watching his parents, and handling his chores before and after school, that he developed his work ethic. Most of what he’s accomplished—from playing basketball at the University of Illinois, where he was a walk-on, to his success at Goldman—has been the triumph of hard work, not just dazzling natural talent.

“My family is pretty comfortably in the mainstream of what I would call the idea of Christian benevolence,” he says, relaxing behind the desk one afternoon in his minimally decorated Senate office in Washington. Haphazardly sitting on the floor, as if he’d just dropped it when he walked in, is his green canvas weekend bag, which he uses when traveling between New Jersey and the capital.

“We were not particularly religious, but I was taught that you have a responsibility to the community you live in. And I think that these kinds of fundamental relationships with society are important to believe in and practice.”

Corzine was raised a Republican and used to hear his father rail against the government. “I would never have said it to him, but in my mind I used to think, ‘What the hell are you talking about? What about the rural-electrification program and the price supports for farms?’ Right from the start, I saw government being a huge help and support in people’s lives.”

When his draft number came up, he enrolled in the Marine Reserves and eventually got an M.B.A. from the University of Chicago. He started his business career in the futures and options market, because, he says, “I was a University of Chicago graduate who actually knew how to add and subtract and knew what a second derivative of calculus was.”


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