New York

In Chorus for Menendez to Quit, Few Voices From His Own Backyard

Since Senator Robert Menendez of New Jersey was indicted on federal bribery charges last week, the state’s governor, at least a half-dozen members of New Jersey’s congressional delegation and two U.S. senators — all Democrats — have urged him to resign.

On Monday, as Mr. Menendez insisted to reporters that he would not quit, the reaction to the charges against him was muted in his backyard. Calls to several leading Democrats in Hudson County, the political cauldron where his career was forged, went unreturned.

Among those who did not respond to requests for comment on the senator’s present circumstances were the mayor of Union City (a title Mr. Menendez once held); a former congressman who succeeded Mr. Menendez in that position; and the county’s Democratic leader.

One elected official from outside Hudson County who did answer was State Senator Richard J. Codey, a longtime Democratic New Jersey lawmaker and former governor. In an interview, he said that the charges against Mr. Menendez made him “very sad,” but he stopped short of saying he should resign.

Elected officials, Mr. Codey said, are not typically as wealthy as many of those seeking favors from them, and they need to remember why they entered public service.

“You’re dealing with people who have a lot of money,” he said. “It’s their money, not yours. And if you feel differently, you need to get out of politics and make money.”

To David Greenberg, a history professor at Rutgers University who focuses on politics, hesitating to rush to push Mr. Menendez out of office makes sense, in part because Mr. Menendez has previously avoided conviction on federal bribery charges.

“It’s often the case that those who resist public pressure to resign when a scandal breaks are later vindicated” in their decision, Professor Greenberg said.

Without commenting on the charges against Mr. Menendez, Professor Greenberg said that he had a “soft spot” for political figures who were not swayed by “trial by media,” and that Mr. Menendez’s decision not to give up his seat immediately was “entirely reasonable.”

“Right now, at least, it’s all the prosecutors’ spin,” he added, while acknowledging that “at this point it looks grim for him.”

The details in the indictment against Mr. Menendez are damning. He, his wife and three New Jersey businessmen are charged with engaging in a far-reaching corruption scheme involving aid and weapons sales to Egypt, as well as efforts by Mr. Menendez to persuade state and federal prosecutors to go easy on his associates in three criminal cases.

Mr. Menendez, 69, and his wife, prosecutors say, collected hundreds of thousands of dollars in bribes in cash, as well as gold bars and a luxury car. In exchange, according to prosecutors, he used his political influence to help his corrupt benefactors.

At the news conference on Monday where he vowed to continue in office, Mr. Menendez, with about two dozen people he described as “constituents who know me” standing behind him, denied wrongdoing and urged the public “to allow all the facts to be presented.”

He said that envelopes of cash found in a search of his home were legitimate personal savings and that prosecutors had characterized certain facts to make them “as salacious as possible.”

Richard Vezza, a longtime New Jersey newspaperman, covered Union City when Mr. Menendez was an ambitious young protégé of the city’s charismatic political boss William V. Musto.

Mr. Vezza said that he, too, was “sad” about the charges, and that he was also surprised.

“I think he was idealistic,” Mr. Vezza said of the young Mr. Menendez, who broke with his mentor, wearing a bulletproof vest to testify at a federal racketeering trial that ended with Mr. Musto’s conviction.

Paul Moses, who also covered Mr. Menendez in the early years of his political career, said he was having a hard time comprehending how the young man who helped topple Mr. Musto wound up charged with doing “what Bill Musto did” — taking cash payoffs.

“I don’t know how you get from where he was then to what’s alleged now,” Mr. Moses said.

Mr. Menendez, who is up for re-election next year, did not say on Monday whether he planned to run.

“I don’t know where he gets his support if he does,” Mr. Codey said.

Two Democrats have said they plan to run in the party’s primary and are ready to challenge Mr. Menendez should he run as well. One, Representative Andy Kim, announced his intention after the indictment was unsealed.

A contested primary, Professor Greenberg said, is an appropriate method for determining whether Mr. Menendez has the popular support to stay in office.

“This is how democracy is supposed to work,” he said. “If you have a flawed candidate, there is a mechanism for addressing that.”

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