Tobacco

Fly the Flag—Or Else

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New Jersey Democrats may be experiencing a statewide case of buyer's remorse. Before the campaign began in earnest, the party rallied around Woodbridge Mayor Jim McGreevey as their candidate for the 2001 governor's race, elbowing out Sen. Bob Torricelli in the process.

McGreevey's first move as the de facto nominee? He introduced a resolution in Woodbridge mandating that all new businesses in the township fly the American flag. No flag, no business—no questions. "It sends a message to our community and our neighborhoods that we're part of a great nation," McGreevey explained.

Naturally, the proposal elicited hoots of derision from some Woodbridge residents, from state Republicans, and from the American Civil Liberties Union. On January 4, McGreevey, a self-described "flag advocate," showed uncommon resolve for an elected official. As the howls of laughter grew louder, McGreevey restated his position: Fly this symbol of freedom…or else. But later in the day, the flag flap overwhelmed McGreevey. His proposal, you see, had been misinterpreted: The requirement was simply a flag pole, not the American flag.

Alan Westin, a former law professor of McGreevey's, didn't buy the new spin. "You can't take it seriously," he told The New York Times. "I mean, an empty flagpole? Am I allowed to fly the Jolly Roger? Can I fly the American flag upside down as a sign of distress?"

Or perhaps a white flag, for surrender? "After rereading my case notes for Constitutional Law 1," McGreevey said in a January 16 statement, "including the First Amendment of the Bill of Rights, I thought it was perhaps more prudent to foster a sense of community through the encouragement of flying the national flag as opposed to requiring it."

McGreevey, who at one point claimed that politics played "zero" role in his flag proposal, waited just two days before making another non-political proposal, this one aimed at milking money from the state's tobacco settlement to pay for mammograms. "This," he explained, "is an immediate crisis in New Jersey." A more immediate crisis, at least for Democrats, might be the McGreevey campaign.