Thirty-five years ago, I received a call to appear as a Republican election night analyst on New Jersey Public Television’s election night program, I was 30 years old. That call started a relationship that spanned over three decades, many co-hosts, eight Governors, eight Senate Presidents, nine Assembly Speakers and many election outcomes.
Back then it was called New Jersey Network (NJN), which later became NJTV. As the only New Jersey-focused public news channel, NJN had garnered a tremendous reputation for its award-winning journalists and coverage of New Jersey news. At that time, I was serving in Governor Thomas Kean’s cabinet and was his former campaign manager. When I began my career, political analysis wasn’t something I gave much thought. But NJN, giving me an opportunity to be featured on its election coverage 35 years ago, has so deeply impacted my life.
In the 80s, NJN’s studios were located in a former bowling alley in Ewing, so it was a quick trip from where I worked in Trenton. When I arrived on set for my first election night, I met NJN political correspondent Michael Aron who would serve as host, and my Democratic counterpart Barbara Boggs Sigmund, the former Mayor of Princeton. Coming from a family with deep political ties, her father was the U.S. House Majority Leader Hale Boggs, who died tragically in an airplane crash; her mother, Lindy Boggs, took his seat in Congress. Barbara was brilliant. Her quick-wit, coupled with her charisma, made her a terrific sparring partner. We spent most of the 1980s serving as analysts together, and even when she was diagnosed with cancer, her ferocious personality did not let it slow her down. Her passing was a sad day for NJN and the residents of New Jersey.
Following Barbara, the torch of Democratic analyst was passed to Jim McQueeny, a former journalist and chief of staff for United States Senator Frank Lautenberg. We didn’t just do election coverage -we’d often do multiple broadcasts a day, covering conventions and gubernatorial speeches and making short, point-counterpoint appearances on the Nightly News. We spent so much time together I really got to know him, which made our time as analysts together some of the best times I’ve had. He is a good friend to this day.
After working with Jim during the 1990s, Rick Thigpen took over to provide analysis. He was co-founding partner of a lobbying firm, like me, so we had a lot in common, making it easy to discuss our political points of view on-air. New Jersey political consultant Julie Roginsky was the last Democratic analyst I consistently worked alongside. Her strong communications skill and political background made her a great partner, and it was no surprise she went on to serve as a political contributor for Fox News.
Even as my Democratic counterparts have changed throughout my 35 years on public television, my philosophy regarding political commentary and on-air relationships has not. Too often, we turn on the television for political analysis, whether it is presidential or gubernatorial or any other office, and have to listen to people argue and talk over each other. It not only makes for poor television, but it’s rude. In my view, the most important part of being a worthy analyst is having respect for other people’s opinions and learning to disagree agreeably.
When I taught political science at Rutgers, I used to preach to my students the importance of civility and respect with regard to political discourse. Barbara, Jim, Rick, Julie, and the rest of the Democrats I’ve had the privilege of sharing the studio with have very different opinions from mine, but that doesn’t mean their opinions are invalid. I had respect for their views as they had respect for mine.
My goal has always been to serve as a voice of reason during the commentaries, drawing inspiration from my mentors former Governor Thomas Kean, the late Congresswoman Millicent Fenwick, and the late New Jersey Senate President Ray Bateman. Considered moderates, they always did what they thought was best for New Jersey and the public, regardless of pressures from Republican or Democratic parties. Rather than an attack dog style approach to political life, they aimed to lessen the divide between parties to accomplish what’s best for the public.
The same approach should be utilized in political commentary. My job is to provide honest analysis, not to be a spin doctor who tries to push Republican ideology on viewers. Throughout the years, I’ve received pressure from Republican friends to help them get a leg up, but there’s no integrity to that. If someone has a good point that I agree with, I will speak to that point, but I will not fabricate information for viewers.
One of the best parts about being a political commentator for 35 years is I have gained great perspective into the political climate in New Jersey, and I do my best to relate past events to present day. I’ve always been a history buff because if you don’t remember the past, you are doomed to repeat it. If you have the knowledge to understand what took place, why it took place, and how it affected people’s lives, you are more informed and able to make better decisions.
The times I have shared with the Democratic analysts and the viewers, talking about what has become New Jersey political history, have shaped who I am as much as the various positions I held when serving in government. As I prepare for my 35th year covering the gubernatorial election night, I’d like to say thank you to all those who have been a part of the journey. In particular, long-time NJN News Anchor, Kent Manahan, an Emmy-award recipient; Michael Aron, an excellent journalist; more recently, Mary Alice Williams, currently the anchor of NJTV News, an Emmy award winner herself; and Michael Hill, reporter and co-anchor. Also, the wonderful producers and crew who make it all happen. I am so grateful for the time I’ve spent working with New Jersey Network and NJTV, and I hope to have the honor of being featured on your election coverage for many more years to come.