Speaking to a synagogue audience, New Jersey Attorney General Paula Dow vowed to root out the state’s reputation as a hotbed of public corruption.
“We don’t want to be known as the ‘Sopranos’ state anymore,” said Dow, the guest speaker at a May 4 program sponsored by the men’s club and sisterhood of Temple B’nai Abraham in Livingston.
Dow interspersed her talk on civil rights, consumer affairs, and financial scams with personal anecdotes and humor.
But it was serious business when she turned to crime and violence in the Garden State.
Dow said she also intends to be “very aggressive” in prosecuting street gangs and protecting consumers against refinancing and re-mortgaging scams that have been fueled by the recession.
Dow then turned her attention to civil rights, crediting New Jersey as a leader in the fight against discrimination. She pointed to the state’s Law Against Discrimination, currently celebrating its 65th anniversary, as one of the country’s oldest anti-bias legislations. “It is something we can be very proud of,” she said.
She noted that LAD was already in place prior to the Freedom Summer of 1964, when two Jewish civil rights activists, Michael Schwerner and Andrew Goodman, were murdered along with an African-American colleague, James Chaney, as they tried to register black voters in Mississippi.
“I think that horrific event [was] one of many significant events that occurred during those times,” she said. “I saw most of you nodding when I raised these three names. I fail as a mother if my children don’t give the same nod when I mention those three names. They were horrific victims of violence…but they are not forgotten.”
‘Bias still with us’
While the country has made great strides since then, “bias is still with us today,” Dow said, especially in the burgeoning use of the Internet as a platform for racial and religious hatred. These prejudices that permeate the “pernicious” side of the Web have exacerbated the violence, said Dow, who cited an 8 percent increase in the number of bias crimes in 2008, with the majority targeting Jews and African-Americans.
She then startled the audience by revealing that most hate messages posted on the Internet come from school computers.
“We’ve got to keep vigilant in this new wave of technology…to protect those rights and privileges that our forefathers and our forefathers in New Jersey [fought for], that are so precious to us…,” said Dow. “You should expect of me, as attorney general, that I will combat Internet crimes as much as crimes on the street.”
Dow was welcomed by men’s club vice president Steven Delman and introduced by Brandon Minde, an assistant prosecutor in the Essex County Prosecutor’s Office.
Dow reviewed her professional background, which began in 1987 on the civil side in the U.S. Attorney’s Office-Southern District of New York. She then moved over to the criminal side, joining in the U.S. Attorney’s Office-District of New Jersey, where she worked in the Special Prosecutions and Criminal divisions prior to becoming counsel to the U.S. Attorney. She was appointed Essex County prosecutor in 1993. She was nominated by Gov. Christopher Christie to be attorney general, and was confirmed by the State Senate on Feb. 8.
Citing her current position as the “greatest opportunity of a lifetime” up to now, Dow described herself as very committed to public service. “It’s not financially rewarding,” she said to understanding laughter, “but I will tell you the rewards are so great…. It gives you the opportunities to address issues that have far-reaching implications.”