Jim Mcgreevey – Interview With New Jersey’s Governor

“It is not the critic who counts: not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles or where the doer of deeds could have done better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly… who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions, who spends himself for a worthy cause; who, at the best. knows, in the end, the triumph of high achievement, and who, at the worst, if he fails, at least he fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who knew neither victory nor defeat.”

-President Roosevelt during a speech at the Sorbonne in 1910

New Jersey’s Governor, James E. McGreevey, is such a man. Devoted to a wide array of honor able causes, he projects the epitome of leader ship and is successfully tackling head-on a multiplicity of issues. A surge of energy surrounds this fast paced individual whose actions are indicative of a future with bright tomorrows. Possessing a certain air that demands immediate attention-all the while charming others with exuberant action and eloquent mannerisms McGreevey is, supercharged.

Born August 6, 1957 in Jersey City, the grandson of a police officer and son of a Marine and nurse, James E. McGreevey became New Jersey’s 51st Governor at the age of 45. He’s married to Dina Matos McGreevey and is the father of two daughters, Morag Veronica, age 9, and Jacqueline Matos, who was born on December 7, 2001. His knowledge stems from earning a law degree from Georgetown University. and a master’s degree in education from Harvard University. Under his leadership, New Jersey shows immense promise. His attention to the importance of legislative issues concerning disability, health care, education and safety, is taking the state by storm. His energy level is as youthful as his appearance.

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Prior to being elected Governor, McGreevey served as Mayor of Woodbridge, since 1992, and led an effort to revitalize Woodbridge’s downtown business district. He designated police officials on the streets, resulting in a decrease in overall crime of nearly 40 percent since 1991. He sponsored and co-sponsored laws that established a budget cap and strict ethical standards for public officials. Another of his creations, “Woodbridge Tech 2000,” installed computers into the classrooms and linked senior citizens to the Internet, enabling them to communicate with family and friends.

Aside from his dedication to fighting for better schools, fiscal responsibility, and the safety and security of New Jersey Citizens, he has also become a strong advocate on health issues, promoting cancer awareness. One of his many goals is to create a web-based reverse registry to assist cancer patients in finding information on clinical trials. Education is a primary concern. According to McGreevey, “The most effective weapon that we have in the battle against cancer is prevention and early detection.”

Under McGreevey’s influence, Trenton, New Jersey will serve as a pilot program in which government and businesses will work in alliance to plan and prepare a public and private response to terrorist’s attacks. A national, non-partisan organization constituting of senior business leaders will exercise their ingenuity and leadership towards national security. Implementing the pilot program will establish New Jersey as a business force.

McGreevey has also helped Pfizer Inc. Chairman and CEO Hank McKinnell and Education Commissioner William Librera, launch the new Pfizer Medical Science Academy. It serves as a model partnership between the state of New Jersey, Pfizer, The Pfizer Foundation and the Morris District. According to McGreevey. “Working with the private sector and the education community can prepare students for careers here in New Jersey while providing them with the skills they need to compete in the global economy. Education is indispensable to com prehend possible encumbrances, and augment cooperation to protect citizens.

He not only works with corporations by creating a bridge between labor and business, but also demonstrates the winsome possibilities with Pfizer by meeting the students’ needs. “The more New Jersey assembles a better education system, the more the economy will benefit and be more effectively prepared to fight attacks. America needs effective public/private partnership to develop a proactive counter terrorism plan,” said McGreevey. “Designed to prevent, prepare for, respond to and recover from potential terrorists’ activities.”

“This country will not be a permanently good place for any of us to live in, unless we make it a reasonably good place for all of us to live in,” quoted President Roosevelt. In his pursuit to make New Jersey a better place to live, McGreevey is ready to fight and not prepared to lose. The battle is staged as McGreevey, alongside Attorney General David Samson and State Treasurer John McCormac, recently filed four lawsuits against corporate defendants including: Qwest Communications Inc., Electronic Data Systems Corporation (EDS), Sears Roebuck and Co. and Tyco International Ltd. The suit seeks to recover colossal losses of $150 million in state pension that allegedly resulted from mis conduct by the four companies and certain corporate officers. McGreevey’s devotion and ability to balance impending issues toward the betterment of society is visible.

“We must hold these corporations accountable and protect the interests of New Jersey taxpayers and pension members,” said McGreevey.

Governor McGreevey served in the State Assembly from 1990 to 1991 and in the State Senate from 1994 to 1997. During his tenure in the legislature, he established a state law requiring insurers to pay for mammograms.

Even as mayor, his contributions in health care were acknowledged and commended by President Clinton. High quality leadership and dedication merited him a position on the National Cancer Advisory Board in 1998. He has also served as Chair of the United States Conference of Mayors Subcommittee on Health Insurance and as Vice President of the New Jersey Conference of Mayors. In addition to his experience as a state legislator, he’s also been as Assistant County Prosecutor and State Parole Board Director.

It’s quite relieving to see such an important figure connect with the people and actually feel their pain and target their needs. He walked 250 miles throughout the state of New Jersey and interacted with moms, seniors and young families, discussing the dire necessity for cancer research and protocols. He also tore down the mayor’s building and made it accessible for people with disabilities.

Chet Cooper, ABILITY Magazine’s Editor-in-Chief, recently sat down with Governor James McGreevey at the capital building in Trenton, New Jersey.

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Chet Cooper: There are many remarkable events, research facilities and programs coming from New Jersey. How did you become involved with the Christopher Reeve Paralysis Center?

Governor James McGreevey: Christopher Reeve brought to the forefront many challenges a person with paralysis or spinal cord injury faces-particularly in Neuroscience. We have previously worked with Dr. Dennis Choi who is Executive Vice President of Neuroscience for Merck Research Laboratories and particularly Dr. Wise Young who is Director of the W.M. Keck Center for Collaborative Neuroscience at Rutgers University. Understanding the number of adults and children who face paralysis, our goal was to combine the educational services of the Christopher Reeve Paralysis Center’s program with the New Jersey Commission on Spinal Cord Research to provide a greater degree of collaboration. The commission focuses on accelerating research to develop effective interventions and work with paralysis-particularly focusing on the consequences of spinal cord injury and disease. We’ve developed this collaborative approach between the W.M. Keck Center for Collaborative Neuroscience at Rutgers University, Christopher Reeve’s paralysis educational initiatives and the New Jersey Commission on Spinal Cord Research to coordinate academic research, university and private sector research, and educational programs to provide access to spinal cored injury and disease.

CC: Had you met Christopher Reeve prior to the collaboration?

GM: Yes. He and his wife are a visible testament to courage. I found heartening his willingness to provide for an educational resource that provides access not only on-line but also for families throughout the tri-state area. I had the honor of being at the dedication of his center in New Jersey. Much of the basic research is per formed in New Jersey, particularly at the Keck Center for Collaborative Neuroscience at Rutgers, but the goal is to hopefully provide clinical trials in New Jersey hospitals, thereby accessing clinical information and effective interventions. The goal was to bring the Reeve Center as an educational initiative, and Rutgers University, Merck & Co. and the New Jersey Commission as a collaborative partnership.

CC Now that New Jersey has established itself as a leader in spinal cord injury and disease research is New Jersey now focusing on cancer research?

GM: Yes, but first we must understand the scourge of cancer: 41,000 new cases of cancer will be diagnosed in New Jersey this year-of which 18,000 New Jersey-ians will die from cancer this year, New Jersey has the sixth highest incidence of Breast Cancer in the nation and ranks fourth national for males with Colorectal Cancer and eleventh for females. We must understand that cancer is something many New Jersey and American families face.

I was previously appointed to the National Cancer Advisory board which oversees the National Cancer Institute. One begins to understand that it was president Richard Nixon who first declared the war on cancer and made known the importance of providing information, access to the most recent protocols and a reverse registry to families. New Jersey is providing $20 million to the Cancer Institute of New Jersey. One goal is to create a web-based reverse registry for clinical trials providing information to cancer patients so they can enter their vital statistics to match at a cancer center, pharmaceutical or biotechnology companies. We’re also working with epidemiologists and geographers to try and identify wherever we think there is a potential nexus or relationship between an above average incidence of cancer.

CC: A cancer cluster?

GM: Exactly. We want to identify contributing environ mental factors. That’s why we’re also spending money on what we call “Cancer Cluster SWAT teams”-like a suspected cancer cluster in Tom’s River. This will enable us to assign-a team of epidemiologists and geographers to investigate higher than average epidemiological rate of cancer. Another goal of the reverse registry it to provide patients with the latest information about best protocols, practices and treatments in the battle against cancer. We’re taking a comprehensive approach towards battling cancer and enabling patients to have the latest and best information to empower themselves if they want to take the next step.

Before the campaign, I did this crazy walk throughout the state of New Jersey from High Point New Jersey. Sussex County to Cape May Lighthouse; well over 250 miles. Single moms, seniors and young families told me of their battle against cancer and the difficulty they had in accessing information, the most recent research and upstate protocols. The goal is to provide access to the scientific information regarding the best immediate practices to families who are grappling with the challenges of cancer.

CC: Will the internet be used as one of the main resources?

GM: Yes, absolutely. The reverse tumor registry will enable patients to search for clinical trials that are being performed in their area. They have the ability to submit their vital statistics with a potential matching cancer center or a pharmaceutical biotechnology company.

CC: Are you taking measures to bridge the digital divide for people trying to access this information?

GM: Sure. Again, our goal is to push our information as aggressively as possible. We’ll work with community based health care organizations to provide this information, particularly through community groups: churches, community organizations, community centers and American Legions.

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CC: What you’re doing is great and can truly become a national model. Do you think what you are accomplishing in New Jersey will impact a vast number of people?

GM: Oh certainly. We need to understand that the national cost of cancer averages about $105 billion dol lars along with the loss of productivity, medical care and mortality. The most effective weapon that we have in the battle against cancer is prevention and early detection. Raising the visibility in New Jersey in the war against cancer, but also providing information about the best practices and recent scientific information..

CC: On the medical front, what other areas do you see New Jersey expanding in?

GM: Right now, particularly in cancer we are looking at surveillance prevention and treatment to disseminate research funds and treatment developments throughout the community. It is our goal to ensure that families throughout New Jersey have access to the best of the information.

CC: Will that website be available to everyone?

GM: Yes, which is important. It is currently being designed by the Cancer Institute of New Jersey with the Robert Wood Johnson University, a medical center in New Jersey.

CC: Will the website be funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation?

GM: We’ll receive funding both from the federal government, the National Cancer Advisory Board and the private sector who views this as a win-win situation. It’s a win particularly for the families, but the website will also attract or educate more people regarding the battle against cancer.

CC: What companies are included in the private sector?

GM: The private sector includes certain pharmaceutical companies who understand the importance of clinical trials and making families aware of potential therapies such as Johnson & Johnson, Merck & Co and Pfizer.

CC: New Jersey seems to have developed quite a number of pharmaceutical companies..

GM: Definitely. New Jersey is considered “America’s Medicine Chest.” It has the largest concentration of research scientists and engineers in the nation, per capita. Also, the leading pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies are located in New Jersey. By understanding the importance of providing a connection between the wonderful research at public and private universities. the care being provided for community based hospitals, as well as cancer treatment centers providing education on a grass roots level, we’re bringing the partners to the table to provide the best access and information and most importantly, presenting the public with the most recent scientific advancements.

CC: Speaking of education, you’ve also worked with a program called Career Academies. Can you explain a little about the program?

GM: Career Academies is working to provide our children with the technical skills they need to be competitive in the market place. Twenty-five or fifty years ago could see many individuals who attended vocational education and graduated high school with significant skills, readily find a job opportunity in the market place. It was Dr. Benjamin of Rutgers University that said, “That society, that state, was most educated, the most competitive in the information economy.” We need to provide young people with technical skills so they can compete in the market place. Our goal is to work cooperatively with the business community for young women and men who want to pursue a technical education track. That educational track after high school can continue to a community college and then a four year degree program, but it is that technical education, in many respects, that will ensure a greater competitive ness within the job market. It will also ensure a technically trained work force with the level of education necessary to sustain information based companies and attract new companies to New Jersey.

CC: You are quoted as saying, “The strength of the state of New Jersey is drawn from its diversity,” What work is being done in relation to people with disabilities?

GM: The moral and legal imperative is to provide access, education and opportunities for those con fronting disabilities. New Jersey understands the importance of providing those opportunities particularly for an older adult-for independence within their community to the greatest degree possible. We’ve embarked on a number of innovative programs: a ticket to work program that offers people with disabilities the opportunity. to pay a small premium and receive New Jersey Medic aid health coverage: a personal assistance service program that provides non-medical assistance to people with disabilities to work, attend school, be involved in the community or in volunteer activities. Comprehending that the more independent they become, there is a greater opportunity to involve themselves in the community at large. Also, we’re part of a national research project to enroll New Jersey Medicaid recipients and allow them to direct their own personal care assistance services as an alternative to accepting services that are performed by an agency. The goal is to have as many ways as possible to encourage independence and bolster full access to a wide array of community benefits for people with disabilities.

CC: Are they able to choose their own health care provider?

GM: Well, regarding personal assistance, yes. This is separate too, it is non-medical assistance.

CC: Certain financial benefits won’t distract from their health care coverage?

GM: Exactly. That’s the goal, which is critically important to promote a greater degree of independence.

CC: In the last issue of ABILITY, we featured Atlantic City’s Universal Design Demonstration Home, which was built by the CRDA (Casino Reinvestment Development Authority) in conjunction with the AARP. Are there any other projects coming from the CRDA that you can speak of?

GM: The CRDA, in partnership with the September 11, AARP, is doing a number of things. Literally, the annual budget is $300 million dollars. They invest revenues in economic development projects which includes rehabilitation of housing and new construction. Much of it is for families with young children, the elderly or people with disabilities; such as the Design Demonstration Home or the senior pavilion. The Demonstration Home will house Gilda’s Club South Jersey Community Facility for Cancer Support Services. They are providing benefits to families in need; that’s part of its mission’s charge.

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All of America will confront a disability at some point in our lives. The importance as a nation, as a community, or as a state is to understand the need to empower individuals who confront a disability. The beauty of ABILITY’s mission is to understand the strength of that proposition. It is in empowering the ability. For many years we’ve focused on the prefix, the “dis” of disability, which is only a small portion of the individual. As Governor, to understand the overwhelming power of the talent, the ability, the artistry, and the imagination of the community necessitates one to be about ability, not merely disability.

As Mayor of Woodbridge we leveled town hall because people using wheelchairs couldn’t even climb to the first floor. We just opened it up. It’s a different way of thinking, but we must understand that we will all be confronting that point, whether as a product of age. illness or accident. The goal is to increase everyone’s ability to contribute to think differently, openly, to engage everyone in the community, and be part of the community. It’s fundamentally about inclusion, about accessibility. Not just accessibility physically-but psychologically; accessibility to make a contribution to the community. The barriers serve no purpose. I need the contribution of every individual to make New Jersey a better community, to make it a better way of life. We don’t have the luxury of excluding people based on these arbitrary standards. That’s why this is so important to me. Not only as a matter of program allocation or cold budgetary dollars, but as a matter of building a community. It goes to the foundation of what we are as a community, as a people.

CC: You could not be more accurate. This isn’t just a state issue either. You could replace New Jersey with The United States of America and the same would hold true as well. We can’t exclude anyone.

GM: I happen to be a Democrat, but this isn’t a Republican or Democratic issue. This isn’t a partisan issue. In fact, when George Bush was president, he signed the American with Disabilities Act, but now it is us who need to be committed to it. This needs to be a fundamental moral commitment.

forward by Lourdes Hernandez

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