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Corzine cancels Petty Island event

April 23, 2009 4:47:43 PM PDT
Petty Island, the 392 acre landmass, was due to be officially turned over Wednesday to the state of New Jersey, a gift from Citgo Petroleum, Venezuela's state-owned oil company. The invitations had gone out and Governor Jon Corzine was expected to be there, but the event was suddenly cancelled the day before. The governor's office says it was because of "scheduling conflicts," but Democratic insiders say the real reason the governor backed out was concern that Hugo Chavez, the combative president of Venezuela who once called president George W. Bush the devil, might release some kind of video or statement complimenting Corzine.

And Democrats feared Republicans would use that against Corzine in his reelection bid by trying to connect the two.

"I think the comparison would have been delicious to use," State Republican chair Tom Wilson said.

Wilson said Democrats were right to be concerned.

"Hugo Chavez being a socialist who believes that government should run and control everything matching up pretty well with Jon Corzine," Wilson said.

"He's seen as a particularly evil man and a socialist," College of New Jersey political scientist Stuart Koch said.

Because that's how Chavez is viewed, College of New Jersey political scientist Stuart Koch understands why Corzine would want to avoid these comparisons.

"He's not looking for another piece of ammunition for the republicans to use," Koch said.

The governor has dismal approval ratings. A poll out this week shows 53-percent of those surveyed say he shouldn't be reelected. So it's no surprise, Corzine wants to avoid anything that could hurt him politically.

But an environmentalist who was invited to the cancelled event says the Petty Island transfer event was a missed opportunity for the governor.

"Barrack Obama's been getting into trouble on some of the conservative radio shows because he accepted a book. I guess, Corzine was afraid by accepting an island that he may become the next target of the right wing wrath," Jeff Tittel of New Jersey Sierra Club said.

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