Ramapo Reacts: Senator Bob Menendez Indicted

Photo courtesy of United States Senate Wikipedia

New Jersey Democratic Sen. Bob Menendez was indicted by a federal grand jury yesterday on corruption charges for allegedly accepting almost $1 million dollars in gifts from a friend in exchange for political favors. Menendez is accused of receiving free vacations, including luxury jet trips and golf excursions, from wealthy eye doctor Salomon Melgen in exchange for political favors. According to a statement by Justice Department spokesman Peter Carr, the 14 counts Menendez is charged with include false statements, conspiracy and bribery.

"It doesn’t surprise me. I feel like it happens all the time — it just depends on who gets caught. It’s not ethical. It’s frustrating,” Annie Arjarasumpun, senior communications major, said.

Menendez is not the first U.S. senator to face charges – in the nation's history, 11 other senators have been indicted, most on similar charges to Menendez, including conspiracy, bribery and misconduct. Of those 11, six were convicted, although two of those convictions were overturned, and nine had their political careers ended shortly after the scandal.

"This is not how my career is going to end," Menendez said in a press conference yesterday after his indictment was announced. "I have always conducted myself in accordance with the law. I have always stood up for what I believe is right. I fight for issues I believe in, the people I represent and the safety and security of this country every single day. That's who I am and I am proud of what I have accomplished and I am not going anywhere."

In his senatorial career, Menendez, who is the son of Cuban immigrants, has risen to become one of the most highly ranked Hispanic Congress members. He was the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and has been vocal on issues related to Iranian nuclear power and U.S.-Cuba relations. He was a member of the U.S. House of Representatives from 1993 to 2006 and has been a member of the Senate since 2006.

“This isn’t the first politician to be corrupt and unfortunately this is just going to perpetuate some of the stereotypes people have of politicians,” Kevin Hertado, junior international studies major, said about Menendez and his indictment. “I think, if anything, this is detrimental. Also, just in general, the media doesn’t show some of the positive things politicians are doing, so that gives people even more of a reason not to get involved in politics, especially young people who don’t vote because they don’t trust politicians."

Last November's midterm elections had the lowest voter turnout since 1942, with only 36.3 percent of the nation's eligible voters participating. A 2012 survey by the U.S. Census Bureau found that young adults age 18 to 29 were the least likely to vote, with only 45 percent voting, compared to 59.5 percent of 30 to 44-year-olds, 67.9 percent of 45 to 64-year-olds and 72 percent of those 65 and older.

New Jersey's 2014 voter turnout was 30.4 percent, 5.9 percent lower than the national rate. New Jersey's political reputation has been tarnished in recent years, especially by the Fort Lee lane closure scandal, also known as "Bridgegate," in which several New Jersey politicians and staff members connected to Chris Christie's administration allegedly conspired to intentionally jam traffic on the George Washington Bridge.

Junior history major Jenn Zgola believes Menedez's corruption charges will only further damage New Jersey's reputation.

“It’s a bad reflection on Jersey because it’s already has a history of corruption,” she said. “Jersey is just getting back from the Bridgegate scandal and now we have Menendez.”

Additional reporting by Samantha Sproviero