17. From Prime Chuck to Dogeza
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213 17 From Prime Chuck to Dogeza The first week of 1996 opened with a monster blizzard that dumped more than two feet of snow in New Jersey. It was so bad that the state’s blood centers issued urgent appeals, saying their supplies were at critically low levels because of the recently ended holiday season, a flu outbreak, and several December snowstorms that had forced them to cancel dozens of blood drives.1 Forecasters warned there could be several more inches on the way. As a result of the storm, the final day of the state legislature’s term was pushed back one day, to January 9. On that day, Governor Whitman’s conditional veto of the Blood Products Relief Act would be overridden by votes in the senate and assembly, or the override would fail, or the bill would not be posted for a vote in one or both of the houses and would die. For it to be revived, backers would have to start the process all over again, in the next term. Before the governor’s veto, the bill had passed the senate by a vote of 38–0, and the state assembly by a vote of 73–1. But Governor Whitman had never been overridden before. The decision about whether to post the bill for override votes was left to the leaders of each house. In the state senate, Donald DiFrancesco, a Republican ally of the governor, would make the call. He was an original sponsor of the senate version of the bill, along with Senator Lynch, who was the strongest legislative voice for the hemophilia community. In the assembly, Speaker Garabed “Chuck” Haytaian was the original sponsor, BLOOD ON THEIR HANDS 214 but he had given up his seat to run, unsuccessfully, against Frank Lautenberg for the U.S. Senate. This would be the final day of Haytaian’s fourteen-year legislative career. He had a new, hundred-thousand-dollarper -year job waiting for him, however—as chairman of the state Republican Party, appointed by Governor Whitman. He was well known as a Whitman loyalist, and she seemed to be sticking by him even though he was embroiled in controversy: A week earlier, a legislative employee had filed suit against him, alleging that Haytaian had sexually harassed her, which he vigorously denied. As a large crowd of anxious hemophilia families watched, the senate considered the bill first, with Senator DiFrancesco calling for the override vote. Thirty-five of the forty senators had slogged through the snow to the senate chambers in Trenton that morning, and a two-thirds majority, or twenty-seven votes, was needed. It was a slam dunk for the hemophilia community: thirty-one senators voted to override, and four abstained. Not a single senator voted with the governor. The bill was then carried by cosponsor Senator Robert Martin, a constitutional scholar at Seton Hall University’s School of Law, to the assembly chamber. There were only twenty minutes remaining in the session. Hemophiliacs and their supporters followed him, filling the gallery to overflowing. There was an air of restrained joy, waiting to explode; after the senate vote, it seemed to most of the audience that surely the override votes were there in the assembly as well. After all, Haytaian had assured Elena Bostick that if DiFrancesco allowed an override vote, he would, too. They had not accounted for the power of backroom politics. Haytaian refused to post the bill, ignoring the pleas of Senator Martin, who watched, dumbfounded. Assemblywoman Loretta Weinberg, a bill cosponsor, stood and asked to speak. Haytaian told her she was out of order and that she should sit down. When she persisted, Haytaian turned off her microphone and gaveled the session closed. Then he left the podium, brushing past reporters and refusing to answer their questions, telling them, “I am now a private citizen.”2 John Sheridan, the former co-chair of Whitman’s transition team, was there in his new role as a Bayer lobbyist. He told reporters that the senate vote was a case of sympathy that had “overridden basic fairness,” in that FROM PRIME CHUCK TO DOGEZA 215 it singled out HIV-infected hemophiliacs for “special treatment that no other group in New Jersey has ever received.”3 The community members and their supporters were stunned and outraged. To them, the fact that a single legislator could deny his colleagues the right to vote was a shocking display of New Jersey power politics...


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