December 18, 2005


Being single puts New Jersey's incoming governor in spotlight

A story published today in the Herald News reports that Jon Corzine, New Jersey's incoming governor, is planning to escort his girlfriend, a New Yorker named Sharon Elghanayan, to the inaugural ball in January. As for his social calendar during the next four years, well, it could get tricky.

Guests are expected to have dates for formal dinners and receptions. But Corzine doesn't have to bring one.

"People don't always have to be paired off boy-girl, boy-girl," says Peggy Post, the renowned etiquette-book writer. "He could go singly, take a date, take a friend."

Guests can stay at his apartment in Hoboken, or the governor's residences in Princeton and Island Beach State Park. But the next day, they're likely to be the talk of Trenton.

"We have the coconut wireless here," says Lenny Klompus, a spokesman for the governor of Hawaii, who is unmarried. "I could say something in my office and five minutes later, everyone across the island would know it. Everybody knows everything."

Somehow, Corzine and Elghanayan managed to keep their 13-month romance a secret during his campaign, and with the exception of one newspaper interview this month, Corzine has said the matter is private. His staff said neither was available to comment for this article.

Elghanayan, 60, a native of Newark, has been married twice. Last year, she split with her second husband, real estate developer K. Thomas Elghanayan, with whom she has two grown children. The two were paired up by mutual friends after each went through a divorce.

Oh, for the simpler days of Robert B. Meyner, New Jersey's most recent bachelor governor. He was at a political function at Oberlin College when he met Helen Day Stevenson, a cousin to Adlai Stevenson and daughter of the school's president.

"I was ironing and listening to the radio when I heard that the governor of New Jersey had a new girlfriend named Helen Stevenson," her sister, Priscilla Stevenson Hunt, recalled in a phone interview. "I nearly flipped!"

The couple courted long-distance, then married in 1957 and took up residence at Morven, the governor's mansion at the time. A trove of their personal papers on file at Lafayette College, Meyner's alma mater, includes photos of his bachelor party, their wedding and the couple's trips.

"She was never one to dislike publicity," Priscilla Hunt said. "But people weren't hounding them morning, noon and night."

It's been a different story for Corzine, the Democrat and former CEO of Goldman Sachs whose estimated worth is as much as $261 million. He was married when elected in 2000 to the U.S. Senate, where he ranked among the richest lawmakers. But he and Joanne Corzine divorced in 2003 after 33 years together.

For the next several months, gossip columns identified Carla Katz, president of New Jersey's largest public employees union, as Corzine's "gal pal." During the gubernatorial campaign, he won the endorsement of Katz's union - and reporters found that in 2002, Corzine had given her $470,000 to buy her estranged husband's share of their Hunterdon County home.

Critics called their relationship a conflict of interest. But Katz and Corzine said they had split last year and insisted they could negotiate union labor contracts in good faith. The media, however, wouldn't let up, reporting that Katz and Corzine occupied units in the same Hoboken apartment building. Newspapers ran a photo of the couple dancing at a charity benefit, and reporters continue to note whenever Katz appears at a Corzine function, including his victory party on Election Day and a speech at the State House a few days later.

"It's no different than it is with celebrities in Hollywood," said Susan MacManus, a South Florida University political scientist who has studied the increasing number of unmarried candidates for public office. "There's no privacy. There's no going back."

Three states have single governors: Janet Napolitano of Arizona, who has not married; Ruth Ann Minner of Delaware, who is widowed; and Linda Lingle of Hawaii, who is divorced.

Napolitano had a rough time during her campaign in 2002, when she held a news conference to deny rumors that she was a lesbian. Aides to the other single governors say their bosses are nimble when it comes to handling social events.

Minner attends functions either alone or with an adult son or other family member, according to her spokeswoman, Kate Bailey.

In Hawaii, Lingle is known for inviting Cabinet members - men and women - to be her guest. Last year she brought her spokesman to a dinner at the White House.

"You're sitting having dinner and Natalie Cole is singing in the East Room and Arnold Schwarzenegger and Maria Shriver are sitting next to you," Klompus said. "Call me crazy, but that's kind of nice."

Yet it's clear that some would rather see elected officials either hitched or involved in a romance a la "The American President."

In 2001, The New York Post noted that divorced Mayor Michael Bloomberg was "surfing the dating wave" and suggested he hook up with available women described in turn as "great at cocktail parties," "a master media manipulator" and "intellectually challenging." Alas, he stuck by his girlfriend, Diana Taylor.

Also that year, his predecessor, Rudolph Giuliani, criticized the media for scrutinizing the reasons behind his divorce, including his infidelity. His personal problems did not affect New Yorkers, he said, and they did not detract from his official duties.

"You're relentless," he scolded reporters. "Virtually, people can't go to the bathroom without being covered."

Post, the etiquette expert, said Corzine had better be prepared to be "watched under a microscope." And she had some advice for Elghanayan - or anyone who accompanies Corzine in public.

"You have to have a very confident demeanor about you and not be intimidated by all the fanfare," she said. "I think the less said, probably the better for everyone. Things can get so misconstrued."