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A First for Everything - Kim Guadagno
03/04/2010 - By Teja Anderson
Photo: McKay Imaging (mckayimaging.com)
Kim Guadagno, New Jersey's First Lieutenant Governor
Juggling not one, not two, but three jobs all at once would be difficult for most people. But add the mounting pressure of a career in the public spotlight under the constant scrutiny of the media and the stress of needing to live up to promises you made (on record) to all the good folks that got you elected to your job in the first place and it’s a wonder that Kim Guadagno manages to stay so calm, cool and collected.
This is one focused and centered woman. Just nine years ago, she gave up her lucrative and prestigious law career as an assistant United States attorney and assistant attorney general, serving as deputy chief of the office’s corruption unit from1990 to 1998 and as deputy director from 1998 to 2000. She made the decision to be a stay-at-home mom just before the birth of her third son with husband and Superior Court Judge Michael Guadagno. However, it was also then that Guadagno began to reinvent herself and gravitate toward a career in politics.
In 2005, Guadango was elected a commissioner in her hometown of Monmouth Beach. Just two years later she was elected Sheriff of Monmouth County, becoming the first woman to serve at that post, a job she left only when chosen as Republican nominee Chris Christie’s running mate during last year’s gubernatorial election. The rest is history and Guadagno is now New Jersey’s first Lieutenant Governor, doing double duty as its Secretary of State, too.
With just over a week at her new job(s), Guadagno took time out from her extremely hectic schedule and met with Living in the Jersey Shore at her office in Trenton. It soon became clear that although she is more than up to the government tasks ahead of her, Guadagno’s most treasured job is still that of mother. That’s evident as she frequently glances at and refers to the framed photos of her children - Kevin (17),Michael (14) and Anderson (9) - and checks her phone each time it buzzes to see if one of them might be trying to reach her. She is also unaware of several errant flecks of glitter on her face which we mothers recognize as remainders from some last minute art project we helped our children with the night before….
LIJS: Let’s start from the beginning; you were born Kimberly Ann McFadden in Iowa…
KG: I was born in Iowa but I only lived there for six months. But between the time I was born until the time I graduated from college I lived in twenty five different places.Michigan, Ohio, Connecticut, Indiana, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, NewY ork...My father managed television stations and in order to move up in the business he had to move up to the next market so he went from one market to the next.
LIJS: Was it difficult moving around so much?
KG: Well, it’s like being an army brat; it was simply the way we lived. My mother would pack up and move us every year or two years, she’s the one going to heaven, I appreciate it all the more now because I have three kids and she had five. Packing up five kids that often and organizing heir lives… it was hard for her. But there was always consistency; consistency of family, consistency of furniture. It didn’t matter where the house was or what the backyard looked like, there was always a core family and literally core furniture you recognized. Right now I couldn’t tell you here I went to elementary school but I know exactly where the kitchen table was and exactly where my mother’s business table was.
LIJS: You were a middle child…
KG: Yes, two older, two younger but I was the oldest girl so no hand-me-downs unless you count a football. We played football because I had two older brothers, also baseball, swimming, diving.We were all very athletic. That was another consistency we had; you could take your sport with you.
LIJS: Give me one trait or characteristic that you got from each parent.
KG: From my mother, thick skin and the ability to pick up and move. From my father, public service and debate.We would sit down at the dinner table and it didn’t matter what the issue of the day was, we would take sides and debate. My mother would say “black” and my dad would say “white” and the debate would begin. He was a debater and she was a fighter. She could give a good punch and she could take a good punch and for the world I live in now you have no idea how well that training serves me…since I became a politician.
LIJS: You got your law degree from American University in Washington D.C.Was that the first time that you lived in a big city?
KG: Yes, and then from there I moved to Brooklyn, NY and lived in Brooklyn Heights but I wouldn’t really consider that a big city. It was close to the court houses in Brooklyn and it was close to the courthouses in Manhattan. I loved it there and I met my husband there.
LIJS: Was it love at first sight?
KG: He was my boss, so of course not! That would be inappropriate…Back in 1988 it wasn’t the taboo it is now, but when I met Mike he was the Deputy Chief in the organized crime division and I was a fresh, wet-behind-the-ears, never tried a case, never been in a courtroom lawyer. We tried my first case together and then a couple years later we started to date.
LIJS: It that how you came to know Monmouth County?
KG: Yes; Mike was born at Riverview Hospital in Red Bank and he lived in Little Silver, Fair Haven and even Colts Neck. His dad had a block company in Matawan, and growing up Mike was the first one in his family to gradate from college and to go to law school. When we were deciding where to move he had already bought a postage stamp-sized parcel of land in Monmouth Beach, on the water. Back in the day when he bought, you couldn’t give away property at the beach because of the flooding and it wasn’t developed - Monmouth Beach was mostly just cottages. Back in 1985 he bought the land and built a little house on it and then we had the opportunity in 1991 when we got married to buy another bit of land next to it and to add on to the house; we really got lucky.What we paid for it back then compared to what it’s worth now, even in this market, is just astounding. We finally finished with all the building and renovations in 1998.
LIJS: You are right on the water there. Do you take advantage of that?
KG: Yes! My husband is a big sailor, my oldest son Kevin is a big sailor, and we are all water people. We have a little boat and a little dock in the back…we love fishing and we love the beach, just love the beach…to learn the wind at age 8, 9, 10 like my kids did, is so important and they don’t even know that they are learning the wind at that age.Me? I couldn’t even tell you which way is windward or leeward or whatever, but they are learning how to live on the water. That’s what we always wanted them to do. Mike loves the water; he wouldn’t live anywhere else. I love living on the water now, too. I got that from Mike.
LIJS: Now, you also got from your husband a fairly difficult last name…did you ever consider keeping your maiden name of McFadden? It’s so much easier to pronounce…
KG: I didn’t take my husband’s last name until two years after we were married and I took it then because of Kevin, my first born.What happened was his babysitter called the U.S.Attorney’s office looking for “Guadagno” and no one knew it was me because I was “McFadden” and she never reached me. The very next day I changed it to Guadagno because if the school or the babysitter or anyone needed to reach me about any of my kids there wouldn’t be a problem. Now everyone has to learn how to pronounce it.And, unless you are Italian; it is not an easy name to say. In fact, I looked at Wikipedia last night because my kids were teasing me that some of the information on there was inaccurate and there it was on Wikipedia spelled out, how to pronounce it (gwah-DAH-nyoh).When I became the Sheriff in Monmouth County and we would have thousands of phone callers because of the foreclosures it took the ladies days to learn how to pronounce it!
LIJS: Let’s talk about that. How was it being a woman in a job traditionally held by men?
KG: There have been 75 sheriffs in Monmouth County; I was the 75th and I was the first woman. But there have been two others in New Jersey: Sheriff Deborah Trout in Hunterdon County and Sheriff Jean Stanfield in Burlington County.What I did was go down and spend a full day with Jean, she had been there for 12 years and had I think 15 officers; I had 650 so it was a little different in that sense, but I met with her and talked with her about the issues that she had had.
LIJS: What advice did she give you?
KG: She said to just ignore it; do the job as well or better than they do and they’ll accept you, and that is exactly what happened in Monmouth County. We reached out to all the local law enforcement officers, we provided them a lot of services, and we provided them with what they needed and they all accepted us across the board.You do have to set an example and I have had this conversation not just with women, but also with African American women in law enforcement. You do have an obligation to recognize that your role just might be a little bit different. Like being the Lt. Governor right now; everybody is watching because nobody knows quite what this is. We are all finding our way and trying to make it a significant and relevant position.
LIJS: What do you intend to be doing from this office?
KG: Well, hopefully I won’t actually be in this office very often. I think the idea is for me to get out, do business development, make sure that we kick start New Jersey Partnership forAction, get out to talk to some of the business people about red tape review and how we canmake these people more likely to stay in New Jersey, come to New Jersey, expand in New Jersey…
LIJS: So, you like to be out from behind the desk. You have said that you actually liked campaigning, being out on the road, going door to door…
KG: I did like it.Meeting the people, not being structured, finding out what really concerns them…the only real way to convince people to vote for you is to give them face time, face contact and I love to do that. It really does keep you grounded, really does keep you connected with the people you are supposed to represent. I loved campaigning. It was fun, it was challenging and the issues were fascinating and now, it’s down to work.
LIJS: How did you stay healthy shaking all those hands, meeting all those people?
KG: Purell®! I have it everywhere, I carry it everywhere, and everybody does. I have three kids, Chris (Christie) has four kids, and we all carry Purell®.
LIJS: The kids all first met at a barbeque at the Christie house. How did that go?
KG: When Chris first asked me to join his team we all went up to his house in Mendham. Mary Pat (Christie’s wife) cooked, the kids swam. The kids wouldn’t leave until finally we were like, it’s 11:30 at night! They are all the same ages… we all play hockey, basketball, we all swim. It’s interesting how well they clicked, how well they all get along.We were all on a bus for days together, everyone playing Wiis® and then getting out and campaigning and getting back on the bus. We have taken them to Jets’ games together...it’s actually perfect; a good family relationship.
LIJS: Christie is a BIG Bruce Springsteen fan. Did you take the kids to see “The Boss” yet?
KG: Well, not the kids, but I did go to my first Springsteen concert. Everyone knows what a big fan Chris is and that I really prefer country…But Chris made me an offer I couldn’t refuse; he invited me with Mary Pat to see Bruce at the last concert at Giants Stadium. (She sighs). I think there will be others....
LIJS: How are your kids handling your new schedule?
KG: Well, I have always worked a lot of hours. We have a nanny, a legal nanny and she drives; she does the “run around” in the afternoons.We empower her so there is not chaos in the afternoons. But in the mornings we all have breakfast together for the most part. I make sure dinner is ready in the mornings, like today we are having spaghetti, yesterday they had meatloaf all ready to go when they came home. I make sure the calendar is set; that’s my job. Hockey, rowing, swimming, right now PSATs and what is for dinner, it’s all laid out on the calendar so there is no confusion.
LIJS: When you do go to see one of your son’s hockey games, do people leave you alone or do they come up to you?
KG: It’s starting to be a little more now as people begin to recognize me, but parents know; it’s a hockey game or it’s a swim meet. It’s not like Chris who has 24 hour protection from the State Police. You can’t go anywhere with Chris and be subtle anymore. I am much lower on the radar screen.
LIJS: When people do come up to you do they have an agenda or do they just want to say “Hello”?
KG: What they do: “I voted for you or I didn’t vote for you”- either way. Or here’s what they uniformly say next: “You better do what you promised to do.” Every single person - my friends, people I’ve just met, people who walk up to me at lunchtime. “You better do what you said you were going to do during the campaign.”
LIJS: I realize it’s only been a week, but have you started in on that budget yet?
KG: We spent two hours on budget meetings yesterday, two hours last week on just this 2010 budget.We are short a billion dollars; we have to find a billion dollars. The Constitution requires us to balance the budget. It’s all about the budget as it was in the election. Cut state government. Cut state spending. We started the day we moved in on January 19th. I think we have already cut upwards of 20% of the staff.
LIJS: That can’t make you very popular around here…
KG: Oh, it’s hard. I met with all the managers in 13 different divisions and the short version of the speech went “The Calvary are not coming. We are broke. Figure out what our core mission is and do it with much, much less.”We have to do it by March 15th because that’s when Chris gives his budget address.
LIJS: So you do see light at the end of the tunnel for New Jersey?
KG: Absolutely! Absolutely, and he is down the hall right now and I am serious about that. Chris intends to do exactly what he said he was going to do. He said “No new taxes” and there will be no new taxes. You will see cuts, you will see revenue generated by bringing companies back into New Jersey, but you will not see new taxes. There is hope, there is a light at the end of the tunnel, and there is somebody in charge who has the guts to make the decisions that have to be made to fix it. It’s going to be painful. Everybody understands that, everybody invites that, but get it done. I am convinced he will do it. I have to believe it as I am sitting here with him helping him do it because of those three kids there (indicates the photo of her children) and the four he has. It has to be done. So it will be.
LIJS: Where do you see yourself in four years?
KG: I see myself sitting here hoping that we did half to three-quarters of what we promised to do. I see myself walking out of this office knowing that I did an honest day’s work, I worked hard, I was loyal to the principles that Chris was elected to do and I was loyal to Chris. If I can do that I will walk out and be a very happy person.
LIJS: In ten years?
KG: In ten years I will be 60 years old!
LIJS: That’s not old enough to retire yet…
KG: No. I have a nine year old now who will be just starting college. I don’t have an answer to that question. If you had asked me where I would be now five years ago I would never, never, never have been able to say I would be sitting here where I am sitting. I am very, very lucky to be where I am. I understand completely the obligation I have because I am where I am and got here as quickly as I did. For that I am going to be grateful to Chris Christie for many, many years, so whatever I can do to help him move his mission along, if it takes ten years, so be it. My goal is to move his agenda along in every way possible. It’s going to be hard, but it’s going to be fun!
LIJS: You really are a Christie fan…
KG: My biggest complaint during the campaign was that we didn’t have the money to get Chris out there so people could see what we see. As the people of New Jersey figure out who Chris Christie is, as they get access to him in a way that money couldn’t buy during the campaign, you will find out that he is a leader and where he is going is in the right direction. Six months ago I was the most cynical of the crew, and now it sounds like I “Drank the Kool-Aid®.” Now I am just happy to be part of the team. This man is going to do what he said he was going to do; he is going to bring about a positive change.
LIJS: “Change” seems to be the buzz word in politics these days.
KG: Yes, and my being a part of that positive change, of anything that makes New Jersey an easier place to live in or at least a place where people are willing to stick it out and see how it all plays out is rewarding.Most people I talked to over the last year said “I’m moving, I’m moving, I’m moving.” And I say to them now “Just wait, choose to believe this can be fixed, choose to believe that we are moving in the right direction.”And I really do believe this.Why else would I leave three kids and a cushy job at the Monmouth County sheriff’s office where I could be the sheriff for a very long time if I didn’t screw it up? I did it because I have an opportunity to do something outside myself, an opportunity to do something for the greater good, for other people and set an example for these guys… (She again gestures to the photo of her children...)
My Kitchen Witch & Michael Angelo’s Monmouth Beach
“Good Fellas” & “The Godfather” Movies
People who complain without doing anything about it
Three people you’d like to dine with:
My Husband, because I never get to do that now without making an appointment, Ronald Reagan and any one of the Kennedys.
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