Yo! Jersey! The Downs and Ups of Garden State’s Year

Another black eye the Garden State doesn’t need: the Netstitle for worst start to an NBA season.

New Jersey has been trying to clean up its image, but 2009 hasn’t exactly turned out to be a banner year. Native son Jon Stewart called it “Stinkachusetts” on “The Daily Show,” MTV had to defend its “Jersey Shore” reality-TV offering against critics and Italian-American groups, and even nice girl Jennifer Aniston was taking potshots.

Homespun celebs didn’t get respect from their own either: Two cops stopped singer Bob Dylan to ask for his ID. Apparently his craggy iconic face didn’t ring a bell. And now adding insult to injury, the losingest team (which missed its chance to make a another record) wants to move to Brooklyn.

Jersey, though, has been through worse. Come to think about it, even its grimmest headlines had a bright side in 2009.

Sticks and Stones and Brick City
Not every stone tossed at Jersey landed a blow, but Conan O’Brien’s “Tonight Show” bit really stung. “The mayor of Newark wants to set up a citywide program to improve residents’ health,” O’Brien quipped. “The health care program would consist of a bus ticket out of Newark.” That did it. The Garden State sprouted antlers in the form of Newark Mayor Corey Booker, who was enjoying some good exposure for the Sundance Channel documentary “Brick City.”

In a series of YouTube videos, the mayor fake-banned O’Brien from Newark Airport, then extended the exclusion zone to the entire state. The facetious feud escalated, until Hillary Clinton intervened—yes, the Secretary of State—paving the way for a late-night TV summit. Not everyone thought laughing at urban decay so funny, but at least O’Brien paid for his remarks, literally, with a $50,000 donation to Newark Now.

Did You Hear the One…
What happens when you get three mayors, two state assemblymen, and five rabbis together? You get one big headline-hogging corruption case, straight out of “The Sopranos”  and complete with money laundering and illegal sales of body parts. The scandal, which featured a stoolie with the Dickensian named of Solomon Dwek, also helped KO Democratic governor Jon Corzine’s re-election bid, making the state a possible bellweather of Obama Disappointment Syndrome.

The case did sound like an all too familiar never-ending tale. But to execute the state’s largest corruption case? Kudos.

Working on a Dream
Best of all, in 2009 Bruce Springsteen was on tour and, at 60, has no plans to pack it in. When the state’s favorite son and musical avatar of local soul roams the country, he reminds the rest of us about the best of Jersey culture. The jokes get swept aside, and the passion and yearning of millions of Jerseyites emerges, some content to live in the shadow of the country’s cultural capital, others harboring bridge-and-tunnel dreams of making it to the other side.

Include the woeful Nets in the latter. After being bought by Russia’s richest man this year, they will make a bid to be Brooklyn-bound. Another crushing blow for Jersey? Fuhgeddabouit. The state survives.