I hate to report to my friends in the rest of the country -- and I apologize in advance if anyone is offended -- but something is going on here in the east that is disturbing to a number of people. Yesterday, Gov. Chris Christie signed a bill into law legalizing prostitution in the state of New Jersey.
The move was hailed by the Business Association of Greater Atlantic City. "Finally, we can offer a full-service entertainment package," said Tommy Manicotti, executive manager of the Boardwalk Hotel & Casino. "We will now have a hat trick -- gambling, alcohol and prostitution -- and we'll be able to compete head-to-head with the entertainment industry in Nevada. It's about time New Jersey entered the 21st century."
The measure was opposed by several women's groups including the New Jersey chapters of NOW, Planned Parenthood and MADD. "It's an outrage," said Alice Meadows, executive director of Women in Business in Camden, NJ. "Prostitution is unsafe, unsound, and unsavory. And no matter what the governor or anyone else in Trenton says, prostitution exploits women and leaves them exposed to dangers too numerous to count."
But the new law, called "The Women's Right to Control Their Own Bodies," did find some support among women in Atlantic City. Said Trixie Norton, manager of One Trick Pony Bar and Grill on Ventor Ave., "This will double my business. And I bet it will bring down the unemployment rate, too."
Walt Stone, of Gay Pride Princeton, objected to the naming of the bill, pointing out that men can be prostitutes as well, although he went on to say that his organization supports gay sex in the context of a long-term, mutually respectful monogamous relationship.
Some Democratic critics charge that Christie, a Republican, is trying to distract people from the Bridgegate scandal, although he did garner considerable backing for the bill from Democrats in the New Jersey state legislature. There was some support from out of state as well. Said former New York Governor Eliott Spitzer, "It makes perfect sense, because it will cut down the crime rate, free up police for more pressing activities, and mitigate overcrowding in New Jersey prisons."
Former Congressman Anthony Weiner could not be reached for comment, but he is rumored to have tweeted: "My bad, you bad, we all bad," in a message that was taken to lend support for the new law.
However, former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg released a statement opposing the bill. It said in part: "There is a well-established link between prostitution and smoking, and as such I cannot in good conscience support such a measure. In addition, I have already expressed my full-throated opposition to the Big Gulp."
New Jersey state officials estimate that the law will bring in approximately $4 billion per year in direct expenditures, plus additional dollars for ancillary businesses such as bars and casinos. Since prostitution will be subject to the hospitality tax of 11%, instead of the normal sales tax of 7%, officials also estimate that legalizing prostitution will bring in over $400 million to state coffers, largely from out-of-state tourists. The money is targeted to improve health care and to help New Jersey schools fulfill common core requirements in sex education.
John Fillbine, creator of the "I Love New York" campaign of the 1980s, who now lives in the tony suburb of Chatham, NJ, commented, "Let's get real. This is a long-overdue step away from hypocrisy, and toward giving New Jersey a much-needed leg up in the tourist business. After all, you can go to Colorado to get high. But now you can come to New Jersey to get laid."