The arrest of numerous public officials Thursday in a massive corruption probe begs this question:

If these all-too-familiar charges are true, how stupid, greedy and arrogant can New Jersey politicians be?

Over the past several years, the U.S. Attorney's Office has charged more than 130 public officials with corruption and gotten more than 130 guilty pleas or verdicts. Can't politicians figure out that if, say, a developer offers them a few thousand dollars to buy their power and influence that maybe, just maybe, he's wearing a wire?

Among the public officials arrested Thursday was Assemblyman Daniel M. Van Pelt, R-Ocean, Atlantic, Burlington, accused of taking a $10,000 bribe in exchange for promises to expedite environmental approvals for a real estate development in Waretown. The development never materialized.

The most money - $27,500 - was allegedly paid in corrupt campaign contributions to Louis Manzo, a recent unsuccessful challenger in the Jersey City mayoral election and a former state assemblyman, and his brother, Robert Manzo.

All the defendants are entitled to the presumption of innocence. But if true, these charges beg an even larger question:

How stupid can New Jersey voters be? Are our standards for government so low that we believe selling public office for private gain is just part of New Jersey's culture? That bribes and quid pro quos are an inevitable fact of political life, a fact that's tolerable as long as the garbage gets picked up on time?

Certainly, the state can and should pass all sorts of pay-to-play and other ethics laws designed to curtail the sleazy culture in New Jersey government.

But ultimately the answer is to change the culture, to demand accountability and to put people in office who want to serve the public rather than themselves.

Perhaps the most telling statement was this one, allegedly made by Hoboken Mayor Peter Cammarano III, who is accused of taking $25,000 in cash bribes, to an informant: "I could be, uh, indicted and I'd still win" the election.

That statement reveals a breathtaking arrogance.

But it ultimately may say more about voters than about Cammarano.

Because unfortunately, he may be right.

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