New Jersey Governor's Race Focuses on Taxes, Spending
By Eric Kelderman, Staff Writer
Property taxes and state spending are the central issues in New Jersey's gubernatorial race, not the ethical controversies that forced then-Gov. James McGreevey (D) from office last year.
Seven Republicans are competing in a June 7 primary to challenge the likely Democratic nominee, U.S. Sen. Jon Corzine (D), in the state's November election. But only two of them - former Jersey City mayor Bret Schundler and businessman Doug Forrester - are seen as strong contenders. New Jersey and Virginia are the only states with governor's races this year.
McGreevey's resignation after his August 2004 confession of an extra-marital affair with a male political appointee set the stage for the Garden State race. Even before he dropped the bombshell that led to his departure, McGreevey's administration was being linked to a federal probe of a top Democratic fundraiser, one of several scandals that arose during McGreevey's 3-year tenure.
McGreevey's successor, Acting Gov. Richard J. Codey (D) -- the state Senate president who filled the vacancy at the top because New Jersey has no lieutenant governor -- is credited with distancing his party from the scandals.
But scandal-weary voters are more concerned about pocket book issues, according to a recent poll taken by political researchers at Fairleigh Dickinson University . Fifty-one percent of those surveyed ranked controlling spending and taxes as their main concern. Only 13 percent said upholding ethical standards should be the top campaign issue.
Democratic frontrunner Corzine, the former chairman of the investment firm Goldman Sachs, spent an all-time record $63 million to win his U.S. Senate seat in 2000, and has continued giving heavily to powerful county Democratic leaders.
Herb Jackson, political columnist for The Record of Bergen, Co., N.J., said Corzine used those contributions to unify support and force Codey out of the race.
"Codey chose not to run because Corzine outflanked him," Jackson told Stateline.org. "Some bosses probably looked at the choice between Corzine and Codey this way: Corzine will give me money to run local races, and Codey will expect me to raise it for him," he said.
Republicans Forrester and Schundler have spent much of the primary campaign blasting each other rather than attacking the Democrats.
A May 19 poll by Quinnipiac University shows Forrester leading Schundler 39 percent to 33 percent among likely Republican voters, with 15 percent still undecided. The poll has a 5.3 percent margin of error.
Schundler was the GOP's 2001 gubernatorial nominee, but lost the General Election to McGreevey by 14 percentage points. Forrester lost a 2002 U.S. Senate race to Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D).
The other Republican gubernatorial candidates are businessman Todd Caliguire, Assemblyman Paul DiGaetano , Bogota, N.J. Mayor Steve Lonegan , Morris County Freeholder John Murphy and Washington Township Councilman Robert Schroeder.
Francis X. Tenaglio, a former Pennsylvania state representative, and James D. Kelley Jr. are running against Corzine for the Democratic nomination.