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Schundler and McGreevey talk education, allegations
They urged more state money for schools and spoke of rival Donald T. DiFrancesco's troubles.

Originally appeared in the Philadelphia Inquirer on 04/19/01
By Suzette Parmley

TRENTON - Republican gubernatorial contender Bret Schundler and Democrat James E. McGreevey were on the campaign trail yesterday, both outlining proposals that they said they would implement as governor to improve education.

But it was their comments about allegations involving their rival, acting Gov. Donald T. DiFrancesco, that drew the most interest.

DiFrancesco, a moderate Republican from Scotch Plains, Union County, has been contending this week with allegations of ethical violations and conflicts of interest in his role as township attorney in the mid-1990s - the most recent of allegations about dealings with friends and associates that have rocked his campaign.

Schundler, buoyed by poll numbers showing gains in the last week, said DiFrancesco was wounded by the disclosures and should consider dropping out of the race.

"I'm not convinced that Don is going to run," he said yesterday at a Statehouse news conference, "but I don't think it's up to me to tell him what to do.

"I think he should have known that [the issues] would have disqualified him from being a candidate that could win."

DiFrancesco, considered the front-runner, has the backing of most of his party's county chairmen. But Schundler, who is appealing to conservative voters through commercials and direct mailings, appeared unfazed. "Don has always said that the party was behind him," he said. "I've always argued that the party is not a collection of county chairmen. . . .

"The party includes every Republican, and government should not be about dictating to the people. It should be about representing them."

In a move to appeal to conservative voters and expand his Democratic base, McGreevey, who is running unopposed in the primary, said yesterday that sound character and solid values should be taught in schools.

"We want our children to be prepared for their future with a conscience and an understanding of ethics to accompany intelligence and knowledge," McGreevey said.

He denied that there was any link to his proposal and questions surrounding DiFrancesco, but added that DiFrancesco must prove he was being wrongly accused.

"Based on the allegations set forth, I believe it is incumbent upon the acting governor to disprove those allegations, and not merely state that they are untrue," McGreevey said.

"I believe the issues raised, as well as the succession of a series of significant potential conflicts of interest, raise legitimate questions for the citizenry which must be addressed," he said. "Simply stating that they are untrue does not rise to the level of reputation necessary."

McGreevey also vehemently denied DiFrancesco's allegation that McGreevey supporters had leaked the information to damage him. "I didn't realize we had minions of McGreevey Democrats in Scotch Plains," he said jokingly.

Both McGreevey and Schundler have made education central to their campaigns. During his tenure as Woodbridge mayor, McGreevey said, character had been introduced in five middle schools with success. As Jersey City mayor, Schundler presided over a turnaround in a troubled district and the introduction of a successful charter school. Both candidates stressed the need for parental involvement and more state funding.

Schundler proposed administering tests at the beginning and end of each grade level to monitor a child's progress, rewarding public schools that cut bureaucracy and restructured into "charterlike" schools, and giving parents a partial state income-tax credit for some education expenses.

He also used the occasion to attack DiFrancesco obliquely. "It is unconscionable that we have allowed these children to fail in school because we as a society have failed to have the courage to stand up to the special interests and do what is right to improve our schools," he said.

Schundler has repeatedly criticized DiFrancesco as being in the pocket of special interests, among them the New Jersey Education Association, which has endorsed his candidacy.

Under McGreevey's plan, the state would allocate $10 million - about $8 a child, he said - with federal matching funds, to incorporate character education at all grade levels.

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