Originally appeared in the Courier Post on Thursday, April 19, 2001
By JIM WALSH
Acting Gov. Donald T. DiFrancesco vowed Wednesday to continue his gubernatorial campaign and said he has no plans to discuss published reports about possible ethical lapses.
"I don't really have to" address concerns about personal business dealings, DiFrancesco said after delivering a campaign speech to about 600 people at an awards dinner here.
"I'm moving forward on the issues," said DiFrancesco, who blamed political opponents for his negative publicity.
DiFrancesco's campaign faced mounting criticism Wednesday, including the potential defection of a Republican county chairman after The New York Times reported he was nearly fired in 1998 as municipal attorney in Scotch Plains, Union County.
DiFrancesco is accused of lobbying township officials to give his family members a zoning change they wanted, while failing to disclose his financial stake in the development project.
DiFrancesco also has been criticized for land deals involving family members.
"It's all political," he said outside the meeting of the New Jersey Alliance for Action. "It's old."
In his speech, DiFrancesco emphasized such traditional themes as tax relief and transportation improvements. "I need your support Nov. 2," he told the group of business, labor and government leaders.
He made only indirect references to the current controversy, at one point saying of his job, "Things have been pretty intense."
About half the audience stood to applaud his remarks at the Clarion Hotel and Conference Center.
Key party officials said Wednesday they are worried DiFrancesco is damaged goods and that more information harmful to his candidacy and the GOP could surface.
"It would be foolish not to have concerns at this time," said Walter Orcutt, party chief in Warren County. "It is obvious there are things that are going to need to be clarified."
Monmouth County GOP party chief Bill Dowd said he is is contemplating taking DiFrancesco's name off the party's line on his county's primary ballot. DiFrancesco is facing Jersey City Mayor Bret Schundler in the primary.
"Those are very serious charges," Dowd, a lawyer, said of the allegations in the Times story. "If the ethics violations are true, those are suspendable and disbarable offenses. If they are not true, then a terrible thing has been done to Don DiFrancesco. The Times story was very thorough. The charges had the ring of truth, and I am concerned."
Dowd was among the few county chairmen willing to speak openly.
"It is not an easy thing for me to go off the reservation," he said. "Most of the others being quoted want anonymity, but I think somebody has to say what everybody is thinking."
Schundler said he had been in contact with more than half of the county GOP chiefs and told them he would like to build a united campaign.
"I think there is a lot of fear out there," Schundler said. "They feel that Don has been involved in activity that is serious and wrong. And therefore, they feel that the party is at risk if he continues as a candidate."
Woodbridge Mayor Jim McGreevey, the Democratic candidate, said, "Based on the allegations set forth, I believe it is incumbent upon the acting governor to disprove those allegations, not merely state that they are untrue."
In a separate speech at the Cherry Hill event, U.S. Sen. Jon Corzine, D-N.J., said the state's needs would be shortchanged if Congress approves an excessive tax cut. He said a budget submitted by President Bush would make sharp cuts in funding for transportation and school construction.
"We need a moderate tax cut so we have some money left over to invest in the things that are important to the people of New Jersey," Corzine said.
Gannett News Service contributed to this report.
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