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Originally appeared as an editorial in the Star Ledger on Friday, April 20th, 2001

Here is a question for our acting governor and the Republican Party he would represent in November to think about very seriously:
If he runs for a full four-year term, will any New Jersey voter be able to remember anything about Donald DiFrancesco besides the ethical questions his business practices have raised?

There would be scant talk of property taxes and possible ways of easing their burden. There would be little discussion of the economic slowdown and the state's priorities in the tug of war between interests struggling to get a share of dwindling funds. That evergreen campaign issue -- auto insurance -- is back, as several companies agitate for rate increases. Anybody wanting to be our next governor should offer ideas for containing sprawl and preserving our open spaces while allowing for healthy economic growth and development. Racial profiling remains a problem, and the next governor will have to decide whether Superintendent Carson Dunbar should continue the transformation he has begun in the State Police.

What type of additional commitment do we want to make to our children's education? Do teachers deserve a $40,000 minimum salary? Should businesses be required to provide paid family leave? Should the state's prescription drug program for the elderly and disabled be expanded? Can we afford any of these?

Any discussion of those issues inevitably would be smothered by talk of DiFrancesco's past performance.

DiFrancesco hardly played fair with the people of Scotch Plains in his role as township attorney. According to a report prepared by special counsels to the township council, a Democrat and a Republican, DiFrancesco's conduct was "clearly improper and replete with conflicts."

In a tangle involving receiving money from a developer, not paying back taxes and representing more than one party in a dispute, DiFrancesco was the report said, guility of "an egregious ethical breach". A Star-Ledger/Eagleton-Rutgers Poll this week showed New Jerseyans who know of his dealings overwhelmingly view them as either unethical or illegal. This is hardly the kind of poll result that bodes well for any candidate.

Monika McDermott, associate director of the poll, put it best: "The good news for DiFrancesco is that people haven't been paying much attention to media coverage of his troubles so far. The bad news is people are still unfamiliar with him, and as they get to know him, these issues are likely to be the first things they learn."

With that introduction, would DiFrancesco be a viable candidate? Or merely a good target?

The entire state should not have to worry about the details of Scotch Plains politics. We deserve seious consideration of issues that affect millions of Jerseyans daily, not just a run through one candidate's tattered biography.

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