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DiFrancesco Quits Race for New Jersey Governor

Originally appeared in the New York Times on April 25, 2001

TRENTON, April 25
Acting Gov. Donald T. DiFrancesco has quit the New Jersey governor's race, officials confirmed today, and former Representative Bob Franks is expected to take his place on the Republican ballot in the June 26 primary.

Mr. DiFrancesco, who is also the president of the State Senate, will remain as acting governor through the end of the year, but is not expected to run for reelection to his Senate seat, which he has held since 1979.

If he does not seek to remain in the Senate, Mr. DiFrancesco's departure would end a 25-year legislative career, after a wave of news reports detailing allegations of ethical lapses and questionable business deals that eventually appeared to overwhelm his campaign.

The abrupt political about-face by Mr. DiFrancesco came just three days after he had officially kicked off his formal campaign for governor, promising to stay in the race to the end. As Republican leaders openly questioned whether he would remain a candidate in a primary race that he had once been expected to win handily, Mr. DiFrancesco rallied a few hundred loyalists at Sunday's candidacy announcement with positive talk of his accomplishments as Senate president and his plans for bigger property tax rebates, improved public schools and better health care for the elderly.

But the criticism Mr. DiFrancesco has endured in the news media recently over his past business and real estate deals and accusations that he broke ethics rules as the lawyer for his hometown government had clearly taken its toll.

"These past few weeks have been challenging times for me and my family, but you've helped me meet those challenges," he told his supporters on Sunday. "Your faith in me will never be forgotten."

In a defiant tone, he added, "Let me make this very clear: I'm here to tell you that I am a candidate for governor."

The news of Mr. DiFrancesco's withdrawal came on the very day his first broadcast advertisement of the gubernatorial primary campaign was scheduled to be aired. In the 60-second radio ad, Mr. DiFrancesco attacks his Republican and Democratic rivals on a subject unhappily familiar to New Jersey homeowners: the state's property tax rates. He boasts of having voted 52 times to cut various state taxes and promises to increase property tax rebates and to freeze property tax rates for elderly homeowners.

But the ad's tone, judging from a script released Tuesday by Mr. DiFrancesco's campaign, was primarily negative. "Jim McGreevey and Bret Schundler have foolish ideas that are bad for taxpayers," it began, referring to the Democratic mayor of Woodbridge and the Republican mayor of Jersey City, respectively.

Mr. DiFrancesco's rivals accused him of cynically distorting their records. Mr. Schundler's campaign manager, Bill Pascoe, said Mr. DiFrancesco had deliberately compared Jersey City's current tax rates with those in 1994, two years after Mr. Schundler was elected, and a year in which residents were given a tax holiday for several months.

Mr. DiFrancesco, the State Senate president since 1992, became acting governor on Feb. 1 and early on enjoyed the traditional advantages of incumbency. But in recent weeks, he has come under mounting scrutiny over his financial and legal interests.

The New York Times reported last week that Mr. DiFrancesco was accused in June 1998 of repeated ethics violations in connection with a failed real estate venture involving some family members in their hometown, Scotch Plains.

Also damaging was his failed nomination last month of Isabel Miranda for state treasurer. She withdrew under heavy criticism after it was reported that she had been fired from a job at Citibank in 1996, and after she refused to sever her ties with a financial corporation that does business with the state.

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