Gubernatorial candidates square off at Rowan University

Gubernatorial candidates square off at Rowan University

With 2 weeks remaining in the race and polls showing the candidates
10 points apart, Democrat Jim McGreevey and Republican Bret Schundler
took a gentler contest for governor to the public Thursday in the only town
meeting of the campaign.

The candidates agreed the personal bickering should stop, and, for
most of the event, grappled with the issues.

In a live broadcast, citizens from around the state were able to quiz
the candidates during the "New Jersey Town Meeting: Our People, Our
Future," sponsored by the Gannett New Jersey newspapers including the
Courier-Post, NJ 101.5 FM radio and Comcast's CN8 cable television

Residents wanted to know about taxes, private schools, needle
exchanges, illegal guns, affordable housing and a new anti-terrorism task
force rushed through the state Legislature earlier this month.

In their third face-off, the candidates, sitting on chairs in Wilson Hall at
Rowan University, fielded questions from the audience and from viewers
assembled at Monmouth University in West Long Branch, and at Comcast
studios in Union Township, Union County.

The hourlong debate was broadcast live by NJ 101.5 FM and
televised by CN8. CN8 will rebroadcast the town meeting, followed by an
It's Your Call analysis of the debate, at noon today and noon Monday. The debate will be televised nationally in the next few
days by C-SPAN.

Rider University political science professor David Rebovich said the debate was a tie for the candidates, but it was a win
for the voters of New Jersey.

"The debate provided ample opportunity for the voters to draw distinct differences between the two candidates," Rebovich
said. "Schundler showed some charm and humor. McGreevey, who has been criticized as being too programmed, was very
forceful. This seemed to be pretty much a draw."

After the event, Schundler and McGreevey also praised the town-meeting forum for offering more to viewers than past
exchanges. Talking directly to voters was a plus, Schundler said, adding, "People can see my solutions have a possibility of

McGreevey said he "welcomed the increased civility," adding, "The families of New Jersey are looking for a thoughtful

While both agreed during the debate that the campaign should be more civil, the candidates immediately resumed some
of the sparring that has marked the campaign and refused to end negative ads that attack their opponents.

"I want to show there are differences," McGreevey said.

"We ought to have contrasts," said Schundler.

And when it came to taking down the tolls on the Garden State Parkway, they basically called each other liars.

"I will do it by October of next year," Schundler said. " All it takes is the desire."

McGreevey responded by saying the plan was physically and fiscally impossible. "You need a governor who is going to be
honest with you."

When it came to taxes, Schundler made an outright promise not to raise them. "I am going to cut taxes," he said.

McGreevey was less specific. "I am committed to living within our means."

Dressed in gray suits, with red ties and American flag pins on their lapels, both candidates talked with their hands -
flashing their wedding rings - and looked straight into the camera. McGreevey appeared serious at times - after struggling
through a few jokes at the start - and furrowed his brow as he gripped the microphone with white knuckles. Schundler seemed
more relaxed, laughing easily and playing with the audience.

The candidates had no problem with the secrecy provisions of a new state task force to beef up security in New Jersey in
the light of the recent terrorist attacks in the United States. They also agreed on a bill pending in the Legislature that would
give tax credits to developers who take old buildings in cities and convert them into affordable housing.

But they disagreed on needle sales and needle exchanges to stop the spread of AIDS. Schundler was against any
needle exchanges, but McGreevey said he would support a hospital-based needle exchange program.

On the gun issue, Schundler refuted McGreevey's charges that he would support a law allowing people to carry
concealed weapons, saying he would not change any of New Jersey's gun laws if elected.

The candidates disagreed on education, with McGreevey saying it was the state's responsibility to make sure public
education works and Schundler saying that parents who want to send their children to private schools deserve help.

On a constitutional convention to reform taxes, McGreevey said he would not oppose the convention, but Schundler said
he wanted no part of any convention that might reduce property taxes at the cost of increasing other taxes.

With only 10 points separating McGreevey and Schundler, pollsters say the race is still up for grabs as the two candidates
battle for one of the most powerful governorships in the nation.

Political experts say Schundler remains within striking distance of a victory. For Schundler to catch up, he must convince
voters that his alternate education plans and his pledge to remove tolls from the parkway can work - themes he attempted to
hammer home Thursday.

McGreevey, who has tried to run a safe campaign, needs to prove to voters that he's not a tax-and-spend Democrat, and
many of his answers Thursday stressed fiscal restraint.

There are also several third-party candidates - including state Sen. Bill Schluter - running for governor, and a handful of
demonstrators outside Wilson Hall called attention to their absence from the public debates. Toting signs bashing the two
major parties and the event's sponsors, the dozen protesters called for broader representation.

"We don't need to participate in all of them, but we should have a voice," said Roger Sedmont, a Turnersville resident
holding up a sign for Green Party candidate Jerry Coleman.

McGreevey and Schundler meet again next Thursday for a TV debate.

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Date Published: Friday, October 19, 2001 - 01:00
Source URL: Courier-Post