Tags: Terror | Attack | Changes | Jersey | Political | Landscape

Terror Attack Changes Jersey Political Landscape

Thursday, 27 September 2001 12:00 AM

Conservative Republican Bret Schundler was in Israel meeting with Jewish political leaders when terrorists turned jetliners into flying missiles and destroyed the World Trade Center.

Unable to fly back home immediately, he coordinated his response through his campaign. The way the New York Times reported it, Schundler seemed to be questioning the way New Jersey officials responded to the attack, something that didn't go over well with Acting-Gov. Donald DiFrancesco (R).

The acting governor blasted Schundler in a press release, saying, "To exploit this tragedy in any way is inappropriate, offensive and just plain wrong."

This only widened the chasm between Schundler and New Jersey's GOP establishment, none of whom have actively campaigned for Schundler, even before the terror attack.

"The New York Times reporter inaccurately and unfairly portrayed my proposal as a criticism of the state's response to the Word Trade Center attacks," said Schundler.

"It is not an assault on the National Guard to say that the federal government should give the fighter wing stationed in Atlantic City the equipment and training necessary to enable it to intercept planes such as those which crashed into the World Trade Center. It is not criticism of the state police to say that the department should be given the resources needed to set up a field command center almost immediately following a terrorist attack."

Schundler nevertheless concluded by apologizing "to any who were offended by the impression left by this mischaracterization."

This was the latest in a series of disagreements and misunderstandings between Schundler and the leaders of the Republican GOP in New Jersey, and that tension and implied disapproval has done nothing the help Schundler, who trails his Democratic opponent by a wide margin in recent polls.

Although he lacks the active support of the state's GOP establishment, Schundler can take comfort in the fact that President Bush's support may mean more now than it did before the terror strike.

President Bush lost New Jersey to Al Gore by 16 points last November. However, since Sept. 11, Bush's popularity has soared, with some polls giving him a 90 percent approval rating.

In June, Bush promised to support Schundler's campaign. He sent Vice President Cheney to a summer fundraiser, which earned $3 million for the Schundler campaign. And Bush also promised he would visit New Jersey to personally support Schundler, something that is expected to happen in October.

With just six weeks left before the election, state security measures have replaced all other issues in the campaigns of both Schundler and Democrat Jim McGreevey.

"What you are looking for in a governor is someone who can lead that effort," said Schundler, who is offering a plan to protect residents as well as the state's "strategic assets."

Schundler has asked President Bush to return New Jersey's National Guard flight intercept group, and he is also pressing for New Jersey to develop a very detailed emergency response plan - so detailed that authorities would know where to find even the most basic essentials, such as shovels or protective gear.

McGreevey says he would direct the state police to set up an antiterrorism unit. The state police currently investigate terrorists through a hate-crimes division. McGreevey said he would also work to improve airport security, and, like Schundler, he promises a top-to-bottom review of emergency response systems.

"Just as we targeted organized crime previously," McGreevey told reporters, "the state must devote staff and equipment to an antiterrorism unit."

McGreevey has praised the way Acting Gov. DiFrancesco has handled the crisis. McGreevey's alignment with the Republican governor may be a bid to gain the support of DiFrancesco allies and other disaffected Republicans.

As the focus of the gubernatorial race becomes the fight against terrorism, the original campaign issues - lowering property taxes, removing tolls, and improving education - appear to be of less interest to voters.

The state government released a report last week revising its revenue estimate downward. It now projects that the battered stock market and thousands of layoffs will cut into the state's tax and investment revenues at a time when the cost of state security is expected to rise.

Some have suggested that the candidates need to guard against making promises they can no longer afford to keep.

Copyright 2001

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Conservative Republican Bret Schundler was in Israel meeting with Jewish political leaders when terrorists turned jetliners into flying missiles and destroyed the World Trade Center. Unable to fly back home immediately, he coordinated his response through his campaign....
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2001-00-27
Thursday, 27 September 2001 12:00 AM
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