NEW YORK — NEW Jersey Gov.-elect Christine Todd Whitman is getting closer to becoming just another Republican governor, trying to reduce taxes while coping with deteriorating school systems and urban crime sprees.
After questioning campaign officials for Governor-elect Whitman, New Jersey Democrats admit they have not been able to find any ``smoking guns'' indicating that the state's Republicans tried to suppress African-American voting this past Nov. 2 when Mrs. Whitman defeated Democrat incumbent Gov. Jim Florio. The Democrats have filed a federal lawsuit seeking to overturn the election, which Whitman won by 26,620 votes.
On Saturday, the state Democratic chairman Ray Lesniak said he would consult with the party about dropping the lawsuit. Mr. Lesniak admitted the Democrats have been unable to find evidence of wrong doing that would have changed the results of the election.
This lack of evidence of election-day skulduggery opens the way for the secretary of state to certify the results of the election tomorrow. ``Everyone who has come forward voluntarily or in response to press inquiries has said nothing like this has ever occurred. There are obviously many allegations, but the allegations remain unsubstantiated allegations,'' says Carl Golden, press secretary for Whitman.
The allegations started a week after the election when Whitman's campaign strategist, Ed Rollins, told reporters at a Monitor breakfast that the campaign had paid $500,000 to influence black ministers not to encourage voting and to keep Democratic workers from getting out the black vote. Mr. Rollins later recanted, but the story set off federal and state investigations. The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and some black leaders are also suing Rollins for slander. Rollins now says he was just repeating rumors and innuendo.
Over the past week the Democrats have taken depositions from Rollins and Whitman's brother, Webster (Dan) Todd Jr., who was active in her campaign. Mr. Todd told the Democrats he knew of no efforts to suppress black votes.
Although the Democrats have not been successful, federal and state probes are continuing. Both Rollins and Todd have appeared before a grand jury looking into the allegations. And the Federal Bureau of Investigation is still digging.
Although the probes are not complete, Whitman is continuing to visit state facilities, giving interviews, and trying to get her transition back on track for when she takes office on Jan. 18. Mr. Golden says the Republicans are not sure if they will have a complete cabinet named by mid-January.
The Whitman team will face a number of challenges, including funding a structural deficit of $600 million to $1.2 billion, depending on the state's economy. Whitman will also have to review Florio's decision to have the state take over school districts in Newark and Patterson. Although this process has already started, Golden says the transition team will look at the background and history of the proposed takeovers. ``We have not had access to all the documentation,'' he explains. However, he says Whitman is in favor of state takeovers ``if the school conditions are hopeless.''