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N.J. Voters Speak Out on Gov. Race

November 5, 1997

TRENTON, N.J. (AP) _ The New Jersey voters who handed Gov. Christie Whitman a narrow re-election victory credited her experience and the state’s economy for their choice.

``These are very difficult times, and I think she shows very good leadership,″ said Cindy Kirchner, 41, of Lambertville. ``I don’t think any governor would be without problems.″

Interviews by The Associated Press outside voting booths across the state Tuesday found supporters of Democratic candidate Jim McGreevey focusing more on those problems. Many used their vote as a protest against the incumbent.

``He’s not Christie Whitman,″ said McGreevey supporter Edward Ortiz, a Rutgers University professor from Highland Park. ``I think Christie Whitman is just talk.″

Still, according to a statewide exit poll, about 70 percent of those queried said New Jersey’s economy is excellent or good. And Whitman’s supporters gave her credit.

``I think she’s done a good job in reducing the size of the state government,″ said Republican Martin Berdinis, a 60-year-old teacher who also voted for Whitman in 1993. ``They try to make issues of auto insurance and local taxes. But I don’t see where McGreevey was going to improve that.″

McGreevey benefited from anger over the nation’s highest auto insurance rates, Whitman’s pension bond deal and property taxes.

``Whitman was too eager to get the taxes down at the detriment of other things,″ said Marion Wishart, an independent from Ocean Township in Monmouth County who voted for McGreevey.

Mrs. Wishart’s husband, William, opted for Conservative Party candidate Richard Pezzullo.

``I had to pick the least obnoxious, so I voted for the conservative guy,″ said Wishart, a Republican.

The couple was not the only family with a feud Tuesday.

Paul Inverso, a cousin of state Sen. Peter Inverso, R-Mercer, voted for McGreevey in Hamilton Township, Mercer County.

``I am very unhappy and upset with the way Christine Todd Whitman has run the state. I am a state employee, so there’s a no-brainer there,″ said Inverso, a 49-year-old worker at the state Department of Environmental Protection.

Other Whitman voters said McGreevey, the 40-year-old mayor of Woodbridge as well as a state senator, was too untested.

Former teacher Ellen White broke from her support of other Democrats to vote for Whitman, whom she credits for experience and sensitivity to women and children.

``When I saw the debates on TV, she was more experienced,″ said White, of Highland Park. ``(McGreevey) didn’t seem as experienced or as strong. He’d probably be run by others. She gives off a good feeling of being stable and secure.″

And then there were the voters seeking a third candidate who voiced what Whitman and McGreevey did not.

``Our intent is not to spoil McGreevey’s or Whitman’s chance,″ said Emerson Ellet, a Libertarian who voted for his party’s candidate, Murray Sabrin. ``It’s to offer the people of New Jersey a better choice.″

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