Former Gov. Kean makes campaign appearance for son

Former Gov. Kean makes campaign appearance for son
Oct 18, 2006 AP
UNION, N.J. (AP) -- With less than three weeks left in his son's U.S. Senate race, former Gov. Thomas H. Kean made his first major campaign appearance Wednesday and accused the Democratic incumbent of being unable to rise above a "culture of corruption."

While the former governor and chairman of the Sept. 11 commission stopped short of calling Sen. Bob Menendez corrupt, Kean said there is a "large cloud" over the Democrat because he was the political leader of the most corrupt county in the state, Hudson County.

Like his son, Kean asserted Menendez was under federal investigation, which Menendez has denied.

"You can't sort of live in that atmosphere, lead that atmosphere, make all the political deals you have to make, deal with all those people - many of whom have now gone away - I don't think without getting infected," said Kean, whose son has made questions about Menendez's ethics the centerpiece of his campaign.

"He's not guilty by association. He's guilty because he's guilty," said Kean, who served two terms as governor in the 1980s. When asked what Menendez was guilty of, the elder Kean said that would be learned after the Nov. 7 election because he doubted charges would be brought before then.

"All I can tell you is there's a lot of smoke around him, and sometimes when there's a lot of smoke, there's fire, too," Kean said.

The Menendez campaign issued an angry retort.

"It's unfortunate that instead of lifting the level of discourse, the former governor joined his son's failing campaign in the gutter. It's despicable and it's desperate," said Menendez spokesman Matthew Miller.

Later Wednesday, the two candidates appeared sequentially, for an hour each, at Temple Beth Shalom in Livingston.

Menendez, who went first, told the audience the Nov. 7 election gives them the opportunity to reverse the mistaken policies of the current administration. Asked to name three key differences between him and his opponent, Menendez cited his desire to get U.S. troops out of Iraq within a year, reduce America's dependence on foreign oil through an aggressive alternate energy policy and make sure ideology does not trump science to block stem cell research.

Kean said he favors federal tax cuts to make New Jersey more affordable and said he would push for the state to get its fair share of the federal tax pie. He said he also supports stem cell research and the use of alternative energy, noting that he drives a hybrid car.

Kean, who visited Israel for six days last year, drew applause when he said the United States should not support any government that denies Israel's right to exist. He and Menendez were both applauded when they affirmed the need for a strong anti-terrorism policy in the Middle East.

Though they largely left the negative attacks that have characterized the campaign at the door, each got in a few jabs. Menendez told the audience he does not support amnesty for illegal immigrants, despite what his opponent says. Kean said his opponent supports Ned Lamont over incumbent Joe Lieberman for Senate in Connecticut, even after Menendez had warned the audience that Kean would misstate his position in the race.

Polls indicate a close race, and Kean Sr. maintained that his son's campaign is doing well, especially compared to Republicans in other states.

He denied he was emerging now to give a boost to the campaign, asserting that he has been speaking at events and talking regularly with his son about the race.

"I think you'll be seeing a little more of me," Kean said.

Speaking later in Trenton, Menendez quipped, "I'm pleased to see that 20 days before the election that Tom Kean Jr. finally got the endorsement of his father."

As for the former governor's reference to a culture of corruption, Menendez said, "I don't know what we would expect him to say. I'm running against his son."

The Keans appeared at Kean Hall at Kean University, which prompted a question on whether Kean Jr. based his campaign on name recognition. Kean Jr., 38, said it illustrated his family's commitment to public service.

The family has been prominent in New Jersey for over 200 years. The public university sits on land that had been the family's estate in Union County.

The former governor said he was proud of how his son, a state senator from Union County, was conducting the race, although the elder Kean allowed that he would have put more emphasis on taxes.

"We're losing a lot of people due to the high tax burden," Kean Sr. said, adding that New Jersey gets less of a return on its federal taxes than any other state.

Kean said his son would be valuable as a U.S. senator, portraying him as a centrist and independent who would be able to work on a bipartisan basis. He said Menendez, who served 13 years in the U.S. House, was "always over there on the liberal side of the Democratic Party," adding, "He's not part of the group that is going to make solutions."

At his Trenton event, Menendez responded that he has broken with his own party on several matters, including the balanced budget amendment, Patriot Act and the recent torture bill.

Menendez, 52, was appointed to the Senate in January to finish the term of Gov. Jon S. Corzine. Kean is seeking to become the first Republican elected to the Senate from New Jersey since 1972.

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