Philadelphia Inquirer  [Printer-friendly version]
March 5, 1985


By Ernest Tollerson, Inquirer Trenton Bureau

Backers of U.S. Rep. James J. Florio sported "Run, Jim, Run" decals on
the lapels of their dark business suits.

Copies of "Report Number Two" of "Jim Florio's Committee to Make New
Jersey Better" were as plentiful as the mountains of Danish that are
the staple of political conventions like this week's Conference of New
Jersey Democrats 1985.

And when Florio took the podium to address the convention yesterday,
the Camden and Gloucester County delegations created a ruckus reserved
for a politician running for governor.

Florio, the South Jersey Democrat who lost the 1981 gubernatorial
election to Republican Gov. Kean by fewer than 2,000 votes, said
everything yesterday except those crucial two words: "I'm running."

Although Florio said he would not announce his decision until March 25
or 26, his hard-hitting speech on the deficiencies he sees in
President Reagan and Kean made abundantly clear to the 1,500
convention delegates that he was likely to seek the Democratic
nomination for governor.

Florio has repeatedly said that he wants a second chance in the ring
against Kean. And the evidence of that desire went beyond the buttons
and literature at the convention, with some supporters putting their
hopes into words.

Stephen Moses, an influential Democrat from vote-rich Bergen County
who was a top operative for the Mondale campaign in New Jersey last
year, talked about Florio as if Florio were already running in the
race that already has four declared candidates and one would-be

"I think we're ready for Jim," Moses said. "He has the highest
visibility of any candidate. He does have a high favorability rating.
No one is suggesting it isn't going to be difficult."

Yet the best scraps of evidence of Florio's plans were in his speech
yesterday, in which he repeatedly attacked Kean.

Florio said Kean had failed to tackle any serious problem in his term.

"We have rolled from crisis to crisis," Florio charged. "The flood
crisis. The garbage crisis. The asbestos crisis. The insurance crisis.
The Mount Laurel crisis. The apparent upcoming drought crisis."

He capsulized Kean's style this way: "When in doubt about a tough
problem, hide," Florio said. "When there is no doubt about what to do
about a tough problem, run and hide."

The Camden County Democrat said the Reagan administration's plan to
take away $30 million in federal funds for a Philadelphia-Atlantic
City rail link was emblematic of "congenital affliction endemic to the
Kean administration: paralysis induced by controversy."

Since 1982, New Jersey has had access to the $30 million to help pay
for the rail link. Because the state has not come up with $20 million
in state matching funds and has not used the federal funds, the Reagan
administration is proposing to use that money for something else in
the fiscal 1986 budget.

In Florio's reconstruction of events, Kean stalled because he was torn
between two interest groups. Some Camden County groups opposed the
rail link and branded it the "gamblers' express." Business interests
in Atlantic County, home to Atlantic City's casino gaming industry,
supported it.

"The Kean administration wore itself out, wanting to be loved by
everyone," Florio said. "And for 2 1/2 years they spent time running
up and down, running up to Camden County describing its apprehension
and doubts, then back to Atlantic County pronouncing its devotion to
the project."

No matter who the Democratic nominee for governor is after the June 4
primary, Florio said, the national party should take part in the
general election campaign. He noted that he had discussed national
party involvement in the gubernatorial race with Paul G. Kirk Jr., the
new chairman of the National Democratic Committee.