Pubdate: Sun, 07 Mar 1999
Source: Philadelphia Inquirer (PA)
Copyright: 1999 Philadelphia Newspapers Inc.
Author: Thomas Ginsberg


In the space of a few days last week, Gov. Whitman's grand opportunity to
put another Republican loyalist on the Supreme Court turned into a big
opportunity for her political foes to make hay at her expense.

The turn of events sprang from a long controversy in New Jersey and
nationally over "racial profiling," the alleged police practice of targeting
minority drivers on the road.

State police superintendent Col. Carl A. Williams, a 34-year lawman who has
long denied that profiling is practiced, inflamed the debate last Sunday by
linking certain minorities with trade in certain drugs, such as Jamaicans
with heroin.

Whitman immediately fired Williams for insensitivity and damaging police
credibility (though not for being incorrect). Her critics welcomed the move,
and some political opponents smelled blood.

Democrats already had been looking for a way to trip up Whitman's nomination
of her attorney general, Peter Verniero, for the Supreme Court. They fear
Whitman is on her way to packing the seven-member court. But they had very
little dirt on Verniero -- other than his tender age, 39. Seizing on the
firing, several Democrats and the Black Ministers Council called last week
for a delay in Verniero's confirmation pending his formal review of the

"How[can]the governor fire Col. Williams but promote his boss?" asked State
Sen. John H. Adler (D., Camden), who also opposed Verniero's appointment in
1996 as attorney general.

Whitman scoffed at the demand, and for good measure issued her formal
nomination notice Tuesday, long before required. Republican lawmakers appear
to be going along even if they feel lukewarm about Verniero, whom many
regard as a fastidious Whitman loyalist.

Republican Senate President Donald T. DiFrancesco reportedly wants nothing
to sully Whitman's image for a possible U.S. Senate bid -- which could allow
DiFrancesco to become interim governor.

Criticism of Verniero "has nothing to do with any . . . racial problem,"
State Sen. Gerald Cardinale (R., Bergen) said. He accused "leftists" of
"political opportunism, and you guys[in the media]will write about it."

Thomas Ginsberg, Trenton

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