Posted 8:33 p.m. Sept. 30
by Patrick W. Higgins
U-WIRE (DC BUREAU)
(U-WIRE) WASHINGTON–With a mere 36 days until the mid-term Senate elections, Sen. Robert Torricelli (D-N.J.) has withdrawn himself from the race in the wake of allegations of ethical wrongdoing-a move that threatens the Democrats slight led over Republicans in the Senate.
“I will not be responsible for the loss of the Democratic majority in the United States Senate,” Torricelli said in press conference late Monday afternoon. “This is the most painful thing I have ever done.”
Torricelli apologized to his constituents for the last minute move, but stated his belief that it was in the best interest of the Democratic Party. Fighting back his emotions, the senator thanked his voters for their support and said, “Don’t feel badly for me, I’ve changed people’s lives.”
Rumors of the senator’s decision were heard on Capital Hill as early as Monday morning. In his press conference in Trenton, New Jersey Monday afternoon, Torricelli said, “You gave me the only life I ever wanted, and I gave you 20 years of my life.”
The senator expressed pride over his 30 year record of public service in which he fought for abortion rights and gun control among other issues. Before his election to the Senate in 1996, Torricelli held seven consecutive House terms.
The decision to remove himself from the race came after days of meetings with key Democratic leaders, including New Jersey Governor Jim McGreevey, Sen. Jon Corzine (D-N.J.) and former President Bill Clinton. Torricelli was the one who made the final call though, according to his aides.
Last week, a U.S. district judge unsealed a letter from the U.S. Justice Department that detailed Torricelli’s involvement with David Chang, a New Jersey businessman who pleaded guilty in 2000 to donating $53,700 in illegal campaign contributions to the senator during his 1996 election campaign. Chang, who is currently serving a prison term for his involvement in the case, accused New Jersey Democrats of trying to deter him from cooperating with federal investigators.
Chang’s plea bargain led to a three year investigation of Torricelli but the senator was never charged. Instead, the Justice Department referred the case to the Senate Ethics Committee. This summer, the committee “severely admonished” the senator, accusing him of breaking Senate rules “and related statutes” by accepting gifts from Chang including a 52-inch television and a CD player amongst other things.
Torricelli’s Republican opponent, Douglas Forrester, has pulled ahead of the senator in the latest polls-a significant change from the early summer when Torricelli held a comfortable lead. Forrester, who the senator referred to today as a man who “does not belong in the United States Senate,” is the owner of a successful pharmaceutical company and appears now to have the race won.
With 36 days to the Nov. 5 election, the move has sparked serious problems for Democrats who are now faced with finding a new candidate, raising money and breaking a New Jersey law that restricts new candidates from entering the race within the 48 days before the election. Despite confidence expressed today by key Democratic leaders that the state Supreme Court will bend the rules, a victory given the short amount of time seems unlikely.
Reps. Robert Menendez, Frank Pallone Jr. and Robert E. Andrews as well as former Sen. Bill Bradley have all been named as possible replacements for Torricelli. A new candidate is expected to be announced as early as Tuesday afternoon.
Even though his three year struggle against Chang has ended in failure, the senator continued to deny any wrongdoing, saying, “David Chang is a liar” who “had difficulty accepting responsibility for his own conduct.”
This article appeared in the September 30, 2002 issue of the Hatchet.