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911 commission chairs son runs for new jersey senate { October 19 2006 }

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October 19, 2006
Kean Past and Kean Present Unite to Promote a Kean Future
UNION, N.J., Oct. 18 — The word of the day was Kean.

The news conference Wednesday was at Kean University, named after the storied New Jersey political family that once owned the land where the campus now sits. It was, in fact, inside the Kean Hall Conference Center, which, unsurprisingly, is situated in Kean Hall. And there was Thomas H. Kean Jr., the Republican nominee for United States Senate, standing next to his father, Thomas H. Kean Sr., the former governor of this state.

“In Tom Kean Jr., we’ve got the kind of young man that I’ve been trying to encourage to run for office for a long, long time,” said the elder Mr. Kean. Saying that “Washington needs a change,” he pointed to his son, who was standing to his right, and added, “This is the change.”

The former governor has appeared at a few fund-raising events on behalf of his son, and says that the two speak almost daily about campaign strategy. But Wednesday’s event was notable because it was their first joint appearance in the campaign at which the elder Mr. Kean, who was also the chairman of the 9/11 Commission, was the featured attraction.

The news conference drew a prickly response from Mr. Kean’s Democratic opponent, Senator Robert Menendez. “I’m pleased to see that 20 days before the election Tom Kean Jr. has finally gotten the endorsement of his father,” Mr. Menendez said. Referring to a Hudson County race years ago, he added, “I don’t know if it was ever in doubt, but since Tom Kean Sr. endorsed me in 1986, I was waiting to see what maybe happened in this election.”

And while the former governor dominated the event, speaking about 90 percent of the time, Mr. Kean the candidate bristled when the subject arose of his father’s role on the board of UnitedHealth Group, one of the nation’s largest health insurers. The chief executive, Dr. William W. McGuire, was forced to resign on Sunday amid investigations into the company’s stock options practices. Mr. Menendez had questioned whether campaign donations from UnitedHealth executives were given at the behest of the elder Mr. Kean.

“It’s fine to attack me,” the younger Mr. Kean said. “Don’t attack my family.”

Not that the former governor needed his son to defend the family honor. Talking at length about ethics and trust in government, he said that Mr. Menendez, a veteran of Hudson County politics, “comes out of a corrupt culture.” And although he criticized the nastiness of modern-day politics, he defended his son’s biting television commercials as “accurate” and criticized those of Mr. Menendez as “negative commercials that are simply not true.”

When asked about that “corrupt culture,” Mr. Menendez said: “The reality is I don’t know what we would expect him to say. I’m running against his son.”

With Mr. Kean, who served two terms as governor in the 1980’s, still a revered figure, his appearance was intended to influence voters unfamiliar with the record of the son, who has served in state government for five years. Many political analysts say that the Kean name is precisely why the younger Mr. Kean is running neck-and-neck in a state that usually votes Democratic.

To reinforce the family bond and arouse a sense of nostalgia, the two stood before a diverse group of businessmen and community leaders, many of whom had worked for the elder Mr. Kean or had supported his son during his first foray into elective politics, an unsuccessful bid for Congress in 2000.

Indeed, the bonds — emotional and financial — between the candidacies of both father and son cannot be discounted. According to an analysis of campaign contributions by The New York Times, about 100 people who donated to the former governor’s campaigns in 1981 and 1985 have given more than $170,000 to his son this year. And through June 30, an unusually high percentage of retirees — about 10 percent of all donors — had contributed about $250,000 to Mr. Kean’s current Senate campaign, suggesting that many were more familiar with the Kean governorship.

On Tuesday, Mr. Kean said that he was giving his campaign a $400,000 loan to narrow a 3-2 fund-raising lead that Mr. Menendez now has. He also released his 2005 tax returns, which showed that he paid $8,146, or 4 percent, in taxes on $202,000 of income last year, nearly 80 percent of which came from trusts and investments.

The gathering also had its lighter moments. After the former governor expressed confidence that his son would help carry out the recommendations of the 9/11 Commission, he said, “If Tom goes to the Senate and doesn’t get these things through, he’s not coming to Thanksgiving dinner.”

Mike McIntire and Richard G. Jones contributed reporting.

Copyright 2006 The New York Times Company

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