Whitman, Christine Todd (1946—)
Whitman, Christine Todd (1946—)
American politician who was elected first woman governor of New Jersey in 1994 . Name variations: Christie Whitman. Born Christine Todd on September 26, 1946, in New York; daughter of Webster B. Todd and Eleanor (Schley) Todd; studied at the American School in Paris, Foxcroft in Virginia, and the Chapin School, New York City; bachelor's degree in government,Wheaton College, 1968; married John Whitman, in 1974; children: Kate Whitman (b. 1977); Taylor Whitman (b. 1979).
Born in New York in 1946, Christine Todd Whitman was the scion of one of New Jersey's wealthiest and best-connected political families. Both parents were active figures in Republican Party politics. Her father Webster B. Todd, a contractor whose projects included Rockefeller Center and Radio City Music Hall, served as chair of the Republican Party, while her mother Eleanor Schley Todd was active in both the Republican National Committee and the New Jersey Federation of Republican Women. Christine's husband John Whitman, a financial consultant, was also politically connected, the grandson of Charles S. Whitman, Sr., governor of New York from 1914 to 1916.
The youngest of four children, Whitman was raised on a farm in Oldwick, New Jersey, although some of her childhood was spent abroad. All the children were encouraged to pursue a life of public service, learning the mantra "good government was the best politics" from their parents, who were moderate "Rockefeller Republicans." Whitman's political indoctrination began early. She was chosen (along with a young Steve Forbes) to present dolls to six-year-old Tricia and four-year-old Julie Nixon during the 1952 presidential campaign, and she attended her first Republican National Convention at the age of nine.
Whitman studied at the American School in Paris, where her father served in the Eisenhower administration, as well as at private schools in the United States, including Foxcroft in Virginia and the Chapin School in New York City. She attended Wheaton College, in Norton, Massachusetts, graduating with a degree in government in 1968, the year she worked for Nelson A. Rockefeller during his presidential campaign. During the 1970s, Whitman worked in New York as a teacher and in Washington, D.C., with the Republican National Committee, also serving in the U.S. Office of Economic Opportunity, an anti-poverty program of the Nixon administration. After her marriage in 1974 to John Whitman, she lived for a time in England.
Whitman made her first bid for elective office in 1981, and served two terms on the Somerset County Board of Chosen Freeholders, a board of supervisors. In 1988, she was appointed president of the New Jersey Board of Public Utilities by Republican Governor Tom Kean, resigning in 1990 in order to run for the U.S. Senate against popular incumbent Bill Bradley. When she came within 2% of his votes, Whitman drew the attention of Republican Party leaders and began laying the groundwork for a campaign to oust Democratic Governor Jim Florio, building on opposition to his tax legislation and the anti-incumbent sentiments in the state. Despite damaging allegations during the Republican gubernatorial campaign (including charges that she had hired illegal aliens as household workers), Whitman entered the race as a favorite. Running on a platform of economic revival and tax cuts, she survived personal attacks, campaign disorganization, and numerous missteps to become the first woman governor in the history of the state. In her inaugural speech, Whitman declared: "Our principle problems are not the product of great global economic shifts or other vast, unseen forces. They are the creation of government." During her career as governor of New Jersey, she downsized government programs and provided a more conducive environment for private businesses.
A moderate Republican known for her steely character, firm beliefs, and intransigence, Whitman has made stands on many issues that oppose party orthodoxy, including her fervent advocacy of abortion rights. "It's when we get into government trying to manage morals and mores that we start to run into trouble…. But there's room in the party for people who believe differently on those issues." Her achievement in cutting taxes by the promised 30%, a feat she accomplished in two years instead of the promised three, inspired many politicians around the country, despite criticism of her reliance on a bullish stock market in order to balance the state budget and finance the state employees' pension plan. While the state income tax in New Jersey fell after she became governor, local property taxes increased. But through media exposure Whitman became one of the better-known politicians in the United States, spawning a growing number of "Christie Whitman Republicans" eager to emulate her success. In 1994 People Weekly dubbed her "a one-woman political slogan" and named her one of the most intriguing people of the year. She was also on the Newsweek list of the six most influential Republicans.
On the national scene, Whitman was chosen as the first governor to give the rebuttal to a Presidential State of the Union Address, counteracting President Bill Clinton in 1995. She made a promise on behalf of the Republican Party: "We will keep our word. We will do what you elected us to do." Her audience was impressed with her response and the buzz began about the possibilities of her candidacy for vice president in 1996.
Bob Dole, the Republican candidate, ultimately chose Jack Kemp as his running mate.
Despite her national prominence, Whitman remained dedicated to her home state of New Jersey. She countered New York officials regarding their waste water mishaps that threaten her state's shores and also took them to court, claiming Ellis Island to be part of New Jersey. Annoyed by the typical New Jersey-bashing jokes, she worked to make sure that no one stepped on her state or on herself as governor.
Whitman raised local skepticism while keeping her promise to cut income taxes. Along the way, many people fell to her ruthless fiscal politics. For instance, Labor Commissioner Peter Calderone began to organize opposition to the privatization of the state's temporary disability insurance fund, a plan Whitman had proposed, and was asked to resign. Similarly, Robert Thompson, of the Whitman press office, was dismissed when he admitted that the privatization of the Department of Motor Vehicles was not going as well as Whitman herself had claimed. Countering an attack by minority leader John Lynch in 1997 regarding use of state money to settle a sexual harassment suit, Whitman made public a domestic violence dispute in the Lynch household that had required police intervention.
Despite her sometimes tough tactics, Whitman was known for getting the job done and keeping her promises. She was perceived as a dynamic force in Republican politics, and in 1999 surprised observers when she decided against running for the U.S. Senate. She lived on the family estate in New Jersey when not residing in the governor's mansion in Princeton. In 2000, her name was one of those suggested as a possible vice-presidential candidate for Republican presidential hopeful George W. Bush, although he eventually settled on Dick Cheney. Around that time she came under a firestorm of criticism when a 1996 photograph surfaced in the news media showing Whitman, with a wide grin, patting down a young African-American man who had been pulled over by state troopers she had been riding with. The timing of the photo's appearance was particularly bad, as it came on the heels of widespread allegations about racial profiling among New Jersey police, and brought the governor much negative publicity.
Whitman, who has also served on a variety of boards and commissions in New Jersey, left the governor's mansion in January 2001, when newly elected President Bush appointed her administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency. The first few months of her job there were made more difficult when the president undercut or disavowed statements she had made about EPA policy, although she steadfastly maintained her public loyalty to the administration.
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Paula Morris , D.Phil., Brooklyn, New York