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Kim Guadagno: The Unknown Lieutenant Governor

But it’s not only the media who are starved for information about the woman who could become the de facto governor.

At the only televised debate of the lieutenant governor’s campaign, the 54-year-old former prosecutor and mother of three sons was asked by a student at Kean University to tell the TV and studio audiences something personal about herself.

“Most New Jerseyans don’t know who you are, as we should,” the questioner said in a video. “What should we know about you to help us make a wise decision when we go to the polls?”

Rather than talking about her beliefs, her family or her aspirations for a second term, Guadagno, who lives in Monmouth Beach and previously served as Monmouth County sheriff, responded only by reiterating her administration’s record on job creation, and accusing Buono of voting to raise taxes 154 times during her 18 years in the legislature. Guadagno’s husband, Michael, is an Appellate Court judge.

The debate, on October 11, was Guadagno’s best chance to raise her public profile. She highlighted the fact that she has spent the last four years heading up economic development and offering tax incentives to businesses to set up or expand in New Jersey.

She said she has “helped to create” 143,000 private-sector jobs in her four years as lieutenant governor, and argued that the state now has the fastest rate of job creation in 12 years.

Among the companies she has helped to attract or retain in the past four years are Lockheed Martin, Campbell Soup, and Burlington Coat Factory.

But she quickly deflected the credit for job creation and other policy successes to Christie himself. “The first thing you have to know is that it’s not my vision, it’s the governor’s vision,” she said.

Despite her low-profile, Guadagno has made some missteps. In 2011, Guadagno alienated some members of the state’s arts community by saying that the New Jersey State Council on the Arts had improperly awarded $300,000 worth of contracts for public art projects.

The council’s former executive director, Steve Runk, resigned after Guadagno called for his dismissal. Runk, who now works for Princeton University, declined to comment on the events, saying only that he didn’t want to relive the “terrible things that were done.” But Guadagno’s accusations never came to anything after a state investigation. Many in the arts community believe that Runk was unfairly demonized and damaged for reasons unknown.

Others are more supportive. Caren Franzini, former director of the New Jersey Economic Development Authority, who met with Guadagno on a weekly basis, praised the lieutenant governor’s work with the agency, saying she recognized what business needed to come to or stay in New Jersey, and worked hard to achieve that.

“She knew how to be very responsive to their needs,” Franzini said, in an interview. She described Guadagno as “forceful in a positive way.”

By contrast with Guadagno’s strong pro-business agenda, Silva strives to create a populist image by calling for a minimum wage hike, higher taxes on the wealthy, property tax relief, and more state funding for schools.

In an interview with NJ Spotlight, Silva said a Buono administration would reintroduce the so-called “millionaire’s tax”, which would have raised the rate on people with incomes over $1 million to 10.75 percent from 8.97 percent, generating some $800 million for property tax relief. Christie vetoed the plan for the third time in July 2012.

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