ANNAPOLIS – Touting her administration’s accomplishments in New Jersey, Gov. Christine Todd Whitman told U.S. Naval Academy midshipmen Wednesday to exercise leadership based on moral judgment.
“Each of you has a moral compass on which you can depend,” Whitman said. “Consult it often, in the small decisions and the big decisions.”
Whitman outlined her state’s handling of affirmative action, AIDS and education during her address as part of the Naval Academy’s Forrestal lecture series.
Her audience was a brigade that has been rocked by scandals including cheating, drug use, sexual assault, murder accusations, and car-theft rings. An 18-member board of civilian and military officials is reviewing the academy as a result.
Whitman told the midshipmen to follow Navy principles and show leadership by example and excellence without arrogance.
“You will be called on to make tough decisions when you least expect it, when you’re least prepared,” she said. “These are the times you must call on your moral compass.”
Despite her emphasis on integrity, several midshipmen commented that her address seemed like a campaign speech because she talked a lot about New Jersey.
“I don’t know [that] what she had to say was going to apply to the national scope of the brigade,” said Midshipman 1st Class Bradley Knope, 23, of Rochester, N.Y.
Others disagreed, saying the speech applied to them since they represent a cross-section of the country. Several said they had never heard of Whitman before, but liked what she had to say and her style.
“I thought she had good things to say,” said Midshipman 2nd Class Patrick Lessard, 20, of Winter Park, Fla.
Past Forrestal lecturers have included U.S. Attorney General Janet Reno, former President George Bush, retired Army Gen. Colin Powell and Adm. Jay Johnson, chief of Naval Operations.
Whitman has steadily gained national prominence since she was elected New Jersey’s first woman governor in 1993. Last year, she co-chaired the Republican National Convention, and she’s been mentioned as a presidential candidate in 2000.
“I have absolutely no plans, other than to run for re- election as governor this year,” Whitman said in response to a midshipman’s question. “If you want to be president in this country, you’ve got to have a real burning in your gut to do it, because it takes so much.”
Whitman said following her own compass has forced her to make some tough decisions in New Jersey. For example, she said, the state is concerned about AIDS, but she rejected a needle- exchange plan because it undermined the state’s emphasis on teaching students not to use drugs.
When a midshipman asked her about distributing free condoms in schools, Whitman said that’s up to the individual schools.
“The last time I knew, sex wasn’t illegal, drug use is,” she said.
The governor said the state requires that every public school teach about the Holocaust and other genocides because she believes this will show children the dangers of racism.
One midshipman asked what she would do if following her moral compass went against her chance of getting re-elected.
“Follow your moral compass,” Whitman answered quickly. “At least I do. It’s the only way you can survive.” As the applause died, she added, “If you don’t, you start to get caught up in the lies, you don’t know who you are and you can’t follow through.” -30-