EDISON, N.J. – Sen. Robert Torricelli apologized Thursday night for his ethical lapses during a debate with his Republican opponent, and vowed his errors would make him a better congressman if re-elected.
"Work harder, be better, do more. I need that for myself and I owe it to the state of New Jersey," Torricelli said. "I'm going to use it as a motivator to do more and better things."
Millionaire businessman Douglas Forrester said the Democratic senator has embarrassed the state with charges he failed to disclose donations from a businessman serving a prison term for campaign finance violations.
"This is a pattern of behavior which is far more serious than he is letting on," said the Republican candidate. "We cannot let this pass."
Torricelli criticized Forrester for repeatedly bringing up the ethical issue.
"I've tried to give a full account of this and I've apologized for it," Torricelli said. "Forrester wants the allegations to dominate the campaign because he does not want the voters to hear his record on abortion rights, gun control and the environment."
In July, the Senate ethics committee "severely admonished" Torricelli after finding he accepted and failed to disclose gifts from David Chang, a businessman who is serving an 18-month prison sentence for making illegal campaign donations.
The panel also said it was troubled by "incongruities, inconsistencies and conflicts."
The charges helped push Torricelli down in most polls, which have the candidates running nearly even.
Thursday night's debate was the first of five between the candidates.
Forrester, running for his first statewide elected office, appeared stiff and hesitant at times, but rejected charges that he is too inexperienced to serve.
The two fought on funding the Superfund, the federal program to clean polluted and often-abandoned industrial sites. Torricelli wants to resume using a federal tax on gasoline products while Forrester says the government's general funds should be used.
Green Party candidate Ted Glick, 52, was arrested when he tried to enter the studio to join the debate and charged with disorderly conduct.
"This is a democracy. Voters should be able to hear from candidates who have alternate viewpoints," Glick said.
Glick wasn't invited to the debate because he wasn't actively campaigning when the arrangements were made, said Jonathan Knopf, the news director and general manager of News 12, which aired the debate.