FORMER NEW JERSEY Democratic Gov. Jim Florio's press secretary, who often lobbed personal attacks at current Republican Gov. Christine Todd Whitman during the last year's bitter campaign, has quietly joined the Asbury Park Press in Neptune, N.J., as an editorial writer.
The action has raised debate, questions, concerns and eyebrows in the state's media circles and in the halls of government in Trenton, the state capital. It also put the spotlight on the increasing number of journalists crossing the line into political publicity and policy positions -- and those like Jo Astrid Glading, the 35-year-old Florio spokeswoman and veteran reporter, who found their way back into newspapering without skipping a beat after the candidates they worked for lost their election bids.
Glading joined the Press' 11-member editorial board and, according to sources, will be writing many of the editorials dealing with state issues that appear in the state's second-largest paper.
"It's a no-win situation for Jo Glading and for the newspaper," said a Press staffer who asked not to be identified. "The appearance of a conflict of interest always will be there. People who know about it are talking about it."
Not so, says Press executive editor W. Raymond Ollwerther.
"We hired her for her ability, her experience and her knowledge of state government. They are great assets. I have confidence in her integrity and in her credibility," he said, noting there are built-in safeguards on the editorial board to prevent writers' personal opinions or agendas from creeping in.
And Ollwerther said he usually reads all editorials before they go into print.
Glading said her experience in state government brings with it a strength for her new job, one she claims she did not have when she left newspapering.
"I am not an ivy tower journalist, a complaint you hear about editorial writers," she said.
The former daily newspaper and wire service reporter said she wants only the "best for New Jersey, like Mr. Florio and Mrs. Whitman," and is pleased that she has an opportunity to help achieve that as an editorial writer.
"I did nothing unfair and nothing improper during the campaign," she said. "It's now over and I would like to put it behind us."
Interestingly, a vacancy was created when James Gardner, the 36-year-old, award-winning acting editorial page editor, jumped over to the Whitman administration, in which he serves s chief speech writer and policy advisor.
He earns $70,000 a year in that position and was offered what he described as several major salary increases by the Press to get him to stay on. Glading received $73,000 in her Florio media post.
At the same time, two other Press senior State House reporters who covered the 1992 campaign also joined the Whitman team, one as a treasury spokeswoman and the other as a top policy and planning advisor. A third, the paper's Trenton bureau chief, became campaign spokeswoman for the Republican U.S. Senate candidate, who is now the speaker of the New Jersey Assembly.
And returning to the Press as assistant state editor was a former State House reporter who became a spokesman for the New Jersey Dept. of Community Affairs under the Florio Democrats.
Ollwerther said he was "insulted" at the question that hiring Glading was his way of getting back at the Whitman administration for taking away Gardner and the other staffers. "We don't do things like that," he said.
Glading's arrival at the Press did not escape Gov. Whitman's attention. At a recent legislative correspondents' dinner, she made a point of wryly announcing that little did she realize by hiring Gardner she was creating a job for, "of all people," Glading.
Carl Golden, Whitman's communications director and her spokesman during the campaign, went head-on with Glading. Himself a one-time reporter, he said he would be watching Press editorials to see the pattern they take. …