New Jersey ’07: More action in spring than fall

With contested Senate and Assembly races fifteen legislative districts so far, the spring campaign season of conventions and primaries is shaping up to be a far more lively campaign season than the fall. In a grudge match that could settle lingering hostilities from the 1994 GOP congressional primary, two Republicans are battling for the chance to succeed retiring State Senator Bill Gormley. Assembly Minority Whip Frank Blee, who has Gormley’s strong support, faces Sonny McCullough, the longtime Mayor of Egg Harbor Township. McCullough has the backing of Congressman Frank LoBiondo, who defeated Gormley in the ’94 primary. Some second district Republicans say that Atlantic County Republicans could cut a deal with McCullough to avoid a divisive Special Election Convention and/or primary: they could offer him Blee’s Assembly seat (a bird-in-hand for McCullough, who could be in the Legislature as early as February), and let other Republicans, including Brigantine Mayor Philip Guenther and former Freeholder John Risley, battle it out among Atlantic Republicans for the second Assembly seat. The winner of the GOP Senate battle will face Democratic Assemblyman James Whelan, the former Mayor of Atlantic City. Both parties have a deep farm system, and competition for the four major party Assembly nominations is fairly intense. In Northwestern New Jersey, the venerable Robert Littell, a legislator since 1967, faces a primary challenge for his Senate seat from conservative Guy Gregg, a seven-term Assemblyman. The 70-year-old Littell, whose last tough races were stiff primary challenges more than a decade ago, has had some serious health issues in recent years. At stake is the family Senate seat: Littell’s father held it in the 1940’s and 1950’s, and his daughter, Assemblywoman Alison Littell McHose, wants to move to the upper house someday. Gregg is set to formally announce over the next several weeks, although some Republicans wonder if he will actually pull the trigger. The Pallonian Republican had run for the United States Senate in 2002, but unexpectedly withdrew on filing day. And there is still some question about which Littell will actually file for the Senate this year. There will be strong competition for Gregg’s open Assembly seat. In Essex County, veteran State Senator Ronald Rice is expected to seek re-election to an eighth term without the support of the Essex County Democratic organization. Newark Mayor Cory Booker, who defeated Rice last year, is backing Freeholder Bilal Beasley, an Irvington Councilman. In the other Newark district, State Senator Sharpe James, the former Mayor, has not revealed his re-election plans. If he does run, he will most certainly face a primary challenge — probably against Newark City Councilman Luis Quintana. In the Assembly, there is considerable speculation that Democrats will dump incumbents Oadline Truitt (28th) and Wilfredo Caraballo (29th) from their line. Truitt will likely go away without a struggle, but Caraballo has been exploring an independent re-election bid. Rice is recruiting running mates, assuring an Assembly primary in that district as well. Two Democratic Senators from Hudson County may be facing the toughest races of their lengthy political careers. In the 31st district, State Senator Joseph Doria, the Mayor of Bayonne, is being challenged by Sandra Bolden Cunningham, whose late husband served as Mayor of Jersey City and State Senator. Senate Majority Leader Bernard Kenny, the Hudson County Democratic Chairman, is about to get tossed off his own line; he has not yet announced if he will fight to keep his seat against Assemblyman Brian Stack, the Mayor of Union City. There will be contested Assembly primaries in these districts also. In the 37th district, Bergen County Democratic Chairman Joseph Ferriero has endorsed Loretta Weinberg’s bid for re-election to a second term, seemingly pulling the plug on former Assemblyman Ken Zisa, who had been seeking a rematch after losing the seat to Weinberg in 2005 by just one vote. But Weinberg is fighting to get her running mates — Gordon Johnson and Valerie Vainieri Huttle — re-elected, and she could wind up with a primary if she opts to run with Johnson and Hutttle off the organization line. The threat of a GOP primary challenge has been looming against 39th district Assembly incumbents John Rooney and Charlotte Vandervalk for almost a year, and while no candidates have stepped forward so far, most Bergen Republicans expect a slate to emerge. Two Democrats are jockeying for the chance to run against longtime GOP State Senator Gerald Cardinale: Joseph Ariyan, a 41-year-old lawyer from Saddle River and the Bergen County Public Advocate for Land Use; and Dennis Testa, the Vice President of the Bergen County Education Association. Retirements have sparked some excellent Assembly races for open seats: there a multiple candidate fields in the 9th, 11th, 12th, 16th, 24th and 26th districts.

New Jersey ’07: More action in spring than fall