Retired baseball pitcher Al Leiter wants to set the record straight: he will not be a candidate to replace Jim Saxton in Congress next year.
The 42-year-old Ocean County native acknowledged his interest in seeking public office someday, and said that he appreciated the attention his potential candidacy has received since Saxton announced that he would not seek re-election.
"I'm not saying I'm not interested, but I'm also aware of what it takes and what the whole gain of it would be, and I'm not prepared for that at this time," Leiter told PoliticsNJ.com in a phone interview.
Almost immediately after Saxton announced his retirement, Leiter's name was raised as a potential replacement, which would have provided Ocean County with a much needed celebrity candidate to counter Burlington County's Diane Allen, a state Senator well-known throughout the New Jersey portion of Philadelphia's television market due to her years as a news anchor on the city's CBS affiliate.
It wasn't long after the Saxton announcement that Leiter was contacted by Ocean County GOP Chairman George Gilmore, although he said Gilmore didn't ask him specifically about Saxton's seat – just his interest in politics.
"They're just curious and I'm trying to put the foot in the water," said Leiter. "As I told them, there is an interest — I'm just not ready yet."
Prior to Saxton's retirement announcement, Leiter had already been the subject an attempt by anonymous New Jersey political blogger DinoPCrocetti to draft him to challenge Frank Lautenberg for Senate in 2008.
But while he won't be challenging Lautenberg any time soon, Leiter has been actively involved in Republican politics. He serves on Rudy Giuliani's New Jersey steering committee, and has campaigned for George W. Bush, Michael Bloomberg (back when he was a Republican, at least) and Douglas Forrester.
"I know of a lot of people in the political world who can make it happen, and others like Dino Crocetti, who have said a lot of nice things," said Leiter. But, he added, "When I do read the criticism from those who think it's not realistic, I agree."
If he's ever going to run nationally, Leiter said, he wants to have experience first on a local level – either in southern Florida (where he currently resides) or New Jersey.
"I do believe when that times come in years ahead, in order to do it properly and justifiably so, it would have to be at a more local position and then go from there," said Leiter.
Leiter was drafted by the Yankees right out of high school in 1984, playing his first major league game with the team in 1987. He went on to play with the Mets, the Blue Jays and the Marlins, before returning to the Yankees and finishing his career in 2006. While playing ball, he earned his Associate's degree from Penn State University during the 1990s, and currently works as a commentator at the YES Network.
Although he hasn't lived in New Jersey since 1991, Leiter runs a company with his brother that rehabs blighted land in the state, and still considers the Garden State home. And while he may seek a local office in Florida, should he ever run for Congress or U.S. Senate, it will be in New Jersey.
"When that day comes, I my heart is in New Jersey," said Leiter.
Leiter's first taste of politics came during the 1994 baseball strike, when, representing the Major League Baseball Players Association, he lobbied on Capitol Hill to repeal the sport's exemption from the Sherman Antitrust Act. Walking through the halls of congress, he got a heady feeling.
"I really got the bug. There's an energy about it. It sucks you in," said Leiter, who considers himself a moderate Republican.
"I'm not way right, but at the end of the day I'm definitely on the right side of the aisle," he said.
Once he gets some experience on his resume, Leiter said, he does have his eyes on a U.S. Senate seat. But it won't likely be Lautenberg's – not unless the Senator wins in 2008 and runs for another term in 2014, at the age of 93. The two already know each other- Leiter's daughter attends school with Lautenberg's granddaughter. The two met when Leiter accompanied his daughter on a school trip.
"I even joked with Frank that I'll be ‘running against you' in the next reelection," said Leiter.