Calling today “bittersweet,” Assembly Speaker Joseph Roberts (D-Camden) formally announced that he will end a 22 year career in the Assembly by not seeking reelection.
“I think it’s, from my perspective, just time to take a break,” said Roberts, who added later that he always intended to serve as Speaker for “a couple of terms.”
Roberts kept open the possibility that he would seek public office in the future. He would not entirely rule out running for the state Senate seat of Dana Redd (D-Camden), who is favored to win the election to become mayor of Camden, but he heavily downplayed the possibility, saying that it wouldn’t give him quite the break he’s looking for.
“I don’t want to mislead you. It’s highly unlikely,” he said. “I want to take a break, and that would be jumping from one place to the other too quickly.”
News of Roberts’ decision broke last night, validating rumors about his political future that have circulated for over a year. Although Roberts said he has anticipated stepping down for “at least a couple years, and maybe longer,” he purposely decided to make the announcement between finishing the budget process and the November election.
“In November, the people of the 5th District are going to vote for somebody. And if I had my name on the ballot on November 3rd and stood for reelection and then said to them a week later ‘guess what, I’ve had it planned all along, I’ve changed my mind,’ that would be disingenuous, and they deserve better than that,’ he said.
The Camden County Democratic Committee will vote to replace Roberts on the ballot in the heavily Democratic district. The likely successor is South Jersey AFL-CIO President Donald Norcross, the local party’s co-chairman and brother of power broker George Norcross. Roberts said Norcross has his “full support,” partly because he can “hit the ground running.”
The end of Roberts’ term in January will be mark the first time he has not held an elected office since winning a seat on Bellmawr’s school board in 1976. From there, he moved up to the Bellmawr Borough Council and onto the Camden County Freeholder Board before making it to the Assembly in 1987. He rose to the position of Assembly Majority Leader in 2005 before becoming Speaker in 2006.
Roberts’ departure will likely set up an intra-party battle for the Assembly’s top spot and will likely have implications in the state Senate, where state Sen. Stephen Sweeney (D-West Deptford) could challenge Senate President Dick Codey (D-Roseland).
Interested candidates for Roberts’ spot include Assembly Majority Leader Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-Trenton), Assemblyman Joseph Cryan (D-Union), who is also the Democratic State Chairman, and Assemblyman John Wisniewski (D-Sayreville).
“These distractions are part of what happens in October and November in the Assembly,” he said.
During his career, Roberts said that he was proud to take up “orphan issues that no one wants to tackle” like needle exchange programs, affordable housing and autism.
Although he said he enjoyed working with Republican and Democratic legislators, the press conference was not free of partisan shots – especially at Republican gubernatorial nominee Chris Christie.
“The more people see Chris Christie up close, the more they will have buyer’s remorse even before the election,” said Roberts, noting the increase in Christie’s negatives in several recent polls and arguing that the Governor was starting to cut into Christie’s lead.
Roberts also brought up Christie’s failure to disclose his $46,000 loan to former First Assistant U.S. Attorney Michele Brown with the Election Law Enforcement Commission.
“For him, frankly, to deride our campaign, to deride our ethics disclosure form in New Jersey as being a joke and then to fail to fulfill the requirements of it as a candidate is preposterous, and someone running for governor has to do better than that,” he said.
Although Christie has been ahead in every recent poll, Roberts scoffed at the idea that Republicans could win enough seats to overtake the Democrats’ 48-32 majority.
“For every single incumbent Democrat, we are ahead in every single district for every single seat,” said Roberts.
That assessment even includes District 1 – the top target for Republicans this year, where Democrats Matt Milam (D-Vineland) and Nelson Albano (D-Vineland) represent a traditionally Republican district.
“I the unlikely and I believe impossible event that the Assembly Democrats lose the majority for next year, I am prepared to come back from the dead and work as the Sargent at Arms on the Assembly Floor for free for the next to years,” he said.