On the same day a much rumored primary opponent emerged as an official contender, state Sen. John Girgenti (D-Hawthorne) submitted a state Election Law Enforcement Commission (ELEC) quarterly report that shows him with a closing balance of $347,000.
“We are prepared to raise more money, and to get more engaged,” the 35th District Democratic incumbent told PolitickerNJ.com.
Hawthorne Democratic Committee Chairman Jeff Gardner’s decision to primary Girgenti does not alter the senator’s plan. He was going to run anyway, and will run.
“I just find it kind of strange,” admitted Girgenti.
“It seems like he’s (Gardner’s) a one issue candidate. He disagrees with me on a vote I made – and I vote on thousands of pieces of legislation – but he has a personal grudge because of that one vote. I find it a little odd. He’s been there as the chair for six months. It sounds like this has been his agenda from the beginning. But, of course, he has every right to run. I feel very confident.”
That one vote that set the men on a collision course was marriage equality. A gay marriage activist, Gardner wanted his senator – for whom he once worked – to vote yes. Girgenti voted no.
“I’m chairman of the law and public safety committee, vice chair of judiciary,” said the Democratic incumbent. “I’m working on bringing business and jobs to the district and fighting ten percent unemployment. I’ve fought against gangs. …I try to represent my district to the best of my ability. I don’t think that’s the only issue in the spectrum. We disagree. That’s his prerogative. I tried to be supportive of things locally since he became the leader. I just don’t how serious he is. In any event, I’m determined to run. I know I have the support a lot of leaders.”
Of his no vote on marriage equality, Girgenti said, “I weighed every issue very seriously, and it wasn’t an easy decision. At the end of the day, that’s what I believe people in my district believed as well.”
Gardner ought to put more time in at the local level before running for state Senate, the senator added.
“I think we’ve done the job,” Girgenti said. “I’ve always worked hard. Maybe he should have run for council or school board.”
An attorney who just opened his own practice, Gardner said the race will be a referendum on a creaky, moribund incumbent. The marriage equality issue was a motivating factor for him to put on the political warpaint, Gardner said, but not the only issue.
“A member of any minority community that has been disrespected by their own legislator would have no choice but to stand up and fight, however the reason I’m running is the senator has failed to deliver for the district after 30 years in the legislature,” Gardner, a leader of the lesbian and gay community told PolitickerNJ.com. “We need something better than a back bencher. …I’m sure he doesn’t want me running for the senate.”
Gardner acknowledged turbulence around the 35th District. Now embroiled in redistricting, some Republicans want to shimmy Hawthorne out of a district that is currently configured as a Democratic Party behemoth – and meathook it in political Siberia.
The Democratic challenger is alert to the intrigues around the 35th.
“I only opened a campaign committee, I haven’t formally launched my campaign, but by the same token, it’s full speed ahead,” he said. “I’m looking forward to the spring; with redistricting there are many variables. Right now, I only have the realtiy that exists, and I’m expecting to represent the 35th District as the senator.”