Recapping a Wild Week in New Jersey Politics

Phil Murphy. Kevin B. Sanders for Observer

Voters elected a new governor. The state Assembly settled on its next speaker. A congressman decided to retire. A senator awaited a verdict in his corruption trial.

There was a lot to keep up with in a momentous week that included, by the way, the end of the most expensive legislative race in state and maybe U.S. history.

Here’s a recap of what went down:

Phil Murphy was elected the 56th governor of New Jersey, cruising to a win over Chris Christie’s lieutenant governor, Kim Guadagno. He met with Christie days later for a transition meeting. According to Murphy, the discussion focused on “transition stuff.” Shocker.

After the election, Murphy announced Lieutenant Governor-elect Sheila Oliver will be commissioner of the Department of Community Affairs. He got a hero’s welcome Friday from the New Jersey Education Association.

In the mother of all Election Day news dumps, Rep. Frank LoBiondo (R-2) announced he won’t seek re-election next year. It took mere hours for Democrats to begin recruiting state Sen. Jeff Van Drew (D-Cape May) to run for the seat.

In a historically expensive race, Senate President Steve Sweeney (D-Gloucester) survived a multimillion-dollar onslaught from the state’s largest teachers union and won re-election by 18 points. He reflected on being labeled a “double-dipping pension padder” in a victory lap interview with Observer.

As expected, Sweeney was re-elected Senate president by his caucus later in the week, and pledged to move quickly on passing a millionaires tax — a Murphy priority.

Meanwhile, Assembly Speaker Vincent Prieto’s longshot plan to hang onto power fizzled out, meaning he will hand the gavel to Assemblyman Craig Coughlin in January.

Democrats snagged the Senate seat in the battleground 11th legislative district, as Vin Gopal ousted state Sen. Jen Beck (R-Monmouth).

State Sen. Linda Greenstein (D-Middlesex) and state Sen. Bob Gordon (D-Bergen) secured re-election with decisive double-digit victories. When the dust settled, Democrats gained two Assembly seats and one Senate seat, meaning they now have a 54-26 vote margin in the Assembly and 25-15 in the Senate.

The one bright spot for the GOP was Assemblyman Chris Brown (R-Atlantic), the only Republican in the country to flip a seat in Tuesday’s elections.

Brown’s district includes Atlantic City, where Democrat Frank Gilliam ousted Republican Mayor Don Guardian.

Jersey City Mayor Steve Fulop was re-elected, staving off a challenge from another Democrat, lawyer Bill Matsikoudis.

Ravi Bhalla, a longtime council member, was elected Hoboken’s first Sikh leader. A few days before the election, racist campaign literature calling him a “terrorist” was circulated.

All the while, Sen. Bob Menendez waited for a jury to decide whether he’s guilty of corruption charges. An excused juror told reporters she thought the senator was innocent and alluded to the possibility of a hung jury, sending shockwaves across the state before she went on a planned vacation to the Bahamas.

Recapping a Wild Week in New Jersey Politics