Senator for Life?

There must be something very special about a seat in the New Jersey Senate, because it is almost as likely that a Senator will die in office than it is to see a member of the upper house voluntarily walk away. PoliticsNJ.com looked at the 155 men and women who have served in the New Jersey Senate over the past 35 years, and found that of the 113 former Senators, only eighteen have called it quits on their own volition. And of those twenty who said “it’s been nice, but I’ve had enough,” only seven of them have been within the last ten years. The number one reason for leaving the Senate is electoral defeat; voters have rejected incumbent Senators 41 times over the past eight Senate elections. Eighteen Senators have resigned their positions to move on to something else, and thirteen more have given up their Senate seats in order to seek another public office. Eleven Senators have died in office — most recently Glenn Cunningham, the Mayor of Jersey City, who died in 2004 after less than a year in the Senate. Poor health forced Senator Wayne Dumont to resign his seat after 38 years (he passed away shortly after leaving office) and Senator Byron Baer resigned in 2005 for health reasons — and under pressure from party leaders — after 34 years in Trenton. Four others been removed following their criminal convictions. That makes an open seat in the Senate very rare indeed, especially with the diminished number of politically competitive legislative districts after the last redistricting process. Of the eighteen voluntary retirements, only a handful left because they had had enough. Senators like Charles Yates, a sort of renaissance man who left the Senate while still in his forties (and with his wife and young children, died in a tragic airplane crash two summers ago), are not the norm. Alexander Menza won a Senate seat in 1973, defeating former Senate President Frank McDermott in the Watergate landslide that year. But Menza didn’t care much for the Senate and didn’t seek re-election in 1977, although he would have won easily. He lost a Democratic primary for U.S. Senate in 1978 (finishing third behind Bill Bradley and Richard Leone), and went on to serve as a Superior Court Judge — and as a moderately successful playwright. Richard Bagger, a young Union County Republican considered a potential rising star, resigned his Senate seat after just a year in order to devote more time to his private sector job at a major pharmaceutical company. Bagger is said to be on the fast track at Pfizer as well. and his resignation cleared the way for Thomas Kean, Jr. to move up to the State Senate. Some Senators, while technically opting for voluntary retirement, actually walked away at the invitation of party leaders. Alene Ammond, known as the “Terror of Trenton” during her single term in the Senate (she was actually kicked out of the Democratic Majority Caucus), didn’t run again in 1977. Edward O’Connor, who survived in the Senate for twenty years despite the rough-and-tumble of Hudson County politics, knew his time had come to an end by 2001; he left as he served — quietly — and was rewarded with a Superior Court Judgeship. Two years later, O’Connor’s successor, Joseph Charles, opted for a nearly identical deal. After two tough Senate races, Garry Furnari moved from the Legislature to a Superior Court Judgeship. John Matheussen called it quits in 2003, after winning four times in a Democrat-leaning district and losing a Republican primary for United States Senator; he opted for a high-paying job at the Delaware River Port Authority. Statehouse observers say that Jack Casey, a Burlington County Democrat who unseated incumbent Bradford Smith in 1993, left the Senate after just one term because he didn’t want to run against Republican Diane Allen, then a one-term Assemblywoman well-known as a Philadelphia network news anchorwoman. And Carmen Orechio, a former Senate President and 18-year Senate veteran, retired after his district was eliminated; his hometown was added to the district of another Democratic Senator, Gabriel Ambrosio, who wound up losing anyway to Republican John Scott. Orechio still serves on the Nutley Town Commission, as he has since 1968. Of the bakers dozen of Senators who gave up their seats in order to run for something else, only three were successful: Frank Rodgers, who spent a half century as Mayor of Harrison, left after two terms to run for Hudson County Clerk; and Nicholas LaRocca and Kevin O’Toole, both in the Senate for a very short time after winning special elections, moved from the upper house to the Assembly. The other ten ran for Governor; only two, Raymond Bateman in 1977 and James E. McGreevey in 1997, won major party gubernatorial nominations and neither won the general election. (The last incumbent state legislator to win election as Governor was Morgan Larson in 1928.) Angelo Errichetti, David Friedland, William Vincent Musto and John Gregorio were removed from the Senate following criminal convictions. Gregorio, after obtaining a gubernatorial pardon in 1989, returned to electoral politics and remains the Mayor of Linden. Joseph Suliga left the Senate after just one term following a late-night incident in an Atlantic City casino. After serving in the Senate for ten years, James Cafiero retired from public office and built his law practice in North Wildwood. But when his successor, James Hurley, resigned in 1990 to take an appointment to the Casino Control Commission, Cafiero returned to the Senate. He barely won re-election in 2001 and retired in 2003. Five Senators left to take their seats in the U.S. Congress, one for a Judgeship, one for a state cabinet post, six for pension-boosting full-time state jobs, and one, Anne Clark Martindell, to become the United States Ambassador to New Zealand. James Galdieri won a 1980 special election when Anthony Scarindo resigned to take a job at the Meadowlands; his seat was eliminated in 1981 legislative redistricting. Republican David Himmelman, served only a few weeks in the Senate. He won a special election convention to replace Jack Sinagra, who was appointed to serve as a Port Authority Commissioner after already deciding to leave the Senate. Of the 43 Senators to lose re-election, nine of them lost in a primary election, two as Independents after being denied party support, and sixteen after only one term. Raymond Zane lost in 2001 after 28 years in the Senate, James Phillips after less than four months in office. There is speculation that a Senator or two may retire next year, but the odds don’t favor it at all.

Senator for Life?