The New Jersey political scene starts off 2007 with a huge loss. State Senator Bill Gormley (R-Atlantic County), who has served since 1978 as an independent, smart, savvy and most of all tough-as-nails legislator, has announced that he is retiring. Gormley has been a one-of-a-kind legislator. While he is a Republican, he has often crossed party lines to work with Democrats either because it was the right thing to do on a particular issue, or it was the politically smart thing to do for Bill Gormley. He was elected time and time again in a district that wasn’t supposed to elect Republicans. He has gone head to head on numerous occasions with South Jersey Democratic boss George Norcross, and the powerful Democrat barely laid a glove on him. Gormley is 60, but he barely looks 50. He is an exercise fanatic. I’ve served with Gormley in the legislature back in the mid 1980s. I think one of the first times I met him he wanted to know my workout routine and started telling me about his. The last time I saw him in Washington at a conference, he was telling me about his new, more intense, routine that was pushing him harder than ever before. As he told me, I got tired even thinking about it. Gormley’s physical conditioning has always been a big part of his public persona. Interestingly, Gormley retires at a time when the Statehouse, but particularly Governor Jon Corzine, may need him most. Like I said, Gormley is smart. He knew that the Republicans were out of power and out of favor in Trenton, yet somehow developed a very direct relationship with Governor Corzine and was a key player in brokering a budget agreement last summer. Gormley is an ardent advocate of protecting the Atlantic City casino industry, which is critical to the economic vitality of South Jersey. According to Senate President Dick Codey, a Democrat from the north, “I don’t think anyone has fought harder for the people of their district than Bill Gormley. I think that’s the way he was. He wouldn’t back down. Even if we locked the door, he tried to get in.” While Bill Gormley has accomplished a great deal in his nearly 30 years in the state legislature, he has to be personally disappointed that he never got elected to higher office. He ran three times to get out of the Statehouse — for Congress, for U.S. Senate and the governorship. He lost all three times. In each race as an analyst I picked him as a strong favorite. Gormley is a great campaigner, a terrific speaker and has the human touch. He knows how to talk to regular folks while still being able to raise big money from the people who can afford it, but Gormley couldn’t get past the Republican Primary whose voters skew heavily to the right. They are more conservative and more strident than Gormley on issues. He is more practical, moderate and in some cases liberal. He would have been a great general election candidate, but his own Republicans wouldn’t let him out of the box. That was their mistake, but more importantly, New Jersey lost out on never getting the chance to see a talented politician like Bill Gormley as either a governor or U.S. Senator. Gormley has in no way been a perfect legislator or elected official. Sometimes he fought just to fight and got people peeved because he enjoyed it. He loved public confrontations. Sometimes they were warranted, like when he lead the fight to stop Governor Jim McGreevey from appointing his “friend” Golan Cipel to a top homeland security position or when McGreevey wanted to name ethically challenged developer Charles Kushner to head the Port Authority. Other times, Bill Gormley just seemed bored and looking for action”a competitor to the end. It’s probably because at the core he is an athlete who loves to compete. I wish you well, Bill, and I know that while you are leaving the legislature, you are probably planning to run a triathlon or swim across some large body of water in the next couple of years. Take care, Senator. You are one of the good guys in Trenton — a dying breed, I fear.