December 2001

Winner of the Year

DONALD DIFRANCESCO

Acting Governor

Loser of the Year

ROBERT JANISZEWSKI

Hudson Co. Executive

There is no better job in New Jersey politics than Governor. It’s a post 3,219 elected officials in New Jersey aspire to hold. Donald DiFrancesco got to be Governor of New Jersey for 11 months this year. That makes him the big winner, warts and all.

For most of this year, DiFrancesco may have been the second most powerful man in the history of New Jersey politics, after Frank Hague. He held the mightiest governorship in the nation, while at the same time serving as State Senate President, the second most potent job in state government.

DiFrancesco had about as rough a start as any politician could endure. There was no honeymoon period. He was a brand new Acting Governor and a gubernatorial candidate all at the same time. And the public vetting of his private business activities created one of the greatest feeding frenzies in state political history.

Just 84 days and three David Halbfinger front page stories later, DiFrancesco was out of the race for the Republican gubernatorial nomination. On April 25th, he was the clear front runner for Loser of the Year.

His withdrawal from the gubernatorial campaign left DiFrancesco with the freedom to actually be the Governor without the encumbrances of a political campaign. The newspaper reporters stopped digging. He spent the next eight months as an activist lame duck.

No longer a candidate, DiFrancesco went on television promoting New Jersey. Several million in taxpayer-funded television ads, and some strong leadership at the helm of state government during the tragic events of September 11th have allowed DiFrancesco’s approval numbers to soar. Without an opponent putting money behind a campaign to build his negatives, most people in New Jersey aren’t even aware of why he dropped out of the gubernatorial race in the first place.

There were some rocky times: his desire to seal the Newark arena deal failed, and Republicans either cheered or jeered him (depending on their own choice) for his refusal to endorse Bret Schundler for Governor.

DiFrancesco leaves office on January 8th with his head held high, his dignity in place, his popularity intact. He get the kind of immortality history affords to former Governors, and perhaps even a Statehouse portrait as well.

When it comes to selecting New Jersey politics’ Loser of the Year, there isn’t anyone in Bob Janiszewski’s league. He didn’t just lose his political career, but perhaps his freedom as well.

Janiszewski resigned as the Hudson County Executive on September 7th amidst speculation of a federal corruption investigation. There is no shortage of rumors detailing the chain of events that has ended the career of one of New Jersey’s most colorful and durable political personalities. The United States Attorney and the Federal Bureau of Investigation have refused comment. While the general consensus is that Janiszewski was involved in a federal investigation into political corruption, the details of the events leading to his resignation remain largely speculative.

The dean of Hudson County’s political reporters, Peter Weiss of The Jersey Journal, described the atmosphere at Janiszewski’s vacation home in upstate New York last week: “In Janiszewski’s back yard, there are four light poles, each with a motion sensor and floodlights aimed toward the woods, where the brush had been cleared. A satellite dish and a large metal box, appearing to contain a camera with its lens aimed down the road, had been installed on a telephone pole along the road in front of his house. A working telephone is attached to the base of the pole.” This description sets up a certain intrigue.

Janiszewski has not been seen since he left Jersey City sometime in August. Rumors that he is under protective custody have not been confirmed, and four months later there has still been no official comment by federal prosecutors.

He also resigned as Hudson County Democratic Chairman. Party leaders are now searching for monies raised by Janiszewski into a special account. Those funds, presently unaccounted for, could be in the mid-six figure range.

Janiszewski was, for a time, one of New Jersey’s most powerful elected officials. He began his career as a State Assemblyman in 1977 and served for six years before winding up on the wrong side of an intra-party battle and losing his seat. But he rebounded quickly, and went on to win four terms as the Hudson County Executive and head the Hudson Democratic machine.

He was mentioned as a possible candidate for Governor or U.S. Senator. Now, neither his friends or foes even know where he is.

Winner of the Year Runner Up

JIM MCGREEVEY

Mayor of Woodbridge

Loser of the Year Runner Up

JOSEPH DORIA

Assembly Minority Leader

Jim McGreevey spent six years running for Governor. The first two were against Christie Whitman, and he came within 26,000 votes of winning in 1997 after pundits originally gave him no chance. He spent the next four years in full-time campaign mode and was strong enough to beat back a possible challenge from Bob Torricelli (which made him the 2000 PoliticsNJ.com Winner of the Year).

McGreevey was unopposed for the Democratic nomination, and a relatively easy winner against Bret Schundler in the general election. He now prepares to assume America’s most powerful governorship in a state that is increasingly Democratic.

Joseph Doria, the affable Assembly Democratic Leader, spent ten years in the minority waiting for another chance to serve as Assembly Speaker. Now he’ll likely finish his career as Chairman of the Assembly Education Committee.

When Democrats won nine seats to take a 44-35 majority, Doria was passed over. The newly-elected Governor decided to dump him for a freshman Assemblyman from his own county, and once the power of the incoming Drumthwacket resident was exercised, Doria didn’t have a chance. Nearly all of is supporters retreated amidst pressure from the new Governor. Doria and John Lynch don’t get along, and political paybacks are often harsh.

Winner of the Year Runner Up

JOHN LYNCH

State Senator

Loser of the Year Runner Up

WALTER FIELDS

Political Consultant

John Lynch may be the closest and most influential advisor to New Jersey’s new Governor, Jim McGreevey. He is sort of a father figure to McGreevey; Lynch took McGreevey under his political wing years ago, and McGreevey’s success has allowed an already powerful Democrat to exponentially expand his influence.

Lynch spent twenty years as a State Senator, including two as Senate President. He did not seek re-election in 2001, perhaps in anticipation of McGreevey’s victory. He is now free to reap the rewards of having his political godson serve as Governor, having helped him win the ultimate prize of the New Jersey political arena.

Walter Fields was, for a time, one of the most influential and successful Democratic political operatives. As the political director of the New Jersey NAACP chapter, Fields was in the thick of Democratic campaigns. He had influence, prestige and respect.

But Fields agreed to do the bidding during the Twelve Days of Torricelli and bitterly attacked Jim McGreevey’s record on minority hiring. When Torricelli folded, Fields was left persona non grata. He wound up consulting for Republicans on their disastrous legislative redistricting plan, and then wound up consulting for GOP Senators. Now he’s a man without a political country.

Winner of the Year Runner Up

BOB MENENDEZ

U.S. Congressman

Loser of the Year Runner Up

GEORGE GILMORE

Ocean Co. GOP Chairman

Bob Menendez has become one of the most influential Democrats in American politics. He holds the #4 leadership position among House Democrats, and is in line to Chair the Democratic Caucus next year. He raises more money than any other U.S. Congressman.

In New Jersey politics, Menendez has enjoyed a banner year. He is the new Hudson County Democratic Chairman, the leader of the state’s premier Democratic organization. He delivered a massive plurality to Jim McGreevey even though the GOP candidate was the Mayor of Jersey City five months before. Menendez chairs the McGreevey transition team and is in the new Governor’s inner circle.

George Gilmore had a rough year politically. He was the Chairman of the Republican County Chairmen, a group that almost unanimously endorsed two failed gubernatorial candidates in one primary cycle; his own candidate lost Ocean County. He was GOP Counsel to the Legislative Redistricting Commission that lost three Senate seats and four Assembly seats
seven months before Election Day. As GOP Chairman of the Congressional Redistricting Commission, he was scorned by national party leaders and Republican House members for his failure to make good on a promised deal.

One saving grace: Gilmore held his Freeholders and legislators in the November general election.

Winner of the Year Runner Up

GEORGE NORCROSS

Democratic Party Leader

Loser of the Year Runner Up

NORMAN ROBERTSON

State Senator

George Norcross holds no formal title in New Jersey politics, but he really doesn’t need one. He is the undisputed Democratic boss of South Jersey and many of the Democratic success stories are a result of Norcross’s strategic wizardry and fundraising prowess. His power base includes business and labor interests — a weight combination. South Jersey Democrats now hold an almost unprecedented amount of power in the state legislature.

He is one of just a handful of Torricelli for Governor supporters that have found a place in Jim McGreevey’s inner circle. That’s a testament to his strong political skills and the power of the organization he has spent years building.

Norman Robertson isn’t the only Republican to lose his seat in the 2001 elections, but he is the poster child for the failure of Republicans to properly plan for legislative redistricting.

Robertson won two tough races in 1997: a primary against four-term incumbent Joe Bubba, and a general against Democrat Joan Waks. But redistricting placed him in a heavily Democratic district that included East Orange, a place where Republicans can’t even get 10% of the vote. Robertson was trounced by Democratic Assemblywoman Nia Gill. After he showed little support as a candidate for Passaic GOP Chairman, he took the dead-end post of Parole Board member, perhaps signaling the end of his political career.

Winner of the Year Runner Up

JOSEPH ROBERTS

Democratic State Chairman

Loser of the Year Runner Up

RAYMOND ZANE

State Senator

Joe Roberts was on the outs just eighteen months ago; now he is on top of the world. Defeated by Joe Doria for Assembly Minority Leader, he led a walk out of the seven South Jersey Democratic Assembly members, who formed their own Caucus.

Jim McGreevey made Roberts the Democratic State Chairman in order to unite South Jersey Democrats behind his campaign for Governor and avoid a possible primary. He scored points as a strong partisan and became a McGreevey insider. He will now become the new Assembly Majority Leader, and according to insiders, the de facto head of the Assembly Democrats.

Raymond Zane spent 28 years as a Democratic State Senator from the 3rd district without ever really having to campaign. He won the seat in the Watergate year against a GOP incumbent convicted of corruption and after that he was usually unopposed.

Then Zane picked a fight with Gloucester County Democratic leaders and found himself about to be dumped from their ticket. So he switched parties and ran for re-election as a Republican. As a result of his political feud, he has lost some lucrative clients for his law firm, his son is about to lose his own Freeholder seat, and on January 8th, he’ll become former Senator Ray Zane.

December 2001