Ahearn won’t challenge Coniglio in primary

Former Assemblyman Matthew Ahearn says he will not seek the Democratic nomination for State Senate in the 38th district. Ahearn, who switched from Democrat to the Green Party in 2003, had been mulling a Senate bid since federal prosecutors served State Sen. Joseph Coniglio with a subpoena last month in connection to a probe of legislatorsreceiving an alleged personal benefit from state budget items.

Coniglio, a two-term Paramus Democrat, received $5,500-a-month as a plumbing consultant for Hackensack University Medical Center, who later received over $1 million in state grants.

In an open letter, Ahearn said that he ultimately decided against a Senate bid because of his own relationship with Coniglio.

"Whatever his legal problems are at this time and his own willingness to let the Chairman call the shots on matters of Senatorial courtesy and reform bills, I genuinely like the man and his wife on a personal level," Ahearn wrote. "He took me door to door with him in 2001 and taught me a great deal about campaigns. Senator Coniglio quietly appreciated my independence from the Chairman while making it clear it was not the best political move in the world, not in the short term at least. He never disrespected me for my leave of absence from the party to do what I felt was right at the time by running a race to make pay to play in government an issue the voters understood better."

The full text of Ahearn's letter follows:

After my term in the Assembly was over, I thought I would slam the door on running for any office again because of the tremendous sacrifice made by my family while I ran and served. Then came the general awakening of the voters to the costs of corruption and statehouse budget games since I left office. I viewed Governor Corzine’s victory on a reform platform as a very healthy sign for the state. But I still did not think the rank and file primary voters in Bergen County would ever understand why I switched parties rather than taking my battle with Ferriero to them in a primary.

After Senator Weinberg’s legal battle against Ferriero and Zisa for bungling that convention, and then this year’s rejection of the BCDO convention by her, Assemblyman Johnson and Assemblywoman Huttle, I began to hear the rusty door squeak open. Local Democrats who shunned me for my shift to the Greens began to say “now I get it.” Many have been asking me to run in this primary along with those three wonderful Democrats. So the door opened and I began to consider the possibility again, reluctantly, out of concern for my family. But my biggest supporter, my wife, once again began gathering petition signatures at the old hot spots of the Paramus, Lodi and Ft. Lee post offices.

People kept telling me I could make a difference, to “go for it.” Then the news of Senator Bryant’s indictment and the investigation of Senator Coniglio’s consulting job hit the press. People smelled blood and more urged me to do this thing. I have had offers for volunteers and funding coming in since your article last week. Then the calls came in from the press asking for me to give a quote on Senator Coniglio’s legal troubles from the investigation.

I found myself ready to file and at the same time could not bring myself to return those calls and win some free media even prior to announcing I would run. The obvious question: Why not?

I find myself facing the same dilemma I faced each of the last two times I considered a primary against the Senator in 2001 and 2003. In spite of the investigation (and that is all it is at this point) there are a few facts I must face. Whatever his legal problems are at this time and his own willingness to let the Chairman call the shots on matters of Senatorial courtesy and reform bills, I genuinely like the man and his wife on a personal level. He took me door to door with him in 2001 and taught me a great deal about campaigns. Senator Coniglio quietly appreciated my independence from the Chairman while making it clear it was not the best political move in the world, not in the short term at least. He never disrespected me for my leave of absence from the party to do what I felt was right at the time by running a race to make pay to play in government an issue the voters understood better.

In this race I will have to pick apart and publicize his voting record on stalled reforms and appointments of various officials and I have no problem with that task. But in local debates I believe I have him at a great disadvantage by my professional training, I’ve seen him debate. Additionally, my campaign would need to emphasize the as yet unfinished investigation at every opportunity. In short, to win I would need to embarrass a man who never did anything but try to help me in my own political efforts long before he could ever get his day in court if the investigation leads to anything firm. A man who always showed me great respect.

That he is unlikely to serve his full term is no big secret here in Bergen Democratic circles, more so given recent news stories. So I will respect the man who respected me and bide my time until he leaves on his own power, or he is taken out of office by time or legal problems proven in a court of law and not just alleged by me in an election campaign. However, by not running I will be available again to other candidates challenging our Chairman by running off the line, as a volunteer attorney this primary season.

I will continue to build on the support that has been offered me at this time and revisit this opportunity when it arises again. I will continue to cheer on Governor Corzine as he faces members of our own party resistant to progress in fiscal and ethical reform, particularly here in Bergen County. With the help of the voters and the media’s continued focus on corruption, as well as the FBI where appropriate and necessary, I sincerely hope someone else I can respect steps forward so my family will not need to make the sacrifice for me to step into the blood sport of New Jersey politics yet again.

If not, I’ll be back.

Ahearn won’t challenge Coniglio in primary