Lacking opinions, Codey’s choice wins Assembly seat

Mila M. Jasey won a Special Election Convention to replace Mims Hackett in the State Assembly tonight, and promptly took the fifth.

"No comment," she said, when asked if Hackett, who was arrested earlier this month on bribery charges, should resign his post as Mayor of Orange.

What about Gov. Jon Corzine? Should he release his email correspondence with his former girlfriend, CWA President Carla Katz?

"No comment," Jasey said. "That wouldn’t be appropriate for me to comment on."

And would she support Joe Roberts for another term as Assembly Speaker? Again, Jasey had no comment.

"This is all so new to me," she said. "I know I’m with a good team of candidates."

And who does Jasey support for President in the February 2008 Democratic primary?

"I haven't decided yet," she told PoliticsNJ.com.

The 56-year-old South Orange school board member and retired public health nurse, was handpicked for the 27th district seat by Senate President Richard Codey for the seat. Codey, Corzine and Roberts pushed Hackett to resign the day after his arrest.

The cynical subplot for some of the old Democratic Party operatives in the room — those very people lending their bodies to a standing ovation for Jasey — was that Codey’s pick is yet another Essex County political neophyte — to borrow a phrase from Assemblyman William Payne — unschooled in the trench warfare of Jersey politics.

Fearing a Codey drone in an Assembly in which five of the county’s eight elected officials in the lower house will be new next year, hard-boiled critics would have preferred a tough guy with experience, particularly in the wake of the Hackett fiasco.

Indeed, Hackett hung over the event.

Exactly one night earlier at the Orange City Council meeting, he read a statement indicatingthat he would seek re-election as Mayor in May 2008, and referred further questions on his arrest to his lawyer. Orange Councilman Donald Page has already said he’ll challenge Hackett.

But on Wednesday night, it was Hackett’s other job, his 27th District Assembly seat — the one he’d already resigned — that concerned the crowd. They applauded after State Sen. Ronald Rice, who represents a neighboring district, seconded a move to elect Jasey. She is also the Democratic nominee for a full two-year term in November; she’ll run on a ticket with Codey and Assemblyman John McKeon.

"I’ve lived in the district most of my adult life," the Assemblywoman-elect told the party’s district leaders. "The future of our diverse and rich history in New Jersey will be determined by how well we resolve the challenges that intertwine our suburban and urban students."

The substance of the sentiment was obscured by that last word, producing a laugh from the district leaders as Jasey, who’s served for eight years on the South Orange-Maplewood School Board, excused herself and substituted "citizens" for "students."

Then came her commitment to "energy, humility," and, yes – bold face, underscore – "integrity," before her running mates — Codey and McKeon — swooped in behind her, seized her arms and held them aloft.

"She’s a class act," Codey said moments later. "She’s well respected in the community and her educational background and experience make her eminently qualified."

Jasey will resign her seat on the Board of Education, Democratic officials said.

McKeon’s chief-of-staff called Jasey last Wednesday and asked her if she would be available for a meeting with Codey and McKeon to talk about replacing Hackett. She was told to take her resume. By Thursday, the boss had made up his mind. He liked Jasey, a Barnard College graduate active in a multitude of civic organizations.

"I am happy to see more African-American women coming into the Legislature," said Rice. "I look forward to working with them, and I’m going to protect them — not that they’ll need my protection, but I have always been an independent Democrat."

Codey, Rice and other top dog Democrats who attended Wednesday night’s convention stopped short of calling for Hackett to step down from his other office, and the Senate President reiterated his argument that what ails Hackett — if he’s proven guilty — has nothing to with dual-office holding.

"There was a bribery statute on the books before I was born," said Codey.

"He’s still kind of a folk hero in Orange," said District 34 Assemblyman Thomas Giblin, a former Essex County Democratic Chairman. "Voters will have the opportunity to decide in the spring. I’m sure he’s getting advice from his lawyers. The reality is it’s a non-partisan situation there in Orange, not Democratic or Republican."

Yes, the operators regarded the scene skeptically, the candidate hand-plucked out of obscurity by Codey.

Maybe it was because Jasey didn’t fit the stereotype as a member of the old boys network, but as she stayed on her own message, describing her formative childhood excursions to West Africa, Washington, D.C., and Los Angeles, neither did she sound like someone who was being told to speak of a certain passion in her life.

"Our futures are intertwined," she said of residents in Orange, South Orange and Newark, and the challenge presented by the district to serve populations in each of those communities. "The suburbs cannot ignore what’s happening in our urban areas."

Jasey faces Republican Mark Meyerowitz and Independent Edward Marable, Jr., an Orange Councilman, in November.

“Ms. Jasey, I am told, is a nice person and to be commended for her community activism and dedication to education in South Orange and Maplewood," Marable said in a statement after the vote. But he questions Jasey’s ability to be an independent voice because, he says, she was handed the seat by party bosses.

Lacking opinions, Codey’s choice wins Assembly seat