Power players still on the look-out for Hackett replacement

The Democratic Party turf wars persist in the concentrated power centers and in the diffuse reaches of Essex County, where the old ethnic wards are now whole municipalities with particular populations and political needs, as the 21st century bosses here struggle to find a candidate suitable to all of the affected encampments.

To date it’s been tough for the power players to reach a willing consensus pick pre-Sept. 17th deadline to replace former district 27 Assemblyman Mims Hackett, Jr., who resigned earlier this week in the aftermath of his arrest on a charge of bribery.

"He’s a friend," Senate President Richard Codey said of his former running mate. "There’s no conclusion here yet, and I’m not going to abandon him, that’s for sure. If he’s guilty he will have to suffer the consequences."

In the meantime, Codey is one of the key men in the mix, if not the main man, on the lookout for a new legislator. But every pick that Codey likes, the other parties don’t like, or feel is too close to Codey, and the picks they offer are too close to them, in Codey’s view.

They all almost reached consensus today, lacking only the affirmation of the object of their interest.

Essex County sources say Dr. A. Zachary Yamba, the president of Essex County College, was briefly at the top of everyone’s short list. Essex County Democratic Chairman Phil Thigpen, Essex County Executive Joseph DiVincenzo, local Dems and Codey all like and respect Yamba, who has served as president of the college for over 25 years.

But Yamba doesn’t want to leave his job at the college.

Following the college president’s rejection of the party’s feel out queries on Wednesday, the search for a Hackett replacement continued. Sources close to DiVincenzo have mentioned the name of South Orange Village Trustee Stacey Jennings, and a solid supporter of the county executive’s. Sources close to Codey say failing Yamba, the senate president would prefer a candidate who is an African-American woman, but who does not currently hold public office.

There have been a lot of other names suggested as potential running mate replacements for Hackett, to join Codey and Assemblyman John F. McKeon on the district 27 ticket, but none willing who satisfy the needs of all parties in this disparate, hard-to-please-everyone county.

Look for someone like Yamba to come out of a less traditional political background to pacify all of these political animals.

That means Orange City Councilman Edward Marable, an independent candidate for the Assembly, who said he reached out to Codey yesterday in emails and phone messages to try to convince the senator to go with a reform candidate as a replacement for Hackett, doesn’t stand a chance — and he knows it.

Still, "I am open to communication," said Marable, who believes he deserves a shot from the Democrats in part based on his longstanding record as an attorney with the New Jersey Office of the Public Defender and as a councilman who long opposed Hackett.

"I took on the party machine before the roof blew off," said Marable. "I’m not sure who out there other than me can provide that change we need."

That’s not exactly what the party bosses want, even though theunsettling news piled up Wednesday night, as Codey faced the impending departure of another important ally, state Sen. Joseph Coniglio of district 38, who on Wednesday in the midst of an ethics probe by the U.S. Attorney’s Office said he wouldn’t run again.

"I think it’s pretty sad," said the senate president following Coniglio’s announcement. "I’m disheartened. You hate to see a person who’s honorable and well-liked leave like this – regardless of party. It’s sad and unfortunate, but as he is under investigation it’s best for him to get out of this race to concentrate on clearing his name."

Power players still on the look-out for Hackett replacement