Eight legislators who could lose ’09 primaries

Eight members of the New Jersey State Assembly are in danger of losing party support if they seek re-election in 2009:

Joseph Vas was defeated for re-election last week as Mayor of Perth Amboy, a post he has held since 1990. Without his local power base, Vas is in serious danger of losing a Middlesex Democratic Convention if he wants to return for a fourth term as an Assemblyman. After all, organization Democrats in places like Woodbridge and Carteret have never been completely enthralled with Vas, and Mayor-elect Wilda Diaz may put some pressure on party leaders to outs Vas completely. South Amboy Mayor Jack O’Leary and Carteret Mayor Dan Reiman are already posturing for a 19th district Assembly bid.

Gordon Johnson and Valerie Vainieri Huttle are on the outs with Bergen County Democratic leaders (read: Joe Ferriero) and nearly faced a primary challenge in 2007 – Ferriero had already endorsed candidates to oppose them. Worried that State Sen. Loretta Weinberg at the top of the rival slate might carry Johnson and Huttle back into office, Ferriero dropped his challenge. In 2009, Weinberg won’t be on the ballot, and Ferriero might feel empowered to take the two incumbents out. Possible candidates include: Englewood Mayor Michael Wildes, former Assemblyman Ken Zisa, activist Cid Wilson of Leonia, and Rev. Vernon Walton, a Bergen County Freeholder. How many more times can Ferriero back down from a fight before his threats are no longer taken seriously?

Harvey Smith and Anthony Chiappone represent the 31st district – seats that are always in play in primaries in a year when Jersey City elects a Mayor. And a special election for Mayor of Bayonne this fall could further complicate the political landscape. If Smith and/or Chiappone don’t wind up on the winning side of the Hudson County political war, they could easily be goners.

Ralph Caputo and Cleopatra Tucker are freshmen Democrats from Essex County with some political pedigree: Caputo served in the State Assembly from 1968 to 1972, and then made a political comeback thirty years later as an Essex County Freeholder; and Tucker is the widow of Donald Tucker, who died in office in 2005 after a long career as a Newark City Councilman and Assemblyman. Caputo’s candidates lost races for Belleville Commissioner and School Board this spring, and he needs to proceed cautiously if he wants to continue his political career as a white male dual officeholder in a Black majority legislative district. Tucker needs to stay on the good side of whoever is in power next spring – and in Essex County, that’s always a tough prediction.

John Rooney has faced threats of a serious GOP primary before, and prevailed in 2001 and 2005. But now the chatter of a challenge to the senior member of the State Assembly is becoming louder, and the chances that someone – perhaps former gubernatorial candidate Bob Schroeder – will oppose him at the Bergen GOP convention are becoming more likely. Rooney, who has faced some health issues recently, could wind up in the retirement column.

Eight legislators who could lose ’09 primaries