How Munoz got to Trenton

Eric Munoz first went to the Legislature in 2001 amidst a game of political musical chairs in the old 21st

Eric Munoz first went to the Legislature in 2001 amidst a game of political musical chairs in the old 21st district, which was about equally divided between Essex and Union counties. The six -term State Senator, Republican Louis Bassano, resigned to take a job at the New Jersey Sports and Exposition Authority. The district had already been chopped up, with Bassano's home town, Union, being placed in the heavily-Democratic 20th district, where Raymond Lesniak was the Senator.

Assemblyman Kevin O'Toole won a special election for Bassano's State Senate seat, knowing that he would return to the Assembly eight months later. His hometown, Cedar Grove, had already been redistricted into District 40, which was represented in the Senate by Henry "Tapioca" McNamara.

Munoz defeated former Cranford Mayor Thomas Denny in a special election convention to fill O'Toole's Assembly seat. At this point, four incumbent Assemblymen lived in the new 21st district: Richard Bagger, Thomas Kean, Jr. (who had won a special election convention earlier that year after Alan Augustine died in office), and Joel Weingarten, an Essex County Republican who had beaten Kean and Michael Ferguson to win the Union County GOP Convention in his 2000 campaign for Congress. Bagger was unopposed for the GOP State Senate nomination; the incumbent, Senate President and Acting Governor Donald DiFrancesco, was not running for the Legislature.

In an attempt to salvage his legislative career, Weingarten offered to relocate his family from Essex County to Union County. Weingarten's new legislative district included only one Essex community, his hometown, Millburn, in a district that was mostly Union County. The prospect of the Weingarten's moving to Summit seemed to have bothered one Republican leader, Union County Republican State Committeewoman Elizabeth Cox. Sources said at the time that Cox, a former Assemblywoman and longtime Summit GOP Chairwoman, told Weingarten that his family might "feel more comfortable" in Springfield. Springfield has a sizeable Jewish community. Union County Republican leaders called it a vintage Cox statement, and one insider said she once told O'Toole, an Asian-American, that he didn't have Republican eyes.

Republicans picked Kean and Munoz as their candidates, ending Weingarten's political career.

How Munoz got to Trenton