Rothman’s weak fundraising could lead to retirement speculation

Editor's Note: Rothman is expected to make it clear today that he will run for re-election to an eighth term in 2010.

Is U.S. Rep. Steven Rothman (D-Fair Lawn) running for re-election in 2010? The seven-term Bergen County Democrat has raised an anemic $25,212 over the last three months – his worst fundraising quarter in fourteen years – a point that will lead to speculation that he won't seek re-election next year.

Weak fundraising is typically an indication that an incumbent is going to retire. Rothman, the only New Jersey Democrat on the House Appropriations Committee, is well-positioned to raise money. Indeed, he has been a fairly prolific fundraiser since he went to Congress in 1996.

At age 57, and not likely the first choice of Democrats if a U.S. Senate seat were to open up, Rothman might be considering other options. Another Democrat who entered Congress with Rothman in 1996, U.S. Rep. Robert Wexler (D-Fla.), resigned this week to run the Center for Middle East Peace and Economic Cooperation. Wexler had also mulled U.S. Senate runs in Florida.

Rothman could be looking at an Obama administration appointment, or another challenge in the non-profit arena. He probably doesn't need the money, although his family real estate investments have likely taken a hit in a bad economy.

Rothman has a safe Democratic district – he won re-election in 2008 with 70% of the vote – and his $1.75 million war chest is more than adequate to carry him through next year. But Rothman might also be looking at the uncertainties of congressional redistricting after the next census, when New Jersey might face losing a House seat.

Rothman appeared to be well-positioned for a rise in power last year when he was the first New Jersey Congressman to endorse Barack Obama for President. But he lost a power struggle a few months later when the Obama campaign picked labor leader Tricia Mueller to run his state campaign, despite an aggressive push by Rothman to pick his Chief of Staff, Bob Decheine. Rothman has not been involved in major New Jersey political decisions, including the recent nomination of U.S. Attorney Paul Fishman.

On the House Appropriations Committee, there are 22 Democrats with more seniority then him. He's not a member of the College of Cardinals.

In recent weeks, Rothman has faced criticism for using his office to help out campaign contributors. The New York Times reported that Rothman and three other members of the New Jersey delegation asked the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to approve a medical device manufactured by one of his donors, even though science professionals at the agency felt the device was ineffective and dangerous. One week later, The Record reported that a witness in the federal corruption trial of former Bergen County Democratic Chairman Joseph Ferriero testified that Rothman wrote letters at the request of a grants writing firm owned by Ferriero and Dennis Oury, the former counsel to the Bergen County Democratic Organization. Oury was to be Ferriero's co-defendant, but he pleaded guilty earlier this week.

Rothman was among the largest recipients of campaign contributions made personally by Oury to federal candidates – he took nearly $5,000 in recent years. His office would not respond to numerous inquiries seeking to determine if Rothman would return the money. Others, like State Sen. Loretta Weinberg (D-Teaneck), did return contributions from Oury. (Editor's Note: Rothman says he will contribute the Oury money to charity.) Rothman’s weak fundraising could lead to retirement speculation