Insiders say Garden State Equality and other progressive organizations are looking at a candidate to challenge state Sen. John Girgenti (D-Hawthorne) in a Democratic primary – and that they're aiming to raise up to two million dollars for the challenger. Potential candidates include Assembly Appropriations Committee Chair Nellie Pou (D-North Haledon), a sponsor and strong supporter of the marriage equality bill who could unite Latinos with others in the progressive base of the party in the heavily Latino district 35.
As a white man representing a district where Latinos and African Americans outnumber whites, Girgenti has been at risk of losing party support for the last few years, despite public pronouncements of support from Passaic County Democratic Chairman John Currie. Latino leaders have been eyeing the 35th district Senate seat as their best opportunity to double their representation in the upper house – from one to two.
Pou asked Passaic County Democrats to consider her for the Senate in 2007, but party leaders backed the re-election of the 62-year-old Hawthorne Democrat who has been in the Legislature since 1977. Progressive support for a Senate run is said to be hers for the asking.
Others include lawyer Jeff Gardner, a well-connected activist who holds statewide leadership positions at Blue Jersey, Garden State Equality and Democracy for America, for which he also heads the Passaic County chapter. Gardner lives in Hawthorne, blocks from Girgenti.
Don't expect Senate President-designate Stephen Sweeney (D-West Deptford) to care about Girgenti's fate: the Passaic County Democrat was a solid supporter of Richard Codey (D-Roseland) in the Senate leadership battle.