Gov. Jon Corzine was prepared to nominate Essex County Freeholder Linda Lordi Cavanaugh to a Superior Court judgeship two weeks ago, but her ascent to the bench got caught up in the crossfire between Senate President Richard Codey (D-Roseland) and Essex Democrats over the appointment of Phil Alagia to the New Jersey Blue Cross/Blue Shield Board of Directors. It is unlikely that Cavanaugh will be nominated before Corzine leaves office next week, although insiders say she’s ready to become a judge and could wind up as part of an Essex appointments package when Republican Christopher Christie takes over. Cavanaugh’s husband is Dennis Cavanaugh, a U.S. District Court Judge. She is also the Deputy Director of Law for the New Jersey Turnpike Authority – a job she might lose if Christie decides to put Republican lawyers in slots like that. Corzine filed a letter of intent on her nomination on December 30.
If Cavanaugh resigns to become a judge, the Essex County Democratic Committee would hold a special election convention to fill her District 4 Freeholder seat. Should that happen before September, there would be a November 2010 special election to fill the remaining year of her term. That might be to the liking of State Sen. Kevin O’Toole (R-Cedar Grove), the Essex County GOP Chairman. Republicans held the District 4 seat from 1981 until Cavanaugh unseated incumbent Muriel Shore in 2005 and they think they can win it back. Christie carried the district by five percentage points, 49%-44%, in 2009, and Republican Assembly candidates won it by 2,100 votes.
The GOP is also eyeing the District 5 seat they lost in 2005, when Democrat Ralph Caputo ousted incumbent Joseph Scarpelli, but this district is much more Democratic. Corzine beat Christie there by a 2-1 margin. Caputo might have to decide in two years if he wants to run again for Freeholder or Assemblyman; while he is legally permitted to run for both, some Democrats say it might be hard to seek both offices in the same election.
All nine Essex Freeholder seats are up in 2011, and the map for the five district seats will be redrawn before that election.