Punished for backing running mate, Gusciora loses committee chairmanship

Assemblyman Reed Gusciora (D-Princeton) had a mixed week.  The good: he watched his medical marijuana legislation pass the assembly and move on to the governor’s desk, where it was signed today.  The bad: as the only member of the assembly to back Assemblywoman Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-Trenton) for speaker, he’s now suffering the consequences.

Gusciora was bumped from the chairmanship of the Commerce and Economic Development Committee for, he said, backing Coleman over the eventual winner, newly sworn in Speaker Sheila Oliver (D-East Orange). 

And he’s mad that nobody told him it was coming.

One day before the Assembly Democrats voted Oliver as their speaker, Gusciora said that Assemblyman Joseph Cryan (D-Union) – who had by then lined up the votes to become majority leader – told him that “he saw no reason that the members would be losing no chairs.  That no changes have been made.” 

Then, last Tuesday, Gusciora said Assemblywoman Valerie Vainieri Huttle (D-Englewood), who caught a glimpse of the committee assignment list, told him that he was no longer on the Commerce Committee at all.

“I think it was disingenuous for (Cryan) to tell me the day before that everything was ok for me,” said Gusciora, who represents the same district as Coleman.  “I guess I was punished for loyalty, and I don’t think that’s an asset that they actually value.”

Later that night, Gusciora got the official word in a letter from Oliver, who requested that he “call the Majority Leader with questions.”

The chairmanship of the commerce committee has not been announced, but Gusciora said it’s going to Albert Coutinho (D-Newark).  Gusciora’s new assignment is to the Higher Education Committee – not a perfect fit for an adjunct professor at The College of New Jersey, since he has to recuse himself from every vote that could affect that school. 

“Here Cryan brags about watching everyone’s back, and that we’re all working together as a team.  He says one thing and does the other,” he said, adding that no other committee chairs were removed. 

To make matters worse, Gusciora said, he only found out that his assembly seating assignment was changed after Assemblywoman Linda Stender told him she had his old seat. 

Gusciora is not the only legislator to get bumped from a committee chairmanship for backing the wrong horse.  State Sen. Joseph Vitale (D-Woodbridge) lost his Health Committee chairmanship to state Sen. Loretta Weinberg (D-Teaneck) for sticking with Richard Codey (D-Roseland) over Stephen Sweeney (D-West Deptford for senate president.  Ronald Rice (D-Newark), who also backed Codey, lost his Community and Urban Affairs chairmanship to Jeff Van Drew (D-Dennis), who backed Sweeney. 

But Gusciora said there is a crucial difference between what happened to him and what happened to Vitale.

“At least they said it to his face,” he said.

Reached by phone, Cryan disputed Gusciora’s recollection of events, but did not want to go into specifics.

“Let’s just say I strongly disagree with Reed’s version of events.  And let’s just leave it at that,” he said.


Punished for backing running mate, Gusciora loses committee chairmanship