The rubber chicken circuit role as embodied by a vastly overshadowed Kim Guadagno has politicos quietly re-evaluating the office of lieutenant governor.
The way it’s mostly defined now – as a silent second banana to the most powerful governor in the country – has created an uptick in speculation about the job’s future.
Given six years of precedent, does anyone truly want to be the LG of New Jersey?
As it stands, at the very least it would be difficult to use LG for pure political purposes in mapping out a team of players promoted to power positions, one insider noted to PolitickerNJ.
There’s the obviously powerful position of senate president, then speaker of the General Assembly. For a ticket attempting to put together a balanced sharing of power, there is, conceivably then, the office of lieutenant governor – a prize that hardly presents alpha optics woven by definition into the other two jobs.
Initially, Guadagno got the occasional ship of state joyride when Christie left New Jersey, episodes that grew in frequency – but not in stature – as the governor amped his nationwide jaunting as chairman of the Republican Governors Association (RGA).
If possible 2017 gubernatorial candidate Senate President Steve Sweeney (D-3), for example, attempts to assemble an attack plan for the party lines in three critical northern counties and promises the senate presidency to Bergen, the speakership to Essex and the LG to Middlesex; quick, who would get the short end of that deal?
That’s the idea now behind shoring up LG, sources say.
As currently conceived, the job appears to be more punishment than reward, although some may disagree, among them former Assemblywoman Joan Quigley (D-32), who penned a much-discussed reaction to watering-down legislation proposed by Assemblyman Declan O’Scanlon (R-13).
Short of an implosion by Jersey City Mayor Steven Fulop or a total Machiavellian reversal on the part of state Sen. Nick Sacco (D-32), the Fulop candidacy for governor appears increasingly to carry with it the likely weight of Hudson County.
If that is so, that means Sweeney’s deal-making for support toward his own gubernatorial election likely would not include retaining Hudson County Democratic Chairman Vincent Prieto as speaker.
If Sweeney were to win, would his payback for a disloyal Hudson mean the county gets an LG pick?
State Sen. Paul Sarlo (D-36) senate president; Assemblyman Tom Giblin (D-34) speaker; and Hoboken Councilwoman Beth Mason as LG. Or might it look like this: state Sen. M. Teresa Ruiz senate president; Assemblyman Tim Eustace speaker; and Hoboken Mayor Dawn Zimmer as LG.
If Fulop were to win, would his punishment for South Jersey include consigning the office of lieutenant governor to the region?
Assemblywoman Pam Lampitt, for example: LG.
Part of what Gudagano labors under, of course, is the particularly outsized style of Christie, who’s national celebrity differentiates him from most others who have held the office of New Jersey governor.
But just in case the job itself presents no obvious upside in a world so delicately conceived to stroke those centers of power critical for functioning of public people, LG needs more muscle, sources say, who wants to remove the LG stigma.
With the understanding that the role as currently conceived would have to be sharpened, here are some 2017 possible pairings and the reasons they make sense…
Vincent Prieto (if Hudson is with Fulop in the primary and Sweeney lands Bergen and Essex with promises of senate prez and speaker and wins the gubernatorial primary, he can coax Hudson back by giving Prieto the LG spot);
Raj Muhkerji (if Fulop supports someone else for mayor of Jersey City and/or if the assemblyman from the 33rd district loses in a citywide race but impresses in the loss, look for him as a very viable Sweeney LG option);
Tim Eustace (if Sacco pulls a “Hudson backs Hudson” option on Fulop the way he did with Assemblyman Jason O’Donnell (D-31) and Essex and Bergen share the thrones of legislative power, Eustace could be Bergen’s LG consolation prize.);
Joe Vitale (Middlesex could become the battleground in the end and the veteran 19th District senator from Woodbridge offers a counter-intuitive choice to those who believe the LG must be a woman or a minority to offset the top of the ticket).
Troy Singleton (If Sweeney locks up sufficient northern support in exchange for legislative leadership roles, why not go for a Burlington grab at LG – provided the job is not sufficiently potent to irritate Middlesex or Union, but just powerful enough to warrant Singleton’s interest?).
Troy Singleton (the Burlington assemblyman will back Sweeney for governor if Sweeney runs. There’s too much connective building trades tissue there; but if Fulop beats Sweeney in the primary and has wartime prizes for senate prez and speaker already picked out, Singleton could be a general election LG option. If Singleton ever went rogue on Sweeney in a primary, Fulop would try to craft a speaker Holy Grail prize for Singleton, who came up in politics as a student of former Speaker Joe Roberts – but again, that is unlikely to happen. Plus, that would all get worked out post primary.);
Dana Redd (this would be a tough call for the mayor of Camden, who appears to be in that job for lfe, but again, if it were made sufficiently attractive and… and here Fulop would have to be careful – almost turned into a power-sharing situation, might the North-South paring of a Fulop-Redd ticket be too compelling to resist?);
Joe Vitale (Middlesex could become the battleground in the end and the veteran 19th District senator from Woodbridge offers a counter-intuitive choice to those who believe the LG must be a woman or a minority to offset the top of the ticket. The only thing about this pick that probably doesn’t make it viable is Vitale’s love for the senate and what would likely be his belief that he could accomplish something substantive in healthcare with a Democratic governor. Remember, 2017 is also a legislative election year, and Vitale would have to give up his senate seat to run for LG.).
One thing to consider here in all cases. Whoever shakes hands in a primary on an LG deal better get that in writing and on tape. The dynamics that will invade a general election could easily threaten to erase an agreement forged in a smaller primary universe.
Assembly Minority Leader Jon Bramnick (R-21)
Short of a major implosion, Democrats are on track to retain ownership of a legislative majority. That puts added pressure on Republicans to make the LG appealing. Short of that, Guadagno or Bramnick could face the prospect of repeating difficulties endured by Barbara Buono, last year’s Democratic nominee for governor, who went through numerous LG options, all of whom, until she got to game labor leader Milly Silva, had “something better to do.”
This makes it difficult – short of the Republican candidate for governor demonstrating polling that she/he can actually win – to picture a Republican senator, for example, giving up his/her power.
Sen. Bob Singer (R-30). (Having Ocean engaged would be a big deal. If Singer has designs on retiring, running for LG would free up his seat for Assemblyman Sean Kean (R-30), while giving the veteran Singer a chance to take one for the party.);
Assemblywoman Holly Schepisi (R-39) (Again, very difficult to make this happen. The phone call would be made. The position offered. Schepisi is on track to be the next senator when state Sen. Gerald Cardinale (R-39) retires. Here’s a thought – Cardinale. The veteran retiring senator could make the argument to put Bergen in play as the Loretta Weinberg of the 2017 GOP ticket.);
Hudson County Republican Chairman Jose Arango (He’s been more visible of late, has Jersey City roots, and has routinely showed a willingness to scrap.).
On the GOP side it’s easier to picture someone from the private sector – someone with no connection to the deal-making on the Democratic side that form an inevitable part of legislative leadership governed by regional centers of power.