Two statewide Democratic sources have told PolitickerNJ that allies of state Senator Ray Lesniak (D-20) are preparing to launch a political action committee (PAC) in support of a bid for the 2017 Democratic gubernatorial nomination.
“A likely scenario is that in March or April, you’ll see a PAC out there, urging Ray to run,” said one source. “And at that point, Ray will become a serious candidate, with donors putting up money to see it through. It’s no longer talk. It’s no longer rubber chicken dinners in Union County.”
While there is already a putative Democratic field for New Jersey governor in 2017 that includes Jersey City Mayor Steve Fulop, state Senate President Steve Sweeney (D-3) and former U.S. Ambassador to Germany Phil Murphy, as well as potentially state Senator and former Governor Richard Codey (D-27), the source pointed to this field as proof that a Lesniak bid for governor is serious.
Other insiders question the seriousness on the same week the senator unleashed a YouTube video of himself clanging on a cowbell.
But “In a different field, with a different group of guys, in a different year, Ray could never do this,” the source said. “But in the current field, Ray is real. He’s committed to doing it. Ray knows that there probably hasn’t been a better field for him to do this than the one that exists today. In New Jersey, the governor’s race isn’t really so much about the candidate per se as it is about the support than can be garnered. Steve Fulop, at 37, has a lot of opportunity ahead of him. Ray’s road, at 68, has become a lot shorter because of his age. Plus, he stands to lose nothing. He’s in.”
If Lesniak does run for governor, it would not be the first time that his name has been put forward for a statewide position.
When the 2013 Democratic gubernatorial nominee, Barbara Buono, chose state Assemblyman Jason O’Donnell (D-31) as her state party chair, Lesniak opposed him, going so far as to promote his own candidacy for the chairmanship until the party powers-that-be derailed O’Donnell in place of compromise candidate John Currie.
But another source implied that this time Lesniak, looking around at other recent events in the Garden State political scene, might not be placated by any back-room compromise.
“[U.S. Senator] Cory Booker (D-NJ) took a pass on the 2013 governor’s race, simply because it wasn’t a guarantee for him,” the second source said, saying why Lesniak might actually run for Trenton’s top spot. “Now, Booker probably breaks furniture in his Senate office every opportunity that he can.”
“There is a clear difference between saying to the press, ‘I’m thinking about running’ and people ponying up for you to run,” the first source added. “If Ray’s people start the PAC, he’s not a potential candidate anymore. If they do it, he’s in. Ray is going to go.”
Lesniak, who has left the door open to a 2017 gubernatorial run in previous conversations with PolitickerNJ, kept it open.
“I am not [forming a PAC]. Whether my allies are, you’ll have to ask them,” Lesniak, a member of the state Legislature since 1978, told PolitickerNJ on Tuesday. “If a sufficient number of people support what I’ve been able to achieve in public life, and believe that as governor I can achieve job creation, fiscal stability and social justice in the state, then I definitely would run for governor.
“My decision to run would be based on the amount of support I would have for what I’ve done and what I’m capable of doing,” Lesniak added. “It would have nothing to do with any of the potential candidates in the field.”