Stephen Sweeney has been New Jersey’s state senate president since 2010. Now, with what seems like an almost-inevitable gubernatorial run in 2017, many wonder who will succeed Sweeney in that role.
PolitickerNJ talked with N.J. insiders to compile a list of the main contenders for the 2017 senate presidency and determine which factors make each candidate viable for the position. According to one N.J. insider, the next president will be determined by “qualifications, alliances, or geographic location.”
So far, Sweeney, Jersey City Mayor Steven Fulop, Philip Murphy and state Sen. Ray Lesniak are rumored to be pursuing the governorship among N.J. Democrats. The election of each—if the insiders are correct—could result in different potential senate presidents.
- Senator Teresa Ruiz. Senator Ruiz (D-29) has a number of factors on her side. According to insiders, her election for the role would give the state’s largest Democratic County (Essex) more representation. Additionally, one source called her a “compromise candidate,” referring to her nomination as one that would not upset officials from either North or South Jersey. However, Ruiz is also believed by some to be Sweeney’s pick for lieutenant governor, which could disqualify her from the Senate President position.
- Paul Sarlo. Senator Paul Sarlo (D-36) has made it no secret that he is interested in the role of Senate President. The Bergen county senator is a strong Sweeney ally which might set him up for the position if Sweeney gets the nomination for governor.
- Loretta Weinberg. Like Sarlo, Senate Majority Leader Weinberg (D-37) is from politically potent Bergen County. Due to her current leadership role, a move to the senate presidency might be a logical step for Weinberg. However, according to one insider, Sarlo’s aspirations for the same role might mangle Weinberg’s designs.
- Bob Gordon. Senator Gordon (D-38) is another state senator from Bergen County who might be in the running for Sweeney’s seat as senate president, particularly if Sweeney sticks with Sarlo and someone else (like Fulop) is nominated. The former assemblyman has been a senator since 2008. Like Weinberg and Sarlo, he would provide North/South balance if Sweeney is elected or simply Bergen dominance and the preeminence of Democratic Chairman Lou Stellato if the nod goes to, for example, Fulop. Any of the three might be challenged in pursuit of the role due to North Jersey ties if one of the other gubernatorial hopefuls is successful.
- Nick Sacco. Nick Sacco (D-32) is a Senator from Hudson County. While some say he the role of senate president may be too “high profile” for him, Sacco would be a logical choice for senate president if Assembly Speaker Vincent Prieto—who is also from Hudson—loses his position to Assemblyman Lou Greenwald as some are predicting. In the past few elections, the two houses have been split North/South so in the event of Greenwald replacing Prieto, the senate seat might be open to someone from Prieto’s home county of Hudson.
Brian Stack. State Senator Stack (D-33) is the powerhouse mayor of Union City in Hudson County. Like Sacco, his election to the senate presidency would depend on the Greenwald/Prieto dynamic shifting. Though he is well liked, some say his mayoral duties are too important to Stack for him to dedicate himself to the role of senate president.
- Bob Smith. Bob Smith is an LD17 senator from Middlesex County. Middlesex has New Jersey’s second-largest population after Bergen and Smith has made it no secret in the past that increased governmental representation for his county is important to him.
- Troy Singleton. Though Singleton is an assemblyman in LD7, he might be an option for the senate presidency if a number factors line up in his favor. Since Fulop and Lesniak are from North Jersey, a South Jersey Senate President would be favorable if either of them get the nod instead of Sweeney. If Singleton wins the senate election in 2017, the fact that he is from Mount Laurel may propel him forward.
- Ray Lesniak. Though Senator Lesniak (D-20) of Union County has said it is “governor or bust” in 2017, he might still be a contender for the Senate Presidency if Sweeney or Fulop get the democratic party nomination for governor. Lesniak is a highly visible candidate who might get the nod due to his outspoken nature.
- Nick Scutari. One insider referred to Senator Nick Scutari (D-22) as a “dark horse” candidate for the senate presidency. His Union County residency could be a plus, however, as it would eliminate conflict from warring parties in Bergen.
Jim Beach/Lou Greenwald. If Fulop wins the gubernatorial nomination over Sweeney, South Jersey will probably pursue representation. For some, that means that Senator Beach (D-6) might get the nod. For others, that means that the position might open up for someone who is moving from the Assembly to the Senate. Though Greenwald’s name has been mentioned as a potential assembly leader, one insider said it was possible for all the “moving parts” to line up in his favor and get him to the senate president position. Of course, that would require he beat Beach for the senate seat.
- Richard Codey. If Murphy runs, for governor, his close ally Senator Richard Codey (D-27) will be a contender for the spot. According to one insider, he would be “on the fast track” for the position.