The Elite Eight: The ‘Other’ Power List

I could only tolerate the League of Municipalities event for 90 minutes before leaving. Not my scene. So I came home and assembled a Power List of my own. No specific criteria, but being fierce helps.

Marcus Goldman & Samuel Sachs

Marcus and Samuel put the Goldman and Sachs in Goldman Sachs, the same firm that sired the ’08 mortgage crisis that tanked your 401k.

While Marcus and Samuel have both been dead for ages, their impact on New Jersey politics continues long after their mortal demise. That enduring legacy is best personified by one spectacularly rich Goldman alum Phil Murphy who’s currently in Atlantic City paving his way to Drumthwacket with seemingly endless palates of cash.

By all accounts, Murphy’s a super nice guy. I especially love that he wants to legalize my weed. And that whole “middle class on a good day” shtick is a clever way to change the subject. But no matter how you slice it, Phil Murphy is poised to buy his way into the Governor’s mansion.

And that’s why old Marcus and Samuel are on this list.

Bridget Kelly’s Stylist

During the recent 7-week-long trial, Bridgegate co-defendant Bridget Anne Kelly made exactly 32 appearances in Federal Court in Newark. On each and every one of those occasions, she hit all the right fashion notes. Now if you’re one of those people who thinks fashion’s stupid and/or irrelevant, I invite you to skip ahead.

But if you’re like me, and you believe that fashion matters a lot, I urge you to consider the evidence Of Bridget’s sartorial prowess here, here, here, and here. And especially here. LOVE THAT ONE because OMG those heels! Bridget understands that finding clothes that fit properly is half the battle. (Pro tip: this means you too!)

When you’re in court facing a raft of federal charges, you’re quite literally being judged. And it’s hard for anyone (especially a woman) to cut an image that’s virtually unimpeachable day in and day out. For Bridget Kelly to pull that off in light of these devastating charges, well, that’s worth a shout-out in these pages.

Consider if you will her challenge: dress to impress (but not too much), don’t look to rich, don’t look too slutty. Or too frumpy. Or age-inappropriate. Because if Bridget did any one of those things, it would have affected how people (including those on the jury) perceived her. The fact that no one ever remarked about Bridget’s clothes proved she’s doing it just right. And that matters when your image is beamed out on HiDef for all the world to see.

The Bridgegate courtroom saga was truly an epic spectacle. As with any spectacle, stagecraft matters. Bridget and her team understood that. Bridget came off as a more sympathetic character whose sense of style was pitch-perfect for the occasion.

But for all those stylish ensembles, so masterfully assembled day after day, one accessory was visibly lacking: a smile on Bridget Kelly’s face. But let’s never begrudge her that. Because when the most powerful Governor in the nation, Chris Christie, weaponizes the busiest bridge on the planet and the blames you for it, it’s kinda hard to pull off a smile. (Unless of course you’re name’s Bill Baroni, but that’s another story!)

Alex Ball

There have been just 3 truly competitive Congressional races in NJ this millennium: 1) Mike Ferguson def. Linda Stender in 2006, 2) John Adler def. Chris Myers in 2008 and 3) Josh Gottheimer’s upset win over Scott Garrett just a few weeks ago.

By going and doing what so many others failed to do, Gotheimer campaign manager Alex Ball achieved instant legendary status in NJ politics.


Ed Forchion, a.k.a. NJWeedman, is among the most enduring and iconic cannabis reformers on the East Coast. NJWeedman is not a  joke. He’s done too much jail-time for what many of us do recreationally to be laughed off.

Ed Forchion has been fighting to reform our pot laws since the Reagan era. He once ran for NJ Governor on a “Legalize Marijuana” ticket garnering 10,000 votes. Long dismissed as a fringe outlier — a big black dude in dreadlocks  — with each passing year the venerable NJWeedman becomes increasingly mainstream. Ed might tell you he hasn’t changed in the last couple decades.The rest of the world is simply catching up to him.

NJWeedman is also a restaurateur whose cannabis-themed eatery is the second best restaurant on State Street. It’s more than food, though. NJWeedman is building community.

“The Weedman’s Joint is pioneering exactly the kind of community places we need to restore democracy, create space for the artistic community and alternative ways of life, to push back against neglect and abandonment by government and disinvestment, and to fight racist police practices and criminal justice policies,” said Government watchdog Bill Wolfe. “All people of good faith need to rally around and support The Weedman and the project he has embarked upon in Trenton, NJ’s State Capital.”

For $9, you might try the Chris Christie Burger, a “sliced glazed doughnut w/mac & cheese served between two turkey burgers.”

Why turkey burgers?

“Because Chris Christie is a turkey,” NJWeedman told PolitickerNJ.

No argument there!

Whenever New Jersey finally legalizes cannabis, Ed “NJWeedman” Forchion deserves more credit than he’ll probably get. But he keeps on fighting, on his terms, until adults in America who choose to smoke pot are truly free to do so.

Barista at Cafe 128

If Weedman’s Joint is the second best nosh on State Street, who’s tops? That’s easy: Cafe 128, just across from the gold dome of the State House in Trenton. Whether it’s breakfast, lunch, or just a decent cup of coffee, it’s hard to top Cafe 128 if you find yourself feeling peckish in Trenton. If you’re a people-watcher (like I am) you’ll definitely get your fix, whether seated inside or (especially) out. As an added inducement, you might also find yourself privy to juicy gossip about the latest statehouse palace intrigue.

Last time I was there I had the chicken salad sandwich box (with an extra pickle), + a homemade granola bar and an iced tea. When the barista tossed in an additional (broken) granola bar in my bag (for free), she looked at me, winked, and said, “I can tell you like these things.”

She’s right.

Halfway through lunch, the place was positively teeming with Trenton types: lobbyists, press, Christie staffers, and more than just a few legislators. All clamoring more or less in unison for their boxed lunch and/or caffeinated treat. And in that moment the most powerful person in the room wasn’t a senator or even the Lt. Governor (who’s a big fan of the soup!)

The woman with all the power was whoever was passing out the next latte.

Steve Kornacki

As a writer at PolitickerNJ I’m part of a legacy that includes David Wildstein (who’s facing jail time for BridgeGate) and Steve Kornacki who has his own cable show on MSNBC.

Any idea whose career trajectory I hope to avoid?

Let’s face it, cable news is mostly off the rails crazy talk these days. It’s a gruesome bouillabaisse of overpaid bullshitters spewing crap from their pie holes. Steve Kornacki is the notable exception to this sad trend.

Smart, incisive, and never hysterical, Steve Kornacki is the conscience of cable news in America.

Olivia Nuzzi

Olivia Nuzzi is the best political writer to come out of New Jersey in a generation. Take Nuzzi’s description of Donald Trump’s spokesperson Hope Hicks from GQ.

“Hope Hicks is not of Washington but of the Trump Organization, a marble-walled universe where one’s delightful agreeability and ferocious loyalty are worth more than conventional experience. She is a hugger and a people pleaser, with long brown hair and green eyes, a young woman of distinctly all-American flavor—the sort that inspires Tom Petty songs, not riots. And yet Hicks has, almost by accident, helped architect the strangest and least polite campaign in modern American history.”

Olivia Nuzzi has other skills to buttress that peerless prose. She’s quite intrepid and very very shrewd. That story about Hope Hick for example was filed from Donald Trump’s office. That’s power.

Olivia later reflected on the encounter with NYMag.:  “Trump was there behind his “enormous” desk — “he looks like a plankton behind it,”  — and Hicks was there, too. “She was obviously nervous about having a reporter there,” Nuzzi said. “I don’t know why, but she turned to Trump and said, ‘This is Olivia, she’s very young.’ Trump looked at me and said, ‘Very young and very beautiful.’”

The whole scenes makes me think of another intrepid reporter named Lois Lane interviewing Lex Luthor and Lex is being predictable creepy and lecherous. But Lois keeps her wits because she knows the fate of Metropolis rests on the quality of her prose.

But unlike Lois Lane, Olivia Nuzzi never needs a superman to bail her out in the end.

Jay Lassiter started covering New Jersey politics in 2005 as a blogger for After a stint as America’s first State House blogger, Jay did communication for Congressman Rob Andrews and Congressman John Adler. Jay’s best known for his work legalizing medical marijuana and gay marriage and for working to end N.J.’s death penalty. He’s on Twitter @Jay_Lass. The Elite Eight: The ‘Other’ Power List