NJ Braces for Major Departures From State Senate

Several longtime state senators are stepping away from the public sector in 2017.

Several longtime state senators are stepping away from the public sector in 2017. Wikimedia

Three respected veterans of New Jersey’s State Senate will be saying goodbye to the public sector this year, with a fourth considering either retirement or a gubernatorial run. The upper house will lose Democratic Senator Jim Whelan of the second legislative district, Republican Senator Kevin O’Toole of the 40th district and Republican Senator Joseph Kyrillos of the 13th district.

Democratic Senator Ray Lesniak, meanwhile, has veered back toward a potential gubernatorial run after telling Politico New Jersey in December that he would also be retiring.

See a breakdown of each man’s contribution to New Jersey’s colorful and often turbulent political culture below.


Whelan PolitickerNJ

Senator Jim Whelan

A Philadelphia native and former teacher with the Atlantic City School district, Whelan rose from a city council seat to mayor of the resort town in 1989. He served three terms before his defeat at the hands of fellow Democrat Lorenzo Langford in 2001 and returning to teaching. He then unseated Republican Assemblyman Kirk Conover in 2005 and Republican Senator James McCullough in 2007. He held on to his seat in the Republican-leaning district by comfortable margins after that in some of the most expensive races of the last decade.

Whelan’s exit will likely set the stage for a long-anticipated race between Democratic Assemblyman Vince Mazzeo and his Republican district-mate Chris Brown.


O’Toole JT Aregood for Observer

Senator Kevin O’Toole

The son of an Irish American father and a Korean mother who met during the Korean War, O’Toole distinguished himself during his decade-long tenure in the upper house as a fierce proponent of welfare, pension and state government ethics reform. The Cedar Grove native won election to the Assembly in 1995 before becoming chairman of the Essex County Republican Organization in 1997, a position he held until 2011. Although he was briefly appointed to the Senate in 2001, his time as State Senator for the 40th district began in 2007 when he defeated Democrat John Zunic to replace longtime Republican incumbent Henry McNamara, bringing running mates David Russo and Scott Rumana with him.


Kyrillos File photo

Senator Joseph Kyrillos

Kyrillos is leaving behind the longest legacy of all the retiring members of the Senate this year, having served since 1991. Even after redistricting made his district more competitive, Kyrillos held on to his seat by healthy margins throughout the 2000s. A firm supporter of tax policies that offer incentives to businesses, Kyrillos also reached across the aisle to help implement a two percent cap on property taxes and the bill that created NJTV, one of the state’s few staples for political news told from this side of the Hudson.

Republican Assembly members Declan O’Scanlon and Amy Handlin will both be vying for his seat this year in one of the state’s most closely-watched primary battles.


Lesniak Alyana Alfaro for Observer

Senator Ray Lesniak

Always riding the winds of change, the 70 year-old Lesniak has been vacillating between running for governor in a race that many have already called for Democrat and former Goldman Sachs executive Phil Murphy and retiring outright. He plans to announce his intentions for 2017 in the coming weeks, according to NJ Advance Media. Lesniak is the second-longest serving member of the legislature behind Senator Richard Codey, having served in his Union County district since 1983. His exit would be a loss for the party’s progressive wing, who would have one less outspoken critic of Governor Chris Christie’s environmental record—and one less senator bent on reopening investigations into Bridgegate. NJ Braces for Major Departures From State Senate