NJ Governor’s Race 2017: The Week That Was (Feb 20 – Feb 26)

A recurring feature that tracks the developing race to Drumthwacket

Jim Johnson
Jim Johnson Jim Johnson

Phil Murphy won endorsements in Middlesex and Union counties, scoring massive victories in the home base of two rivals.  He also won the endorsement of the Essex County Democratic Committee and Perth Amboy Mayor Wilda Diaz.

Ray Lesniak was annoyed by a PolitickerNJ.com headline about his campaign “Straining to Stay Relevant,” but a unanimous vote to endorse another candidate in his home county – unthinkable once upon a time when he reigned as king – makes it fair to wonder who exactly supports him (besides Steven Goldstein).

Check out PolitickerNJ’s previous Gov Race Wrap-Ups:

The Week That Was (Feb 13 – Feb 19)

The Week That Was (Feb 6 – Feb 12)

The Week That Was (Jan 30 – Feb 5)

John Wisniewski boycotted the Middlesex convention, where just three votes were record on his behalf. The 11-term Assemblyman and ex-Democratic State Chairman went negative on former ally, County Chairman Kevin McCabe: “It is all part of a larger campaign by a handful of party bosses to coronate one candidate, while harassing and intimidating anyone who dares to support any candidate other than their own. Too many of our party’s so-called leaders think our nomination for governor is for sale to the highest bidder.”  McCabe fired back that the process was the same for all the years Wisniewski enjoyed the support of the county organization. In years past, he would presumably have been in Atlanta casting a vote for Democratic National Committee Chairman. But last year, his support for Sanders led to Wiz being thrown out of the NJ delegation to the DNC, along with another Sanders supporter and Democratic National Committee member, Reni Erdos. This year, he stayed home and addressed a large rally in Hackensack that gathered to oppose the repeal of Obamacare. The Wiz had supported Keith Ellison for DNC Chair, while most of the NJ political establishment—including State Chairman John Currie—backed eventual winner Tom Perez. It was the right move for Wiz, who is competing for Bernie Sanders supporters, not the NJ party leadership.

Jim Johnson took a page from the Wisniewski playbook, boycotting the Middlesex convention because it was only open to elected County Committee members and not any county resident. Hmmm. Maybe that’s why nobody voted for him? In other news, Johnson issued a press release stating his strong objection to the South Jersey Gas Pipeline. A glimpse into Johnson’s targeting: his campaign sought out volunteers to knock on Saturday and Sunday in: Montclair, Princeton, Jersey City, Mahwah, Camden, Rahway, Newark, West Orange and Piscataway.

Englewood Cliffs Councilman Mark Zinna endorsed Keith Ellison for Democratic National Chairman.

The race got a new candidate this week: Hoboken Housing Authority Chairwoman Dana Wefer, who lost a race for Morris County Freeholder in 2006 (at age 23), for the State Assembly in 2007 (against Rick Merkt and Michael Patrick Carroll), and for Hoboken City Council in 2014. Despite that shaky track record, this is arguably unwelcome news for Wisniewski: The smart and personable Wefer was also part of the Sanders 2016 campaign. But it likely won’t matter; she’s running as a Republican, saying in a statement, ““If you told me five months ago that I would be running for governor, I would have thought you were crazy, never mind as a Republican!”

Kim Guadagno released her third wave of endorsements – another 102 GOP leaders – which brings her total to over 300. Among her latest supporters is Assemblywoman Amy Handlin, who is from Guadagno’s home county, Monmouth. Handlin’s opponent for the open 13th district State Senate seat, Assemblyman Declan O’Scanlon, had already backed Guadagno. The thing about Guadagno’s endorsers, which are multiplying each week, is that she has not rolled out any top-tier backers since the first wave – which included ten county chairs. Still, her list continues to grow – and to be clear, none of her opponents is in her league when it comes to statewide support. That’s why she is the front runner. Guadagno also continues her break from Gov. Chris Christie, including a call to allow voters to elect a state Attorney General directly.

Former Saturday Night Live star Joe Piscopo got the best press of the week: a big story about his potential candidacy in the New York Times. That’s not unimpressive, considering the Times hasn’t staffed a New Jersey bureau in years. John Catsimatidis, the New York City supermarket billionaire who ran for mayor four years ago, says he’ll help his fellow radio host Piscopo raise money if he runs. For those of you who don’t think that’s a big deal, remember that Gov. Christie made a big deal out of Catsimatidis’ endorsement in the 2016 presidential race.

Jack Ciattarelli knocked Trenton Democrats, Chris Christie and Bill De Blasio in a single press release: “Republican gubernatorial candidate and Main Street business owner Jack Ciattarelli today slammed, as reckless and irresponsible, Democrat-sponsored legislation in Trenton that forces state taxpayers to financially support New Jersey cities that choose to defy federal law and, in so doing, encourage illegal immigration. Ciattarelli, a frequent critic of Governor Christie, applauded him for promising to veto the bill if it ever reached his desk, and pledged to do the same if elected Governor.”

Steve Rogers continues to be a needle in the haystack of gubernatorial politics. But unlike Wisniewski and Lesniak, the Nutley Commissioner has not yet lost the endorsement of his home county. Essex County Republicans have not announced who will get the organization line in the race for governor.

The Shore News Network is “reporting” that Joe Rullo “Takes The Lead In New Jersey Republican Governor Primary Race,” a version of reporting that is so mindboggling that maybe you ought to just read it yourself. Spoiler Alert: the reporter suggests that Rullo is “hands down winning” all of the polls – except for those that have a scientific sample.

2017 By the Numbers: Twitter followers (as of Saturday evening), with net gain over the last two weeks:

@JohnWisniewski 14,773 (+296)

@JrzyJoePiscopo 11,701 (+262)

@SenatorLesniak  8,156 (+147)

@KimGuadagnoNJ 6,178 (+145)

@PhilMurphyNJ 5,111  (+657)

@joeyrullo 1,807 (+31)

@JackCiattarelli 1,379 (+32)

@jimjohnsonnj 1,232 (+532)

@BillBrennansays 280 (+17)

@ZinnaMark 167 (+148)

@DanaWefer 30

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Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that John Wisniewski had joined some of the Democratic delegation in Atlanta. The Observer regrets the error.

NJ Governor’s Race 2017: The Week That Was (Feb 20 – Feb 26)