2023 Democratic Primary Confidential: Lines of Intrigue, and of Political Battle


The 2023 legislative battlefield contains numerous lines of intrigue in the aftermath of redistricting – and pretty certain shakeup opportunities.

In LD-31, there is increasing speculation that veteran incumbent state Senator Sandy Cunningham (pictured, above) will not pursue reelection. Sources say John Minella, aide to Jersey City Mayor Steven Fulop, would likely fill the vacancy, with Commissioner Bill O’Dea slated as a longer term replacement.

In LD-32, state Senator Nick Sacco of North Bergen won’t run again, circumstances made inevitable by redistricting. Assemblyman Raj Mukherji of Jersey City will run for the seat instead.

In the event of diversity pushback, if Minella and/or O’Dea replaces Cunningham, the Democratic Party is poised to make the argument that Mukherji – a South Asian American – is supplanting Sacco, thereby making a Minella for Cunningham swap more palatable. At least that’s the argument.

In LD-4, sources say state Senator Fred Madden looks less than animated amid the still-warm embers of


the South Jersey Democratic Party empire. Back chatter jeers greeted word of South Jersey pit boss taking a helicopter up to Hudson a few weeks ago to meet with Sacco, an outbound senator amid a new world order.

Madden could trail Steve Sweeney into no man’s land. If he does, look for Assemblyman Paul Moriarty to step up and run, but again, it’s tough terrain for Democrats. On Monday night at the Bergen County Republican Organization pasta and politics fundraiser, state Senate Republican Leader Steve Oroho listed Ld-4 as a key opportunity for a Republican pickup.

Oroho needs five seats to make a majority. His targets? Four. 11. 14. 16. 38.

Gottheimer and Oroho
Gottheimer and Oroho

The GOP senate leader also emphasized his commitment to strenuously protecting incumbent Republican state Senator Ed Durr in the event if a Sweeney attempted comeback.

Then there’s Essex County.

Redistricting put Assemblywoman Britnee Timberlake in

Senator Gill

line for the 34th District senate seat, as a replacement for veteran Senator Nia Gill. Timberlake of East Orange is the political protege of Democratic State Party Chair (and Essex Democratic Chairman) LeRoy Jones, once beaten by Gill in a Democratic Primary. The question at hand is whether Gill, lumped into a district with longtime incumbent Senator Dick Codey by a redistricting commission helmed by the state chairman, tries to unseat Codey, or, in an ultimate act of political defiance. moves to East Orange to take on Timberlake as part of a revenge scheme aimed at old foe Jones.

It’s volatile.

Then there’s Mercer County.

“It’s a mess,” one Democratic Party source – not from the county – said deviously.


The root of a fast-developing conflict contains the likelihood at this point of Assemblyman Dan Benson (D-14) imminently kicking off his candidacy for county executive.

That would pit him against veteran incumbent Executive Brian Hughes, who’s already announced his reelection intentions.

Sources say Benson has spent years building committee support in his hometown, behemoth Hamilton, and might have an edge in a showdown with Hughes.

Would Hughes stick around for a primary fight, or would Benson – failing to nail down party backing – run off the line; or might they emerge from a convention with no clear cut winner, thereby triggering an open field gladiatorial contest?

The situation has Democrats in Mercer on edge, and tiptoeing around one another amid speculation of a war breaking out, forcing people to pick sides. The fact that Hughes kicked off his reelection bid with Assemblyman Wayne DeAngelo at his side sent a wave of worry through the ranks of legislative allies who don’t want havoc overwhelming the 14th District. “If Danny goes, we want [Senator] Linda [Greenstein] and Wayne to stay together, otherwise all hell is gonna break loose over here.”

Oroho already has LD-14 on his list of general election targets.

The Gold Dome.
The Gold Dome.


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