Zero Hour: An InsiderNJ Primer on Eight Contests to Watch on June 6th

Former NJ state Senator Ray Lesniak denounces the tactics used and the purpose of the NJEDA Task Force in its investigation of the tax incentives program, which Lesniak helped to found. He says Gov. Phil Murphy is using it as a political vehicle to attack an opponent.

Below, please find a primer on some of the key contests on the June 6th primary ballot, and stand by for wall to wall InsiderNJ elections coverage for all these theaters of operations (and much more!).


Adrian  Mapp belonged to the club, then they kicked him out, then he scratched around outside the fortress walls for years. Finally, Jerry Green grew tired of Sharon Robinson-Briggs and dumped her, fastening his endorsement instead to Mapp. As soon as Mapp got into office, Green went on offense again and Mapp just as aggressively countered. Now – in a public demonstration of prioritizing their own mutual interests – they’re lovey-dovey again, just in time for the primary election where the pair will occupy the coveted Democratic line. All of this back channel drama leaves the likes of Pastor Tracey Brown and 4th Ward Councilwoman Rivers in the lurch, where the two challengers must fight a gladiatorial side show beyond the Green-Mapp proven citywide political apparatus.

Atlantic City

Council President Marty Small might have had Steve Fulop to partner with off the line in the June 6th Democratic Primary. As it is, his anti-establishment forearms have left him off the line and – deprived of a Fulop candidacy – saddled up with long-shot gubernatorial candidate Jim Johnson. standing on the other side of the divide is At-Large Councilman Frank Gilliam. Gilliam’s not in favor of the state takeover, but  neither does he want to thumb his nose at Senate President Steve Sweeney (D-3), Governor Chris Christie and South Jersey Pooh-Bah George Norcross III. Small doesn’t mind throwing body blow after body blow at that triumvirate in the name of AC home rule. Gilliam says let’s work with the bums. And – just to clarify – he would never use that designation. There are a couple of other candidates in the race, too, but finally it’s Small v. Gilliam against the backdrop of the Atlantic City takeover question. The winner of this Democratic Primary fiasco will have to go up against Mayor Don Guardian.


Slapped by Old Bridge GOP Chairman Art Haney’s challenge of him, state Senator Sam Thompson (R-12) looks to make up for the slight by burying the recalcitrant Haney on June 6th.


When Assemblywoman Gail Phoebus dropped her bid to challenge state Senator Steve Oroho (R-24), Skylands Tea Partier Wiliam Hayden put the warpaint on to fulfill the role of inevitable anti-gas tax hike, from the right ideologically pristine javelin chucking challenger. Oroho co-sponsored the gas tax bill to pay for the state’s crumbled Transportation Trust Fund (TTF), but sources say his ownership of it hasn’t proved to be that fatally compromising cowbell around the neck in one of the state’s most conservative districts.


Morris County Freeholder Hank Lyon has the county’s movement conservatives on his side and Morris County Freeholder John Cesaro has his home town base of Parsippany, but they still have each other to contend with as part of their mutual efforts to knock off Assemblywoman Betty Lou DeCroce. Lyon early on seized on DeCroce’s support for the gas tax hike, and has pounded relentlessly on doors to connect with tax-addled constituents. The trouble is, Cesaro’s running the same drill. So they’re killing each other. Staying well above the fray in lordly, Monticello-like gravitas, while simultaneously nursing all the dirt-under-the fingernails political animal instincts of Jefferson, Assemblyman Jay Webber (R-26) has the enviable advantage of a catbird seat on one of the state’s most-watched elections, while not really being in jeopardy.


The retirement of state Senator Kevin O’Toole (R-40) sets up a showdown between Passaic County Clerk Kristin Corrado and Bergen County Republican Organization Chairman Paul DiGaetano. The district itself – apportioned among Bergen, Passaic, Morris and Essex – on a map resembles a squashed-together miniaturized version of Italy, and in reality contains just as much Cesar Borgia-like intrigue. Corrado comes attached to former Passaic County GOP Chairman Peter Murphy of Totowa, who did time for mail fraud; but DiGaetano was the ubiquitous Murphy’s business partner. So Murphy is to the 40th district in a GOP primary what Chris Christie is to New Jersey: Dick “You won’t have Dick Nixon to kick around anymore” Nixon. The difference is that Murphy is still really powwerful and influential.

The Democratic Primary for Governor

Its almost as boring as the 2013 Democratic Primary for Governor. Look, Assemblyman John Wisniewski, state Senator Ray Lesniak and former assistant Treasury Secretary Jim Johnson all performed well in the NJTV debate. The trouble is they were the only three people who watched the debate – in real time and from the stage itself, as they took turns sinking their fangs into Phil Murphy’s Goldman Sachs-gilded neck, like three guys vying for the title role in the Life and Times of Bela Lugosi. No, they really were good. But the trouble is there are three of them and only one seat and a guy with 21 county lines to overcome in a state built and defined by county lines. But they were good.

The Republican Primary for Governor

If Jack Ciattarelli loses to Lieutenant Governor Kim Guadagno on June 6th, the state’s political class essentially gets Christie’s third term against the return of Jon Corzine (with a personality).

Ciattarelli has a heavy lift in front of him.

It feels at time like the Myth of Sisyphus.

Under Governor Chris Christie’s watch, just speaking campaigns and elections now, the state GOP has lost significant ground. Bergen County used to be a bellwether. Now it’s royal blue. Solid soldiers in LD11 and LD16 are gone, replaced by Democrats. We don’t even talk about Ld14 as a battleground anymore. Shocking blue. South Jersey was supposed to lose senate seats in the coming general election contest, but the retirement of Jim Whelan in LD2 simply means the dust-off of the LD7 seat for Whelan’s Democratic colleague Troy Singleton. The Republican Party’s at war with itself in many districts. President Donald J. Trump isn’t making the party brand any less of an encumbrance. Next year could get bloody. When you think about it, maybe Ciattarelli took a shot at governor because he knew if he sat in his foxhole in  the 16th with Kim Guadagno at the top of the ticket he would get buried in an avalanche. Better to go out in a blaze of statewide semi-glory than spend the rest of one’s life wondering what might have been.

One Republican source offered the following when InsiderNJ asked his opinion on the coming primary contest, “Not feeling rain in my bones, i.e., Jack nipping Kim at the tape.  Love him to death; smart and engaging but if we are to believe the orthodoxy of county chairs running things, she’s got the edge.  Politics aren’t like boxers; the latter, for the dumbest of reasons hang around forever and can still win that one bout that makes years of battering worth it.  Such a small window of opportunity that few can jump through twice.”

We’ll see.

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