Confident of Caucus votes, Prieto Announces Reelection Bid for Speakership

At odds with South Jersey and Middlesex County and in defiance of a diner booth deal to make Assemblyman Craig Coughlin (D-19) the next leader of the chamber, Assembly Speaker Vincent Prieto (D-32) today formally announced his intention to pursue another term as speaker of the General Assembly and expressed his belief that he has the requisite votes.
“Over the past three and a half years that I have served as Assembly Speaker, I am proud to say that I have put together a strong record of fighting for progressive values and ideals, no matter who may have been standing in the way,” Prieto said. “Working together with the members of our caucus, we brought needed funding to the Transportation Trust Fund, fought to protect collective bargaining rights, increased the minimum wage, passed historic bail reform and took many other actions that will benefit our residents for years to come. Most importantly, we brought the Assembly back into the conversation in Trenton and re-established it as a co-equal branch of our state government. I am proud of that record, but with so many important priorities left to fulfill I believe that there is far more work to do.

“At this time, I am excited to announce that I am formally seeking another term as Speaker of the New Jersey General Assembly,” the speaker added. “Due to the meetings I have had over the past weeks with Democratic leaders throughout the state and the commitments I have received, I am strongly confident that I will have the support of a majority of the Assembly Democratic caucus for another term as Speaker.”

A rival for Statehouse power of Senate President Steve Sweeney (D-3), Prieto released his plans to run for speaker less than a month after Sheriff Joe Cryan – the 20th district’s candidate for state senate – appeared to lock up the votes for Sweeney with his statement here.

Two weeks ago, Sweeney subsequently trumpeted his efforts to siphon oxygen off of any effort to beat him.

Sweeney’s strength appeared to empower Coughlin and weaken Prieto, but the speaker promptly indicated his unwillingness to stand down by savaging the senate president’s funding designs, and then releasing his own school funding plan, which has the support of the New Jersey Education association (NJEA).

First documented by InsiderNJ, the NJEA intends to muddy Sweeney over the coming months, in part by attaching itself to the Republican candidacy of Salem County GOP Chairman Fran Greiner, first written about by InsiderNJ here. Sweeney shrugged off Greiner, but sources say the NJEA means business, as does Sweeney’s longtime antagnist senate Minority Leader Tom Kean, Jr. (R-21).

Sweeney and Prieto give every indication that they can’t continue to live simultaneously in alpha male proximity to each other under the gold dome, but the speaker’s announcement today shows if one of the two of them is to be left sitting on his caucus throne, Prieto intends to be that man.

The speaker came to prominence in 2013 after South Jersey stepped over Essex County and cut the deal with Hudson, depriving Speaker sheila Oliver of a third term and instead rewarding the neighboring Hudson on the strength of state Senator Nick Sacco’s (D-32) ability to maintain order. But once in power, Prieto showed himself reluctant to merely serve as a functionary to Sweeney and Governor Chris Christie and routinely went in his own direction, most notably on Atlantic City takeover and North Jersey casinos. His stamina as an independent who refuses to get pushed around paid off during the fight over replenishing the state Transportation Trust Fund, when he became the guy who stood next to Christie and, for a change, Sweeney played the part of the lawmaker with his nose stuck to the windowpane.

Tired of his apparent terminal reluctance to ask how high when told to jump and in a hurry to project inevitability by reasserting Sweeney, the south moved in on a new county to empower -Middlesex – in exchange for its senate delegation’s support for the senate president. But while Sweeney earlier this month indicated the backing he has for another term – starting, in a blatant show of disrespect for Prieto, with fellow Hudson County leader state Senator Brian P. Stack (D-33) – Middlesex has not found itself in a position to issue a similar lock-down for newcomer Coughlin.

An ongoing back-chatter persists too, regarding three Irish American males in positions of power (in the event that Democratic front-runner Phil Murphy wins the governorship and the Sweeney/Coughlin deal holds) as representatives of a party that publicly declares its commitment to representing a diverse state.

It’s volatile…


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