In New Jersey, It’s Men Versus Women as Much as Republicans V. Democrats

Vying to be the second woman in the state’s history to serve as governor after Christie Todd Whitman, Lieutenant Governor Kim Guadagno seeks traction among Republican Party organizations that in many cases have histories resistant to women in elected office, or which in this very cycle appear to be going in a different gender direction.

Certainly Guadagno at times appears hindered as much by sitting Governor Chris Christie – both as a consequence of being associated with the now-18 percent job approval rating-riddled guv for seven years and in his apparent stubborn refusal to deny her the bully pulpit at every opportunity, be it the Chamber Dinner in Washington, D.C. last month or the League of Municipalities breakfast last November.

When it comes to women in state politics this year, the smart money says one lost seat in the state senate, maybe two; and one lost seat in the assembly, possibly two, and maybe as many as three, by the time it’s all over.

It’s also possible for a wash in the assembly, with a swap in by an LD19 Democratic woman and swap out of an LD24 Republican woman (see below).

Consider the following:

After interminable food fighting between her staff and the staff of slate mate Assemblyman Jay Webber, Republican Assemblywoman Betty Lou DeCroce is in a tough reelection fight with Webber wonk-a-be Freeholder Hank Lyon and Pennacchio acolyte Freeholder John Cesaro.

Having run unsuccessfully for assembly in the 18th District, passed over by the party for Councilman Robert Karabinchak, Edison Councilwoman Sapana Shah will not have the line in this year’s local Democratic Primary. Once a vital part of New Jersey politics as the lone South Asian woman on the Edison Council, Shah looks to be on her way back to private life.

InLD24, Assemblywoman Gail Phoebus donned Gas Tax warpaint and has now undertaken a primary challenge of incumbent Senator Steve Oroho, the gas tax’s chief Republican purveyor in the upper house. This contest is an inversion, of sorts, of the LD24 contest, where an ideologically affronted Webber is attempting to distance himself from a gas tax-supporting DeCroce. Here, Phoebus wants to play up anti-tax fever in the fiercely Republican district with a run at LD24 alpha male Oroho.

In LD39, after signalling that he may at long last be unsaddling the horse, state Senator Gerry Cardinale did not retire, leaving talented Assemblywoman Holly Schepisi to slog back to a 2017 lower house reelection campaign.

In a competition for an open seat in LD13, Assemblyman Declan O’Scanlon outworked the more senior Assemblywoman  Amy Handlin in the pre-primary period, leaving the policy nerd politically de-oxygenated and settling for a return to her assembly seat.

The retirement of respected Republican state Senator  Diane Allen in Burlington County’s LD7 will, by all appearances, summon forth Assemblyman Troy Singleton as her replacement. Focused on freeholder seats, the Burlington GOP has no taste for a scrap with the years-in-the-making muscled-up Singleton in a Democratic-leaning district.

In LD31, state Senator Sandy Cunningham‘s South Jersey ties make her a frequent topic of potential Hudson County Democratic Organization (HCDO) targeting, although she appears safe again this year. In Hoboken, Mayor Dawn Zimmer routinely draws the interest of certain members of the HCDO who want her out, and who at this moment entertain the 2017 candidacy of Councilman Mike DeFusco.

The recent history of party replanting in the legislature shows women losing seats following a half decade prior of more women securing seats of power.

In LD3, sports hero turned human inspiration Adam Taliaferro replaced retired Assemblywoman Celeste Riley; and in LD22, former Rahway Mayor Jim Kennedy supplanted bombed out Assemblywoman Linda Stender. Kennedy, it should be noted, won the backing of the Union County Democratic Committee over sitting Fanwood Mayor Colleen Mahr. In 2014, in LD18, Assemblyman Pete Barnes replaced retired Senator Barbara Buono. Then last year, when Barnes took a judgeship, Assemblyman Pat Diegnan moved up to the senate to replace him, shutting down any effort that might have been made by slate mate Assemblywoman Nancy J. Pinkin. That’s the same district where Edison Councilman Karibinchak shut down Shah (see above).


When Assemblywoman Connie Wagner retired in 2012, the party ultimately tapped Joe Lagana. Redistricted into oblivion (or at least the freeholder board) in 2011, Assemblywoman Joan Voss found herself replaced by Maywood Mayor Tim Eustace.

Now, it’s not all grim for women. Guadagno, is after all, running for governor, albeit with what looks like a far tougher, Christie-hampered path to her party’s nomination than fellow front-runner and Democrat, retired Goldman Sachs executive Phil Murphy. (The Democrats do not have a woman candidate for governor this year in their primary, four years after throwing party nominee Buono to the wolves).

In Perth Amboy, Mayor Wilda Diaz, who nine years ago ousted corruption-addled Joe Vas, won re-election last year; and her city looks to pick up a 2017 seat in the legislature with the retirement of Assemblyman John Wisniewski (D-19), slated to be replaced by Yvonne Lopez.

Republican allies of state Senator Kevin O’Toole are trying to propel Passaic County Clerk Kristin Corrado this year in LD40, but she has a stern primary test in the form of Bergen County Republican Organization Chairman Paul DiGaetano. Critics point out, moreover, that Peter Murphy, the Totowa Republican leader who did hard time on corruption charges, is the prime power source behind Corrado.

Then there’s arguably the most-watched general election contest of the year, in Monmouth County, where state Senator Jennifer Beck, a Republican, must contend with financially and politically well-connected Democratic challenger Vin Gopal. Beck lost her two female running mates in 2015 for what was a net loss of one woman in LD11.

The primary campaign strategy against Beck?

Tying her to Republican rogues Christie and President Donald J. Trump.

Just as this current cycle presents nuances, the last half decade has not all been bad news for women in New Jersey politics. In Burlington, Dawn Addiego replaced Senator Phil Haines in the 8th District; and Maria Rodriguez-Gregg replaced Assemblyman Scott Rudder. Post-2011 redistricting saw Nellie Pou move up to assume the senate seat in LD35. The promotion of Donald Norcross to Congress in South Jersey spelled the return to the legislature of sitting Senator Nilsa Cruz-Perez of Camden. Crack-ups by Assemblyman Al Coutinho in Newark prompted a move to Trenton by his Ironbound acolyte, Eliana Pintor Marin. In LD36, redistricting paved the way for Assemblywoman Marlene Caride, who replaced Fred Scalera. And in LD31, Angela McKnight replaced Assemblyman Charles Mainor.

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  • Bertin Lefkovic

    Why isn’t Holly Schepisi discussed as a potential challenger to Josh Gottheimer in CD5?

  • Art Gallagher

    In the 13th, the Assembly seat being vacated by O’Scanlon’s elevation to the Senate is likely to be won by Freeholder Serena DiMaso

  • Pat Wright

    Thug Steve Oroho mauled Gail Phoebus for months for daring to defy him on the Oroho gas tax, and then Thug Oroho moved ever-compliant Hal Wirths onto the D24 ticket. Only after Thug Oroho’s serial mugging and strong-arming of Gail Phoebus did she say that she would challenge Thug Oroho for the Senate seat.

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