InsiderNJ POWER RANKINGS: This Month’s Version of The 85 Most Relevant NJ Elected Officials RIGHT NOW
1. Brian P. Stack
Election Night showed the Mayor/State Senator from the 33rd District to be the most reliable vote getter in the state, turning a no-contest sleepwalk on paper into a 20K vote extravaganza.
2. Brendan Gill
The Bruce Wayne/Batman personality plays mild-mannered Essex County freeholder by evening, then – for much of the rest of the time – morphs into ruthless political operative and statewide strategist as part of the Phil Murphy for Governor brain bubble. Part of the intrigue in state politics right now centers around whether Gill will finally fully occupy one of the two halves of these split personalities and settle into the role of silver-haired kindly congressman – or silver-tongued behind-the-scenes pit viper. He’s truly influential.
3. Steve Sweeney
The senate president has enough votes in his caucus to continue as a muscled-up senate president, but that’s right now. What happens after the New Jersey Education Association (NJEA) dumps millions into the 3rd District and tries to muddy him and deplete his reputation will cause his colleagues to reevaluate come late fall with any new information. With the target of the NJEA on him, everything he does in the intervening months with Fran Greiner in the opposing corner makes him leading man material.
4. Nick Sacco
He lost the war with Stack in terms of raw GOTV, but the respected 31st District senator has strong relationships (and universal respect) among the other mayors and leaders of Hudson County, Stack included.
5. Vincent Prieto
In a “Trenton ain’t big enough for the two of us” leadership showdown with Sweeney, the speaker has done an impressive job of constantly differentiating himself from the South Jersey crowd. A couple of years ago, more than a few people mistook him for the lunk-headed sergeant tasked with doing all the dangerous recon missions for then-North Jersey battalion commander Steven Fulop. But even after the Jersey City mayor’s short-circuiting, Prieto has carried on in the role of independent injun country specialist, eschewing those safety first precautions that might endear him to the ever-imposing GN3 and company.
6. Cory Booker
He’s defined himself on the national stage as probably the most obvious anti-Trump individual in U.S. politics. If the president’s default facial expression is a pulped scarlet scowl, Booker walks around with a look of Joel Osteen-like loving wonderment, tempered only occasionally by that Kirk-on-the-bridge-of-the-Enterprise stare into space that conjures faraway visionary among wretched mortals. But is he too nice for the job? Will he end up pulling a jujitsu move on someone like Ben Sasse in the senate cloakroom just to prove he’s not beyond showing a Tysonesque mean streak just in case Putin “rears his head”?
7. Tom MacArthur
With his eye on a speedy zoom up the GOP ranks in his home state, the CD3 congressman gambled with a national-sized move by getting behind the so-called MacArthur Amendment to break the Gordian Knot on Trump’s healthcare overhaul. It gave him a Rose Garden moment – and exposure as a guy willing to put his neck on the line. But it also put him at the vanguard of Obamacare haters and will potentially galvanize those warpaint-wearing challengers motivated to reassert CD3 as a Democratic-controlled district. A fascinating note: the late U.S. Rep. John Adler (D-3) voted against Obamcare and narrowly lost the 3rd District seat in 2010 after just one term. Can one of the chief architects of the Affordable Care Act as we knew it lose his seat because he voted for its repeal? Every move MacArthur makes now is akin to watching Nik Wallenda at work. He labored commendably in the lion’s den when he went to Willingboro for a post-vote town hall, but he also looked a little gnawed on, too, on the other side of that encounter. Whatever the other dynamics of this campaign cycle, Ciattarelli and MacArthur – both ambitious guys in a hurry, whose private sector punch clocks don’t allow them to stand still for very long – are fighting for sole occupancy of the throne of the soul of that once proud, Christie-shredded institution known as the New Jersey Republican Party.
8. Kim Guadagno
Captaining a very sharp elbowed campaign, the Lieutenant Governor pulled off a 15-point win over Assemblyman Jack Ciattarelli in the GOP Primary for Governor. She now faces the prospect of trying to unify her party against a very well positioned rival Democratic Party led by nominee Phil Murphy.
9. Chris Christie
He’s still the governor of New Jersey – the strongest governorship in america, and heads into his last budget season now hopeful of making a statement.
10. Ras Baraka
The mayor of Newark is up for reelection next year. No one appears strong enough to take him down, but he could always stumble.
11. Joe Cryan
When the Sheriff of Union County (probable successor to Ray Lesniak this year in the 20th district) endorsed Sweeney, that appeared to end the rebellion. A political animal and former state party chairman, Cryan is clsoe to Phil Murphy and Middlesex County Democratic Chairman Kevin McCabe and will play a large role going forward in all party decisions in Trenton.
12. Nick Scutari
The intellectually hyper-kinetic state senator from the 22nd District – chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee – turned himself into a household name this year with his bullhorn-style advocacy for recreational marijuana. Keep an eye on him. If Prieto slaps down Assemblyman Craig Coughlin (D-19) and the NJEA snow blows Sweeney with negativity, Scutari’s the kind of consensus name that could surface if leadership bedlam – or at least a sudden vacuum – ensues.
13. Rodney Frelinghuysen
Jim Morrison once said no one gets out of here alive, and that really is true in political terms when you consider the Republican Congressman from the 11th District. He’s run out of leafy shrubbery to hide behind in Harding, with candidates enraged by Trump theatrics and Rodney’s own compounding high jinks, lining up hip-deep to run against him. No one cared about Frelinghuysen three years ago. Now the guy can’t sip a diet soft drink without people trying to interpret some deep political meaning.
14. Joe DiVincenzo
The Essex County executive’s up for reelection next year and will want to drive big numbers out of Essex for Phil Murphy – particularly if Jim Johnson decides to take an off-the-line run at him.
15. Shavonda Sumter
The assemblywoman from the 35th District is the frontrunner to serve as running mate to Ambassador Murphy on the Democratic ticket.
16. John McKeon
The assemblyman has spread-eagled himself in terms of political relevance to fill district, federal and state-level pockets of conversation. In Trenton, he’s on top of things and regularly making headlines as a feisty, don’t-you-dare-pull-any-shenanigans-in-here chair of the Judiciary Committee. Then he’s in talks with the DCCC to depose Frelinghuysen. The question is, how long wil lwe wait to announce? “Mikie Sherrill is getting traction,” a Democratic insider told InsiderNJ yesterday. Then his name’s getting kicked around as a potential attorney general or Department of Environmental Protection commissioner. We even hear his name invoked as a consensus choice for speaker if the assembly gets FUBAR. Keep an eye on him.
17. Bob Smith
The mastermind from Middlesex quietly engineers most of the heavy lift political items in his county, and has always maintained close working relations with the birds in South Jersey. He’s cemented into the Coughlin for Sweeney deal, but here’s a thought: if Prieto stares down Coughlin, might the senators from Middlesex reevaluate their support for Sweeney – if those northern forces that muster support for Prieto – back Smith for senate president? We can picture the scandalized phone calls coming in from Middlesex right now. “That would never happen. You’re jeopardizing an important deal with speculation like that.” Fine. But if Prieto’s right and he has the votes, doesn’t that play havoc with Middlesex, and if so, might Smith’s name be precisely the way to bring in the sprawling Central Jersey county, particularly if Murphy’s minders seek an alternative to Sweeney. We’re not saying they will – but if perchance – following an NJEA shitstorm in LD3 – they do. In a word. Smith. Relevant.
18. Craig Coughlin
Nice guy. Where have we heard that before? Prieto was a nice guy. Once. Now he’s a menace to society, if you listen to South Jersey. No, really, Coughlin is a super nice guy. The perpetual gentleman from Woodbridge appears to have no agenda other than to make those people around him feel comfortable; in other words, he’s the perfect instrument for powerful forces to wreak absolute freakin’ havoc. The off-the-reservation Prieto claims to have the votes to beat him for speaker, but Prieto also had the votes for Atlantic City takeover until people in his caucus started getting tummy aches and rushing out of the room prior to the voting session.
19. Jon Bramnick
The assembly Republican leader will play a key role through the remainder of budget season and – while it’s not likely – could play a pivotal role (if he so desires) in a speaker’s showdown.
20. Diane Allen
This just in: the unimpeachable name of the retiring 7th District senator has emerged as a possible LG choice for Kim Guadagno.
21. Leonard Lance
In the ultimate drunken sailor on the deck of the Morro Castle theater piece, after years of running rightward following the public excoriation he endured for voting aye on cap and trade, the 7th District Congressman now scrambles leftward, starting with his nay vote on Obamacare repeal. The pro knows he has to dance to survive in a district that for years presented him with the thankless task of having to face the GOP Primary efforts of a self-described 2nd Amendment fierce gentleman farmer who proudly packed heat. Now it’s a bullhorn-wielding Joey Novick at the head of a barbarian army on the left that has the congressman on the move. He’s working it. Every move bears a pointillist painter’s significance in the grander political scheme. No one’s watching him more closely than his own party, and if the polling looks grim come 2018, there’s a judge’s robe with his name on it ready to be unpacked. Senate Republican Leader Tom Kean (R-21) may be weary of mouldering in the minority. Then there’s Ciattarelli, who’s already showed an impatience with waiting in line. Lance has never worked harder than now.
22. Tom Kean, Jr.
He’s in the mix, particularly as it relates to Sweeney and the NJEA. How he manages the Republican Senate Campaign Fund will impact results in several key legislative districts this year, including 2, 11, and maybe 38 and 16.
23. Steve Oroho
The Republican state senator from LD24 – a wonky tough guy with a penchant for policy and transportation and financial expertise – stared down a primary challenge this cycle and can now reenter the chamber with another lawyer of reinforced political muscle on his already imposing frame.
24. Don Guardian
The Republican mayor of Atlantic City faces reelection this year against the backdrop of the state takeover of his embattled gaming mecca.
25. Frank Gilliam
Gilliam beat Councilman Marty Small in Tuesday’s Democratic Primary, and now has a shot for it all against Mayor Don Guardian in the general. GN3 wants him in there. So does Sweeney.
26. Paul Sarlo and Gary Schaer
Always pay attention to the chairmen (respectively) of the senate Budget Committee and Assembly Budget Committee from the 36th District.
27. Josh Gottheimer
After his gay slur in caucus, the GOP seemed happy to get rid of the human anvil otherwise known as Scott Garrett in the 5th Congressional District. They’d endure Democrat Gottheimer for two years then revert the district to its natural Republican shape in 2018. But the Trump debacle has complicated that plan, and as he constituent services the hell out the 5th, Gottheimer seems more happily disposed than anybody. Had Hillary Clinton won, he’d be the most miserable person in New Jersey’s congressional delegation. As is, he’s whistling while he works – and delightful company.
28. Jen Beck
A competitor by nature, the 11th District incumbent GOP Senator faces a credible opponent in Vin Gopal, the former Monmouth County Democratic Chairman.
29. Chris Brown
The pro-labor, independent-minded and anti-AC takeover Assemblyman from LD2 scared Assemblyman Vince Mazzeo (D-2) from the senate seat, and now must get through former Freeholder Colin Bell to succeed retiring Senator Jim Whelan as the district’s occupant of New Jersey’s version of the House of Lords.
30. Frank Pallone
Watch the Congressman from the 6th District in the months ahead. Maybe he’s happy now in muscled up mode in the U.S. House of Representatives, but if next year turns into a fight for a U.S. Senate seat, the third time just might be the charm for Pallone, who is already being whispered fervently as a consensus choice.
31. Steven Fulop
Mayor of the state’s most populous city, up for reelection this year in what looks like a bore snore. With Stack’s help, he appears to be running away with it.
32. Kip Bateman
The veteran senator from the 16th District has stepped up his game this year in anticipation of same-district Democratic rival Assemblyman Andrew Zwicker’s reelection efforts and a likely dump truck of Dem money in the 16th, where there are other nettlesome dynamics as well.
33. Dick Codey
The former governor received new life as one of the prime political movers behind the reanimation of the kind of guy whose money heartbreakingly prevented Codey from carrying on behind the constraints of being acting governor, this time with the twist of being likeable, Irish American and a natural Codey ally. For months in the lead-up to their mutual destruction, the campaigns of Murphy’s rivals said the bosses would never get behind the former ambassador to Germany (and, like Corzine, a former Goldman Sachs executive) because the presence of Codey in his locker room would infuriate GN3. It never happened. Murphy stepped over those objections – with the re-empowering Codey.
34. Anibal Ramos
The Proximo-like kingmaker of Newark can essentially coronate Mayor Baraka’s reelection just by placing his hand on his shoulder. Close to Joe D.
35. Ron Rice
No one pushes the 28th District senator around, which is a big deal in New Jersey politics. He says whatever the hell he wants whenever the hell he wants. That’s power.
36. Troy Singleton
Heading to the senate, the very competent Assemblyman from the 7th District – who grew up politically on the knee of Speaker Joe Roberts – is trading up with retiring Senator Jim Whelan as that required South Jersey upper chamber vote.
37. Jay Webber
He won his GOP Primary handily, and can regenerate in the post Christie era as the conscience of the conservative movement.
38. Betty Lou DeCroce
Having voted in favor of the gas tax hike to pay for the replenishment of the state Transportation trust Fund (TTF) and stared down a Primary challenge, the 26th District Republican Assemblywoman can go back to the legislature in full blown chest thumping mode.
39. Andrew Zwicker
The Princeton physicist who won his 2015 election by fewer than 100 votes – a Democrat and arguably the smartest guy in the legislature on paper with the possible exception of Herb Conaway – will try to get his seat back in the face of come-backing GOP Assemblywoman Donna Simon.
40. Shaun Golden
The activity of the sheriff from Monmouth County who doubles as chairman of the Monmouth County GOP will prove critical to Guadagno on Election Day.
41. Randy Brown
The name of the mayor of Evesham continues to circulate as a potential LG choice for Guadagno.
42. Kelly Yaede
Mayor of Hamilton, the state’s political bellwether, Yaede is a stout Guadagno backer and a potential out-of-the-box LG pick.
43. Joe Vitale
Chair of the Senate Health Committee, Vitale going forward will wrestle with Trumpcare and – in the event of a Coughlin deal meltdown – could be a senate prez play for the North to overnight boost Middlesex’s sagging political fortunes.
44. Bill Pascrell
The veteran Congressman from the 9th district continues to bronco bust Trump’s tax return, and looks like an aggressive heads-up ballplayer now with the appointment of Bob Mueller as special prosecutor.
45. Benjie Wimberly
The Paterson assemblyman is a GOTV force to be reckoned with in the SIlk city and close to powerful State Party Chairman John Currie.
45. Sheila Oliver
The former speaker of the General Assembly from the 34th District – a policy wonk to end all policy wonks from politically potent East Orange – has emerged as a LG possibility for Democratic gubernatorial nominee Murphy, who has less than 30 days to make his choice.
46. Chris Durkin
The likeable – and politically savvy – Essex County Clerk (son of legendary political animal Ray Durkin) is eyeballing a run at Frelinghuysen.
47. Jimmy Davis
Up for reelection in 2018, the mayor of Bayonne will likely face no-joke former Assemblyman Jason O’Donnell (D-31), who will have the added incentive of waiting to avenge pal Mark Smith’s 2014 loss to Davis.
48. Vince Mazzeo
The helluva nice-guy Assemblyman wants another term in the legislature and must get through a requisite tough sledding general.
49. Loretta Weinberg
She’s Weinberg. So we pay attention.
50. Bob Menendez
Slowed by an indictment and teetering as he tries to scramble to safety on the other side of a fall corruption trial, the senior U.S. Senator from New Jersey appears poised to be a strong voice on immigration issues.
51. Donald Payne, Jr.
The king of exceeding expectations serves as the 10th Congressional District representative, and issued the strongest early statements in the delegation when Trump’s tanking took on even more epic implications.
52. Dawn Zimmer
The mayor of Hoboken faces a reelection bid this year against Councilman Mike DeFusco. With Stack’s help, she appears to be running away with it.
53. M. Teresa Ruiz
You always have to keep the name of the 29th district senator – respected chair of the Senate Education Committee – in the mix when discussions turn to possible successors to Sweeney. We’re not saying Sweeney’s going anywhere, but if Prieto fights to hang on and the North County Quad Alliance makes a play to pull Essex back to its regional destiny, sources say Ruiz empowered would be precisely the play to turn South Jersey suddenly into a frozen political tundra. Very, very unlikely. But she should be watched – just in case. If Essex runs the play, watch Ruiz godfather Essex County Executive Joe DiVincenzo zoom up the list.
54. Lou Greenwald
The smart assembly Majority Leader from LD6 is always striding around the statehouse with reneed vigor come budget time.
55. John Burzichelli
The 3rd District assemblyman is one of the smartest political operatives in Trenton and an important Sweeney ally.
56. Jack Ciattarelli
The 16th District Assemblyman tumbled following his loss to Kim Guadagno in the Republican Primary. But he’s still a talent.
57. Gayle Chaneyfield Jenkins
An early backer of Murphy for Governor, Newark’s Central Ward Councilwoman may run for governor against Baraka next year.
58. Alex MendezAs indicted Paterson Mayor Jose “Joey’ Torres flounders, Mendez presents himself as the 2018 favorite to graduate from the third floor to the second floor of City Hall.
59. Frank LoBiondo
Never rule out the indefatigable LoBo, the 2nd District Congressman.
60. Donald Norcross
The 1st District Democratic Congressman is regionally relevant.
61. Joe Kyrillos
The retiring 13th District Republican senator is said to be very close to Phil Murphy, the Democratic nominee for governor.
62. Wilda Diaz
The state’s only Latina mayor’s big for Murphy, and stands over a 7-1 Democratic town in Murphy Country Perth Amboy.
63. Eric Houghtaling and Joann Downey
They’re up for reelection in the 11th District, the state’s truest 2017 battleground.
64. Valerie Vainieri Huttle
The veteran assemblywoman from the 37th District is said to be a candidate for LG if Murphy gets through the June 6th Democratic Primary.
65. Declan O’Scanlon
The 13th district senator-to-be will be one of the people to rebuild the state’s blown-up Republican Party. always relevant come budget time. He’s seen as one of the lawmakers must up on budget issues.
66. Bill McCoy
The Paterson councilman will run for mayor next year of the dysfunctional, scandal-riddled city.
67. Herb Conaway
Rumored to be conversations for a health-related cabinet post, the chair of the Assembly Health Committee – like Vitale – will ultimately have to untangle any ACA repeal impacts at the state level.
68. Mike Doherty
The 23rd District state senator may run for Congress against Josh Gottheimer. He lives in the district, and may decide finally take a stab at higher office.
70. John McCormac
The Mayor of Woodbridge is at the core of the Middlesex political operation that got behind Murphy for Governor early.
71. Chris Bollwage
The Mayor of Elizabeth now completely controls the Democratic Party in his hometown.
72. Gordon Johnson
Since Prieto dumped him, the phrase “How does Gordon feel?” has taken on new resonance and relevvance in the caucus room.
73. Frank Moran
The mayor-elect of Camden wil be a player in South Jersey in the months and years ahead.
74. Ralph Caputo
The smart 28th District assemblyman is an expert on gaming issues and will be a go-to voice on the still-embattled Atlantic City.
75. Jim Tedesco
The Bergen County executive is one of the more respected people in North Jersey politics.
76. Tony Vauss
The Irvington mayor has a well-oiled political operation.
77. Jamel Holley
Keep an eye on the assemblyman from the 20th District as the speaker’s fight develops.
78. Eliana Pintor Marin
The 29th District Assemblywoman could be the next budget chair if she backs Coughlin over Prieto. Volatile.
79. Britnee Timberlake
The Essex County Freeholder is close to powerful Essex County Democratic Chairman Leroy Jones.
80. Raj Mukherji
The Stack World 33rd District Assemblyman could be budget chair if allowed to back Coughlin over Prieto. Volatile.
81. Keith Kazmark
The mayor of Woodland Park is casually eyeballing a run against Frelinghuysen.
82. Al Anthony
The Livingston elected official is sizing up a run at Frelinghuysen.
83. Jason Sarnoski
The Warren County Freeholder wants to run against Gottheimer.
84. Dennis Levinson
The Atlantic County executive just just tilt at windmills. He built them.
85. Brian Hughes
The Mercer County executive has reportedly made a great impression on Murphy.
For Last Month’s List, go here.
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