Assemblyman Gordon Johnson (D-37) stands in the forward position of the biggest Democratic Party conflagration in the state right now, as he battles longtime slate mate Assemblywoman Valerie Vainieri Huttle (D-37) for the senate seat occupied by retiring Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg (D-37).
InsiderNJ talked to Johnson, who expects to win the coveted Bergen County Democratic Committee (BCDC) line in his tilt with Huttle, in advance of the scheduled June 8th Democratic Primary.
The decorated Desert Storm veteran and Englewood cop turned state lawmaker cited his work on business viability, veterans issues, law enforcement and public safety, and advocacy for minority and women-owned businesses, to ensure individuals in those groups have access to capital to enter the game of business. He also noted his work to improve funding for programs that impact young African Americans, veterans and people with disabilities.
Of his Desert Storm service, Johnson said he gained significant experience “working with soldiers from all over the United States.”
The main takeaway?
“We go and accomplish the mission as a team,” said the assemblyman. “It’s about getting the men and women who served under you home as safely as you can. I certainly believe in that today. Also as an Englewood police officer it was about treating people fairly and getting respect – not just from other officers but from people in the street – and even the bad guys.”
Johnson this week has wrangled with the words of Teaneck Democratic Committeewoman Alexandra Soriano-Taveras, who made hateful public comments calling for a boycott of businesses on Cedar Lane in her town, which are mostly Jewish-owned. Until she made those comments, Soriano-Taveras was favored to win the BCDC line, along with Gordon, which would make the two of them running mates. But week of public and private bludgeoning has jeopardized her standing.
Johnson commented on the mess in today’s interview.
“It was hurtful, coded language, to be sure, hateful language for sure, coded language calling for a boycott of certain businesses on Cedar Lane. It’s unfortunate she chose to say it that way. This is party choice, by the way. We have an open process. She followed the procedures. She is now going through the vetting process. They will determine what they’re going to do with her as a candidate.”
Would he prefer to run with someone else at this point?
“I think she’s a good candidate,” said Johnson. “She made a mistake. She filled out a wonderful ticket with an Asian [Palisades Park Mayor Christopher Chung], Latina and African American; a wonderful first for the district. I feel it’s not for me to say. It’s for the BCDC to say. She did send an apology out and I would rather see how the party is going to handle this situation going forward.”
Routinely described as a lawmaker who thrives on the art of compromise rather than a fiery fighter, Johnson considered a question about whether he had at any time in his career bucked the Democratic Party power structure, or gone against the grain of Trenton leadership.
“I can only refer to early on when the party tried to throw us off the line,” said Johnson, of the LD37 lawmakers’ clash with then-Bergen County Democratic Chairman Joe Ferriero.
“Trenton,” he added, “is a city of compromise. That’s what we do in Trenton. We work out deals, we discuss, and debate. There’s a process and finally there’s a bill that goes to the governor’s desk.”
He cited pot decriminalization as a significant example of how the art of compromise produced an imperfect but desired result. “There were some legislators adamant about what they wanted to see in there … once it got to the governor’s desk, we had a bill – not a perfect bill – but a bill.”
Johnson has a reputation for having great political instincts.
He (and Vainieri Huttle and Weinberg, for that matter) backed Barack Obama for president in 2008 when most of the rest of the state supported Hillary Clinton.
He also went with Craig Coughlin of Middlesex for speaker over a North Jersey-footed Vincent Prieto, and lunged for Governor Phil Murphy when most lawmakers remained hunkered down or in regional camps.
“It’s paid off for the state because he’s done a great job,” Johnson said of Murphy. “His leadership has been instrumental in getting vaccines to the people.”
These issues and more, including his thoughts on the senate presidency, senate Majority Loretta Weinberg (D-37), areas where he differentiates himself from his opponent, law enforcement, COVID-19, the abolition of the death penalty, and Bergen County politics, can all be found in the InsiderNJ interview posted below: